This week's episode of The Blacklist is brought to you by Chez Red, Washington D.C.'s hottest new bank-robbing bistro! Watch firsthand as city inspectors are schmoozed by an international felon and enjoy the chef's sumptuous desserts garnished by two disembodied thumbs.
Reddington: "Well, who could've predicted that?"
Jokes aside, seeing Red manage the more mundane concerns of his criminal operation served up a fun sub-plot to accompany the taskforce's FBI v. CIA clash, Tom's rapid accumulation of facial injuries and the titular villain's terrorization of a would-be Stephen Hawking. With the additional Director (David Strathairn) scenes to shed a bit more light on the inner workings of the shadowy Cabal, Liz has never been so inconsequential in an episode. Bandaging Dembe early on might have been her only conversation without Red commanding the scene, and that's not a bad thing. The fugitive plot has drawn much of the limelight towards Liz this season, costing the show quite a few charming James Spader moments. With any luck, this points to a more balanced approach to these two characters after the fall finale.
Reddington: "It's a novel theory, Donald. But like all novels, it's fiction."
Ressler and the taskforce have taken quite an upswing after their poor showing in recent episodes. Instead of the antagonistic brooding and relentless hunt for Liz and Red, Ressler verbally sparred with The Director on conspiracy theories while Aram sweatily deleted key files in the search for Sir Crispin Crandall. Tensions were high following last week's reveal that the The Director would be sitting in at the Post Office to 'share information', and despite a few goofy moments where the heroes secretly called Liz behind closed office blinds (foiled again by the 1" premium aluminum!), the clash worked. Ressler got to stand up for truth, justice and the American way (a bit naively, as he soon learns) and The Director got to flex his wizened muscles by threatening a swollen-eyed perp's daughter for critical information. The latter is still nowhere near as formidable as past villains like Anslo Garrick or Berlin, but at least he's beginning to display some semblance of a character beyond the shadowy suit.
A brief aside, but the Taken homage when Ressler and Navabi rushed to save mathematician Anna Neehoff (Emily Dorsch) was another nice touch to the episode. After dragging their target out from under the furniture and picking up the victim's dropped phone, much of the audience surely expected the kidnapper to sneer an accented 'good luck' into the receiver. Navabi certainly didn't need it after blasting one mook's brains out, and Ressler caught up with the ringleader faster than, well…
Marvin Gerard: "Faster than a fart in a fan factory."
Still, nothing quite incites the pang of swift digestion in his victim's shorts like Sir Crispin Crandall (Harris Yulin), building on the 3-year history of increasingly bizarre Blacklisters. This cryogenic krampus never quite steals the show with his plot to capture and freeze the world's greatest minds on a perpetually flying airplane to build a utopia after humanity inevitably destroys itself, though he does entertain through more than grandiosity alone. Crandall owns each of his monologues and reacts euphorically to every tear and twitch from his presumably ALS-suffering kidnappee Richard Kuchera (Arnie Burton), but he lacked the imminent threat that Blacklisters usually provide.
Heck, when he finally does interact with Liz and Red towards the end of the episode, he's shot after two minutes of an ethics debate – incidentally, the only known way to definitively end an ethics debate. The scene played strongly into Reddington's character with his deft handling of the conversation and his card game analogies ("Now trumps later every time," "You've doubled down on extinction"), but it left Crandall's entire operation looking pretty pathetic in the end. No bodyguards? No security personnel whatsoever? For a man so concerned with longevity, he took precious few precautions when it came to inviting known criminals and murderers on his aircraft.
Crispin Crandall: "We're in for a bumpy ride."
Lastly, Tom Keen's journey to exonerate Liz by any means necessary is certainly a fun one, if a bit haphazard. He's clearly gone off-book by the time he meets with Cooper to learn just how dangerous Karakurt is, but it's tough to say what his plan ever was. He dropped the act with Asher Sutton (Peter Vack) and Gwen Hollander (Conor Leslie) fairly quickly after he threw them in danger's maw last week, but it all resolved very smoothly. Never mind that Tom was captured, chained like a dog and forced to kill Asher in a fight to the death, because of course it led to Tom manhandling Karakurt's goons and dragging the Russian all the way to Liz's freedom!
Criticisms would gnaw at almost all of Tom's scenes this episode if they weren't so dang awesome, so viewers can forgive the show's puppydog-eyed romantic for a few logical inconsistencies. With next week looking to finally connect Tom's tangent with the rest of the cast, the Asher Sutton/Karakurt plotline needed the quick wrap-up it got. Now uncertainty grips the plot by the throat as Tom, Liz and the taskforce look to converge on one another at this season's recurring Chinese restaurant, but audiences across America can rest assured that Chez Red will have an open table after the Asian cuisine is presumably blown to smithereens.