Outstanding emotional performance by Megan Boone. Commanding presence of Ron Perlman. Sharp writing and great use of effects during lucid dream sequences.
Not entirely believable opening. Secondary characters still a bit in the background.
The Blacklist — After the missile strike on The Factory, Luther Braxton (Guest Star, Ron Perlman, Blacklister No. 21) is on the loose with a kidnapped Agent Liz Keen (Megan Boone) in tow. When torturing Liz proves ineffective, Braxton kidnaps the son, Max (Nathanael Small), of neurologist Dr. Selma Orchard (Gloria Reuben), to force her to help extract Liz’s repressed childhood memories involving the fire and its connection to The Fulcrum. Meanwhile, Raymond “Red” Reddington (James Spader), Agent Donald Ressler (Diego Klattenhoff) and Agent Samar Navabi (Mozhan Marnò), having all barely survived the missile attack themselves set out on a frenzied mission to find Braxton and rescue Liz. The Task Force works all angles of surveillance and leads to close in on Braxton’s location while Red moves directly against Braxton’s known associates to squeeze them for information. Knowing it’s only a matter of time before Red or the FBI find him, Braxton makes arrangements to sell The Fulcrum to his contact from the group who hired him to find it—none other than The Director (David Strathairn) himself.
As Dr. Orchard takes Liz deeper into her repressed memories, the danger to her health escalates, but clues begin to emerge. Memories of the fire, secrets she possessed as a girl and the last time she saw her father start to trickle in despite the torturous effects to her body and mind. Both Red and the Task Force have leads pay off that bring them closer to Braxton, but it’s Red who finds him first. When Red and Dembe (Hisham Tawfiq) assault the location where Liz is being held, killing the rest of Braxton’s men along the way, they find her, still in a lucid state, with Dr. Orchard. In a desperate attempt to find The Fulcrum himself, Red urges Dr. Orchard to continue with the memory extraction. When Liz wakes, she doesn’t remember anything about The Fulcrum, but what she does remember is that Red was there the night of the fire and involved in trying to find The Fulcrum then just as he is now. Despite his protests, Liz blames Red for his part in the horrific events of that night. Later, when the dust settles, Liz discovers a surprise hidden within the stuffed animal she’s had since the night of the fire while Director Cooper (Harry Lennix) and his wife learn bad news from their doctor. Meanwhile, in an effort to save face with Alan Fitch’s (Alan Alda) group, Red confronts The Director with Luther Braxton’s dead body as a warning that will have everyone wondering if Red has the damning information he claims. With so many mysteries and secrets to discuss, let’s float into our own state of lucidity to sort through the details of this week’s fiery conclusion to Luther Braxton!
Ron Perlman, you’ll always be more than a side of beef to us and we won’t be suppressing the memory of Luther Braxton if we can help it.
We have to give the writer’s room for The Blacklist credit. Repressed Memory Therapy and the association of the TET1 gene with memory extinction are real. While the understanding of this science is in many ways still in its infancy, the ideas and techniques shown in this episode by Dr. Orchard to both repress or uncover lost memories from Braxton and Liz are mostly consistent with conventional wisdom regarding the subject. The use of sedative-hypnotic drugs in combination with guided therapy to recover lost memories or extinguish painful ones is an accepted, if not controversial, treatment method for patients suffering from mental blocks or the anguish of painful memories associated with post traumatic distress syndrome (PSTD). In Braxton’s case, perhaps the good doctor should have extinguished a lot more memories than just the one in Khafji. Everyone in this episode would have been far better off, but we would have been far less entertained with Ron Perlman emerging as a worst nightmare for Red and Liz.
Perlman’s nonchalant wit, sarcastic banter and larger-than-life intensity helped make this episode, and the return of The Blacklist from hiatus in its second season, memorable. He has to feel proud. Most Blacklisters haven’t made it past one episode and his dominating presence will long be associated with a much deeper connection to Liz, Red and the mysterious Fulcrum that is so highly sought by some of the most powerful and ruthless people in the world. It’s truly a shame we won’t see him after this episode. His banter with Red was priceless. Though the two rarely shared screen time, when they did, it was as juicy as anticipated though their richest banter was by phone.
“Sebastian, brother. I didn’t think you made it out.” ~ Braxton
“He didn’t. I did.” ~ Red
“Oh, man. This is just like Belgrade, huh, boyo? Whatever you want, I get.” ~ Braxton
“This is nothing like Belgrade.” ~ Red
“What was the name of that kid? You know, the one you had running point? I wish I could have been there when you opened that closet door and found him hanging by your necktie.” ~ Braxton
It would seem that Red needs to swap up his routine. His neckties are developing a history of causing him trouble. That aside, Luther Braxton has been an enjoyable Blacklister to watch. Perlman is the consummate professional in his performance and delivery and the show has benefited from his entrance into the annals of Blacklist lore. Red was right however, Luther Braxton was a fish swimming with the sharks and underestimating The Director’s cabal is one thing, but giving Red a second chance to lower the boom is another.
Clearly the focus of this episode will be remembered as Liz’s recovery of lost memories, but with a strong performance, Perlman has made sure that we’ll forever associate Braxton with that moment. As impressive as The Blacklist has been in attracting powerful and memorable guest stars that can stand their own opposite James Spader’s magnetic on-screen presence, the show has also been unafraid to let those roles go for the sake of the story at hand. As things drew to a close, we knew there would be other alternative for Red than to ensure that Braxton never resurfaced again. As much as we lament the lost of Braxton in this universe, we would love to know what The Director did do with the imposing side of beef hanging in his home.
Follow the white rabbit Neo…er…Liz.
Megan Boone deserves the credit she’ll likely receive for her dramatic performance in this episode. It was nice to see a bit of character building for everyone else, in particular Aram’s affection for Samar and Cooper’s painful revelation from his doctor, but there’s no mistaking that this episode was Liz’s story and Boone delivered a powerful performance with fantastic emotional range. Her painful and fragmented journey through her memories, both within her mind and in the dry pool in which she was tortured, will no doubt have a dramatic impact on Liz’s development as a character for the rest of the season.
The clouded and hazy images from Liz’a mind certainly had all of us hanging on every word and every visual. The shuddering visual effects of the lucid dream state were extremely well done. Everything about the dreams sequence seemed slightly clouded, muffled or had an eerie visual shuddering about it. It’s impossible to say what was real and what was not within Liz’s dream state. We have no doubt that enthusiastic fans will be dissecting every second for the foreseeable future looking for hints and clues. The indistinct voices arguing in the background range from very clear to barely audible, but the primary visuals of Liz clutching the four-year old version of herself (Jillian Lebling) were both haunting and touching.
“What are they fighting about?” ~ Liz
“It’s a secret.” ~ Young Liz
“Who’s Masha?” ~ Liz
“You are.” ~ Young Liz
Is Liz’s real name Masha? The response by her younger self seemed to indicate it was, though shouting in the background between an indistinct man and woman suggest that Masha could both be Liz and another person as well. The woman shouting clearly mentions “Instead they framed Masha” and being framed for something unknown seems unlikely to have happened to a four-year old girl. Masha, incidentally, is a Russian pet name typically used for women named Maria or Marie (according to Wikipedia). Is Liz of Russian decent? Fitch’s last words about a safe in St. Petersburg also indicated a Russian tie. Coincidence? Perhaps not.
It’s unclear if Masha was Liz’s name, but it wouldn’t surprise us if it were, given that Dr. Orchard tells her later that she believes someone else tampered with Liz’s memories. Hiding her identity, even from herself, would be a very effective way of concealing the truth about something much larger than anyone in this story. What IS clear in this episode is the gut-wrenching range Boone showed wandering in and out of her hypnotic state. Between her dramatic revelations, her disgust with Red later and the various emotional states she displayed during her wandering mind state, this was likely her finest performance yet on The Blacklist. She deserves the praise and we’re happy to heap it on given she earned it. As she smiled in the final scene pulling out the small box from her stuffed rabbit, we couldn’t help but zip back to the good memory of both Lizes chasing the white rabbit that ended with snow falling upward and young Liz in the arms of someone unknown, but who’s voice sounded to us quite like that of Sam (William Sadler). Though Sadler is uncredited for the episode we do see his picture later as Liz is sorting through a box of keepsakes. Did the white rabbit lead Liz to the key to the Fulcrum? We have no idea, but we think the prospect is very likely.
We’d never play poker with James Spader, or Red for that matter. We’d never be able to tell when either is bluffing and both would clean us out time and time again.
To say that James Spader delivered another outstanding performance could become repetitive, but it’s certainly true. In fact, we can’t remember a bad or even mediocre performance, because there just isn’t one. The show itself may have some ups and downs at times with its storyline or plot threads, but the one constant is Red. James Spader is consistently exceptional week to week. His relentless pursuit of Braxton and eventual confrontation with both Braxton and later The Director are the types of moments that have helped make this show as one of the best on television. For all the praise that is deserved for everyone that makes The Blacklist, Spader is its unwavering anchor.
Spader just doesn’t cease to entertain us. We can’t ignore the collective of his many memorable lines are the collaborative effort of the entire writer’s room, but Spader just keeps delivering time after time. His range as an actor is astounding. From the gritty determination of his search for Braxton and Liz, his intimidating threats to Braxton’s associates and The Director, and his humbling emotion and tenderness at times with Liz, Spader is a master craftsman wielding the type of role all actors crave. One that lets him explore the full range of what makes a character tick, rocket wildly from one emotion to another every week and deal out quote-worthy zingers with regularity.
“Luther, I never thought I’d enjoy having anything in my mouth as much as Petty Officer Virginia Sherman, but this [Laughing] My God! It tastes so good! I hesitate to swallow, and I certainly don’t want to spit it out. Oh, what the hell. I told you so.” ~ Red
As much fun as those lines are for the audience (and maybe Spader himself) he really shines in the most emotional moments. The devastated look on Red’s face as a betrayed and exhausted Liz is ushered away and Dr. Orchard is emotionally reunited with her son Max will only reinforce the idea that Red may be Liz’s father for some. The dream sequence may reinforce for others that he is not. Whether he is or isn’t won’t likely be known for a long time. But regardless of his true relationship with Liz, Spader made us believe that Red cares for her, despite her contempt in believing he has only been after an object and his affection for her was simply a ruse. His look as she was helped out of the dry pool suggests her impression was wrong and that’s the principle talent James Spader brings to Red. We believe in the genuine moments. And Spader has crafted Red so well that we also have our moments of doubt when that’s exactly the intent.
FINAL VERDICT: Luther Braxton, vivid dream sequences and additional clues into Liz’s past make for a memorable episode that hopefully launch a strong second half of the season for The Blacklist.
The fallout revolving around The Fulcrum and its impact on all the characters of this show won’t likely be soon resolved. Everyone has questions and all sides are starting to put together pieces. Eventually the mosaic that is the largest mystery behind The Blacklist will come to light, but for now, we’re left with just a few more cryptic clues and more questions than answers. Overall, the two episode Luther Braxton arc was definitely a solid return for The Blacklist after it’s hiatus and the use of the Super Bowl platform and a cliffhanger to shift the show to Thursday night would appear on the surface to be smart move by NBC. Nearly 26 million viewers after the game couldn’t be much more successful, but with a sharp drop to just over 10 million in it’s Thursday night debut the jury is out on the move.
The mysteries did deepen and it will be interesting to see if things return to “business as usual” for the Task Force and how much The Fulcrum will play in to the week to week story lines. With a Teleplay by Mike Ostrowski and Jim Campolongo building upon a Story by Kristen Reidel and Vincent Angell, the writing credits for Luther Braxton’s conclusion clearly indicate a team effort in bringing this script and its ideas together. While sometimes that can make an hour of television feel disjointed, in this case it worked exceptionally well. The script and ideas were cohesive and fluid. Great performances by Boone, Spader and Perlman certainly helped bring things sharply into focus and a lot of credit must also be given to Director Michael Watkins for bringing a great script to life. The dream sequence elements were exceptionally well done with enough cohesiveness to intrigue us and enough jarring visual effects and mystery to keep us guessing. Plus it’s always good to see Gloria Reuben. Her portrayal of Dr. Orchard was a calming balance to Boone’s gritty and emotional performance.
If the episode had any flaws it was in its believability early on. We don’t know about everyone else, but the kind of destruction depicted room to room in The Factory with fires burning in so many places around the facility in the wide shots made it hard for us to believe that our team came out unscathed. Granted, it’s a television show, but it’s also hard to believe with that kind of destruction Braxton, his men and the helicopter were unscathed while Red and others were left dazed. True, these may be nits, but we were scratching our heads and wondering where this fit on the believability scale as we watched. Once the story shifted from The Factory however, things were solid and worked very well—especially the details of Liz’s memory extraction.
The Task Force now knows that something in Liz’s memory ties to all of the chaos Luther Braxton unleashed. Samar in particular honed in on this very fact when Red admitted to her that Braxton was trying to extract a memory of which Liz has no memory. Since Red knew this before we did, we can only assume that the group of people Dr. Orchard mentioned wanted her to forget—includes Red. Liz undoubtedly knows this as well and we can’t wait to see that reaction from Spader when she confronts him. Will we believe him? Or will we have doubts? Only Spader and the writers room may know for sure but we can’t wait to see it for ourselves and try to decide as things unfold when The Blacklist airs next Thursday!
Questions, Comments, Concerns and My Reaction on Twitter…
- Damn. That bitch [Kat Goodson] is cold.Luther, you’ve got a world of hurt coming.
- The sweet satisfaction of “I told you so” Braxton, Red is counting the ways he’s going to bleed you.
- Hugs for everyone. Nice CYA move Aram. 🙂 @AmirArison @mozhanistan
- Okay. I gotta get the Doc’s number for the next time I have insomnia. #TheBlacklist
- What’s in it for us? Life. When Red tells me that, I DO what he wants. Period.
- Little Liz comforted by Big Liz. This is really messing with my heart strings.
- He’s right. An extra 15 seconds probably won’t change anything. Dude is lucky Red has bigger fish to fry.
- Only Red can enjoy the taste of “I told you so” more than his most delectable Petty Officer memory. 🙂
- Is Liz really under right now? I have my suspicions.
- You were there. (And then commercial break) COMMERCIALS SUCK!!
- I’m calling it now. We won’t know *much* more than we do right now. And it’ll be a while before we do. #TheBlacklist is killing me.
- The way Red looked at Max and Doc. Hmm
- Shi*t goes sideways. Red gets blamed. What ever happened to honor amongst thieves? Oh wait—Luther was a thief. Scratch that.
- The only people that can tell you are the people that want you to forget.
- Every time I think Liz & Red will really work together, things go sideways & she’s disgusted with him again. Sigh ..
The Blacklist Review: 2×10 “Luther Braxton-Conclusion”