The Blacklist s5 ep 7

It’s an arresting opening: a family’s seaside picnic is interrupted when dozens of dead and half-dead bodies start watching up on the beach. They’re the victims of this week’s Blacklisters, a human smuggling operation run by Irish father and son Arthur and Colin Kilgannon (‘The Kilgannon Corporation’, according to the episode title, although I don’t recall anyone using that term.)

Red is particularly sore about this because, as he admits to Liz, before his empire crumbled he used to have a nice little business in this area himself, getting people away from whatever they were fleeing from, offering a decent service at a fair price, insofar as these terms have meaning in this particular discipline. The Kilgannons muscled in, with an inferior product, and he’d like to elbow them out and take the business back. Unusually, Cooper’s onto this from the outset, rather than doing what he normally does, and realising by the end of an episode that he’s risked his job once again to facilitate Red’s business interests. So he’s prepared to commit FBI resources to finding the people responsible for the dead bodies, but not to actually putting Red in charge of an international people-smuggling business which will exploit people a bit less.

Deal, says Red, and Dembe goes undercover as a would-be migrant, with a tracking device in his tooth. Inevitably the FBI will lose contact with him, because that’s what happens with tracking devices; and there’ll be a race against time to find and save him,  because that’s what happens with undercover operatives. Actually, though, it’s all pretty good, and (insofar as Mr First World here can judge) the episode does a reasonably good job of humanising those who are so desperate that they resort to paying people to smuggle them across borders.

Meantime, though, Tom has managed to find himself a whole lot of trouble, while not finding himself the missing McGuffin O’Bones, which – as it happens – we don’t seem to have seen for a while now. He and Lena, still being followed by Bucky out of Nashville, have managed to track Pete to a motel. Pete is adamant that he didn’t kill Dr Nik, but just as he and Tom are hashing this out they’re snatched by a gang, then interrogated by a dude wearing courageous spectacles who wants to find Red. Pete and Lena are unable to help, and are dealt with appropriately. I assumed that Specs Dude was working for Bucky, but I was wrong; and Bucky, meantime, is actually in Red’s employ, which I didn’t know either. Highly enjoyable, but also portentous: something bad is coming.

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The Blacklist s5 ep 6

We’re taken back to 1989, specifically the day the Berlin Wall came down, and a hitman taking out a target. Jumping to the present day, Red tells Liz that a man called Mitchell Dunning has been marked out for assassination by this week’s Blacklisters, The Travel Agency, a loose alliance of killers-for-hire who have been dormant for 12 years. Dunning is killed before Ressler and Liz can protect him, and an investigation reveals a connection between the two victims. And something more; specifically, some clever monkeying around with timelines. The clue was there in the first scene; I spotted it, but didn’t appreciate its significance.

Meantime, Red and Tom come face-to-face to discuss the Suitcase O’Bones. I always enjoy their scenes together, as James Spader and Ryan Eggold are arguably the show’s best actors. Red warns Tom off. Tom ignores him. And Lena, Pete’s girlfriend, who was helping Tom last week, is threatened by Bucky out of Nashville, who tells her to stay away from Tom. But she doesn’t, which presumably means she’s dead next week. Liz and Tom get married. I thought they… already were? And Agent Cooper, with Red’s help, runs around trying to sort out the drug-related problems of Isaiah, the son of some friends of his. It has no connection whatever to the rest of the episode, or indeed the show, and is presumably there to give Cooper something to do, and to allow the show to make the point that, as Cooper tells Isaiah, “It’s the gospel truth that if you’re black in this country, and you say the wrong word, you can be killed.” A point always worth making, in fairness, but an uninspiring episode otherwise.

The Blacklist s5 ep 5

Dr Nik est mort, and Liz grieves, correctly rationalising that it’s probably something to do with her. I suspect we’re no more than an episode or two from her annual realisation that her life has gone to shit since Red came sauntering in, claiming he was going to protect her.

Meantime, though, a chemical plant in Leeds is blown up, and international super-terrorist Ilyas Surkov, this week’s Blacklister, claims responsibility. (NB writers: children selling lemonade at roadside stalls generally isn’t a thing in the UK.) There is, though, according to Red, a tiny problemette with this scenario, apart from the lemonade: Surkov is dead, very dead indeed, and has been for over a year.

So who is pretending to be Surkov, and why? The trail takes the Red Team to Serbia, where undercover Samar (watched by a touchingly worried Aram) has a meet with “Surkov’s” explosives supplier, which brings them into contact with a clandestine CIA ops team, also tracking Surkov. Except… as CIA director Cox confirms to Cooper, the ops team isn’t CIA; it’s rogue. And it’s them who have been pretending to be Surkov. So they’re dangerous, and they need to be stopped, right? Particularly given that an attack on American soil seems to be planned? As it turns out, it isn’t anything like as simple as that. I thought the ending of this story to be pleasingly ambiguous: it might have been clear to other viewers who the bad guys were, but it wasn’t to me.

While this is all going on, Tom is trying to find out who killed Dr Nik, and where Pete, the wizard of the DNA, has disappeared to with the Suitcase O’Bones. Bizarrely – but, OK, somewhat entertainingly – this means Tom offering himself as a human guinea pig for drug trials at the clinic where Pete works. I couldn’t quite decide whether the clinic was just carelessly run, deliberately cavalier about the safety of its volunteers, or out-and-out evil. The final shot of Pete made me lean towards the latter. And the really bad news for Tom – whose storyline is now, I fear, being fattened for his mid-season slaughter – is that Red has worked out that he’s connected to the bones in some way.

Red, incidentally, has found a way of laundering the proceeds from last week’s little safe house scam, meaning that he’s one step closer to the rebuild of his evil empire. And to the arms, and bed, of Hawkins, who spends so much time saying that she’d be doing Red if he were her type that she’s got to be in denial. You could argue that this show is never going to get close to its season 1 pomp, and I probably wouldn’t disagree. But it continues to deliver.

The Blacklist s5 ep 4

Cork, Ireland: a racehorse trainer is killed, and his stable torched, leading to the death of prize stallion Fitzpleasure (sic). This is revealed by Red to be most likely the work of this week’s Blacklister, The Endling, whose MO is to create one-of-a-kind items by eliminating all other examples. (She takes her name from that given to the last of a species before its extinction.) Ooh goody, I thought; that’s the sort of nonsensical high concept I can get behind.

In this case, Fitzpleasure has only covered one mare, whose progeny immediately becomes significantly more valuable. Cui bono? Well, very obviously the owner of the mare, Caleb Hill, “CEO of an international security company”, whose job alone marks him out as a wrong ‘un. Hill more-or-less willingly discloses that, yes, he hired The Endling. But she didn’t say anything about murder; and, rather than payment, she wanted information about the security arrangements of Princess Sonya of Montenegro, due to deliver a speech in New York, and the last of her royal line.

So Sonya’s about to cop it? Well, no; it’s Sonya’s assistant, the apparently unremarkable Ana, who is abducted instead. And here the story pivots in a very Blacklist-esque manner, and The Endling’s motives are revealed to be, in the case of Sonya and Ana, something else entirely. It’s all very skilfully done, and in its final act – as Liz conspires with Red to rope poor old Dr Nik in and stay one step ahead of the FBI – might have some long-term significance as well; as I guessed might happen, Liz is going to choose her father over her work colleagues if push comes to shove, and this being The Blacklist it will and she will.

The other storylines are given due significance as well: Red is apparently targeted by The Mailman, who initially sounds like he should be a Blacklister himself, but who instead has a somewhat low-rent scam going. Red, though, sees that it has the potential to become much bigger. And Tom’s DNA maven has managed to extract something from the Suitcase O’Bones, but needs access to the FBI database to find a match. Tom supplies this by using Liz’s ID – I’m guessing that will come back to haunt him – but before we can be told the results REDACTED is REDACTED; as, most probably, was REDACTED as well. Excellent.

The Blacklist s5 ep 3

I’ve said before that one of the many side-effects of the TV’s Platinum Age is that even the network procedurals have raised their game. This episode – while not great in itself – is a good example of the sort of thing I mean, with (at least) four plots running at the same time. As it happens it was weirdly flat for an episode with so much going on. Still, there were elephants; so, y’know, not a total bust by any means.

The Blacklister of the Week is Miss Rebecca Thrall (a nicely sinister Sarah Wynter), who is orchestrating a scheme in which cops-for-hire shoot people, then fabricate a cover-up to make it look as if the victim fired first. Thrall is also acting for the victims’ families at the behest of a shady company called Waterday, which buys structured settlements from vulnerable people for a lump sum, but it makes a loss if they die before the full settlement has been paid to them, except they also make a profit because… I’m sure I would understand it if I watched again. It reminded me of the egg-selling syndicate run by Milo Minderbinder in Catch-22. Oh, and she has a sex slave in full gimp costume in her basement. Of course she does.

Meantime, someone has left the words “Olivera Wants You” on the mirror in Red’s motel bathroom. This is a reference to a deal to sell guns on which Red hasn’t yet delivered, being as he doesn’t actually have any guns, or money to buy them. Minor problems, as it turns out; provided with $1m by Glen, his old friend from the DMV, and using Tom as collateral at one point, he pulls it off and ends up significantly ahead on the deal. Liz and Cooper look on benevolently. Elephants are involved, as are Smokey and Heddie.

Tom has handed the Suitcase O’Bones off to Dr Nik’s skeevy-looking friend Pete, who is able to extract DNA from it. And Ressler is leveraged by Prescott the cleaner/blackmailer into moving a car which has a dead body in the boot. I think we’re now past the tipping point at which the cover-up is worse than the original act.

The Blacklist s5 ep 2

A heist episode! I do love a heist episode; fortunately, so do the creators of TV shows. This week’s heister, and Blacklister, is Rigsby from The Mentalist, who we first see doing that thing where a thief is suspended from wires and descends into the room from which a priceless object is to be stolen. You’d think high-end galleries would take precautions against it. But no sooner has he stolen a diamond necklace than he ducks through a couple of doors and emerges as suave zillionaire Greyson Blaise.

Red wants to partner up with Blaise to help to rebuild his criminal empire. So in time-honoured fashion he offers him to the Task Force, who in turn are delighted, as in order to justify their continued existence they need a scalp, and a high-profile wealthy socialite who is also a thief fits the bill nicely. To draw him out Red needs a suitable social event: specifically, a house in Lake Como, some party caterers, and a Rembrandt which has been missing for 30 years. Cooper, unsurprisingly, quibbles more than a bit, but the party goes ahead, and Blaise turns up.

As ever, there’s more to Red’s plan than he’s prepared to let on at first. Rather endearingly, after finding out that Red is her father Liz has been notably more indulgent towards him: given a choice, as she might well be ere the season is done, she’s undoubtedly on Team Red rather than Team FBI. “Cool!” she exclaims on discovering the precise nature of this week’s deception. I thought so too.

The running Suitcase O’Bones plot is bubbling nicely as well: Tom is trying to find out the truth about it, and ropes Liz’s ex, Dr Nik, into helping him, while Dembe and Red are still looking for the suitcase. (There’s a great moment of the sort that The Blacklist throws at us every now and again, where Red switches from urbane and ironic to vicious and deadly. Just to remind us that he’s capable of brutality.) All in all, a very good episode.

The Blacklist s5 ep 1

In a swaggering opening sequence, Red steals a red convertible (soundtracked by glam classic ‘New York Groove’) and evades two police cars, while speaking to Liz, his daughter – his daughter! – on a mobile phone; then sells the car and uses the proceeds to pay for… his rent at a downmarket motel (soundtracked by James Brown’s ‘The Boss’). Following the events of the season 4 finale Red, it seems, is on his uppers, with his criminal empire in ruins.

So he needs some cash money, and decides that the best way of achieving that quickly is to become a freelance bounty hunter. He offers his services to a bail bondsman, who gives him the task of tracking down one Smokey Putnum, due to appear in court in a couple of days. Smokey is also this week’s Blacklister, except that Smokey’s alleged crime – embezzling $2m from a carnival – isn’t the sort of thing which, in normal times, would get you anywhere near the Blacklist.

Smokey is tracked down without too much fuss, claiming all the while that he’s being fitted up by Heddie Hawkins, the carnival’s accountant. But when Red and Liz – along for the ride, ostensibly because she’s helping to track a fugitive from justice, but in reality because she wants to spend some quality time with Daddy – try to transport Smokey back to the bail bondsman, some seriously nasty people try to stop them; it turns out that the carnival was a front for some Nazi drug dealers, and it was their money that Smokey embezzled. They’d like it back, please and thank you, together with unfettered access to Smokey.

Is all as it seems, or does Red have a Plan? Of course he does, even if the Plan seems a little fanciful: to reconstitute his criminal enterprise with Smokey as a key part of the team. Thus far I’m not convinced that Smokey has much to offer a master criminal, but we’ll see. That having been said Red has also recruited Heddie, revealed as a master money launderer, and played by the great Aida Turturro. Liz’s continued presence in Red’s scheme means that she and Cooper have more or less accepted that Red is of more use to them, in the broadest sense, if he’s running the underworld once again, which is welcome confirmation that this show’s intriguingly murky morality is intact as we go forward.

This is all tremendously enjoyable, and the shot at the end – Red and Liz dancing by the motel pool to a jazzy cover of Simple Minds’s ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’ – is as fun as the rest of the storyline. Other parts of the episode aren’t quite as good: I’m way past caring about the death of Laurel Hitchin, and having someone blackmail Ressler about it isn’t going to make me any more interested. Samar and Aram are now officially a thing. And Dembe is frantically searching for the bone-filled suitcase, not knowing that Tom has it. There’s also a flash-forward (?) in which Red apparently puts a bullet in Tom’s head, which will please some people (not me) if it should come to pass. Overall, though, a strong episode.