Reconvo: The Blacklist S2 Ep. 9 Luther Braxton

by

Veruca Salt and L.T. Milroy

The second half of the season starts with a blast, quite literally. Lots going on in Blacklistville this week, with an especially gripping and informative final minute to this week’s episode, a two-parter with a new Blacklister, Luther Braxton.

Unfortunately, your recapper who lives in the East missed the very end, due to the Stupid Bowl. I like sports, but football bores me to death. With all the nasty issues surrounding the game in general and NFL in particular this season, I’m definitely not feelin’ the luv. So I was particularly irritated when the endless game made me miss the end of one of my fave shows. I know I’m not alone, as the BL fans have been bitching all over the ‘net, lord bless ‘em.

But, bitching aside, Red is back! Yay!

LT: We start off with TV news reports about Red being arrested in Hong Kong. While video of Red in handcuffs being escorted by authorities plays, we’re filled in on his background, to get the first-time viewers/Super Bowl-holdovers up to speed: how he’s been on the FBI’s Most Wanted List longer than any other fugitive; how he was a rising star in the Pentagon, until a day in 1990 when he disappeared on his way home to visit his wife and daughter; how four years later he was charged in absentia with treason for selling American intelligence.

V: It’s weird. At first I thought they were doing a flashback to the arrest we saw in the first episode, but like maybe we were going to get some insight into what the heck happened during his time away, since they mentioned his whole backstory.

I had our handy-dandy reconvo to look at, so I wanted to make sure I didn’t mis-remember that Reddington had gone on the run or was heading to Hong Kong. But no. This is just a “What I did on my winter vacation” recap via news reports.

LT: But isn’t it comforting to know those old reconvos are there when you need them?

Red is taken from a jeep, and a soldier tells him, “From this point forward, you don’t exist.”

V: Reddington’s response: (laugh) “Well, that’s a load off.”

LT: A black hood is placed over his head. The news report says the government won’t comment on his location, but we see that he’s been taken to a U.S. blacksite prison in the Bering Sea. Yikes. I hope Red brought his long underwear.

V: The tuxedo/black bag over the head combo is lovely.

01 tuxedo

V: Aside from the crew losing Reddington for the one billionth time, and Liz’s “WHUT? We don’t know where Reddington is?” shocked response as if it’s never happened before, they seem to at least know who took him and Red’s ulterior motives, which is more than I can say for how they usually operate. Maybe they all got common sense for the holidays this year.

LT: Red is chained up in a dingy cell.

Red in cell

A commando takes off the black hood, and Red, cool as ever, gives him a phone number. He says to call it, and $50,000 will be deposited into the bank account of his choice. Then Red says he wants two minutes with the warden.

V: Of course, that 555 number will only get the guard Information, but who knows? Maybe Houseman will pick up the phone. I’m gonna try it and see if he’ll give me 50K.

LT: Ressler says Red has been traced to a place called The Factory, an off-the-book lockup. Samar recognizes the name immediately and says this isn’t good.

V: It’s designed for detainees who’ve been trained to withstand interrogation and torture. What’s left when they’re done with the spy is a husk that rots behind bars or is executed.

As I doubt there is anything you can do to Red that would rattle him so bad he’d be traumatized, I’m going with option two as their plan. Red has been brought to dark rooms, chained up, and tortured so many times, he probably uses it as a back-stretching exercise. It’s as common for him as going out to dinner.

LT: Cooper figures that if Red wanted to be sent there, it was because he needed to make contact with someone he couldn’t reach on the outside. The question is, who would Red give up his freedom to reach?

V: Ah, and there’s the FBI we all know and love. Cooper thinks Reddington is willing to give up twenty-five years of freedom for this mission. He should know by now that where Red is concerned, everyone around him gives up.

Liz’s repeated, “But he’s our asset!” in response to everyone laughing off that the CIA will give Red up to them, is so cute and continues to amuse me. How long has she been working there not to understand the protocol? I mean, I know the FBI chained up Red then said, “Just kidding!” and let him roam free, so maybe she thinks everyone else is just as stupid?

As we’ll later see, it turns out she’s right.

LT: Red, still imprisoned and still cool about it, calmly tells the warden that prisoner Luther Todd Braxton will break out of his cell within twelve hours, with the intent to steal state secrets.

05 luther braxton card

 

The breakout will bring death and mayhem to the prison, Red warns. He’s blown off and told  Braxton is in solitary. Red says, “Not for long.”

03 red talks to warden

What’s wrong with these people, not taking him seriously? When Red warns of death and mayhem, shaddup and listen, dammit.

V: These aren’t his usual FBI employees, where Ressler is his only holdout and Liz is his willing puppet, with Cooper putting a rubber stamp on whatever harebrained scheme Lucy and Ethel have cooked up. But I’m guessing that since Blacklist is an hour-long show, and this is the beginning of the episode, I’ll go out on a limb and say that breakout will take place, and said mayhem will ensue.

LT: To drive home what a complete badass Braxton is, we see him being tortured, electrically, but he won’t talk.

04 luther elecrocuted

V: Lookie! It’s Ron Perlman!

LT: The lead torturer decides to take a break from flipping the switches and tells everyone they’ll go again in two hours. Brax has presumably spent a lot of time getting zapped lately. As a guard un-straps him, he slips Braxton something the prisoner puts into his mouth. So guards at the super-secret spy prison can be bought like cheap bitches. Good to know.

V: Too bad Red got the only guy who runs like a coward to tell his boss. If he’d gotten one of the many bribable guards, perhaps he could have thwarted the breakout. Also, also, there’s been way too much torture porn on my TV lately.

LT: That’s come to be a big thing these days. I could go for less of it, as well.

V: That thing he put in Braxton’s mouth looks like one of their comms.

LT: A couple of CIA agents stop by the FBI to discuss the case. Kat Goodson (Janel Maloney, Donna from The West Wing)

07 donna

and her boss (David Strathairn).

06 strathairn

V: David Strathairn! One of my favorite people. Uhhh…did someone forget to pay the lighting bill? Because holy crap, I can barely see anyone.

Anyway, though Katty tries to freak out Cooper by telling him what he drank at the White House Correspondence dinner, then tells him they know about his deal with Reddington, Cooper plays dumb. Admittedly, that’s not much of a stretch for these people.

I guess the warden took Red’s warning about Braxton seriously enough for the CIA to come knocking on the FBI’s door. It will surprise no one that Cooper cannot provide them with information regarding the connection between Red and Luther, because he doesn’t even have any idea who Luther is.

LT: Liz fills everyone in on Braxton.

08 liz debriefs

V: Better late than never!

LT: He’s been hunted by Interpol for years. He’s a thief who tends to strike during chaotic situations and is known for his brutality. His death was announced by the CIA two months ago, but Goodson says he’s in The Factory being interrogated about intel he stole. As the agents discuss Braxton, we see him slip the device out of his mouth and rig an explosive. Then the mayhem is unleashed.

It turns out, Braxton paid off more than just that one guard.

V: Except not the one who ignored all of the water pouring out from under Braxton’s cell and put the key in the door, only to get electrocuted. Or the guys who thought a little bit of tear gas would take Braxton down and became fireballs.

09 fireball

It’s just Keystone Cops all over the place. I mean, look at the prisoners they’re guarding! I watch all of the Lockup shows, and I’ve seen the kind of manpower that goes into taking down an unruly prisoner. There’s, like, three times the people for just a normal prisoner.

LT: Once his takeover is underway, Braxton has a whole team to help him, including other prisoners. As they run wild all over The Factory, the warden decides to start taking Red seriously and asks him what he knows, but he says they waited too long. When told the FBI is sending a chopper to rescue him, Red says to send it back.

V: Of course, they don’t listen to him again. I wonder if anything bad will happen as a result. Let’s see…

LT: The chopper comes anyway, with Liz, Ressler, and Samar on board. They discuss the highly skilled team that Braxton has helping him and know the chaos they’re getting into. Yet, they’re attacked as soon as they step off the chopper, with Ressler and Samar taken prisoner almost immediately.

10 ress captured

The cagey Liz manages to get away.

V: That’s a switch. Samar’s also been shot in the leg. I guess they had to give the trained Massad agent a weakness, because we all know Ressler is near useless.

LT: Res, as always, makes a good hostage. Let the guy play to his strength.

V: The same guard who told on Red regarding the bribe is offered it again, only this time to help Red help him stay alive.

11 50k guard

Dude, seriously, instead of shooting you in the kneecap, the man is offering you cash. TAKE THE OFFER.

Meanwhile, the guys who are clearly offsite, have no access to cameras, and responded to alarms like twelve hours after they’ve sounded, radio in to find out where the Eagle is. Braxton informs him the Eagle is dead, and the desk jockey had better put Braxton in touch with someone who matters. I’m guessing someone who matters will be contacting Braxton quite soon.

LT: Braxton lives up to his ruthless reputation by stringing up Ressler and Samar from the ceiling with chains. Their feet must keep contact with boxes under them in order to not hang themselves.

12 hanging feds

With Samar’s leg wound, she’s in particularly dire straits. Her box is covered in dripping blood.

V: Ressler, who’s always been a little slow, taunts one of the guards with a promise that they’re going to switch places after the rebellion is over. I guess his character is sacrificed to the god of foreshadowing. Surprisingly, the bad-ass criminal just laughs at Ressler rather than kick his box over. There’s another guy with them who looks in bad shape and is having a hard time standing on the box. Since he’s the expendable one with no lines, I’m guessing he doesn’t have long for this world.

Also, Ressler calls the guy “pal,” and instantly I have Sonny Crockett flashbacks.

LT: Now that you mention it, can we have a hot pic of SC?

13 sonny crockett

Thank you.

A hostage-mediator type guy, agent Rosenberg, has been sent to help out the FBI. He tells Cooper very confidently that he’ll negotiate with Braxton. He’s so cocky and smarmy that you just know he’s going to get completely blown out of the water.

14 rosenberg

V: HA! I was counting the seconds. Especially after he used the words “open a dialogue.”

LT: Rosenberg tells Braxton he wants to speak with the warden to be sure he’s okay. Braxton puts warden Mills on the phone, who says there are a few casualties.

Braxton takes the phone back and as Rosenberg talks condescendingly to Braxton about how well that went and what good progress they’re making, Braxton shoots Mills. Then he says he wants to speak to a real authority, and Coop takes over from a clearly out-of-his-league Rosenberg. Braxton has some demands that he wants met, or more will die.

V: Soooo…yeah. Cooper is in charge. I’m not feeling confident.

LT: Liz is trolling around in The Factory, when someone grabs her. It’s Red.

15 red captures liz

V: Well, I guess this worked out better than the last time she went prowling around a secret government facility while there was a complete takeover. I like the little computer nerd, but if you’re trying to take down a madman and make it out alive, I’m going with Red every time.

Also, there must be a guard who is 50K richer right about now. Smart choice, Mr. Guard, because I have a feeling you won’t have a job after this mess is over.

LT: Red fills her in on what’s going on. Braxton is after the Fulcrum, which Fitch (Alan Alda) talked about just before he got blown to bits in the last episode. It’s a blackmail file with proof of the existence of a powerful, clandestine organization. If it’s made public, many powerful people would be at risk. The Fulcrum isn’t in The Factory, Red says, but information vital to finding it is. Braxton wants it, and Red can stop him.

Of course, Lizzie wants to help. Red says no, but Liz says she’s not leaving without Ressler and Samar. And Red. She’s concerned about all the help Braxton has, but Red has a few ideas. He says there isn’t a prison on earth where he doesn’t know a few guys. Jeez, does everybody who works at a prison have their price?

V: Let’s say you have a crappy job where you earn very little money while putting your life in danger every day. I think, yeah, you can always find a few. Of course, when Liz asks him what he’s hiding from her, he doesn’t answer. And just like always, she lets it go.

LT: True to his word, Red assembles a team of his own.

16 red's team

V: To be fair, Red meant criminals, as is evidenced when one of them has the blueprints for the prison and talks about how security protocols render the server room inaccessible, and the 50K guard wants to know how the prisoner knows this, since he doesn’t. Red informs 50K this guy has broken out of seven prisons, but now it will be eight.

LT: One of them has an idea how to blow up the server room, but they need to be in the boiler room to carry it out. The only access is through an air duct, which only Liz is small enough to fit through. She’s so valuable! Every person in the room is given an assignment except for one guy. When he asks what he should do, Red shoots him. He was only there for Red to get revenge for some slight suffered somewhere along the way. Don’t ever piss off Red, he never forgives and never forgets.

17 guy who doublecrossed red

V: Yeah, I think the episode where he just killed people for an hour was proof. Also, Liz barely bats an eyelash, she’s just so used to watching Red blowing people away.

LT: One learns to overlook a lot when one hangs out with Red. Braxton’s goons detect a breach of security in the warden’s office. When they call, Red picks up and says, “The warden can’t come to the phone, can you leave a message?” Hee. Red never loses his sense of humor, which is important in an emergency. Braxton recognizes Red’s voice, and they talk a bit, with Belgrade being a major bone of contention between them.

They don’t say exactly what happened, but Braxton is of the opinion that he got the best of the situation and was able to build a reputation as someone who beat the mighty Reddington. Red disagrees and says Braxton just slaughtered a lot of innocent people while clawing his way into Red’s pockets.

V: They trash talk in the way only two psychotic men who’ve killed a bunch of people can. Braxton thinks Red is a total snob with his handmade suits and his private jets. The best he’s got is, “Do you even drive?”  Then he calls Red “soft” which would only be said by a man who’s just as psychotic as Red.

LT: Then Red tells him he’ll never get the Fulcrum. Braxton says he beat Red before and can do it again.

V: Braxton, clearly a man who thinks he’ll never be in the same room with Red again, says Red doesn’t have the balls to stop him, if Belgrade is any indication.

Then this exchange happened:

“So tell me, how are you gonna stop me, Red?”

“A wise man can learn more from a foolish question than a fool can learn from a wise answer.”

“Was that Nietzsche?”

“No, Bruce Lee.”

CLICK!

LT: Braxton walks into the room where Ressler, Samar, and the expendable guy are hanging.

A few other hostages are there too, presumably prison workers. He’s on the phone with Cooper and tells him he’s going to test Cooper’s reflexes. He makes a request for a computer code. Cooper says he’ll get right on it, but Braxton blows away a hostage anyway. Then he says if he doesn’t get the code within ten minutes, Samar is next.

V: Wow. He didn’t even shoot expendable guy. Just one of the prison workers resting comfortably on the floor.

18 killed guard

I guess they were even more expendable. Braxton the trash talker also does it to Cooper and calls his reflexes shabby. It just doesn’t carry the same weight when the two are so unevenly matched. I guess he didn’t learn anything from the hostage negotiator.

However, the minute Aram hears Samar’s name, he looks like he’s ready to reach through the phone and wring Braxton’s neck.

19 aram

In his current state, computer nerd guy just might win.  I can hear him thinking, Crap, why couldn’t it have been Ressler? Aram must tell Harold in ten different ways, no exaggeration, to give Braxton the code.

LT: If the stakes weren’t so high, I’d say he was actually cute here with his concern over Samar. Even though she’s been rude and hung up on him and kidded around about having erectile dysfunction, he’s still smitten. That’s kinda sweet.

Cooper goes to his office with agent Goodson. She tells him he can’t give up the code. Seems that The Factory is not just a black site but also a level six intelligence facility. If Braxton gets that code, he’ll have access to a wide intelligence network and, apparently, every secret the U.S. government has.

V: So, you keep the records of all the information you’ve squeezed out of the dangerous criminals, in the same building as the dangerous criminals? Cooper says as much, which, on the one hand, good point, and on the other, glass houses. I think it’s this show’s mission to depict every government agency as inept.

LT: The Factory is linked up with the Pentagon and the White House. What an awesome system! What could possibly go wrong? She reiterates that he can’t release the code.

Braxton calls back and immediately starts hoisting Samar up, thus hanging her. Cooper can hear her struggling over the phone and blurts out the code. Samar is brought back down.

Meanwhile, Coop is still trying to outsmart Braxton, which, good luck, buddy. He talks with Aram. The only way to lock Braxton out would entail shutting down the entire network and going dark. No contact with DOD, loss of real-time communications. Sounds like a smart move! They should totally do it! I mean, they’re sure that hasn’t been Braxton’s plan all along, right? RIGHT?

But even if by some crazy miracle some other shmuck in gov’t authorized this crazy plan, it would take hours to do. So WHY BRING IT UP, THEN?

LT: Liz has been spelunking through the air vent and reaches the boiler room, where she lets in Red and a member of his team.

V: This is where Red tells the story of Bruno the cat burglar who wanted to steal a vase from the Fitzwilliam museum in Cambridge. Red never heard from him again and assumed he’d succeeded and was on a beach somewhere, but sadly, when they remodeled the Fitzwilliam, they found poor Bruno in the heating duct clutching the vase.

Liz, who just came from the air vent, seems to give him a slight WTF? Look.

20 wtf

LT: Goodson’s boss (if his character has a name, I missed it) is meeting with a bunch of cohorts to discuss the situation.

V: They did not give him a name.

LT: This is probably the group that Fitch warned Red about in the last episode. Boss guy is saying how if Red doesn’t have the Fulcrum, he’s no longer a threat. Still, he is Red and thus dangerous to have around, so he needs to be eliminated.

V: What the hell with the direction in this scene? Close-up of half-faces, faces in shadows. And I think I saw up Strathairn’s nostrils. BACK AWAY.

21 nostrils

Also, one lady with what sounds like a German accent suggests that since nobody knows about The Factory, it might not be so bad if it disappeared. So, yeah, I guess making the entire building go boom would clear up all of their problems in one fell swoop.

LT: The boiler room plan has hit a dead end. One of Red’s team members tells him it’s just not feasible.

V: To override the safeguards, they have to do it manually. One person mans the pressure relief valves, while the other stays at the temperature controls. The guy who’d tried to override it and is giving Liz and Red this information tries to bail, since he doesn’t appreciate being blown to smithereens, but Red makes it clear that if he bails he’ll die of lead poisoning anyway.

But Liz talks sense for a change and points out that the gunshot might draw some attention. She convinces Red they can do it and gets all the info from the dude, the most important part being that they only have ten to twenty seconds to clear the area once they achieve their goal of getting it up to 700 psi.  Then the lead guy with the plan also bails, and Red lets him go.

Hmmm…maybe Braxton was right.

LT: Goodson meets with boss guy. She tells him she needs more time to get an extraction team, but he tells her to order the strike. She says that planes will be in the air within the hour and the target destroyed.

V: Good times! Aram, the only competent one at the FBI, manages to figure out about the strike and that the ETA is twenty-four minutes. Cooper seems mildly put out and asks Aram to make a phone call.

LT: Red and Liz are all that’s left of their team, and they’re alone in the boiler room.

22 boiler room

V: Liz asks a question that Red finally answers. Unfortunately, it’s something we already know, which is that the reason he purposely imprisoned himself is so Fitch’s team doesn’t find out he doesn’t have the Fulcrum. But once the break actually happened, he must have known the group would get wind of him trying to retrieve it, thus defeating his purpose.

Liz thinks this whole thing is about Red protecting himself. Then he tells her about how he used to have a normal life. Bills to pay, family, friends, people to care about. He lost it all.

When Liz asks him to be more specific as to how he lost them, Red decides to go back to the cryptic man we all know and love and tells her the story about how in Mexico there are freshwater fish that got lost in the caves and wound up in complete darkness. But instead of dying they adapted. They lost their pigmentation and their sight, then even their eyes. They became hideous.

He says he rarely thinks about what he once was, but he does wonder if a ray of light were to ever make it into the cave, would he be able to see it, feel it? Would he gravitate to its warmth? And if he did, would he become…less hideous?

Gawd, James Spader is perfection.

LT: I certainly don’t watch this show for Lizzie.

Then Red makes a significant revelation to Liz: the reason he didn’t want her to stay was because he’s afraid Braxton might know he can’t get the Fulcrum without her. Again Red is protective of Liz and hesitant to put her in danger for reasons we’re not privy to as of yet.

V: Unfortunately, with so much time wasted on the lovely fish story, Liz doesn’t get to find out how she figures into it. The bad guys find them, and a shootout ensues. The stakes are raised, because that boiler is about to blow.  Which it does. Spectacularly.

23 explosion

The bad guys figure out they’re offline. Yeah, buddy, WAY offline. Braxton sends his henchmen to find out what’s going on.

Red’s out cold. Liz does CPR with much histrionics involved. And what attempt at lifesaving would be complete without “BREATHE, you son of a bitch!”

24 breathe you son of a bitch

It’s REALLY dark, but I think Liz covers up Red as the bad guys get there. They beat up Liz and capture her.

Drones are ten minutes away. Coop is trying to get Katty to stop them. For some reason, they’ve put her in profile and in shadows. Seriously, who forgot to pay the electric bill for this show?

25 in the dark

Katty is confident Coop won’t go to the news agencies with this, since, you know, two black sites nobody knows exists is involved. Then she threatens him with being the next keynote speaker at the next “woo woo” convention, and his people will be just as dead.

Yikes, Donna. What happened to you?

LT: Even Josh won’t speak to her any more.

V: The 50K guard finds Red and gets him up by merely jostling him. Too bad Liz didn’t know that’s all it took. Meanwhile, she’s taken to Braxton. The guy who takes her there informs Braxton that Liz is the one who blew up the server room. Also, they need to get out of there, because there’s a chopper on the way for them, and the prisoners might not be happy about that.

Braxton slugs Liz, hard. Then she tells him Reddington is dead.

Meanwhile, Red is getting locked and loaded to take down the massive amount of prisoners between him and Liz. Mr. 50K (Desmond) tries to stop Red, but yeah, that’s gonna happen.

Red goes out to where the prisoners are rioting. There’s blood all over the walls as they kill each other. Red helps them out by alternately shooting his bazooka gun and smacking them upside the head with it. That he’s bleeding from the ear doesn’t seem to faze him a bit.

26 bazooka

There’s a report of gunfire, so of course Braxton knows it’s Red.

Drones: two minutes away.

The guard comes back into the room with Samar and Ressler. He cocks his gun.

 25 guard cocks gun

Liz is on her knees. Braxton has a gun to her head.

 

26 liz with gun to head

Red makes it to where Braxton is and literally takes out him and his men like they’re ducks in a shooting gallery. No joke.

 27 red shooting gallery

Braxton is just injured as Red tells Braxton the Fulcrum is not what he thinks it is. It’s a target on his back. Braxton is unfazed and says he knows it’s valuable. He also says he knows where it was twenty years ago, and he knows when it disappeared. He knows about the house, the fire, and the girl. With that, he turns to Liz and kind of has an “A-HA!” moment.

Missiles launched. Impact in thirty seconds.

Braxton says he knows why Red came for her. She was there that night. She’s the one.

Red: SHOOT HIM.

Well, she would, except she’s too busy watching the missiles hitting the building.

28 drones hit

 

So, what did you think? Will we FINALLY find out why Liz is so damn important? One can only dream.

So much packed into one episode, and there’s a part two, which will be posted soon.

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