The Blacklist season 8 premiere recap: Paint it black
Liz has officially gone to the dark side… which is a lot sadder, and a little less exciting, than one might expect a dark side to be.
We were told in The Blacklist season 7 finale, as her coat billowed in the wind like a supervillain’s cape and the Rolling Stones played appropriately overhead, that Elizabeth Keen had officially broken bad. We were told explicitly that Liz was finally choosing to “embrace” the darkness as one more good part of her was chipped away, and then another, and then another, until all that was left is someone who takes what she wants. And what Elizabeth wants is answers.
But after watching the season 8 premiere on Friday night, it seems a lot less like Liz is embracing her inner darkness, and much more like she’s… resigned to it. When Liz made her darkest, absolutely wildest move of the episode — ahem, she kissed Ressler in order to take his gun, shortly after betraying the entire Task Force and willfully sabotaging an FBI investigation — she did it with all the energy of a teenager flipping the bird to a closed door after being told to clean her room. Liz is going through the motions of betraying Red and everyone who cares about her in exchange for (potentially) getting the answer she craves, but let’s face it: Her heart doesn’t really seem in it.
I’ll admit that the season 8 premiere was a bit of a downer in comparison to past premieres (I mean, the main action sequence featured Liz quietly sobbing as she gingerly drove her elderly grandfather around town), but after season 7 was cut short due to quarantine, it’s pretty amazing we’re getting a Blacklist premiere at all. The creators have been very open about the fact that the first three episodes of this season really should have been the last three episodes of season 7, and that might knock off the narrative flow a bit. But from the performances to the editing to the cinematography, all the way across the board, you would never know this season was filmed during a pandemic. I, for one, am thankful to have it… (while I continue quarantining eight months later).
Roanoke, No. 139
The episode opens on a Russian man who’s awaiting trial for murder inside a hotel, being guarded by two U.S. Marshals outside the door. A doctor arrives on the floor and huffily informs the Marshals that another man in the halls has been reported to have a contagious virus (boo, hiss) and he has to get inside. TWIST — he wasn’t a doctor at all, and it was all a ruse to help the Russian man escape! If The Blacklist is here to do one thing, it’s to prove that all federal agents are as easily duped as a 4-year-old whose nose has recently been removed from their face.
Meeting up for the first time this season (and seeming like all is a-okay), Red informs Liz that this was the work of a man known as Roanoke who “disappears” criminals. Roanoke has long been presumed dead, but the Russian escape bears many of his signatures and Red knows who Roanoke’s next client is: Maddy Tolliver/Katarina Rostova. In the season 7 premiere, Katarina’s banker told Red that he wired the money the Kazanjian brothers paid Maddy Toliver directly to this Roanoke man, presumably as a payment for his disappearing services...
But given that Liz tipped Katarina off and Katarina sent her banker to talk to Red anyway, we can’t exactly take this Roanoke lead at face value. And neither can Liz, but here she is: taking the tip from Red, assigning Roanoke as the Task Force’s next Blacklister, and telling her co-workers who didn’t already know, Oh yeah, Maddy Toliver isn’t dead, and also she’s not Maddy Toliver, she’s my mother, Katarina Rostova. Aram’s earnest excitement over Liz getting to meet her mother after all these years was heartbreaking considering how opposite of earnest she’s being with him in return.
Liz is willfully misleading her entire team about her new allegiance to Katarina, and Ressler is onto her. When Cooper sends them out together to investigate a warehouse associated with the Russian man’s escape, Ressler asks Liz to admit that she warned Katarina before Red spoke to her banker, which she does by shrugging her shoulders like a petulant teen. “So, you have picked a side,” Ressler says, asking if Liz is choosing Katarina over Red, or if she’s choosing Katarina over everyone. Ressler doesn’t get an answer to that question, but we do when Liz pockets a piece of evidence from Roanoke’s warehouse without telling Ressler about it.
It turns out to be a photo of another warehouse — specifically, the warehouspital where Dom is being kept. Liz arrives at Katarina’s door demanding to know why she’s having Roanoke surveil her grandfather. It’s soon revealed that Katarina’s true intention was never to escape, but to lead Reddington to believe that she was using Roanoke to target Dom in his highly guarded warehouspital, so that when Red ultimately decided to move Dom to a different location, she could abduct him with less interference. “The only way I can be safe is if Dom tells me everything I need to know, and that won’t happen unless I get him away from Reddington,” Katarina tells Liz.
But Reddington isn’t the one who found the photo of Dom’s warehouspital… Lizzie is. So, now it’s up to her whether or not she passes along that photo in order to further the plan to abduct her grandfather.
Liz says the only way she’ll go along with it is if Katarina tells her everything, even though there is absolutely no reason Liz should trust a single word that comes out of this woman who has consistently misled her for the entire time she’s known her. I’m not saying that Liz doesn’t have reason to be angry with Red, as well — but it’s also kind of pitiful how she’s just latched onto this other parental figure who clearly has no concern for her well-being whatsoever. “All you can see is what I want to do to Dom,” Katarina whines. “What I want you to see is what he did to me.” (There should be a form of the Bechdel Test for calculating if there’s ever a time Katarina isn’t talking exclusively about herself.)
Liz hangs on Katarina’s every word as she tells her that Dom apparently started her training as a spy when she was only 15, ordering her to sleep with a young American soldier. Katarina says the only reason she gave Liz up was to spare her from a similar fate. And Liz was safe in America until the awful man calling himself Raymond Reddington came into her life. “I don’t know who Reddington is, but I know he betrayed me along with my father and my best friend,” Katarina says. “The secrets you’re looking for — they tried to murder me to bury them.” Liz asks what secret could be so powerful that a father would try to murder his own daughter, and in grand Blacklist tradition, that all-powerful secret is revealed to be… a mythical file folder full of blackmail!
Katarina says that there is a notorious KGB mole known as N13 who built a compromising blackmail file with 13 international intel packets — the Sikorsky Archive — over 30 years ago. Dom leaked to the KGB that his own daughter Katarina was N13, and tried to kill her before “the truth could be known.”
And what was the truth? Well, that Dom was N13… or that Reddington was N13, and has been using Liz to add more intel to the Sikorsky Archive ever since… or that someone was N13 who definitely wasn’t this woman who’s claiming to be Liz’s mother.
Despite the fact that a matter of weeks ago, Katarina wove a very different narrative about how Dom and Ilya tried to kill her in order to protect precious little Elizabeth from the Townsend Collective, Liz is now totally down to believe this new story that Dom tried to kill her in order to cover up the true identity of N13, and that Red has been using the Task Force to gather new intel for the Sikorsky Archive ever since. “A father figure is trying to manipulate you the same way my father manipulated me,” Katarina tells Liz, manipulatively. But Liz buys it all, hook, line, and sinker. She runs straight to Reddington to deliver the photo she found in Roanoke’s warehouse and sets Katarina’s plan to abduct Dom in motion.
As Katarina and her new lackey listen in on the Task Force’s plans to transport Dom to a new safe house, the lackey asks Katarina how she was able to get an FBI agent to wear a wire. “A daughter’s need for her mother’s approval is nature’s most powerful force,” Katarina coos with self-satisfaction. And even though I truly despise this woman and what she’s about to do to my beloved Post Office family, it was a relief to at least have this small confirmation to the audience that she is not to be trusted.
Liz, however, has ignored all such signs that she’s being manipulated, and is currently driving her ailing grandfather in a caravan, sandwiched between Ressler and Park in front, and Red and Dembe in back. During the drive, Red gets word from Heddie that she’s tracked down the real Roanoke, but judging from the state of his health, he couldn’t possibly have been organizing abductions. He calls Liz to warn her that it’s a setup, and they need to get off the road at an exit a half-mile ahead.
“I’ll be gone by then,” Liz replies.
About that time, Liz hits a button on a remote control, and a box that’s been set up on the road shoots spikes in front their cars, popping Ressler’s tires and then Red’s — but not Liz’s because we saw her get this van outfitted with “flat-free tires” just before taking off. She keeps driving Dom toward Katarina, leaving Red and Ressler looking on in horror behind her.
Back at the Post Office, Cooper informs his downtrodden team that they’ll have to call in a manhunt for one of their own, but behind closed doors, he’s less resolute about Liz’s betrayal. He tells Reddington that he’s angry with Agent Keen, but he’s livid with Red. “Seven years ago, she was kind, enthusiastic, decent… under your tutelage, she’s become someone I fail to recognize,” Cooper says to Red. But Red is less stricken, telling Cooper that they may not like it, but they both recognize what this is: “Her destiny.”
It seems everyone is resigned to Elizabeth Keen’s betrayal… everyone except poor, loyal Ressler. When Liz texts him that she needs to talk, he shows up without telling anyone. She assures him that she’s not going to let anything bad happen to Dom (LOL, okay Liz), but she needs answers. She needs Dom to confirm what she’s been told about the Sikorsky Archive and N13, and she needs to know what Reddington’s been hiding from her. Plus, she needs one more thing…
“I need you to keep believing in me,” Liz tells Ressler before leaning in to kiss him. He briefly returns the sentiment, but when he pulls back, Ressler says that even though he’ll never give up on her, he still has to do his job. “I know you do,” Liz says as she pulls his gun out of his jacket so that he can’t stop her from escaping right back into the waiting arms of Katarina.
A Few Loose Ends
- For the record, Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” is playing during those final scenes, which is very rude to my emotions!
- I’ve failed to mention that Dom has actually regained consciousness in this episode, and the role of the late, great Brian Dennehy has been passed on to Ron Raines who does an excellent job of half-scolding, half-apologizing to Liz for not being able to tell her the full truth.
- What was happening with Liz casually referring to Reddington as “the man in the hat”? Was that her creating emotional distance? Has she ever called him that before? I did not like it, or the Curious George images it conjured!
- I’m not positive that there was a deeper meaning, but given that Reddington responded to a simple “what do you want?” question with a three-minute (yes, I timed it!) monologue about a kitten he was unable able to save but still somehow wants to save… I think this Liz betrayal might be hitting harder than he’s letting on.
- If “flat-free” tires (which sounds hilariously like fat-free tires) were a thing, wouldn’t Red have them on all of his cars?
- OOF, that Ressler betrayal was a particularly harsh pill to swallow after coming back across the “tiny island of calm” monologue from last season.
- But Liz did let “N13” slip to Ressler… so the Task Force does at least have a lead on catching up with Katarina.