I wish the answer were as simple as the question seems. But the truth is . . . the question isn’t simple either. I share your frustration.
*So, this one opens with a really startling sequence in China (the name of the episode is Wujing, you guys!) with a guy getting murdered when his SUV is ambushed. The killers hack his hand off (the name of the episode is Wujing, you guys!) and make off with it.
*So, the bad guys are using the hand to try to decode something on the dead guy’s laptop. Assuming a fingerprint lock or something obviously, but it doesn’t work. So, an Asian guy turns to the camera menacingly (the name of this episode is Wujing, you guys!) and says, “Call Raymond Reddington.”
*Meanwhile, as Tom sleeps, Liz gets the gun out of the box and rigs up a nice little ballistics box using a plastic bucket full of water and four phone books. This was a badass scene. It took me a minute and then I was like, “Oooohhhh.” Always nice when the protagonist of a show is smarter than you are.
*So, she fires the gun as a trash truck goes by and then bags the bullet for ballistics. Great idea.
*So, Tom’s in a wheelchair for now. One of Liz’s friends, Ellie, comes over to stay with Tom while Liz takes off for work. Ominous music plays as Tom watches her go from a window.
*So, this guy who got killed was a CIA operative, Wujing is the Chinese guy who’s trying to decode the stolen information in order to get information about CIA agents in China. Red floats the idea to Liz as something they should look into.
* “You’re decoding CIA messages on behalf of the Chinese?” “Oh, now, see, you make it seem like treason is so black & white.”
*Liz doesn’t believe his story about Wujing. “He’s a myth.” “That’s what they said about Deep Throat . . . and the G-spot.”
*I’m not sure what’s better about that line, Spader’s deadpan delivery or Boone’s sigh.
*So, Red has created a fake identity for Liz. His plan is to pass her off as an encryption specialist and get her into Wujing’s secret base.
*Liz tries to back out: “You’re asking me to spy on a notorious spy-killer while pretending to be an expert in cryptography, something I know nothing about?” I think she’s spotted the tiny flaw.
*God, Ressler. He has these pictures of American spies killed by Wujing’s people. “LOOK AT THOSE PICTURES. . . THAT’LL BE ON YOU.” Back the **** off, dude.
*OK, so somebody is eating an apple (because it makes him look more like a jerk) and watching Liz’s house. When Tom and Ellie leave for Tom’s PT appointment, he gives the signal and a bunch of dudes break into the house and wire it up with cameras and microphones.
*Actually, the main thing that makes this guy feel like a jerk is that he literally takes one bite and then drops the obviously only bitten once apple right into the gutter.
*Nice moment when Ellie forgets her purse and returns for a moment. Everyone steps into concealment and freezes; she comes in, gets the bag and leaves. Crisis averted.
*Liz is about to be convinced to do this whole thing. “Let’s say I do this. What do I get out of it?” “Look at you, camel trading like a Bedouin.”
*So, Red says he’ll tell Liz why he picked her if she’ll do it. I sense a dodge coming up.
*This episode is pretty complicated, so as the episode progresses the show will basically turn Ressler into the exposition source/echo chamber. So, every time someone says something that’s vitally important, but also really complicated, Ressler will furrow his brow and restate it as a question. “Wait a minute, are you saying that a Chinese spy ring is being run out of a local radio station?” That kind of thing.
*And I love this moment when he does it and Red just turns and looks at him and laughs and then just continues. No line or anything. It feels like a real meta moment of Red kind of stepping out of the show for a second and being like, “Oh, so you’re the echo chamber here?” I liked it a lot.
*So, the idea is for Liz to decrypt the message via some sort of decoder that is so obviously a plot device that Meera literally calls it a magic box. They’re just lampshading like crazy.
*Meanwhile, Liz will have to plug in a tiny flash drive that will allow a satellite connection. So, as soon as the “magic box” decodes the message, the drive will transmit the decoded message to the FBI. And then it’s a race. There’s no way to give Wujing a fake message as he’ll be there while Liz decodes it. So, once it’s out there, both the Chinese and the FBI will have it and it’ll be a race to see who can get to the agent first. Wujing’s people will be on their way to kill him; the FBI will be on their way to save him.
*I like this. This is a great spy story premise here.
*There’s a transmitter here that looks like a nicotine patch. That’s pretty cool.
*Megan Boone does a good job here looking like a disaffected bitch who just doesn’t give a ****.
*So, Wujing’s guy runs Liz’s prints against all these big databases, so as this is happening, the computer guy is in a diner across the street trying to, you know, change everything from his computer so that . . . I mean, you’ve seen the Mission Impossible movies. You know how this goes.
*There’s a line here that I just cracked up over. Because this is just a totally non-descript room here; walls are grey, no windows, plain metal table, white guy with grey hair and a grey suit. And while the prints are being run, Spader just stops, glances around and then says, “So. You went with the grey.”
*It’s all in the delivery. Damn, that’s funny.
*But to their surprise, Liz and Red are going down an elevator into a bunker. Yes, of course this means that the FBI loses their signal. “How far down do you think we’re going?” “Far enough.”
*There’s a really cool bit where Liz is on the computer and she’s supposed to be working to decrypt the message, but really she’s typing messages to Red. He’s standing behind her and he’s the only one who can see the screen. It’s played really smoothly. This is a solid spy episode.
*So, Liz has Red create a distraction so she can slip her USB key into one of the other computers in the room. This is going to . . . create a satellite signal? I think.
*This is great. Red creates a distraction by pointing out the FBI surveillance van outside the building on the security cameras.
*It’s a great ploy. Red has brought surveillance people with him and then, in order to gain Wujing’s trust and distract him from the real play, he points them out to Wujing as if he hadn’t brought them and really just goes off on this whole rant.
*I like this clever line from Wujing. Red is shouting about the surveillance and Wujing says, “If the FBI was outside, it’s because you led them here.” Which is true, but not in the way Wujing means.
*So, the USB thingie connects to the FBI’s computers up top and it’s showing them the message as it decodes. So, the program decodes the message and reveals that this guy named Henry Cho is a CIA agent. So, now both the Feds and Wujing know this and the race to find Cho begins.
*I really feel it’s not coming across in this review, but this episode is incredibly intense. Really pulse-pounding and suspenseful. The cross-cutting between locations is really good and the music is super good.
*So, the FBI’s computer guy in this episode has been this Middle Eastern guy who’s been doing all this crazy stuff and when he locates Henry Cho, they discover that he’s an architect who the CIA used to do some covert stuff when he was designing a government building in Shanghai and then they figure out where he is currently, at a building site in tow. And so Ressler and Malik just bolt out the back door and the computer guy leans back and says, “Thank you, Aram. You’re welcome.” Just an interesting moment of giving a peripheral character a small character moment that I found nice.
*There’s a really cool bit where Liz and Red are getting ready to go and Liz looks at the USB stick that’s still in the Chinese guy’s computer and Red brushes past her and says “Leave it.” It doesn’t sound like much on the page, but it’s a great moment on screen.
*So, we’re cutting between the underground bunker where Wujing has figured out that the FBI has accessed his computer system, Wujing’s thugs racing to get to Cho to kill him, Ressler & Malik racing to get to Cho to save him and Henry Cho just calmly showing his young son around this construction site.
*Okay, yes, it is manipulation of the highest order to give Henry Cho, a character we have no real reason to care about, an incredibly adorable young child, but damned if I care. It works. This is really high intensity.
*So, because Liz was able to put the USB drive in a computer that belongs to Jin Sun, one of Wujing’s assistants, Wujing thinks Jin Sun is an undercover agent for the FBI. So, he’s just beating the crap out of Jin Sun, but then Jin Sun sees the USB drive in his computer and then he looks up at Liz and Red and you see him realize that they’re the ones! And so Red just grabs a gun away from one of Wujing’s guards and just shoots Jin Sun about a dozen frigging times.
*GOD THIS IS SO GOOD
*And Red is able to play it off with unimpeachable logic: “As entertaining as all this has been, we really do need to leave now. The next sound you hear is gonna be the FBI knocking on your door, and I, for one, am not going to be here. You would have been him for another twenty minutes and then killed him yourself. You hired me to do a job. It’s done. Now let’s get out of here.”
*It makes sense. Red needs to leave before the FBI gets there; Wujing is wasting time beating this guy; Red kills the guy simply to expedite matters. Masterfully done.
*So, there’s this lengthy action sequence at the construction site as Wujing’s killers arrive and then Ressler and Malik do as well. I mean, this show is using Diego Klattenhoff as a real punching bag, but the hand to hand combat he does with a couple of thugs is just brilliant stuff. This show is absolutely nailing the action sequences.
*There’s a cool bit where the bad guys get alerted to Cho’s location because his little boy has been wearing a hard hat, you know, just for fun and it falls down some stars and they see it.
*And then there’s a bit where Ressler knocks a bad guy down and then kicks him in the head and hes basically unconscious and Ressler just goes ahead and kicks him over the edge. It’s a total For Your Eyes Only moment. Not totally kosher, but, you know.
*There’s a great bit I really loved here when one of the bad guys finds Cho’s little boy and puts the gun to his head to get Cho to come out from hiding. And then Cho comes out and kneels down and does the whole “do whatever to me don’t hurt my son please.” And the bad guy just immediately throws the kid down and raises his gun to shoot Cho.
*He then gets shot by Malik before he can kill Cho, of course, but I really loved that the show didn’t have the bad guy like being sadistic or messing with Cho by continuing to threaten the kid. A lot of shows would have done that, but this is way more realistic. Because why would this guy waste time, even waste a bullet in killing the kid? I don’t recall every seeing a “please let them go its me you want” routine where the bad guys were just like, “ok yeah sure.” I really liked that moment.
*Great Red character moment: “I can get us out of the country.” “That’s very kind, but I’m sure we can muddle through on our own. Anywhere in the shade up here would be fine.”
*I mean, he’s just spied on this notorious spy killer and they’re in the car with him and the FBI is on their tracks and all any sane person would want to do is just get out of that car, but Red’s still like, “Well, we’re getting out of here, we might as well get out in the shade.”
*Anywhere in the shade would be fine. God, I love this guy. I literally laughed out loud.
*So, Wujing gets arrested because Liz managed to slip her nicotine patch/tracking device off in the car.
*There’s kind of a nice moment where Liz gets one up on Red. He expresses regret at the mission. “The deal was for us to actually capture the criminals on the Blacklist, and by now Wujing is as good as halfway to Beijing.” The look Red gives Liz when she says, “I don’t think so” is a look of begrudging respect and curiosity mixed.
*So, as per the deal, Liz gets to ask Red a question and it’s the big one: “Why me?” His answer is also big: “Because of your father.” But when she presses him further, he tells her that the answers aren’t simple. “I share your frustration.”
*So, yeah, that’s a pretty douchy dodge, dude. “I will answer all your questions about why I picked you. But with only four words which I will then refuse to explain in any way.”
*So much for camel trading like a Bedouin.
*I was just hoping for Liz to say, “Thy mother mated with a scorpion.”
*Megan Boone does a really cool thing here in this scene. Liz and Red are talking in the back seat of an SUV and she turns herself toward him but then just kind of slumps against the seat. She has the side of her head just resting on the seat back, like she’s just too exhausted to even hold her head up.
*So, Liz gets her file back on the ballistics on Tom’s gun, but it’s all redacted. Bummer.
*So, Ressler says he’s had doubts about Liz, but that she did good work today and she should feel good about it. And then he leaves her and goes right into Cooper’s office and reveals that he’s had a flag put on Liz’s record so that he also gets a copy of anything she requests because he still thinks she’s hiding something.
*Jesus. This guy.
*He gives the ballistics report to Cooper and this version isn’t redacted.
*We don’t get to see it, but we get a nice teaser: “This isn’t just classified. Any briefings on this homicide include the Secretary of Homeland Security!”
*He actually says it quite calmly, but that sentence just calls for an exclamation point, right?
*So, Red opens the envelope Wujing gave him earlier. It’s supposed to contain his payment for the job, but it’s not money. It’s a sheet of paper that says “042983” on it.
*I get it. It’s Liz’s birthday. April 29th, 1983. Boom. Nailed it.
*So, Tom has thrown some kind of party for Liz or they’re just having a random party. Or, wait, it’s because Tom got out of the hospital, I bet. It’s not really explained.
*Tom straight-facedly says the line: “Can we talk? Pre-lasagna?”
*Of course we can talk pre-lasagna. What the **** do I look like, Garfield?
*And the episode ends with our dude with the apple across the street from Liz’s house, watching the party through the newly installed cameras.
*So, Liz just kind of freezes in the middle of the room and is just standing there, looking desolate and empty, and I get it, she’s troubled, but it’s just super awkward and I cannot imagine someone standing there like that in the middle of a party.
*It kind of reminded me, actually, of that thing that Patton Oswalt did when he was on The King of Queens and the episode opens with a party, so it’s all these people just laughing and talking in the main living room set of the show and Oswalt is just standing there behind the couch, totally frozen and scowling. I don’t know that this is a good thing to be thinking about at the end of a dramatic television episode.
*Seriously, I actually loved this episode. It’s a great episode of television. Super-intense and suspenseful, featured a great villainous performance and had a lot of nice twists and turns. I will say this for the show: it’s better every episode. That’s a good thing.