As I’ve said more than once, there’s nothing quite like the sheer swagger of The Blacklist at its best. And the opening half of this season-ending episode is a case in point: most of the Task Force has been arrested by McMahon’s goons, but Liz is still on the loose and with the help of teen tech geek Tadashi – one of Red’s rotating cast of familiars – manages to free them, just so that they can all be recaptured and incarcerated in the Red Box, just so that Red and his squad of goons can free them again. It’s a heist movie without the heist. And then it’s off to a restaurant Red knows, for French toast kebabs with Vermont maple syrup butter dipping sauce.
But even though Red is clearly enjoying himself – “Have some fun! It’s going to be a riot!” – there’s serious business afoot, that being the culmination of the McMahon/POTUS Plot Against America. (President Robert Diaz is this week’s Blacklister.) Last week, everyone thought that the President was conspiring to have the President assassinated, so when the Task Force gets word that he’s at a televised debate they rush there and manage, just in time, to put off a sniper, who instead hits the First Lady. Then the Task Force is arrested. Again. And busted out. Again.
As it happens, the sniper wasn’t aiming at the President after all. And the reason for the Plot is somewhat underwhelming. Nonetheless, it’s enough to bring Diaz down. Red, meantime, is meeting with Brett Cullen, as a mysterious stranger who is, presumably, his brother or something like that? (And as you don’t just cast Brett Cullen for two minutes, I assume we’ll see him again in season 7.) And then to Paris, for an encounter with Liz’s mother, Katarina Rostova (Laila Robins, who was Martha Boyd in Homeland), who seems to have known he was coming, given what she does to him. It’s been a terrific season: I continue to be impressed by the way in which The Blacklist’s team of writers negotiates its subtle reinventions while keeping the standard remarkably high.
Anna McMahon, the season’s Big Bad, is finally also this week’s Blacklister. She and her team are trying to find the USB drive which contains the McGuffin-esque dossier, and which was dropped by Bastien Moreau into the backpack of a random schoolkid several episodes ago. The Task Force is also after it. And, in plot terms at least, that’s mostly it for an episode which is entertaining enough, but somewhat short of The Blacklist at its supercharged best.
Eventually, though, Ressler and Liz manage to lay their hands on the drive and bring it back to the Task Force HQ, where it can be decrypted, which means that they’re now in on the details of the great big conspiracy against America, specifically a plot to assassinate the President. Cooper wants to warn POTUS over Red’s warnings, but just in time Aram turns up evidence that the President is also involved, Which means that the President, it appears, is part of a conspiracy to… assassinate the President. This is such obvious WTF-ery that it’s repeated several times by various characters, then presumably to put a stop to that McMahon and her Secret Service goons bust into the Task Force HQ and arrest Cooper and his colleagues for their plot to assassinate the President. Liz manages to avoid them, though, and will presumably launch her counterattack, with Red’s help, in next week’s season finale.
Red is conflicted. “I can neither kill, nor trust, nor forgive”, he snaps at Liz, who looks rather more sanguine than I would were the world’s leading criminal even thinking about having me erased. He does, though, have a case for the Task Force: he wants to track down a Mr Cotton, who… finds things for people. Red’s reason for getting hold of Cotton is that he’s been searching for something on behalf of Anna McMahon, and Red wants to know what that something is. He will in due course get an answer to that, thanks to Teddy, his torturer of choice.
But for the Task Force, the issue is a less abstruse one: Cotton, on behalf of this week’s Blacklister, has been kidnapping children. Not just random children, though; these are sets of triplets, each born to different parents who don’t know about the others. This was the work of lavishly mad scientist Guillermo Rizal, this week’s Blacklister, a geneticist who altered the DNA of embryos, then implanted them into women undergoing IVF treatment. And now that they’ve become children he wants them back, so that he can evolve a superhuman who can resist global warming, or something. It’s good fun, although for an episode revolving around experimentation on genetically-altered children it perhaps wasn’t quite creepy enough.
Episodes of The Blacklist which aren’t named after a Blacklister are rare indeed – this, I think, is the fourth in the show’s entire run – and that means we’re getting A Very Special. And there probably haven’t been many episodes as special as this one. It’s Liz, finally face-to-face with her grandfather Dom, being told all the big stuff: what happened to her mother; what happened to the real Red; and, biggest of all, who on earth is the person now pretending to be Red?
That ‘Rassvet’ (Russian for “Dawn”, I believe) is a spectacular success is not a surprise, because the team behind The Blacklist has been turning out high-quality material for six years now. The real star, though, is whoever was behind the inspired decision to cast Gabriel Mann as Ilya Koslov. Mann, of course, was the MVP in Revenge as the delectable, elusive Nolan – sidebar: is there ANYTHING on TV at the moment which is as much fun as Revenge was in its pomp? – and he’s absolutely and 100% the right guy to take us through Koslov’s metamorphosis into… well, into Raymond “Red” Reddington.
As much of this episode was told in flashback, I’m going to assume that we got most of the truth; I don’t think The Blacklist is tricksy or meta enough to give us flashbacks to things that didn’t happen. Having said that, though, the way in which Red demanded that Dom tell him exactly what he disclosed to Liz presumably means that there are one or two secrets still to be unpacked. Frankly, if more flashbacks means more Gabriel, I’m here for that.
At the start, a female student is murdered, frozen – yes, it’s a cold open – and displayed outside. The MO is identical to that of The Brockton College Killer, one Tobias Carlyle, found guilty of three homicides and imprisoned a few years ago. However, his case has been re-opened as a result of a hit podcast casting doubt on the reliability of Carlyle’s conviction. Red suggests to Liz that the Task Force might like to investigate the possibility that the new killing is by someone hired by Carlyle to throw doubt on the original verdict. For once, he appears to have no ulterior motive, except that he’s also a fan of the podcast, thinks Carlyle is guilty, and and doesn’t want him released. Aram, who is – of course – also a fan of the podcast, gets all excited about another suspect, a professor at Brockton known to have a taste for younger women.
Within the first few minutes, though, a long-running plot arc bursts into life, when Liz confesses to Red that it was her who turned him into the police, and Dembe also admits to keeping her secret. Red, trying to decide what to do, seeks the advice of Dominic Wilkinson, Katarina Rostova’s father and Liz’s grandfather. And that, in turn, dovetails with the third plot, in which Ressler continues to try to find out Red’s real identity. In keeping with the mood, Ressler ultimately tells Liz what he’s been up to, while admitting that he’s hit a brick wall: all he has is a photo of an old man, someone he believes to be Katarina’s father… who Liz recognises as the Dominic guy she met last season.
In the Blacklister plot, Tobias Carlyle’s conviction is overturned, and he’s released. But has a guilty man been freed? Or was it the professor. Or… someone else? I didn’t know where this was going for most of the episode. Liz turns up on the doorstep of the man she now knows to be her grandfather. Red forgives Dembe, but Dembe – who can’t forgive Red – walks away. I really hope that isn’t the last we’re going to see of Hisham Tawfiq. That possibility aside, though, a very strong episode.
This week’s Blacklisters are The Third Estate, a group which extorts huge amounts of cash money from the 1%, with the ostensible purpose of redistributing it. Correctly realising, I think, that viewers might well, these days, be less than troubled by some forceful expropriation of obscene wealth, the writers balance the scales by giving the Estate a particularly brutal modus operandi: they kidnap the children of the filthy rich, tie them to a rack, then live-stream the consequences until the parents pay up. This failsafe system runs into a problem when John-Boy Walton (Richard Thomas), the father of The Third Estate’s latest abductee, declines to pay, as a result of which his son is shot and killed.
Unusually for me I guessed part of the twist in the Blacklister plot, but I nonetheless thought this to be an effective episode, particularly given Dembe’s very obvious anguish about whether he’s come up against the limits of his commitment to Red: he takes a brief leave of absence, as he continues to be troubled by Red’s scorched-earth approach to finding out who turned him in to the police. He returns in due course, but warns Liz that she has to come clean. And Ressler is still making progress in tracking down the whereabouts of Liz’s mother. Very shortly, I’d guess, The Blacklist is going to be all about Liz again.
This week’s Blacklister is Lady Luck, a middle-aged woman who offers down-on-their-luck gamblers an irresistible deal: she’ll clear their debts if they perform a task for her. The task, however, is to kill the last person to have been offered that deal, and so on. On one view it represents the outsourcing of murder, and therefore a pert commentary on the gig economy. But what’s Lady Luck’s motive, and where’s the money coming from? The answers are unexpected, but hardly startling, in an episode which – like last week’s – is good enough, but treading water just a little.
The signs of the next big plot developments are there, mind you: Ressler is trying to find Liz’s mother. And Red is tracking down, one by one, his associates, to find out which of them turned him in to the police, and/or profited from his organisation while he was in prison. People are shot and thrown off planes, as Dembe watches, broods, judges, and hides his own secrets.