Where to begin? Some shows, especially in the perilous freshman year, tend to dip as the season goes on. The Blacklist is certainly not one of those.  This week’s episode, part one of a two-parter called “Anslo Garrick,” was by far the show’s strongest hour. Why? Well, frankly, because everything was perfect. The plot was dramatic and heart-pounding, taking the FBI and Red to a new but believable level of danger. The writing was spot on—both terrifying and poetic. Supporting characters that had been two-dimensional plot devices up until this episode were fleshed out and made more sympathetic. The stakes felt real and I ended the episode screaming at the television, unable to comprehend waiting for next week to see the cliffhanger’s resolution.

The episode’s opening was probably the only weak spot. The first scene we get is a bloody Ressler screaming on a table while Red cuts into him with a knife. It’s effective in immediately setting the right tone, but it’s clear we’re meant to wonder if Red is torturing Ressler. Unfortunately, it’s also just as clear that it’s a misdirect and Red is trying to save his life, so it comes off as a cheap trick.

We flash back to 13 hours earlier and find Red drinking and socializing in Munich when he is interrupted by Ressler. There’s some lighthearted banter where Red introduces the agent as his man from the state department and they talk about getting him drunk. Fair warning. It’s literally the only light part of the episode. The Blacklist generally relies heavily on James Spader’s dry witty humor, but trust me, there will be no humor going forward in this episode. Ressler tells Red that he’s been sent to pick him up because Elizabeth’s been detained, freaking Red out enough to send him rushing back to the states. However, when he arrives he’s handcuffed and taken to the bunker. Harold and Ressler explain that a threat has been made on Red’s life and they lied to get him to come quietly. I love this. It’s so refreshing to see the FBI (or anyone, really) outsmart Red. I’m not sure it’s ever happened before.

Red, of course, is thoroughly unamused by this. “That condition is a constant”, he says casually about being threatened. They explain that a communication that the CIA intercepted from the Egyptians indicated the threat, but when Anslo Garrick’s name is mentioned as an involved party, Red realizes that the intel is fake and meant to lure him into protective custody in the bunker. “You’ve done exactly as he wished. He got you to bring me here so he could attack this facility”, he explains over clips of Garrick, a “blunt force instrument”, as Red calls him, doing just that.

Harold grows a brain and initiates full facility lockdown, but he’s too late to stop the men from entering. Non-essential personal evacuate, leaving only our core group in the bunker. As everyone else heads to the armory, Ressler takes Red to the glass cage to keep him safe, explaining that the criminal is his responsibility. “I fight for your life regardless of how badly I want to take it.” It’s good he’s taking that friendly attitude, because within seconds Garrick’s men have attacked and shot Ressler in the leg. It’s gross and bloody. Spoilers: it’s going to get much more gross and bloody before the episode is done. They weren’t kidding with the “viewer discretion” warning at the beginning, guys. Red, showing a yet unseen but certainly unsurprising level of proficiency, shoots at the men and is able to drag Ressler to the box, sealing them in just as Garrick finds them.

Garrick, by the way, is quite the formidable villain. With a nasty scar from a bullet Red shot him with years earlier and a menacing voice right out of a Disney movie, he’s perhaps a bit cliché, but his rage and power is believable and, well, just plain scary. As Red bandages Ressler’s leg, Garrick spews out an intimidating monologue about how he waited for the day he’d get to break Red. “That day is here my friend”, he snarls, “and it will end with your screams, with God is my witness.”

Inside the cage, shock is setting in inside Ressler’s body and he’s lost a dangerous amount of blood, so Red makes him a tourniquet using a tie. Garrick tells him that all he has to do to save Ressler’s life is come out. The two enemies have some intense (and sassy) banter, which ends in Garrick trying to shoot through the glass and accidentally killing one of his men when it bounces back. “True to form, Anslo,” Red says with one of Spader’s fantastic hardy chuckles. “Why take time to think when it’s so much easier to shoot?” Garrick informs him that he brought bigger weapons to get through the glasses. “Little pig, little pig, you are going to let me in,” he assures Red.

While all this is going on, Elizabeth has been having her own adventures. After nostalgically looking through boxes of pictures of her and her dad, she finds a charred toy rabbit and we get our first flashback to the mysterious childhood fire, complete with terrifying melting dolls. Later, at work, she has the good luck of being stuck in and protected by the elevator when the break-in occurs. This gives us the spectacular opportunity to see Die Hard Elizabeth Keen. No, really. She even winds up barefoot. So far on the show she’s been the untrained rookie who frequently screws up and makes painfully moronic decisions. This episode was fantastic for her character and showed the audience that she is actually not a useless idiot. Yay Elizabeth! Harold, Meera, and the rest of the agents are captured, but Elizabeth is able to avoid the invading men. She spends the episode slowly picking off some of them with reasonably clever tactics like recording her voice on a phone to lure them into a trap and making a silencer with a water bottle. During this time she runs into Aram, the tech guy, whose name I had to look up to write this review because up until this episode he didn’t have a purpose or a personality. We actually get to know him here, which is fun. When his hacking attempts fail because of a jammer, Elizabeth hands him a gun and they go off to stop said jammer. “I’ve only shot at paper,” he tells her, frightened. “Pretend they’re paper,” she replies.

Garrick learns he doesn’t have enough explosives to get through the cell’s glass. He pulls explosives from the armory, but I guess that doesn’t work either. Inside, Red asks Ressler what blood type he is, to which the agent responds “B negative.” “And you thought we had nothing in common!” Red laughs. This leads to one of the best moments of the episode, where Red actually gives Ressler a blood transfusion, right there in the box. It’s intense and a little gross, but it also says a great deal about what kind of person Red is and how far he’s willing to go to save his rival’s life. Ressler, though barely conscious, wants to open the door and go down fighting. “The concept of a last stand sounds so heroically romantic, doesn’t it Donald?” Red replies. “But there’s a good reason why we didn’t see what happened to Butch and Sundance. Being riddled with bullets and left to rot under a scorching Bolivian sky does not a sequel make, and if you’ve surmised nothing about this by now, know this: I’m going to be around for the sequel.” I love how the writers can tell us so much about Red in one fantastic flippant quote. I can’t say enough good things about this show’s writing. More on that later.

This scene doesn’t just give us more insight into Red. For the first time, we get some real insight into Ressler as a human being and not just an angry, unintelligent foil for Elizabeth. We get to see him weak and afraid and openly bemused by Red’s help. He’s also open about his past, explaining that his fiancé left him because of his obsession with catching Red and trying to make a name for himself. With the unpredictable nature of this show, the stakes in this episode are most certainly real, and we believe that anyone, except maybe Red and Elizabeth, could die at any point. Ressler really does seem like he’s on death’s door, and I was surprised by how much that upset me. For the first time in the show’s run, I felt sympathy for Agent Ressler and cared about his fate.

Speaking of Ressler, he’s convinced they’re going to die, something that Red is vehemently against. What follows is a speech so poetic that it could be straight out of The Shawshank Redemption instead of a violent action scene in a cop show. James Spader is, of course, sheer brilliance as he lists to Ressler all the things he wants again before he dies, from one more night of jazz at the vanguard to one more bottle of wine. “But most of all, I want to sleep. I want to sleep like I slept when I was a boy. Give me that, just one time. That’s why I won’t allow that punk out there to get the best of me, let alone the last of me”, he explains. The writing here is almost overwhelming. I also have to give props to Diego Klattenhoff (Ressler), whose subtle tears during Red’s poignant speech are perfect. The piece is topped off with a beautiful classical backing track that (thank god) sounds nothing like a pop song. Maybe someone at NBC has been reading my reviews…It’s one of those scenes that I just want to re-watch over and over because it’s so stunning.

The bonding time in the box takes a bad turn quickly when they realize that the bullet nicked an artery. To stop the bleeding, Red cuts into Ressler’s leg and then cauterizes the artery, giving us the opening scene. It’s horrifying and I don’t think I’m ever going to recover. Seriously, I may have nightmares. Ew.

Garrick gets desperate, threatening Harold, and then, when this doesn’t work, moving on to Red’s employees/bodyguards, who had come to the bunker with him. Garrick demands Red open the door, but Red apparently does not have the code to do so. The episode starts confusing me at this point, and I’m not sure if I missed something or if Garrick is just an idiot. He shoots Red’s bodyguard Luli when the box is not opened, and then moves on to his other bodyguard, Dembe. By this point Red clearly wants to comply, but Harold refuses to give him the code and Ressler cannot because he has lost consciousness. If Red has no ability to open the cage, I don’t know why Garrick keeps demanding that he open the door. I also don’t know why Harold is so opposed to giving them the code considering innocent people are dying, Ressler needs to get out and receive medical attention, and he doesn’t like Red anyway. Is the director just being stubborn or something? Oh, and Elizabeth’s luck runs out and she’s captured. Whoops. Upon realizing that he can’t save Dembe, Red shares a powerful moment with him where Dembe tells him their friendship will persist in the next life and they chant together.

The gun goes off and the screen cuts to black, leaving us to question how Red will possibly get out of this, especially with Elizabeth now in the mix. It’s a thrilling cliffhanger that will lead us into the fall finale next week. I knew I was enjoying this show, but this episode secured it in my mind as one of my favorites. I’m officially in for the long haul with The Blacklist, wherever it chooses to go.

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Georgeanne Oliver is Blast's Site Editor.

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