The Blacklist (S07E04) “Kuwait”

The Blacklist episode Kuwait gave us more backstory this week, taking us back to Kuwait City in 1989. There, Harold Cooper (Harry Lennix) and Reddington (James Spader) had previously met. They have mentioned Kuwait a few times over the years.  Now we understand what happened.

Back in 1989, US Navy Lieutenant Cooper (brilliantly portrayed by Ruffin Prentiss) faced a crisis of conscience.  Fellow Navy lieutenant Daniel Hutton (Sean Patrick Higgins) had uncovered evidence that Cooper was funding the local rebels, when a box marked Medical Supplies broke open. Money spilled out – a lot of money. Cooper told Hutton to forget what he’d seen. Which of course, Hutton didn’t do. He promptly informed his superiors that Cooper was dirty. Our Cooper? Surely not. While arguing the fact that Hutton had turned in Cooper, rebels attacked them. They dragged an injured Hutton off, while Cooper, unharmed, watched at gunpoint.

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On questioning Cooper, he could offer no more information. And who should be watching these proceedings, but one Raymond Reddington. The real one. But this was no ordinary rebel attack. Cooper’s superiors had ordered Hutton taken, when he uncovered their operation.  So Cooper wasn’t exactly dirty. He wasn’t the one funding the rebel cause. He merely knew about it, but did nothing. They had executed Hutton an hour after the ambush, and while shaken at this news, Cooper left it at that. Case closed, they awarded Cooper the Navy Cross. But his conscience was not clear.

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Back in Season 2, Reddington made peace with the events, giving Harold a thumb drive that contained the only copy of the incident. The case really was closed, but still Cooper could not let it go. Back in the present day, Aram brought news to Cooper via the CIA. Daniel Hutton (now played by John Pyper-Ferguson) was alive. He had escaped after being held for 30 years and made his way to the CIA. He wanted only one person – Harold Cooper. Stunned at this revelation, Cooper left on Red’s jet for Kuwait.

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And on the way, Cooper revealed that he knew Red had been Ilya Koslov. Harold obviously wasn’t aware of Red’s perchance of dropping people from his plane, or he might have stayed quiet on that point. So if our Red wasn’t the real Red back in Kuwait – how did this Red know so much about it? Well, Red….just knows. Right… we’ll take that for now. Yet faced with the dilemma of losing the task force, Harold would still inform Main Justice of Red’s real identity.

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Once in Kuwait, reunited with Hutton, they spoke of the incident. Why was Hutton so forgiving though? Last time he saw Cooper, he had called him a traitor. Now he’s all forgiving and knew honorable Cooper would come at once? Not totally buying that. But Cooper apologized and organised Hutton’s extraction, via Red’s jet. But things were getting dicey. Hutton’s last captor was The Simoon, and he wanted his prisoner returned. As Cooper and Hutton traveled to Reddington’s jet, they experienced a moment of deja vu as Simoon’s rebels stopped their vehicle. And here, we should have been surprised, but weren’t. Turned out, Hutton was Simoon. During his captivity, he’d shared Naval intel, and the prisoner changed sides, becoming a war lord himself.  Now he wanted Harold to suffer as he had, held in a cage for years.

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Red called the Post Office. Time to bring in additional troops. But the task force didn’t travel to Kuwait (as I’d hoped). Instead, Red called on one of his unlikely allies – the Dungeon Master (as Ressler referred to him). Apparently Red had won a high stakes game of Magic The Gathering, and called in his marker. In a fun scene, Ressler (Diego Klattenhoff) met with Frankie (Natalie Paul) and gave a gamer $200,000 and a set or coordinates to do ‘something’. Unsure what it was, Ressler still called Reddington to tell him it was done. And it certainly was. Our gamer friend sat at an elaborate computer setup, and maneuvered a drone to fire on the building Cooper was in.

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At that point, an elated Reddington with his party of five (even the Magnificent Seven had seven), decimated the rest of the men holding Cooper. Red killed Hutton during the breach, rescuing Harold. On the jet, Harold struggled with what had happened. Something he had tried to put right had still gone wrong. He asked Red how he did it. How did he live a lie every day? Reddington replied that he didn’t. He may have once had another identity, but today he was who he was. He assured Harold he was a good man who hadn’t needed to rescue Hutton to prove that.

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Cooper kept his appointment with Cynthia Panabaker (Dierdre Lovejoy), but did not reveal Red’s secret. Instead, Cooper kept Red’s identity to himself, and gave Panabaker the thumb drive detailing the Kuwait incident. He came clean about what he had done in the past, rather than turn in Red. Aaaww, Coop. You really are a good man.

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Elsewhere, Liz (Megan Boone) was still being railroaded by her mother (Laila Robins). All set to hire the perfect nanny, Katarina stymied Liz’s plan and paid a quick visit to the prospective nanny, with the news that Liz was the daughter of known criminals Raymond Reddington and Katarina Rostova. And who wanted them in their life? Certainly not the new nanny, who quit via text message. A befuddled Liz (a state we’re becoming used to this season…) informed Katarina, who very helpfully offered to watch Agnes. And while doing so, ‘ransacked’ Liz’s apartment for clues. She found information on Ilya Koslov – the one person who can tell her what she needs to know. Which raises the question, isn’t Red Ilya? Apparently not.

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This was a well rounded episode, with enough flashbacks and the present day story. We got a lot of insight into what shaped Cooper into the man he is today. I have always enjoyed Red and Harold’s friendship, and this deepened that connection.

It also confirmed the suspicion on whether Ilya really became Red. Since Katarina is looking for Ilya, it seems more likely now that the stranger Red met with (the soul mate he and Katarina shared?) is probably Ilya. Then who is Red? That is the $64,000 question.

But after two weeks highlighting the task force, I’m ready for us to return to the Blacklister of the week, and balance out the story.

The Blacklist airs on Friday at 8/7c on NBC.

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