The Blacklist recap: If this is it, Jellybean
You have to love an episode of The Blacklist that's as practical in application as it is meaningful in execution. No, Friday's episode doesn't hinge on pulse-pounding action sequences or intricate Reddington plots, but rather on taking practical steps toward locating Elizabeth Keen, balanced out with an unexpectedly emotional subplot featuring a lot more Huey Lewis and the News than this recapper could have ever predicted.
On the practical side of this episode is the Blacklister of the week — because, as it turns out, criminals need translators too! Crime is a global business, after all, and not all crime lords speak the same language. Naturally, a capitalizing criminal entrepreneur has made a business for that, and naturally Keen has already employed them to continue… whatever she's up to. For Reddington and the Post Office, infiltrating the translator gig economy for criminals means getting one step closer to locating Keen.
And on the more meaningful side of things, this episode acts as the grand memorial that beloved actor Clark Middleton, who died from West Nile virus in October, deserves from The Blacklist, by way of the grand memorial that begrudgingly beloved accomplice Glen deserves from Raymond Reddington. Both involve a moving James Spader performance, and — surprise — a terrific Huey Lewis cameo.
Plus, as a very special bonus, rounding out the "uh, what's that now?" portion of this episode, is Agent Park super-murdering a guy in a fit of rage, asking Red for help covering it up, and lying to Cooper about it. Let's get into it.
THE WELLSTONE AGENCY, NO. 127
Pre-murder, Agent Park meets with Reddington to get the download on the Wellstone Agency, which is basically "a translation service for crooks." And the most recent crook to make use of their translation services? Elizabeth Keen.
Red thinks if they can find the interpreter Liz used, then they can find her. While getting this intel, Park asks Red if he's ever considered just leaving Agent Keen alone and taking a step back to consider his role in all this…
Which is a totally reasonable suggestion that sounds like an insane suggestion. Red tells her that it's "a luxury to stand on the moral high ground and critique those of us on the low ground… until you need my help." Park insists she would never need Reddington's help, but you guys — SPOILER ALERT — she will come to regret those words. Throughout the episode, Park finds out that her best friend, whose family owns a diner, has gotten in a bad situation with a loan shark. The loan shark sets fire to the diner while Park's friend is inside, and she's badly burned, so Park assures the family she'll take care of it. She arrests the loan shark, but there's no evidence against him, so he's released. When Park finds out that her friend didn't survive surgery, even after assuring Cooper she wouldn't, she shows up at the loan shark's apartment "just to talk." But judging by the way it's filmed in quick shots and flashbacks, Park loses all control and winds up killing the guy with her bare hands.
Needless to say, she does come calling for Reddington's help once she has a dead body on her hands, and he does seem to take care of it for her. It's a startling little addition to Park's already complicated character background, and while I don't know where things are headed with this secret murder, I do always hope that we'll find an excuse to revisit the — dun, dun, dun — serial killer gene that both Elizabeth Keen and Betty from Riverdale allegedly have in common.
Anyway, back at the Post Office, it's decided that the Task Force will need to send one of their own to infiltrate the Wellstone Agency in case anything they uncover is incriminating toward Liz. And you know what that means: Undercover Aram! Our guy speaks six languages, so he's the best choice to pose as an interpreter coming in for an interview while secretly trying to download a list of their clients. The only problem is that Wellstone's referral program is pretty high-maintenance. Red's only connection to Wellstone is his own translator, who recommends Aram as a translator, and then promptly gives him a mysterious red pill that he has to swallow…
Aram wakes up in the Wellstone offices with no memory of getting there, and a prim woman named Jennifer informs him that he's about to go through a polygraph test, a language test, a translator simulation, and finally, an interview. As you can imagine, Aram sails through the rigorous testing, and while he waits alone in Jennifer's office for his final interview, he spots her laptop sitting all by its lonesome. Jennifer walks in just as Aram has exported the last of her client files onto his thumb drive, but he's able to come up with a quick story on the fly about why he was loitering near her computer.
In the end, Aram gets the job and the name of the translator Liz used. Which Cooper for some reason immediately passes along to Reddington, who swoops in and grabs the translator before the FBI can get to him. The translator tells Reddington he doesn't know who the person Liz spoke to was, just that he's Bosnian and she paid him $700,000 for a manilla envelope containing… something.
Red instructs the translator to call his contact at Wellstone and inform them that the FBI is hot on their tail, but Raymond Reddington is willing to help.
That's how Reddington winds up speaking to head of Wellstone, a.k.a. the Colonel, who is deaf and communicates with sign language, which is translated to Reddington via Wellstone's newest translator: Aram. Reddington offers to give the Colonel a new identity with which to escape before the FBI busts his whole operation, in exchange for telling him who Carolyn Givens (a.k.a. Elizabeth Keen) met with when she employed Wellstone's translation services.
Red gets the name — Aidan Markovitch — and adorably, he wore a wire to the meeting so that the Post Office could ultimately charge everyone involved in the Wellstone operation (except the Colonel, who Reddington really does help escape). When Ressler asks Cooper why Reddington would share the name with them, Cooper tells him, "Because we're on the same team, and we need to work together if we have any hope of bringing Keen home safely." Which I really hope is true, if not for Keen's safety, then definitely for Cooper's mental health.
But I am a little suspect of this Aidan Markovitch name that Red passes on to the Post Office, only because the Colonel passed it to Reddington on a piece of paper, which he wouldn't let Aram see… and then later reported the name verbally to Cooper. We never see the paper, and if anyone respects the value of a paper trail, it's Red.
Still, perhaps Reddington was just preoccupied given the other take he's simultaneously navigating during this time…
Early in the episode, we see Red and Dembe arrive at a woman named Paula's house who greets them warmly, but also consistently refers to them as Steve and Bill. And I really should have known whose mother Paula was immediately; she's not eating a meatball sub or gearing up for a bowling tournament, no — but Paula shares the exact same chaotic energy as her son, Glen, who she tells them has recently passed away. Reddington is shocked to hear of Glen's passing (from West Nile Virus, a further shock), especially because it happened weeks ago, and Paula hadn't told him yet. But she'd been too busy planning Glen's memorial service at the DMV, which will be no regular memorial service: "Jellybean wanted his friends to send him off with a real shindig, a potluck with dancing — and Huey, of course!"
We'll come to understand that last bit at the same time Red does, after Paula hands him an envelope that reads: "For Steven Homan, in the event of my passing." What comes next is one of the weirdest, funniest things that's ever happened on The Blacklist — perfectly fitting for The Blacklist's weirdest, funniest character.
It seems that, in order to explain away the boatloads of money he got from working for Reddington, Glen made up a rather elaborate and extremely specific story. He told his friends and family that he was the muse of Huey Lewis — of Huey Lewis and the News fame — and in return for being such an artistic inspiration, Huey provided him with money, cars, and "everything in Vegas." And now, from the grave, Glen is informing Red that it's his responsibility to make sure Huey Lewis shows up at his memorial service, lest his mother think Glen is being snubbed by the most meaningful person in his life.
Glen has always been the only person in the world who could truly get under Red's skin — who could send him into a tailspin that left him sputtering for words rather than weaving a grand metaphorical oration. And in his death, Glen is no different. Red is raging at the fact that Glen has left him with such an impossible task, and as he proceeds to begrudgingly go through the motions of trying to get Huey Lewis to come to the Rockville, Md., DMV and pretend that its regional manager was his artistic muse, I do believe we witness Red go through the entire grieving process: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and eventually, acceptance by way of Huey Lewis.
Yes, the very man himself does show up at Jellybean's memorial, charming the socks off everyone in a eulogy for his (fake) best friend, Glen, and helping Raymond Reddington to finally say a proper goodbye on Liberty Island.
Oh, did I not mention? Glen has one other final request in addition to getting Huey Lewis to pretend that Glen was his muse — he wants Red to secretly spread his ashes on the Statue of Liberty so that he doesn't spend eternity sitting on his mother's mantle.
And so, after stealing Glen's ashes and replacing them with those of a Great Dane, Reddington, Dembe, and Huey Lewis head out to the Statue of Liberty in the dead of night. Huey Lewis tells Red that in return for coming to the memorial, he doesn't want money, and he doesn't want a favor down the road; he just wants to know what was so special about this man that Reddington would go to all this trouble for him. And so Red digs deep, past the constant annoyance, past the eye rolling and the sputtering, and he tells us what made Glen so special:
He was fearless. "Glen was not afraid of judgement, of being wrong; he wasn't afraid of friendship or romance, a bad joke, or a good laugh… or an impossible task, or any kind of danger," Red says with a twinkle in his eye. "And he certainly wasn't afraid of me, ever — no matter how hard of unfair life was to Glen, he loved life back. He embraced it without reservation, regret, or remorse, and that is rare. It's the thing I'll miss about him the most."
And the thing that finally broke me: As Red scatters Glen's ashes on their sneaky resting place, the unassuming grocery bag from which he pours them reads simply, "Thank you." A photo of Glen at his memorial service transitions into the episode's final title card: IN MEMORY OF CLARK MIDDLETON 1957-2020.
A FEW LOOSE ENDS:
- So, I guess this brings the list of famous people who are perfectly comfortable cavorting with the FBI's most-wanted criminal up to: (1) Al Roker, and (2) Huey Lewis.
- Will you ever listen to "If This Is It" the same way again knowing that it was inspired by Glen over a meal of chili dogs?
- With the Huey Lewis of it all, I almost forgot about Cooper asking Aram to try to crack the mysterious thumb drive Liz stole from Reddington. But even Aram can't get past the Russian password screen, so he's contacted a friend at the NSA who's allegedly trustworthy and might be able to help.
- I've always been obsessed with tracking the many monikers of Elizabeth Keen, and this episode cemented the notable transition to everyone simply calling her "Keen" — even Reddington. There's little room for affectionate nicknames when someone is trying to murder you using your own money, I guess.
James Spader is Raymond "Red" Reddington, a mastermind criminal who teams up with the FBI.