The Blacklist (S07E17) “Brothers”

The Blacklist took a little detour away from Red (James Spader) this week, and delved into Donald Ressler’s (Diego Klattenhoff) tangled past. The Ressler brothers – Don and Robby (Anthony Michael Hall) dealt with a long-buried skeleton in the family closet.

But before we get into that, why did this week ignore last week’s cliffhanger of Reddington collapsed on the floor? Blame the virus and the mad scramble to rearrange episodes in order to arrive at a suitable finale. We lost three episodes this season when production shut down while shooting episode 719. So, showrunners Jon Bokencamp and John Eisendrath bumped “Brothers” up a week to allow Red’s story to be front and center in the final two episodes of Season 7. And some trivia. They named Donald Ressler after famed FBI profiler, Robert Ressler, as explained by creator Jon Bokencamp way back in Season 1. So it was a very nice touch that Ressler’s father’s name was Robert.

The episode told two stories. Flashbacks to what happened in 1995, and in the present day. The young Donnie (Jack Alcott) and Robby (Angus O’Brien) were excellent. The casting in this episode was so on point. I completely bought that Anthony Michael Hall and Diego Klattenhoff were brothers. The opening 1995 flashback shows the infamous Tommy Markin (Chaz Shepherd) and his partner Robert Ressler (Chad Ackerman) chasing down a perp. But things aren’t as they appear, when the perp turns and guns down Ressler, before Markin shoots the kid. No witnesses that way. As Ressler senior lay dying, Markin told him he should have taken the money.

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So, whatever (or whoever) is buried in Ray Field results in a road trip back home to Detroit. It’s obvious the brothers have a rocky relationship. Ressler (I know, they are both Resslers, but we’ll say Ressler and Robby in this!) doesn’t want to chit chat. Once home, mom Lisa (Beth Fowler) is all smiles, having whipped up a hasty welcome home for her Donald. As Ressler and Robby excuse themselves from the throng, they find refuge in their childhood bedroom. Seems Robby is ‘between apartments’ and staying with mom.

Memories fill Ressler, back home. He and Rob as teens, when Tommy Markin came to their door, informing their mother of her husband’s death. Of the family gathering, while the boys sat on the staircase. Donnie drunk, and Robby sober, wearing his Police Academy shirt. Yes, our young Agent Ressler was the pot-smoking, school skipping troubled kid. Robby was the straight-laced ‘following dad’s footsteps’ future cop. While drinking in the car outside, Donnie overhears Tommy Markin, and it’s clear Markin killed their father.

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But Robby doesn’t want to hear it. And that’s when hothead Donnie breaks into Markin’s house. When Donnie is discovered, he shoots Markin when he refuses to admit to his part in their father’s death. Yes, teenage Donald Ressler shot Tommy Markin with his dead father’s gun. But big brother Robby steps in, takes charge and sends a tearful Donnie home. When Robby buries Markin in Ray Field, he knows he can never be a cop. This one act knocked Robby completely off the rails.

Back in the present day, Ressler and Robby locate the burial site and start digging, while a couple of shady folks watch from a parked car. And with the body in the trunk of the car, Ressler apologizes for causing this mess years ago. After wiping down and disposing of the shovels and all evidence, it appears their nightly grave robbing is done.  Until the car – and the body of a dead cop – gets driven off in a squeal of tires, stolen out from under them. “I can explain!” says Robby, and you know this is going to be some explanation. While drowning their sorrows at a bar, Robby does explain. With his garage business failing, he borrowed money from the Albanian mob, but couldn’t pay it back. In between drinks, they get a phone call. Albanian mob boss, Jakov Mitko (Mark Margolis) wants to talk.

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When the boys meet Jakov at his plant nursery, he’s got a deal for them. Jakov was well aware there was an FBI agent in the Ressler family, and now he wants a secure file from the Detroit Field Office. Jakov’s deal? If Ressler retrieves the secure file, they get the car and body back, plus Robby’s debt is wiped clean. There’s just one problem. The file Jakov wants is on an undercover agent, and Ressler can’t give up information like that.

After some fisticuffs and angry shouts, the boys settle down and it’s Robby’s turn to come clean.  When Markin woke up while Robby was burying the crooked cop, Robby finished the job with a well-aimed shovel. They BOTH killed Tommy Markin with Robby finishing what Donnie started. And he did it to protect his little brother, and he never told Ressler. Why? Because Robby knew what it would do. It made Ressler become the person he was today. So with everything out in the open, and the brothers now besties forever, there was only one thing left to do. Turn themselves in.

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And that’s just what Ressler is doing next, spilling the beans and coming clean to someone. But it’s not the cops. It’s Liz (Megan Boone) who Ressler had called for help. After explaining the entire sordid mess to her, she’s horrified that he wants to turn himself in. But there is one more thing to take care of, before he and Robby get the cuffs slapped on. Get those darn Albanians. So with SWAT and FBI agents waiting, the brothers return to Jakov with the FBI file. Except the thumb drive is empty, and on discovering that, a quick gunfight ensues. The result – several dead Albanians, and a wounded Jakov.

With the mob off the streets, the brothers follow through on their commitment to confess. And Jakov is only too happy to tell the Feds all about the long-dead cop residing in the trunk of Robby’s car. But when the Feds check his story, the trunk is empty. Spotlessly clean in fact. Not a trace of Tommy Markin. Stunned, seconds away from confessing, the brothers don’t say a word. Back home after their eventful night, unsure what just happened, their mom comes home, all smiles at her boys. But mom Lisa wasn’t born yesterday, and knows her sons well. She knows Don came home to fix some mess of Robby’s and appreciates it. Yeah, that’s not the entire story, mom.

More memories come to the fore for Ressler. At his father’s funeral, where a broken Robby, fresh from burying his mentor, Tommy Markin, can’t speak. So instead, the wayward Donnie says a few words, recognizing he’s a screw-up, and vowing to change his path and be a good man, like his father. The events of one night set both brothers on different paths. Promising to keep in touch with the brother he now understands more, Ressler heads back to DC.

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He visits Liz, needing to know why she took care of Markin’s body, keeping both brothers out of jail.  And he doesn’t get the answer he was expecting. She didn’t do it for him, but for her. She also calls Ressler a knucklehead AND a dipstick for wanting to screw up his life and confess to something his teen self did. But yeah, amid his confusion, Liz continues. Because in her screw up of a life, she couldn’t do any of it without him being there. In her FEMA disaster existence, she would be swept out to sea if she didn’t have his ‘tiny island of calm’. With a hug, he assures her that’s not happening, not on his watch. And whether you ship them or not, it’s obvious how much these two care for and rely on each other.

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

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