After the mad rush to the finish line after the demise of Ian Garvey last week, this weeks episode took a little step back to a Blacklister of the week formula. It felt a little out of place, knowing we’re hurtling toward the biggest reveal and cliffhanger the show has ever given us, if we’re to believe creator Jon Bokenkamp, in just two weeks.
The episode opens with a father and daughter running through the woods, trying to outrun whoever (or whatever…) was chasing them. As the father turns back, he screams and is dragged off by something, while the young girl is almost hit by a truck on the highway. Who are these people, and what are they running from? Adding to the mystery is a red powder they carry that protects them when smeared on their foreheads and sprinkled on the ground, encircling them.
Liz visits Red, who is still healing from his altercation with Garvey’s bullet, complete with concerned doctor attending him. It’s refreshing to see that Red and Liz seem to be fine with each other, although she drew her gun on him last episode. I like this new, bolder (dare I say, more mature) Liz. While Reddington deflects his doctor’s concerns of a risk of cerebral hemorrhage thanks to the concussion he sustained in that vehicle accident with Garvey last week, Red ‘gives’ Liz a case.
Well, Red doesn’t give it to Liz. He leaves a clue, and she follows it, via a newspaper article he’s just been reading on the young girl at the top of the episode. Liz gives the case to the task force, telling them she knows Reddington must feel this girl who showed up out of nowhere has to be a Blacklister case, and important somehow. Cooper agrees and orders them to look into the girl and where she came from.
Red, meanwhile, ignores his doctor’s orders of strict bed rest, and we’re not surprised. He shows up on Jennifer’s (Fiona Dourif) doorstep, full of tea and sympathy, and wanting to know if Jennifer just has a duffel bag of Garvey’s. She doesn’t, and nor does her mother and Red’s ex-wife, Naomi Hyland (remember her from Season 2, with Berlin?). Jennifer refuses to tell Red where her mother is, despite his asking. She’s bitter that Red abandoned them when she was a child, and Jennifer does not understand why. Plus, he killed Ian Garvey.
Liz and Samar visit the girl in the hospital, and things get even weirder. She’s from a ‘cult’ who believe that the outside world was infected with a contagion 50 years ago. They live in isolation, protected from other people. The girl, Maybelle, (Austyn Johnson) has leukemia and has had no medical care in her life, hence why her father left with her. While Liz is talking with the girl, an orderly comes to take Maybelle for some tests.
Except he’s not an orderly and kidnaps the girl. Yes, that old trick. In the rush to stop him, Samar is knocked out and thrown in the van, and now a prisoner with Maybelle. That didn’t quite go according to plan.
When he hears Samar is gone, Aram is a tad upset. Yes, I’m being polite. Scrambling to get info on who took Maybelle, the task force come across one Nicholas T. Moore (Bob Gunton), who vanished about the same time the New Haven community came about. With Moore as the only lead, Liz and Ressler head off to talk to his wife. And here they find something interesting. New Haven, the plague, the outside contagion and fear of others all comes from a book that Nicholas T. Moore wrote in 1971, called The Age of Contagion.
And the haven one big rule. When someone ventures outside their haven, they must go through purification if they return. Burned alive. This fate awaits young Maybelle, and Samar. Aram uses tax records and land sale records to discover a plot of land Moore purchased about the same time he vanished. That has to be where New Haven is, and Cooper orders the whole task force to head straight there.
After visiting Jennifer, Red follows a tip from Smokey (Michael Aranov) to find Ian Garvey’s second in charge, Judson (Shane Patrick Kearns). There’s just one minor problem. Judson is in jail. Nonplussed, Red finds a way via a prison guard, Ronnie Glanton, (James T. Alfred) who loves his 1966 burnt orange Mustang more than life itself. With the car held hostage, our Ronnie will do anything to get his beloved returned. In no time at all, he gets an ear piece to Judson so that Red can speak with him.
And Red gets what he needs. Intel on just what Garvey did with the duffel bag of bones. It’s in Costa Rica, which is bad news for Red. With Ronnie’s car returned in one piece, Red prepares to leave for Costa Rica on the jet, after Smokey has got the address Garvey visited there. Plans change when Jennifer calls. She’s had a change of heart and will take him to Naomi if he gives her some truthful answers. Cue the most interesting scene of the episode.
Meeting in a restaurant that Red has had closed during the lunch hour for his meeting with Jennifer, he tells her why he left Jennifer and her mother. Something interesting though. He says, “You want to know why your father abandoned you.” He speaks of Jennifer’s father in third person. Hhhmm. I think Red is Jennifer’s step father, but it was still an interesting way to word it. He explains there are many shadow government agencies, and when he found such a covert agency, the Cabal, he tried to destroy it. In retribution, the Cabal set out to destroy Red. They framed him, but for what, is the question.
The only way Red could protect his family was to disappear and have Naomi and Jennifer placed in Witness Protection. After abandoning his car on the side of the road in the snow that night, he then vanished. And so Reddington’s life changed, as a fugitive from American law. A scenario more preferable to being hunted by the KGB and the CIA. Jennifer accepts his answers as truth, even though she doesn’t like it, and agrees to take him to Naomi. Score one for Red being honest. Well, selectively honest, as only Red can be.
Meanwhile back at the New Haven commune, things are unraveling. Maybelle’s father is burned alive – purified – and young Maybelle is being marched to the same fate. Enter Ressler, Liz, Aram and a whole mob of armed SWAT guys with guns blazing, just in time to rescue the young girl from the flames. The commune take refuge inside while the task force wait on HRT to negotiate the stand-off. But Aram isn’t having it, and against orders, he approaches the main building holding Nicholas T. Moore’s book, The Age of Contagion.
And while Ressler and Liz look on, Aram tells the commune population they’re living a lie and that everything they have known is from a book. None of it is real. No contagion or plague occurred and no one on the outside is infected. And there is still an FBI.
Moore, listening to this, knows it’s all falling apart and orders them to shoot Aram. Only they don’t because they realize that what Aram is saying is the truth after he tosses them the book. And I kinda shrugged here. I mean, really? After living this life, half of them being born to it, knowing nothing else for 50 years, they believe someone after 2 minutes telling them it’s all a lie based on a book? Yeah, that was a stretch.
But hey, in the interests of tying it all up in a bow, they all turn on Moore, demanding answers. But as they try to leave, he shoots one of them and the SWAT team breech the compound, arresting Moore. Aram is still demanding answers from Moore though after there is no sign of Samar in the entire compound. Ressler drags Aram off Moore, and Aram won the award for Least Professional FBI Field Agent of the Week.
Red, meanwhile, is still with Jennifer and on his way to Naomi. Except, something isn’t right. They’re in a cemetery, and Jennifer leads Red to Naomi’s headstone. She is dead. Killed a year before by two shots as she exited her apartment, by an unknown assailant. A shocked Red did not know she was dead. After Jennifer asks Red to never contact her again, she leaves Red standing at the gravestone.
And I have to wonder. Is Naomi dead? She got shot around the same time Garvey entered the picture with the bones, Tom’s death and Liz’s attack. There is more going on here. Is this ‘death’ just another method for Naomi to go into hiding?
We end the episode with Red on his jet, all ready to head to Costa Rica, when Liz hops on board. She is now well aware that the case with Moore had nothing to do with Red or anything. It was just a means to keep Liz and the task force busy while he pursued the duffel bag. A plan thwarted by his own needing to stay and talk with Jennifer. Liz, unimpressed, then informs Red that Samar is missing, and she needs his help to find her.
The final shot is of Samar bound and gagged, still in the back of the van, heading to who knows where.
I have to say, this was a disappointing episode. With three episodes to go in the season before the promised bombshell of a finale, this was a mediocre episode. Far too much time spent on a case that meant nothing. (M Night Shyamalan, and The Village, anyone?) Its purpose only to distract Liz and the task force.
Samar going missing seems odd timing, this close to tying up the season. It was more like a mid-season story line and feels like drama for the sake of drama just to fill in time. Aram’s over the top reaction just had me rolling my eyes. Aram is far better in the Post Office, typing and talking fast and getting intel for the real field agents to work on.
The conversations with Red and Jennifer were the best part of the episode. But even then, we didn’t learn much more than we’d already figured out. Red left Naomi and Jennifer to protect them and not make them targets. We knew because Naomi was Carla Reddington, who changed her name and persona, as we discovered in Season 2. The only interesting part of Red’s revelation was that the Cabal framed him. I’m also not convinced Naomi is dead, and half expect her to be in the finale, alive and well. Maybe in Costa Rica.
I’m also waiting for something to happen with this ‘possible cerebral hemorrhage’ Red’s doctor mentioned. She even has a trauma team standing by. Was this just filler doctor speak? Is this to do with the cliffhanger? And speaking of head wounds, they sure showed us how long Samar was unconscious.
Two scenes that stood out – Dembe doing up Red’s tie and lowering his collar for him while Red’s shoulder is healing, was beautiful. These two men have an incredible bond. Second scene was Red waving to the prison guard Ronnie, beside the burnt orange 1966 Mustang, grinning like a Cheshire cat. Great scene!
Final thought, so I can put this episode behind us and look forward. The next two episodes need to be stellar to make up for this filler we got.
The Blacklist airs on NBC at 8/7c on Wednesdays.
Images courtesy NBC.