Well scripted episode with solid performances. Memorable moments from James Spader, Megan Boone and Christine Lahti. Well constructed pace with a game-changing ending worthy of a Winter Finale.
Somewhat less dimensional Blacklisters than we’re used to, with the exception of an underused crazy Jilly (Danielle Burgess)
An unfortunate detour for Red forces everyone to make gut-wrenching decisions and the fallout could spell the end for the Task Force or any chance of freedom for Liz.
CAUTION: SPOILERS AHEAD IN OUR DETAILED REVIEW
The Blacklist — While on their way to secure a package that can help end Liz’s (Megan Boone) exile, a routine stop turns into a bizarre detour when Red (James Spader) is randomly kidnapped by the Kings of the Highway (Blacklister No. 108). A rogue group out for a quick score, the Kings find themselves with either the most lucrative or most dangerous captive they’ve ever stumbled across in Red. When Liz solicits early morning help from Samar (Mozhan Marnò), who is still at Ressler’s (Diego Klattenhoff) apartment, to trace Red’s burner phone, events are set in motion that crack the very foundation of trust among everyone at the task force. Elsewhere, Tom (Ryan Eggold), Harold (Harry J. Lennix) and Charlene (Valarie Pettiford) find themselves desperately on the run as Mr. Solomon (Edi Gathegi) closes in to brutally silence Karakurt (Andrew Divoff) and anyone else that knows too much about the Cabal.
Things begin to unravel quickly for the Kings when an escape attempt by Red leaves one member shot and everyone bickering over what to do next. With the possibility of a huge payday eating away at everyone, loyalty erodes rapidly among the Kings. The capture of another member by Liz brings her close to getting Red back. The price Liz must pay may be giving up any chance at regaining her freedom, but Aram (Amir Arison) may be in the most difficult position of all. Damning information about Samar, Liz and Ressler, may force Aram to make the unenviable choice between friendship and the right thing to do. Secrets, lies and unexpected betrayals will leave the Task Force changed forever when everyone’s agendas clash on the Winter Finale of The Blacklist!
Loyalty or principle? That seemed to be the question of the hour.
If there was a theme played out most often in this episode it was the idea that loyalty, family and trust are all relative terms when the stakes skyrocket out of control. The Kings of the Highway, a disorganized and motley crew, became a loud and boisterous comparison to the normally efficient and streamlined Task Force. Both groups crumbling from the inside showed how broken trust and betrayal can destroy any group no matter how good or bad they are.
Ironically, the fates of both the Kings and the Task Force turned on the decisions of two unlikely characters in Aram and Pablo (Luke Robertson). Both had to decide for themselves what was the most right in a swirl of murky waters where no decision really led to a good outcome. As Pablo took a defiant and bloody stand against Cash (Marcus Hester) for abandoning Jasper (Joe Tippett), so did Aram betray Samar by revealing all to Ressler.
But it’s the underlying motives that mattered most to both men. Pablo began to see Cash for who he really was as things spiraled out of control. Cash was a greedy, manipulative, and selfish individual with zero loyalty. Ironically, it took Red’s gigging to finally get Pablo to see it. As warped as Pablo likely was, abandoning one of their own was the last straw and Cash paid the price.
“You ain’t got the stones to pull that trigger.” ~ Cash
Boy was Cash wrong. Loyalty was of much higher value to Pablo than Cash could imagine and two shots later Cash’s erratic and self-serving leadership was history. Unlike the Task Force however, none of the Kings were stable enough to make solid decisions for long. Jilly (Danielle Burgess) was indeed nuttier than a box of cashews, but in all honesty the entire lot was a barrel of mixed nuts just waiting to spill everywhere with the right push. The writing team and all the guest stars did a solid job of creating a truly dysfunctional family and priceless quips or looks from Red lit the fuse on a keg ready to blow.
Crafty writing and intelligent parallels between all the converging stories of this episode demonstrated that everyone has a breaking point when the chips are down and that every family on display had its own level of dysfunction. The key question for each would be if they could handle the pressure and remain loyal to those they care about or if they would stick to their principles no matter the cost. Pablo’s decision was harsh, but likely the easiest of them all. Cash wasn’t worth supporting. Aram, Ressler, Liz and Dembe all had to make far more difficult decisions between loyalty and principle.
Not really surprising, everyone on the shady side of the law (which includes Samar at this point) chose loyalty to people that mattered and all those seemingly on the side of the law chose principle. In the end, no one’s decisions led to good outcomes, but that’s exactly why we watch shows like The Blacklist. We want to see the spectrum of decisions and sift through the ashes with the characters when everything burns down around them.
A triangle of lies, does not a firm foundation make.
Aram faced a dilemma of loyalty similar to Pablo’s, albeit with less bloodshed and more heartache. Hit with the reality that Samar and Ressler had spent the night together, Aram was more concerned with protecting Liz than exposing an inner-office escapade that had to ding his pride. Aram took the high road—at least for the moment. His focus instead was on the safety of Liz. What would happen to her if she were brought in?
“I have a question about, uh, protocols. When we find Agent Keen, are you positive we’ll be able to protect her?” ~ Aram
“Aram, what did you find out?” ~ Ressler
“Protocols–what are they?” ~ Aram
One can’t help but think that some emotion regarding Samar and Ressler together played into Aram’s decision to betray her, but he’s always been focused on Keen’s safety. He’s always believed in her innocence and he’s always worked to help her overcome the trouble she’s in now. It’s hard to say whether Aram knew betraying Samar to Ressler would lead to her dismissal, but he had to know that Ressler wouldn’t ignore it and we have to applaud the writing team for not letting any of the characters off easily.
Ironically Samar put the final nail in her own coffin by revealing she believed the Task Force couldn’t protect Liz. Samar had been working to subvert efforts to capture Liz for some time. We’re assuming this didn’t come up in the pillow talk. Both Aram and Ressler were just as shocked, but once the secret was out, it left us wondering how things could possibly be repaired.
Can these three people who collided so abruptly on principles ever work side by side again? Ressler obviously suspected Samar from the beginning or he wouldn’t have asked Aram to conduct the search in the first place. Aram must feel betrayed on two fronts. His heart took a bruising hit from Samar. But for Aram, the larger hurt may be to his working relationships. He’s fought hard to earn the respect of those around him and now almost all of those relationships are slipping away.
Aram, Samar and Ressler do all have one thing in common. They’ve sought to keep Keen safe despite her seeming guilt and betrayal of them all. If there’s one thing that could bring these three back together, it may be Keen’s safety once she’s within reach of Laurel Hitchin (Christine Lahti). Time will tell and now that Liz is in custody, it may not take long to find out.
Be vigilant. You never know who your Tommy Markin may be.
If loyalty and trust were on trial in this episode, betrayal was the verdict in nearly every case. Almost every character had to feel betrayed by someone or something before this episode was over. The only character that might have escaped the feeling might be Jilly who is simply too crazy to know the difference.
Even Harold and Charlene weren’t immune. When the truth of her affair came to light, it seemed a bit extra convenient. While it wasn’t exactly a surprise to us as we watched, it seemed an odd choice for her to bring up the cabin and thus have to spill the beans on her tryst. Yes, the four of them needed a place to go and this will stir up some juicy drama once there, but the site of an affair would be perhaps the last one we’d pick. We’re betting we’re not alone, but we watch this show for some spice in our lives right?
The betrayals were everywhere and it seemed no one would escape it. As Samar walked out she had to be feeling betrayed by both Aram and Ressler in quick succession. She may have been trying to protect Liz initially, but her actions certainly stabbed Aram in the heart and to a degree, Ressler in the back. Ressler not only broke the bro code with Aram (yes, it’s a thing) but he also didn’t let Liz go a second time. She’s fought to clear her name, but he’s seemed bound and determined to stop her at every turn so their betrayal of each other came full circle.
We’ve struggled to accept Ressler’s hard approach to running Liz down and bringing her in to custody. The snippet of back story about his father’s betrayal was a nice touch to fill in some motivation behind Ressler’s determination. Not only is he fighting his own demons of addiction, but he’s wrestling with the ghost of a father betrayed by corruption. Both are going to be hard to overcome and both are pushing him to walk a more narrow line than most.
“Would it violate our principles to be a little flexible? Well, that’s exactly what Tommy Markin used to tell my dad. They were partners–Detroit PD. He’d sit around talking about how dirty the precinct was and how they were gonna clean it up.” ~ Ressler
“Did they?” ~ Reven Wright
“No. When my father refused to go on the payroll, a drug dealer put a bullet in him. It was a trap, set by the crookedest cop of all–good old Tommy Markin. My father died for his principles. If I compromise mine, it’ll be as if he died for nothing.” ~ Ressler
Those kinds of haunts will keep a man more in line than he might ever be without them. But we’re not sure whether Ressler feels more betrayed by his circumstances or his own choices. Little did we know that this small moment would be prophetic.
Did we see Lauren Hitchin coming? Some will certainly say yes, but even if we had a small inkling of her impending betrayal, we certainly didn’t see it appearing so dramatically. We’ve enjoyed Adriane Lenox. She’s brought life and conviction to Reven, but her farewell leaves us haunted by her own Tommy Markin that’s been a part of her inner circle all along. Christine Lahti was brilliant during her tearful goodbye. We genuinely believe Hitchin was remorseful, but her commitment was clear as day. She didn’t hesitate to shoot Reven. The question we kept asking ourselves was, is she truly evil or simply being manipulated by the Cabal like so many others? We don’t know, but that Cabal really does have their fingers everywhere don’t they?
FINAL VERDICT: All the gloves came off in the Winter Finale of The Blacklist. Lies, betrayal and back-stabbing were all the rage as one by one the dominoes fell for both the Task Force and the Kings of the Highway.
This show really knows how to rip our hearts out and stomp it thoroughly into the dusty Earth. Just for the record, that’s a compliment and a testament to just how well this show has built its world and characters. We’re invested and if we hadn’t grown so fond in all the characters and relationships in this show, we’d never feel bad when those character connections get obliterated. Some we painfully saw coming and others we truly did not. But that’s par for the course for The Blacklist. They’ve made a complex set of crazy circumstances come together nicely more times than we can count, and they did it again in the Winter Finale.
The entire cast delivered a quality performance throughout with eye-popping moments from Megan Boone, James Spader and especially Christine Lahti. Marcus Hester gave us a soulless leader of the Kings and while a bit one-dimensional, it played well against the rest of the Kings who all had varying degrees of depth. Danielle Burgess was a delight. She stole most of the scenes she appeared in as Jilly. That character is about as wacky as they come. Jilly’s reaction to Red’s revelation that she liked to be hurt and later Pablo’s betrayal were highlight moments. Jilly was completely crazy and Burgess made us believe it.
Writer Brian Studler, new to the writers’ room this season, took ownership of his first solo script by making sure every moment and every word counted. There was hardly any fluff during a complex weave of multiple stories. Well-crafted responses to situations and quality details made the entire episode flow smoothly. A lesser effort could have easily left viewers confused, but outstanding narrative and flow made everything work. We applaud the decision to not show us what was in the case this time. Whatever it is really doesn’t matter. We simply know it’s critical to Liz’s freedom and that makes it all the more intriguing.
Director Terrence O’Hara took that script and made the small moments just as impactful as the large ones. Twists, surprises and multiple emotional reveals were all well executed and as a team the entire cast and crew should be proud. Beautiful moments played out unexpectedly in an episode that was entirely off the rails. Just when we thought everything would be entirely focused on the Cabal and freeing Liz we found ourselves derailed by things out of everyone’s control. The intimacy and crazy of Jilly was a joy and Red’s continuous undermining of the Kings’ internal trust was fun to watch. Hitchin’s betrayal of Reven Wright was exceptionally well captured and made an unspeakable act intimate and raw. Combined, all the small moments made this episode one that’s easy to watch again and enjoy just as much the second time through. The big moments had even more impact because all the small ones mattered.
The Blacklist opened the proverbial can of worms with this episode through an unexpected detour for Red that put everyone in difficult circumstances or forced them to make even harder decisions. Aram will have to come to terms with losing Samar, not only as a co-worker, but perhaps for good. Ressler finally nabbed his prize and Liz is in custody, but all the protocols in the world won’t save Liz from the wolf in the hen house. Reven Wright will only be able to help now if her murder is discovered and evidence leads back to Hitchin. Something tells us that no matter the direness of the circumstances, Red will piece together what happened and make a desperate play to get Liz out. If we were placing bets, we’d say Liz will live through the experience, but will there be any trust left amongst the team once The Blacklist returns in January? We don’t know, but we aren’t planning to miss it to find out!
Questions, Comments, Concerns and My Reaction on Twitter…
- I hate it when I can’t remember where I parked too Liz.
- Did that guy wake up one day and aspire to look like Charles Manson?? #NailedIt
- Don’t get your knickers in a twist Charlene. This is the job. We just never talk about it at home.
- Cute. Red is playing along with the tea party.
- Woah. I hope that toy doll has a proper label! #CrazyAndUp
- Nothing good happens in the sewer Tom.
- Who goes to bars in the middle of the day? #BadGuysDo
- Uh, oh. Liz and Red on the telly. That’s #NoBueno
- Do you trust him with your life? I wouldn’t trust him with my spare change.
- This is NOT the tussle he had in mind when he brought Liz home.
- Aram. I’m sorry. Yeah, me too. Geez Samar, might as well go kick some puppies too.
- Red never stops talking. I love it.
- Jasper isn’t looking so good. #DamagedGoods
- Jasper is uh .. dead weight. That look by Red was priceless.
- Wow. I’d say Pablo has the stones after all Chuck wannabe.
- Pablo. That was beautiful. This chick is seriously whack! lol
- What’s in the case Dembe?
- Boom! I’m so sorry honey. I’m gonna miss you. Whuuuuaaat!??
- I STILL want to know what’s in the case. But I LOVE that they aren’t showing us.
- I’m with Red. Jilly IS in desperate need of help.
- Uh oh. Busted!
- They’re coming. I think she kinda knows that Red. #Running
- Well that was all kinds of depressing. On the run, captured, fired, dead or lost. Did anyone win?? #Nope
The Blacklist Review: 3×08 “Kings of the Highway”