You know the one thing I’ve learned in all my time out here alone? Men just get in my way.” Ladies and gentlemen, Elizabeth Keen.
I didn’t know exactly what The Blacklist’s midseason premiere would bring us, but I certainly wasn’t anticipating a Lizzie bottle episode, and given that description, I definitely wouldn’t have expected to enjoy it so much. No, after a rollicking midseason finale that set up the pins of Ian Garvey and his homicidal quest for a bag-o-bones, I expected those to be knocked down with a fireball of vengeance and fury as we blasted back into that same story we’ve been following all season long.
Instead, we got a slow burn of grief and self-examination that calls to mind the only other two unnumbered episodes in Blacklist history: “Cape May,” immediately following Liz’s faked death, and “Requiem,” immediately following Mr. Kaplan’s fake death. “Ruin” matches neither of those hours in tone or style, but right down to the stranger who stumbles into Lizzie’s home, bringing on a world of unwanted but necessary trouble, it mirrors “Cape May,” and from “Requiem,” it borrows flashing back and forth between a former life and one that Lizzie could have never imagined living — a life without Tom.
The world doesn’t move on quickly without the ones we love; it moves slowly and painfully while also seeming to stand completely still. This midseason premiere does an excellent job of plunging us into that visceral feeling of life rolling slowly in place, while layering in a more Blacklist-style bad-guy plot that somehow manages to keep the pace. We know the men who enter Liz’s grief cabin are the bad news from the moment we lay eyes on them, and Lizzie knows soon thereafter, but there’s a great distance between knowledge and action here. And though it’s slow and sometimes frustrating work, the final result is a thrilling advancement for this series: we get to see Liz figure something out on her own, and decide exactly how she wants to deal with it. And deal with it she does.
If the typical function of a midseason premiere is to welcome you back into a story you’ve been forced to take a break from, this one didn’t really seem to get started until the last five minutes when Alice Merton’s plucky “No Roots” kicked in as a new detective duo began investigating what kind of woman could take down four career criminals in the middle of a winter storm. But those preceding 55 minutes were a necessary road to travel for the series, and especially for Elizabeth Keen, a character who has so often been stripped of her autonomy by the men that claim to love her, but constantly lie to her in the false name of protection, one of whom got himself killed doing so.
So what kind of woman could take down four men and disappear without a trace? We’re about to find out — right alongside her, at that.
The episode’s cold open is, in a word, fantastic. It makes art of the simple wilderness life Lizzie has established for herself, while also keeping a close eye on all the pain she’s left behind (though Meghan Boone’s performance shows that she’s still holding onto it like a vice). The hour opens with Liz jogging through a heavily wooded forest, past a bear trap she rolls her eyes at, and back into a rustic cabin for some stretches and prescription meds. A flashback shows us that, back in D.C., Liz went through extensive physical therapy to get out of a wheelchair and back on her feet. “Trust me, pain is good,” her PT says. “Pain says your body’s still working.” It’s a sad and solitary life Lizzie is leading out in the middle of the woods, but she is leading it. She’s moving. She’s wearing a high-waisted jean and chopping wood when she could very easily be under the covers in sweatpants.
When Liz flips the switch on the DisposAll, the electricity goes out, so she tinkers with the generator outside, then heads to the hardware store; the owner warns her about the coming storm and bids her farewell with, “Stay warm, Grace.” So that’s what we’re doing, then. A handsome park ranger named Collin hand-delivers a package to “Grace” that he totally didn’t need to hand-deliver and attempts a number of times to make a personal connection; he’s politely rebuffed each time, and you can’t blame Liz for not being too eager to welcome any seemingly wholesome cuties back into her life. A flashback to Tom’s grave shows her walking with a cane, breaking down at the headstone, and telling him that she’s not doing so well, that she’s thinking about going away.
But going away can only get you so far in the life of Elizabeth Keen. Her large dog that we hear Collin call “Kate” (tears, tears, tears) begins barking at something outside, and wouldn’t you know it, behind the wood pile, is a dead body. Wait — not dead! As Liz draws her gun and goes to check his pulse, he grabs her wrist. She apparently assesses that this barely conscious man is not a threat though, because soon she has him in her cabin, stitching up his wounds with The Blacklist’s favorite cleaning agent, vodka. She can’t get her faulty radio to work, so she heads to the ranger station where she leaves Collin a note that reads, “There’s been an EMERGENCY. Come when you can. Grace.” That note is the only thing that keeps me at all calm throughout what comes next.
When Liz gets back to her cabin, there are even more strange men, but this time they help themselves inside, and are very much conscious. They claim they were on a chartered plane headed for a fishing trip when their plane went down in the storm. The currently unconscious man is their friend who got spooked, took off, and they tracked him to Lizzie’s cabin. She’s clearly still assessing them as a threat, but Liz tells the men that their friend needs medical attention. However, the roads are frozen, and her truck doesn’t work, and her radio doesn’t work, to which I scream, Lizzie, stop telling them how all alone you are out there!
But I’m screaming at the old Lizzie, who trusted so easily and lost so much because of it. This is the new Lizzie — the one who might be offering all this up to gauge their reactions, to get in front of whatever devious plans they might have up their sleeves. And speaking of sleeves, the man most eager to make Liz feel comfortable is bleeding through his jacket. His name is Bill, and suddenly Liz is stitching him up in the bathroom, seeming almost…flirty? What is she playing at? He asks if there’s a “Mr. Mysterious” on his way home right now, and I roll my eyes, and Lizzie says no, and I scream at the top of my lungs.
“There was once,” Lizzie tells Bill. “Didn’t work out.” We flash back to Lizzie watching a toddler-size Agnes playing on the floor of her apartment, and of all people, she’s talking to Scottie Hargrave, Tom’s biological mother, and Agnes’ paternal grandmother. She’s asked her to take care of Agnes while she’s gone, knowing the people who killed Tom might come after her. Scottie promises to spoil Agnes rotten, but Liz thinks of her own unquenchable anger at Tom’s death and wonders, “What about the pain you’re feeling, the anger — can you protect her from that?” Scottie assures Liz that Agnes will be happy and healthy, and that when Liz is those things too, she’ll come take her daughter back.
Finally, back at the cabin, Collin shows up, saying he can used the crashed plane’s black box to get help. Bill’s biggest crony offers to go with him because he has a good sense of direction — yeah, sure, okay. Liz pulls Collin away to say she’s not sure she trusts these guys’ story that they crashed a plane without so much as a broken bone, then hiked 10 miles in this weather. And Collin’s all, You’re being paranoid, Grace. COLLIN, I TRUSTEDYOU! Bill insists that Liz needs to stay with them because she’s the only one who seems to have the medical knowledge to take care of their dying friend: “Please don’t make me tell his wife he died on my watch.” I NEVER TRUSTED YOU, BILL!
So Lizzie goes to check on her ward, and finds him awake. “Not friends,” he tells her. “They’ll kill you too.”
Now, for our first Raymond Reddington sighting of the new year. Well, kind of. There was a brief flashback earlier in the episode where Liz asked two things of her maybe-dad: that he keep working on the Blacklist with the task force in her absence, and that wherever she goes, he promises not to follow her. He agrees, but needs to check in with her one more time once he’s heard that Agnes is staying with Scottie. Liz asks him to respect the decision, so it’s time for Red to make his own request: “I want you to promise me something — that you’ll grieve.” He says that she’s running away from her problems, when she should be facing them. “Imagining what I’m going to do to Tom’s killers,” Liz tells him, “that’s the only think that gets me up in the morning.
So Red asks one more thing: “Don’t just go off and hide in the dark. Wherever you go, look for some light.” That’s going to be difficult…
As it turns out, the man currently bleeding out in Lizzie’s grief-bed is a mob informant in the witness protection program. He begs Liz not to let these men who work for the family he ratted out kill him, so she gives him her gun and slides it under the covers just before Bill comes in, chomping on ice like he has been all episode. These guys are gross: Bill is always crunching ice, one guy is eating Lizzie’s peanut butter directly from the jar, another has had blood all over his head this whole time without bothering to clean it up, and the other big guy just returned from his jaunt with Collin, and wouldn’t ya know it, Collin isn’t with him. He says Collin found another ranger, and told him to come back here to the cabin. That’s about the time Liz notices Kate the dog is missing…
She quietly goes back into her bedroom, retrieves the gun from the dying man, and says she’s braving the weather to go out and look for Kate. But first…she casually flips the DisposAll switch and the electricity suddenly goes out. Bill insists that he’ll go with her, and Lizzie whips around with that aforementioned killer line: “You know, the one thing I have learned in all my time out here alone? Men just get in my way.” So f— you, Bill!
In the barn, Liz finds the worst: cut cord to the radio, sweet Kate with her throat slashed, and Collin dead, lying under his jacket. When she goes to cock her gun, the bullets have been emptied. But there’s a beeping coming from Collin’s jacket that belongs to a radio. Liz picks it up…not to radio for help, as it turns out, but to radio inside to tell these men just how little help she needs. “Hey Billy, you there?” Liz asks. Bill crunches ice as he asks her what’s going on: “That’s a nasty little habit you’ve got there. I noticed.”
Suddenly, Bill realizes she’s onto him. “You’re one woman in the middle of a storm against the four of us,” he says. “It doesn’t end well for you, Grace.” And there’s his fatal mistake. Because he’s not talking to Grace the Lonely Mountain Woman, he’s talking to Elizabeth the Former FBI Agent, and she’s about to show him exactly who she is: “A profiler. I smelled you out the minute you walked in my door…that’s why I froze broken glass into those ice cubes you like to chew. So now, every time you breathe, you’re inhaling little shards and they’re burning up your throats and lungs.”
Yes. Elizabeth. YES!
“You’re dead,” Bill says from the cabin. And let me just give you Elizabeth’s introductory monologue in full here: “No Bill, for the first time, I’m feeling pretty alive, so if you want to come for me, you better come ready for a fight. Because you know what the four of you against me in the woods is gonna be for me…? PRACTICE.” May I say Booyah? Booyah.
About the time Bill is still doubting her, the crony that was eating all of Liz’s peanut butter starts foaming at the mouth and keels over. For so long, Liz has been playing catch-up in her own life, and finally, she’s getting ahead of the game, and let me tell you what, I am living for fully-alive-Elizabeth Keen. The men take off into the woods looking for her—and how about a bear trap to the ankle, Bill?! Then he big guy hears something near the storm cellar, so he heads down inside—where he splashes into a floor full of gasoline! Elizabeth slams the door shut, and throws a lighter down the chimney.
The other two head back into the cabin to see that she’s grabbed the injured informant and taken off, and they think that will slow her down. Not-Bill catches up with her, they get into a fight, he grabs a shot gun, and Liz grabs an axe…which makes an immediate connection with his stomach. See ya!
Elizabeth makes it to the ranger station and begins grabbing supplies: gasoline, a flare gun—and that’s when Bill hobbles in the room. “From one professional to another, you’re pretty good.” He tells her that she’s all out of tricks now and he promised his men that he’d kill her slowly. But he’s too slow to even see the gasoline that she sauces him with right in the eyeballs, and then takes off with her cargo. She trips in the snow, and Bill drags himself out with a gun saying, “It’s over, there’s nowhere left to run!”
“Who’s running? I told you I’m here to fight.”
BOOM! Flare gun to the stomach, Bill goes up in flames, and the kicky beats of Alice Merton’s “No Roots” start in. Oh, it is so good: “I like digging holes and hiding things inside them / When I’ll grow old I hope I won’t forget to find them / ‘Cause I’ve got memories and travel like gypsies in the night”
It’s daylight and “Grace’s” cabin is swarming with investigators, with the two lead detective interviewing everyone she knew: the man at the hardware store, the postal workers who delivered her packages, the police officers who were called to the hospital when the man in witness protection was left safely outside the doorstep “like a Christmas gift.” I built a home and wait for someone to tear it down / Then pack it up in boxes, head for the next town running / ‘Cause I’ve got memories and travel like gypsies in the night.
The detectives say that this mystery woman murdered, drugged, and burned four known criminals alive also wiped all evidence of who she was clean: “So clean, we believe she may have learned how to clean a crime scene from a professional.” (RIP Big Kate and Little Kate.) They ask the hardware store owner who he thinks she could be. “A ghost,” he responds. “Life’s full of ’em.” I’ve got no roots, but my home was never on the ground / I’ve got no roots, but my home was never on the ground.
And there she is: Elizabeth Keen. She’s hitchhiking, she’s unpacking boxes to go through the files on Tom’s killers…she’s showing up at Red’s door. She thanks him for keeping his promise not to follow her, but she couldn’t keep hers: “I didn’t go looking for trouble, but it found me. And I’m glad it did. I killed some me, and it doesn’t matter that they were bad … what matter is that I did it and I was good at it and I didn’t lose any sleep over it.” He kisses her on the cheek, and Elizabeth’s eyes go hard: “I’m healed and I’m back and I’m coming for Tom’s killers.”
A Few Loose Ends:
So where does Red fall on the culpability lineup of “Tom’s killers”?
I love Red, but I honestly didn’t miss him in this hour. This was a great episode for Elizabeth…
It’s going to be hard to get used to calling her Elizabeth, but I think I have to!
Man they really got Agnes out of the way this time, huh?
We only get a brief glimpse of the rest of the Post Office team in flashback, swapping their favorite Tom stories (even Ressler), but if Red kept his promise, they’ve still been working.
So what has that creep Ian Garvey been up to, who’s bones does he have, and what has he done with them?
In this episode people keep saying things along the lines of, “You know the story: a girl in a cabin with a gun and a dog.” No, that’s not a story I know…until now that is.1 of 1