Tag Archives: Benito Martinez

The Blacklist: How The Blacklist Got Its Groove Back

Photo Courtesy NBC


How does a series barely get renewed for a sixth campaign, not only find its footing and turn around a lackluster season, but seemingly recapture its mojo? The answer for the veteran NBC series “The Blacklist,” which just a few weeks ago seemed to be limping through its final season, decided to return to its roots. The choice to replace the long defunct “Cabal,” with an insidious force that’s plotting against America, serves two purposes.

First and foremost it gives the Task Force, a new and exciting mission, opening up a myriad of story lines, that could extend the show even past it’s recently announced seventh season. Secondly it distracts the fans from the 400-pound gorilla in the room, that apparently the show-runners have no desire to reveal yet, the true identity of the man we know as Raymond Reddington.

Instead of having a shadow government that orchestrated events around the globe behind closed doors, the POTUS in the “Blacklist,” universe is a key player in a plot against the nation he governs. Assisting President Diaz in his plot, is Anna McMahon, a Justice department official, possessing an acidic tongue and a heart made of granite. The kind of woman that makes Laurel Hitchin look like a contender for Miss Congeniality. Along for the ride is a thuggish Presidential aide identified as Mr. Sandquist, a character this viewer’s dubbed Mr. Eyebrows.

I think that most longtime viewers will agree that the show was at its best during the first three seasons, when the Task-Force had a clearly defined opponent. Although “The Cabal” wasn’t mentioned in every episode, there was always an undercurrent throughout the proceedings. The writers were wise enough to give the audience a slow reveal of the organization and its inner-workings. We came to realize that “The Cabal” not only threatened “Our Raymond,” but the entire Task-Force, as well as the fate of the planet.

The combination of releasing “The Fulcrum,” to investigative journalists around the globe, plus the unceremonious dumping of Peter Kotsiopoulos into a European family’s living room at 20,000 feet, effectively ended “The Cabal’s” reign of power. The last member of the organization still ensconced in the government that we are aware of, was Laurel Hitchin, who died accidentally in a tussle with Donald Ressler.

Since the demise of their main opponent, the series veered towards the melodramatic. The unexpected pregnancy of series co-star Megan Boone, was a curveball that the writers hadn’t planned for, and seemed to throw them off their game for quite a while. To cover Boone’s maternity leave, the writers concocted a story-arc faking Elizabeth Keen’s death, which most fans realized was just a plot device. That feeling was reinforced when Boone’s name still appeared in the opening credits.

For the next two seasons, the writers decided to turn the Task-Force against each other, starting with the characters of Reddington and Keen. Season four threw in a new element with the introduction of Alexander Kirk, the man who raised young Masha Rostova as his own. The writers also made what I consider an ill-conceived move, when they had Raymond attempt to kill Kate Kaplan. That story consumed the latter half of the season, and in the process turned a well loved character into a monster.

Because NBC failed to renew the show’s spinoff series “Blacklist: Redemption,” the writers found themselves with a character, Tom Keen, that they didn’t know what to do with. So in another terrible decision they decided to kill him off, and turn Elizabeth Keen, into “DIRTY LIZZIE: VIGILANTE.”

Elizabeth Scott was never an angel, raised by a grifter and getting into petty larceny in her teens. However whether it was due to the head trauma she received, or the sheer pain and anger she felt about Tom’s murder, Keen threw away her moral compass in season five, utilizing the “Stewmaker’s” methods to dispose of Bobby Navarro’s body. She also allowed police psychiatrist Sharon Fulton, to not only walk away without getting charged, but for her to continue her murderous spree. Keen rationalizes this behavior by stating she is her father’s daughter.

After wringing dust from the sponge of the story-arc concerning the identity of the bones buried at Tansi Farms, viewers are informed what many had figured out a year earlier. The remains belonged to the real Raymond Reddington, and “Our Raymond,” is indeed an imposter that assumed his identity. The season ends with Keen explaining all of it to Tom’s ghost, and an unlikely alliance with Lillian Roth/Jennifer Reddington.

Due to a series of unfortunate circumstances, we haven’t published a recap since The Pawnbrokers aired. With that in mind, we’re going to eschew our regular format, and talk about season six as a whole. The two-part story-arc revolving around Bastien Moreau, tied up lots of loose ends, as well as giving viewers a brief glimpse into the past of “Our Raymond.” (We’ll get back to that later.)

Show-runner Jon Bokenkamp, did have a method to his madness after all throughout this convoluted season, as Raymond revealed in the show’s latest outing. There was a direct line starting with The Corsican, General Shiro, The Crypto-Banker, and The Man from Greece. When the pieces came together in his head and why he attempted his botched escape, realizing he’d be sacrificing his immunity agreement, has yet to be explained.

Despite reenergizing, reinvigorating, and repurposing, the series with the latest story-arc, season six has hit more than it’s share of potholes along the journey. Let’s spend the next few minutes exploring some of the off-key notes, hanging chads, and directions this series could take over the remaining episodes of this season, and setting the table for a seventh campaign, that many thought would never exist.

Good Riddance Lillian Roth/Jennifer Reddington

Perhaps the most annoying addition to an existing series, since “LOST,” fans had to suffer through Nikki and Paulo, and “Star Wars,” fans nearly revolted at the sight of Jar-Jar Binks. This viewer’s still not quite sure what to make of the character. If she’s indeed Jennifer Reddington, why did she have such zeal to find out the identity of a man who has nothing to do with her life? She found out that four-year-old Masha Rostova killed their father in the season six premiere. By all rights they should have bid adieu to the character right there.

Instead she goes behind Keen’s back and pays a homeless woman to call the police and put the dime on “Our Raymond.” Rather than feeling betrayed by the woman professing to be her half-sister, she takes responsibility for turning Reddington in. Why was Elizabeth so concerned if Raymond heard the voice on the tape?

She lost her backbone in a heartbeat, when she found herself staring down the barrel of a gun. After being so excited about being a “Junior G-Man,” and complaining she didn’t want to go back to a minimum wage gig, she sure changed her mind quickly. Leaving Keen and Raymond with the ramifications of her actions, while she hightailed it to Long Island. Let’s hope that’s the last appearance of this character. By the way, I still don’t believe Naomi’s dead.

Can We Finally Put An End To The REDARINA Theory?

We engage in conjecture constantly on these pages. Some times the theories presented here turn out to be correct, other times the theories have been way off base. (Raymond will never shoot Kate, now that he’s had a chance to cool down.) The theories and conjecture presented on these pages, is no more or less valid, than any other opinions about this series.

So why is this viewer so certain that “Our Raymond’s,” not Katarina Rostova after having undergone a sex-change conversion? TWO WORDS: Nik Korpal. I don’t care how skilled a plastic surgeon could possibly be, a skilled surgeon removing bullets from Reddington’s body and saving his life, would have known he was dealing with a transgender patient.

Even if we are willing to buy into the conceit that Korpal hid the information from Lizzie (which I find incredibly tough to believe,) there’s no way he would have kept it from Tom when they attempted to identify the bones. I rest my case.

Did Raymond Reveal The Truth In His Final Meal?

Regular readers of these pages are well aware that this viewer believes “Our Raymond’s,” the son of Dominic “Oleander” Wilkinson, and the brother of Katarina Rostova. We first published that theory on December 27, 2017, and I believe that Raymond’s conversation during his last meal confirms those suspicions.

From the moment we meet Dom in the show’s third season, the dynamic between the two characters has been at odds with their supposed relationship. Why would a man even bother to talk with a guy that impregnated his daughter, destroying her marriage, and possibly leading to her death, never mind letting him temporarily live in his house? Why would Raymond Reddington, a man who sneers at world leaders, obey an old man who forbade him to spit out a mouthful of buttermilk. “My father fancied himself a disciplinarian.”

Ponder this, Raymond’s last meal consisted of herring and cabbage soup, a meal his mother made for him as a boy. That’s the food of Eastern Europeans, Russians, Romanians, and Polish natives. He related a story of a father who never understood him for being different and excommunicated him from their family. (Dominic in their first meeting, “You destroyed my family.”)

What if Oleander and his wife had two children, a daughter who willingly followed her father’s instructions, and a son who felt he wasn’t suited to become a KGB agent? So the son goes off on his own way, lives the life of an American, gets a normal job, marries and raises a family. Including a blonde-haired daughter, who loved blowing bubbles, and was an aspiring ballerina?

Meanwhile his sister Katarina’s assigned to seduce an American Naval officer named Raymond Reddington. Reddington’s a huge thorn in the Soviet Union’s side, and they task her with seducing him and milking him for American military secrets. Unfortunately there’s a fly in the Vaseline, Rostova falls for the dashing American, and in fact bears his child, a daughter named Masha.

Unhappy with the developments, one of three possible organizations (CIA, KGB, The Cabal,) decide to send Katarina a message of their disapproval, and put a hit on her most vulnerable relative. Her brother arrives home on Christmas Eve 1987, after walking miles in the snow, to find the slaughtered bodies of his family. (This would be the house he purchased and subsequently blew up in season one.)

Some time during this period Rostova becomes an agent of “The Cabal,” as we found out when we heard that chilling conversation between Katarina and Alan Fitch. Although Fitch favors killing the Naval Officer immediately, Rostova says that Red knows about “The Cabal,” and they must discredit his name with the American public before killing him.

Apparently she had yet to accomplish that when Masha shot and killed her father. Desperate to see the plan through, she turned to her devoted brother, who had nothing left in the world to lose. He took on the face and identity of Raymond Reddington, and then used that notoriety to become the “Concierge Of Crime.” However even the act of saving the life of his granddaughter, wasn’t enough to win Dominic’s approval. They did make a pact to leave Masha with Sam and for them both to stay out of the child’s life.

“Our Raymond,” F-RED, or Doppel-Raymond, became a member of “The Cabal,” and by all accounts had a mutually beneficial relationship with the organization, until September, 2013. He had tried monitoring Elizabeth through a paid mercenary, but that kind of fell apart when the mercenary married her. So he broke his commitment to the pact and reinserted himself back into her life.

It was loyalty to his sister and fear of “The Cabal,” that brought Reddington back into Elizabeth’s life. He likely originally planned that after recovering “The Fulcrum,” and exposing “The Cabal,” for he and Dembe to fade back into the shadows. However he hadn’t counted on the paternal love that he’d develop for his niece, and thus stuck around.

Samar And Aram

You don’t have to be a “shipper,” to root for this couple. The show’s resident nerd Aram Mojtabai, falls hard for the beautiful former Mossad agent, who joins the team in the second season. After appearing to be oblivious to his feelings for what seemed like forever, she realized she was in love with Aram, when a former flame reentered her life. Unfortunately Mojtabai had gotten involved with a woman who wasn’t as wonderful as she first seemed.

Just when it looked like the couple would have their happy ending, Samar realizes she’s suffering from Aphasia, as a result of being deprived of oxygen for six minutes. She gives Harold Cooper her resignation in the closing moments of the episode, although we all know she’ll play a critical part before this season concludes.

Anna McMahon And Katarina Rostova

Much has been made about the resemblance between Jennifer Ferrin, who portrays Anna McMahon, and Lotte Verbeek, who has played Katarina Rostova. There’s been lots of fan speculation on Social Media that McMahon’s actually Rostova. Acknowledging that this is the world of television, no woman in her late fifties/early sixties, could look like Anna McMahon, no matter how skilled the surgeon. However there still might be a connection.

What if Rostova never dove into the Atlantic at Cape May, taking her own life? Working for “The Cabal,” she certainly could have gotten protection from the KGB, and the CIA, and gone onto a new life with a new identity. Rostova would have certainly be young and attractive enough to get re-married and have a new family a few years later. Could Anna McMahon, be Liz Keen’s half-sister?

We don’t know whom at this point is posing the threat against the United States described in the dossier. Could some members of “The Cabal’s” board, have survived the fallout from the release of “The Fulcrum,” and are now rising from the ashes? Could the person leading this new threat be indeed Katarina Rostova?

Donald Ressler

Just because Keen’s okay with “Our Raymond’s” identity remaining unknown, it doesn’t mean that Donald Ressler is. The look in Ressler’s eyes when Lizzie said she hoped he was okay with her decision spoke volumes. Let’s remember that “The Boy-Scout,” came close to capturing Raymond several times before he turned himself to become Lizzie’s “Guardian Angel.” If Raymond nor Dom, divulge his true identity first, look for Ressler to come up with the answer.

The Story Continues Next Friday Night, at 9:00 pm on NBC.

The Blacklist: A Family Reunited

Photo by: Virginia Sherwood/NBC
Photo by: Virginia Sherwood/NBC

Warning: Spoiler Alert

That melancholy air, that hovered over Season Four of the NBC series “The Blacklist,” lifted like the morning fog, as the show returned from its Autumn vacation. The distrust that kept the characters at arm’s length, and constantly angry with each other, casting a rather oppressive shadow through the first eight-episodes, appears to have departed along with Constantin Rostov. Of course we needed some conflict in at least one relationship, but not concerning either Lizzie or Raymond. We’ll get to that down the road, however let’s start at the beginning.

Our night begins at Lipet’s Seafood Company’s warehouse, as a truck backs into delivering the catch of the day. As the fish are getting unloaded, special attention’s given to one fish, with blood near its mouth. The fish is put in its own tray of ice, and carted over to three men dealing with technical equipment. One of the men, cut open the fish and pulls out a clear plastic pouch with a piece of tech inside it. He pulls it out of the sleeve and puts it into the machine in front of him.

Suddenly, we hear shouting and gunfire and one of the men, tells the other two, to take the tech and run. We soon see the attackers, covered from head to toe in black, and all sporting machine-guns. They get the tech and then throw a couple of grenades as they yell fire in the hole.

When we return from the opening credits we see Agnes and Lizzie, as Keen’s taking a video-selfie, while talking to a future version of Agnes. “When you were a baby, we lived inside a warehouse and we had body-guards. (Say hello Baz.) Inside the warehouse, was a fake apartment. Here’s your daddy, inside your fake living room.” She shuts off the camera, saying it should provide their daughter an interesting college essay. Tom and Liz, briefly discuss Kirk’s status and Lizzie’s ready to let it go. She says their priority right now’s finding a new place to live.

Harold Cooper, provides a bit of comic relief in this go-round, doing a whole lot of huffing and puffing, but going no further than that on two separate occasions. The first one takes place in his office, as he chews out Raymond. Cooper’s livid that Reddington, had the bureau chase down Alexander Kirk for months, costing agents their lives and he let him go. Red tells Harold that he’s got to stop living in the past and tells him about the attack at the seafood warehouse.

He tells Cooper that law-enforcement believe that they were running a dope-ring out of the facility, but they got it wrong. It’s actually been used by the “New Martyrs Brigade,” a terrorist based in Libya. He then shows Harold a photo of the corpse of Algerian Terrorist Hassam Arkani. Raymond says when he gets any more info, he’ll contact Agent Keen, which sends Cooper off on another tirade.

Harold says that Keen losing her badge’s a stain on her reputation, one that Reddington’s responsible for. Cooper growls that since Red entered Liz’s life, he’s caused her nothing but pain, grief and regret. A fact that Reddington seems obviously oblivious to, and helpless in how to rectify it. Raymond gets up from his chair, squeezes Cooper’s arm and says Good Talk Harold, then walks away.

Cooper informs the Task-Force about the NMB and the attack on the warehouse, and assigns his team roles. Navabi finds out that Aram’s getting formally questioned by the Justice Department, as to how his phony girlfriend Elise got access to his laptop. Samar says he’s got nothing to worry about, as he was clueless about the situation. Aram says he’ll come out of the situation looking like a traitor or a moron, Navabi says he’s a moron and he’ll be fine.

Ressler and Navabi head to the warehouse and interview the manager, he says two of the deceased had worked for him for a couple of months, but he didn’t recognize the rest. He says that the crew disabled the cameras at about 9:00pm, so there’s no surveillance footage. One of the agents sifting through the debris, finds a timing chip which Ressler brings to Mojtabai.

A graphic informs us that we’re now in Tripoli, Libya and we see two men having a conversation in Arabic. One man informs the other that Arkani’s dead and the project he was overseeing maybe over. He says that those responsible must be found and the technology recovered immediately. The bald-headed man he’s talking to smiles widely and responds consider it done.

The Task-Force’s summoned to the Post Office, for some urgent meeting. Aram’s been obsessed with the timing chip since he received it. He tells the other’s the quality’s far too good for the NMB, or some other group to have produced. He says the only ones who could make something of that quality, is the United States Government, then identifies the piece as being created by government contractor Blackthorn/Kincaid. Cooper sends Navabi and Ressler to the contractor and tells Aram to start getting ready for his interview.

Harold pulls Lizzie aside, and tells her that he’s going to ask Cynthia Panabaker to restore Keen back to agent status. Liz gets very excited and asks Cooper if he believes it’s possible? He replies that he’s surprised they hadn’t already done it on their own. She’ll be the one conducting Aram’s hearing, and he’ll ask her then.

Ressler’s a little stingy on diplomacy when he and Navabi question the contractor. After a brief spitting match, they identify the piece as being created four months earlier and likely handled by about eighty employees. When Ressler tells them he’ll need a list of all the employees involved, one of the executives hands him a dossier on a former employee, James Maddox. He was one of their top programmers, but developed a drinking problem and they terminated him. Ressler takes the file, but says he still wants the list of the other employees.

Raymond’s in his car when he receives a call from a woman named Wendy, who says she’s got some information on the NMB, and that they’re heading into the country. She says that her intelligence says they’ll be sending about six agents, lead by the bald-headed guy we saw earlier in Tripoli, Farouk. As they’re talking we watch as Farouk al-Thani’s passport’s accepted and he enters the States.

Farouk has the seafood warehouse manager, brought to him with a black bag over his head. The manager apologizes and doesn’t know what went wrong, but he informs al-Thani, that he’s got the surveillance footage that he convinced law-enforcement officials, didn’t exist. Farouk then shoots the manager and makes a call, saying we have to meet immediately. The man on the other end of the phone’s the executive from Blackthorn/Kincaid, that gave Ressler the dossier on Maddox.

Raymond’s dining out, when Dembe suddenly walks over and tells Red that someone’s arrived. A man joins him at the table and says that he’s not there and this meeting never took place. The other man’s Marlin Heiden, Legal adviser to President-Elect Robert Diaz, and Raymond laughs heartily at Heiden’s statements. He then states that Diaz made Reddington a campaign promise and he just wants it granted, he finishes his meal and says that Heiden should tell Diaz, he’ll be in touch.

Farouk meets with the executive and demands that he replace the technology that got stolen. The man from the contractor informs al-Thani that’s not going to happen, but he believes he can identify some of the attackers on the security tape, as Blackthorn/Kincaid has a program that can see through cloth masks.

Keen questions the former programmer Maddox, who says he ran from Ressler and Navabi, because he thought they were process-servers. He’s going through a nasty divorce, and doesn’t want to spend more time in court. He says he knows nothing about the timer chip, but Ressler then walks in with a burner phone and a bank passbook that were found in a search of Maddox’s home. He says he’s being framed, and we can see Lizzie believes him.

The executive gets the tape rendered and they’re able to identify one of the attackers, it’s Navabi. She was part of a Black-Ops attack conducted by Mossad, to keep the technology that could pierce Israel’s defense. Just as they’re discovering her identity, Navabi meets with the other Mossad operatives and tells them that Aram had suspicions about one of their members and they have to get back to Israel.

Aram survives a humiliating interview with Panabaker, and gets cleared of any wrong-doing. Navabi and he make a date to celebrate his name getting cleared after work that evening. Samar gives Mojtabai, a congratulatory hug, before she and Ressler head out to interview a Blackthorn/Kincaid programmer, who claims he saw Maddox with the timing chip.

Cooper tells Keen that despite his best efforts, Panabaker said that Liz won’t be reinstated as an agent. He tells Lizzie that the only way she could gain clearance to get her shield back, would be if the new Attorney-General gave his okay to the arrangement. Harold tells her that’s not about to happen.

Marlin Heiden’s been pulled over by a cruiser and soon he’s joined by Reddington and Heiden realizes the cops who busted him are working for Red. Raymond informs him, that the really bad news is his toxicology report shows him way over the legal limit. This time Heiden laughs as he informs Reddington that he’s been sober for 12-years. Red says and that’s exactly why the President-Elect will have to terminate Marlin, as that’s not a good image for the new administration. Reddington says he can make the charges disappear, if Heiden gets Raymond that meeting with Diaz.

Turns out that the programmer was really a trap set-up by the NMB, Farouk and his crew kidnap Samar, leaving Ressler in the dust. Ressler calls the Post Office and tells them about Navabi, Lizzie calls Reddington and sends him everything they have on the NMB. Raymond recognizes the man that Aram had flagged as a Mossad agent named Ezra, and says he was part of the Black-Ops team that attacked the seafood warehouse.

Farouk puts Samar up on a hook and smiles at her, then says she should save herself a lot of needless pain and suffering and just reveal where the tech’s hidden. Navabi smiles back at him and says she’s good. He soon realizes she’s not going to break and suggests to the Blackthorn/Kincaid executive, that they use Samar’s cellphone to try to track down her Mossad teammates. He says that they can trade her life for the tech. The executive says she saw his face and she can’t leave the room. Farouk says that the executive won’t leave the room then shoots him dead. His instinct serves him well, as the number he hits connects him to Mossad agent Levi. However Ressler and the FBI discover the Mossad agents.

Levi absconded with the tech, and heads to Cornerstone Park, with Ressler in pursuit. Farouk directs Levi to a push-cart vendor, but the agent demands to hear Navabi’s voice before he gives the vendor the tech. She tells Levi to destroy the tech, but the agent gives the package over to the vendor saying that the tech’s not leaving the park until Samar’s returned. Just at that moment Navabi’s released from a white van and Aram tells Ressler and the other agents where the push-cart’s located.

The vendor attaches the tech to a drone and it flies off into the air. Donald tells him to make it come down, but the guy just smiles and says he’s not controlling it. Ressler tracks it down and sees Farouk about to check out of a hostel. A chase ensues and then the two men fight, but Farouk’s hit and killed by a car that hits him. Ressler takes the bag and leaves the corpse in the street.

Samar’s recovering in an ambulance, when Levi comes over to her. She says that he risked Israel’s security to get her back, she doesn’t know whether to hit him or hug him. Levi informs her that he broke off his engagement, Navabi says she’s sorry to hear the news. However Levi smiles and says Samar should be happy about that.

President-Elect Diaz and his wife arrive to have a dance lesson, but he finds that Raymond’s waiting for him. Diaz says that he and Reddington are through, he opened up an investigation into Alexander Kirk, and suspended his Presidential campaign. Red reminds him that Diaz got compensated for that, however he promised Raymond something else. He then says that the current President will want his image burnished by his successor, and that granting Diaz this favor will ensure that.

Cooper finds himself chewing out Navabi, as the episode draws to a close. He says that her actions were unacceptable, and she replies that she was out to save her country. Cooper explodes as he says as long as she works on the Task-Force, her job’s to protect the USA. Samar, replies she was able to save both with her actions. Harold tells her that she can never lie to him, or take on a mission without his authority. He then tells her to go home and get some rest.

As Harold leaves, Aram says that she should go home and they’ll do dinner another night. She thanks him for the rain-check, but he says that he’s not really giving her one. He recounts his interview with Panabaker and says he got embarrassed. He says that he needs to know that the woman he’d raise a family with and grow old together, isn’t a spy. He walks away and we can see the pain in Samar’s face.

In the fake apartment, Tom asks Liz if he understood that Panabaker said she couldn’t be reinstated, then turns on the TV newscast. The anchor’s talking about the surprising move that the out-going President had made earlier that afternoon, granting a full pardon to Elizabeth Keen.

Navabi meets with Levi, to talk about what he said to her earlier. She says as much as that’s what she always wanted, that she’s now in love with another man. How this will affect her relationship with Aram, now remains to be seen.

The final scene of the evening, has Liz saying to Harold that Raymond Reddington got her a pardon from the President of the United States! How does he do these things? Cooper smiles and says he doesn’t know or care, right at that moment. His only concern is doing something he’s long wanted to do. He gives Lizzie back her gun and her shield and says, Welcome Back Agent Keen.

The Story Continues Next Thursday Night at 10:00pm on NBC.

The Blacklist: Rubber Baby Buggy Bumpers

Photo Courtesy of NBC
Photo Courtesy of NBC

Warning: Spoiler Alert

{“The Blacklist,” which normally occupies this space will be preempted this week for the following special program.}

Welcome to the world of Halcyon Aegis, a corporation that exists as a result of the United States Government outsourcing more and more of their military budget to subcontractors. Picture if you will a cooler version of Halliburton, with a sultry and savvy woman running the operation. Halcyon Aegis undertakes tasks that the Government can’t publicly acknowledge, such as negotiating with foreign thugs to get American hostages released.

That just happens to be exactly what the corporation’s leader Susan “Scottie” Hargrave’s in the midst of when we join her in Indonesia. She’s there to negotiate a deal with a kidnapper named Karokaro whose demanding a million dollar deposit into his bit-coin account or he’ll kill his hostages. Scottie then gives Karokaro the routing number to make a deposit in her bit-coin account and she’s demanding three million.

We then see perhaps one of the reasons that Raymond Reddington’s never liked Hargrave, because she shares his talent for sharing anecdotes and verbal manipulation. She informs Karokaro that she’s already rescued the hostages and advises him to call his men to verify her story. While he’s making the call she tells the thug that she suffered a traumatic event years ago that she hasn’t recovered from. She normally leaves these type of meetings to staff members, but she’s doing this for therapeutic reasons.

We hear somebody on the other end of the kidnapper’s cell-phone talking rapidly and sounding distressed even though it’s in a foreign tongue. Scottie says her Indonesian’s rusty but the man on the other end likely just informed Karokaro that not only did she rescue the hostages, she kidnapped the thug’s brother in the operation. He asks her if she’ll accept cash.

This is our introduction to the Spinoff series that NBC has added to this fall’s schedule and called “The Blacklist: Redemption,” starring Famke Janssen in the role of Hargrave. Scottie was telling the truth about the traumatic event she went through (more on that later) and we immediately notice some of her eccentricities. She carries around some sort of seashell necklace, clutching it in her hand like rosary-beads. She’s also got a penchant for saying “Rubber Baby Buggy Bumpers,” almost like a mantra.

The phrase “Rubber Baby Buggy Bumpers,” is a tongue-twister and a vocal exercise to help improve one’s diction. It might also be a phrase that a mother and her three-year-old son might share as a private joke. We’re never told the meaning of the phrase, but we’re aware that Scottie seems to get comfort from saying it in tense situations.

Joining Ms. Janssen in the new series are three familiar faces for Blacklist fans as Ryan Eggold  reprises his character of Tom Keen. Tom enters this episode wanting Hargrave dead in revenge for Lizzie’s “death,” he ends up becoming part of Scottie’s team so they can trap the man who hired Hargrave to abduct Liz, Alexander Kirk. Keen ends up working with Matias Solomon (Edi Gathegi) and Nez Rowan (Tawny Cypress) who both were involved in the attempted abduction of Liz.

Keen’s brought into the dynamic via Raymond, who informs Tom that Hargrave’s merely a sub-contractor hired by Alexander Kirk. Reddington has a meeting with Keen and the members of the Task-Force and gives them the lowdown on Kirk. Kirk’s actually an alias for an oligarch who struck it rich after the Soviet Union collapsed, by purchasing mining operations for just pennies on the dollar. Raymond explained that Kirk went off the grid in 2002, when he rubbed somebody wrong at the Kremlin.

Reddington tells them that Kirk’s survives due to politicians and leaders protection around the globe, in return for the one kind of gift everybody likes, money. We also see that Kirk’s suffering from some medical condition when he receives a blood-transfusion in his office. He then tells Cooper and the rest of the Task-Force that he proposes they work with Hargrave and Halcyon Aegis to capture Kirk and Harold expresses reservations. Raymond then tells them that the three American hostages that were held in Jakarta, are back home because Halcyon Aegis did what the US Government considers illegal.

Tom’s first meeting face-to-face with Hargrave isn’t exactly smooth as he walks into Agnes’ room at the hospital and finds her in the arms of Scottie, whose rocking back and forth whispering “Rubber Baby Buggy Bumpers.” Tom demands his daughter telling Hargrave she’s the only thing he cares about. After a snippy back and forth, Keen says that he’ll work with her to bring Kirk to justice. She sighs looking at Agnes and says that losing a child is absolutely the worst tragedy one can go through. She tells Tom she hopes he never has to experience that pain, then tells him Solomon will pick him up in ten-minutes.

Tom and Solomon take a private plane to the Halcyon Aegis facility and Matias informs Keen that the corporation deals in two types of cases. There are the escapades the American public’s aware of such as helping with security to fortify US troops in military conflicts, that they refer to as the black and white situations. Then there are the “gray-areas,” cases that are legally questionable but morally justifiable.

The Task-Force’s in the conference room when Tom and Solomon arrive and as soon as Ressler sees Matias he says he thought he could do this but he can’t and starts to get out of his chair. Navabi then sees Nez Rowan and starts to go after her, but Tom intercedes telling Samar if he can do this she can as well. Scottie enters the conference room acting like a teacher dealing with a rowdy junior-high class and tells them they’ve got work to do.

We switch to another meeting as Kirk meets with some European cohorts and a man makes some statement about Kirk’s protection in French. He responds in English that he doesn’t require any protection once the American Presidential election takes place he’ll be untouchable. His assistant walks into the office and whispers in Kirk’s ear that the child’s been located. The oligarch responds he wants the matter taken care of that day, of course that child’s Agnes.

Scottie tells those in attendance that the only way to get Kirk is through his bank account. Normally their target doesn’t deposit any money in the US, however he’s put together a Super-Pac for Senator Robert Diaz’s Presidential campaign and she believes there could be over $300 million in that fund. Hargrave then tells them that Solomon, Keen and Brown will rob the bank, but they won’t be able to access what’s in the account. Instead Ressler and Navabi will investigate the robbery and actually take the contents of the account at that point.

Harold responds that the FBI stops bank robberies, they don’t commit them. Scottie calls Cooper out on his sanctimonious attitude saying that they have a long-term working relationship with one of the most wanted criminals on the planet. She reminds them that during the three years they’ve worked together Raymond’s empire’s gotten larger, the Task-Force agrees to work with them.

Just before Nez pulls up in front of the bank in an SUV, one of the bank officer’s having a meeting with one of the bank’s customers. Zack Loescher needs to go to his car to get the paperwork the bank officer needs to see and tells his little girl Sadie to wait for him and he’d be back soon. Of course Solomon and Keen enter the bank just after Loescher leaves.

Matias and Tom have bandanas covering the lower half of their faces and are each packing shotguns. Matias gets everyone’s full attention when he fires a couple of rounds into the ceiling. He then goes up to a female employee and tells her to open the vault and though she’s terrified she refuses. So Solomon grabs the guy that met with Loescher and another woman from the bank took his chair to comfort Sadie.

Keen hears Sadie’s crying and he bends down to make eye-contact with her and tells her everything’s fine and she’ll be okay. No good intentions go unpunished, when Tom bends down to comfort the girl an off-duty cop pulls his weapon and tells Tom to drop his gun. His heroism was mighty impressive, but not really well thought out, Matias tells the cop to put his gun down and the two start screaming at each other, then Solomon shoots him. Tom takes a look at the cop and tells him that it’s only a flesh wound and he’ll be fine.

Unfortunately our worst fears for Sadie come to fruition as she got struck in the abdomen from a stray-bullet. Keen insists that they take her to a hospital or get her to an ambulance, as they leave the bank Zack tells them that Sadie’s his little girl. Tom grabs him by the arm and the four of them enter the SUV.

We get introduced to Operator 6-3, who seems to serve as dispatcher and coordinator for Halcyon Aegis. She informs them that an ambulance is heading towards the bank and then lets them know that it’s on the other side of the street. Tom channels Gene Hackman in the “French Connection” and somehow gets the SUV to the side of the road and they cut off the ambulance and get Sadie and Zack into the medical vehicle. After they’re safely inside the ambulance, they press the button on a remote and the SUV they used for the robbery explodes.

Keen heads for the hospital to see Agnes and he walks into a crime scene and his daughter’s gone. He then flies to Hargrave’s house as Susan’s holding a campaign financing dinner for Senator Diaz. After she’s done introducing the candidate to his audience she sees Tom’s standing at the door of the room the dinner’s taking place in. She gets one of her aides to tell Tom that she believes he’ll be more comfortable in her office.

Scottie storms into her office and starts ripping Keen a new one for coming to her home uninvited and for arriving at such an inopportune time. Tom takes the wind out of Hargrave’s sails when he wraps his hand around Scottie’s throat and asks where his daughter’s at. Suddenly there’s a knock on the office door and one of Scottie’s house-staff’s standing on the other side with Agnes safe and sound in her arms.

Susan tells Tom that she got wind that Kirk ordered a team to kidnap Agnes, so in a preemptive move she took her first. She informs him that Agnes’ receiving the best in medical care. Hargrave also lets Keen know that Sadie Loescher is in good condition after she arranged for a top surgeon to remove the bullet fragments from her abdomen. She’s resting comfortably in Mount Sinai Hospital.

Although Navabi was able to get the team to the halfway point of accessing the PAC fund account after the robbery, however the bank’s security system requires a retina scan of one Peter Pruitt treasurer of the PAC fund in order to enter the account. Pruitt’s attending a Big Eight Summit meeting in Berlin at the Turkish Embassy, one of Tom’s aliases is a criminal wanted by the Turkish Government. So by using that identity when he arrives in Germany he’s immediately apprehended and taken to the Turkish Embassy for extradition proceedings.

Keen of course overcomes his captors and escapes from the holding room and then disguises himself as a waiter serving champagne at the Summit soiree. Tom plays the old switcheroo on Pruitt’s cigarettes, substituting a pack with poison for Pruitt’s regular smokes. Pruitt lights up a square and seconds later he’s choking and lying on the floor. Nez and Solomon disguised as paramedics carry Pruitt to their ambulance on a stretcher, Tom jumps into the ambulance and the three make their get away.

I got the impression that if there will be a character from the original series who becomes a conduit between the two shows, Aram Mojtabai will fill that role. Sharing FBI information with Halcyon Aegis could be the connection between the two series and Aram seems to have found instant chemistry with his counterpart at Hargrave’s operation.

Dumond might become the breakout character in the new series, if you’re familiar with the CBS series Scorpion, picture a combination of Sylvester and Toby. He loves using nicknames; calling Aram “Cheesecake” and referring to Tom as “Sweet Cheeks.” Mojtabai’s become a favorite character on the original show because he’s the odd-duck, but he’s made a place for himself in the macho, testosterone world he lives in. Dumont could fill that same niche at Halcyon Aegis and I took an instant liking to the character portrayed by Adrian Martinez.

Turns out that Keen added a bit too much poison to Pruitt’s smokes and they can’t get a retina scan because his pupils were too small. Aram told Tom they needed a drug that optometrists use to dilate pupils and Solomon and Keen broke into a pharmacy where they found the liquid. However that’s when Matias pushed his luck too far.

Solomon says to Keen that he blames Tom for putting them in their current situation and Keen says if Matias hadn’t attacked his wedding they’d be somewhere else at that moment. Solomon concedes the point but then says to Tom that they both know Liz is in a better place right now. Keen grabs his pistol and shoots Matias in the abdomen telling him this is for Liz as Solomon falls to the floor.

Tom jumps into the ambulance and tells Brown to drive, when she asks where Matias’ at Keen responds just drive. Now Keen finds himself in a race against the clock as the president of Key Atlantic Bank realizes they’ve got Pruitt and he’s about to lockdown the account. The retina scan’s accepted and they get granted access to the account a heartbeat before the executive could lock them out. We watch as Halcyon Aegis and the Task Force break into cheers when they get into the account. Hargrave walks into the hallway and makes a call on her cell and says “Reddington, it’s time.”

Senator Robert Diaz walks into his home a very agitated man talking on the cell and saying he realizes Kirk got attacked by the same people who stole his money. He’s surprised to see Scottie sitting in his living-room and she asks if he had a bad day. Diaz asks her if she knows where his money’s at and Hargrave says of course she does as she took it. Diaz’s incredulous saying that Susan contributed 50 grand to his campaign, she smiles and tells Diaz you have to give to get. That’s when we’re aware Raymond’s also in the home.

Reddington tells Diaz that their move wasn’t personal and he’s ignorant about Diaz’s position on any issue. Diaz says he’s calling the cops and Raymond advises against it, telling him he’d be far better off calling Kirk. We then switch to Kirk’s office as his assistant tells him that Diaz is on the phone. Kirk picks up the phone and tells the Senator it’s an honor, but he hears Raymond’s voice instead. Reddington tells him that he’s got his money and his Senator.

Kirk responds by saying that he should have pulled the trigger that time he had a pistol in Raymond’s mouth in that house by the shore. He then says that Red’s got his money and his Senator but he doesn’t have Kirk and hangs up. Raymond tells Diaz if he wants his money back he’s going to temporarily suspend his campaign and subpoena Kirk to testify in front of the subcommittee that Diaz chairs. Diaz says he won’t be a party to murder and Raymond replies he will if he wants to become President. Diaz does as instructed.

The Task-Force arrives to the church for Agnes’ Christening and Keen tells them that they are the closest thing he and Liz had to family. Granted a dysfunctional family that’s tried to kill each other, but a family nonetheless and he says he knows Liz would have wanted them all to be God-Parents. While the ceremony takes place Tom looks up and sees Raymond standing in the doorway. However when he looks again Reddington’s gone.

After the Christening Tom decides that Scottie should die and he’s going to kill her. He walks into Hargrave’s home and when told she’s not there he says he’ll wait and walks into her office and then calls Raymond. Red tells him that he can’t kill Hargrave and Keen replies they no longer need her as they’ve got Kirk on the way to Washington.

Reddington then says that if Tom kills Susan he’ll never find out the unanswered questions about his childhood. Tom’s birth name’s Christopher Hargrave and he’s the son of Howard and Scottie Hargrave and got kidnapped at the age of three. He tells Tom that if he keeps his true identity from Hargrave he’ll be able to get the information from her to fill in the missing pieces of his life.

Tom’s holding a framed photo of Howard, Susan and Christopher when Scottie walks into her office and she smiles sadly as she starts to talk about her perfect boy. The picture got taken the last day they were all together, the shell necklace that she carries was around her son’s neck in the picture. Once again the beach plays into our saga, they had a wonderful day on the beach building sand-castles.

That night she and Howard drank too much and got into a huge argument. When they awoke the next morning her son was missing. She says that not a day has gone by in the last 28-years that she walks into a room without hoping her son’s in there. She then asks she hopes he didn’t show up to try to kill her again and Tom says that’s exactly why he came, but for his daughter’s sake he’s changed his mind. Once again Matias survives as the authorities investigating the break-in find a pool of Solomon’s blood but he had taken off.

As he starts to leave the office Scottie says you’re hired and Tom’s dumbfounded. She then tries to entice him rubbing Tom’s arm and saying they could do beautiful things together. Thankfully Tom doesn’t have a Oedipal fixation and he left after saying he’s sorry about her son.

The new series looks quite promising and hopefully we shall have some crossover between the two shows on an occasional basis, although Amir Arison could conceivably become a semi-regular on the new show. Matias Solomon will of course be back in top-form and in a few years the incident will just be a memory of how close the two of them have become.

Keep in mind the phrase that Matias used to describe the gray-area “Cases that are legally questionable but morally justifiable.” That’s likely to be the “sweet-spot” for this team and the kind of missions that they concentrate on. Frankly, I could have done without the family ties, but it’s not a deal-breaker for this viewer. Does this mean that eventually we’ll meet Howard and find out why he and Scottie haven’t shared the same bed in four years?

I’ve already expressed my theory about Alexander Kirk, so there’s no need to rehash it here. However one question that did arise from this episode, does Tom actually know that Lizzie’s alive? I’d originally thought that Keen was in the loop when Kate Kaplan suggest they fake Liz’s death, however what would be his motivation to kill Scottie if that’s the case? We’ll find out this Thursday in what should be yet another exciting season-finale for this incredible series.

The Blacklist: Is Alexander Kirk Liz Keen’s Father?

 Photo by: Virginia Sherwood/NBC
Photo by: Virginia Sherwood/NBC

Warning: Spoiler Alert

I’ve decided to call my shot and swing for the fences in this column as the NBC series “The Blacklist,” airs the first episode of their two part season finale this Thursday. The show will have its hands full during the two episodes, as they deal with two issues that could change the series radically.

Their first challenge’s been well publicized over the last few weeks, the producers will incorporate a pilot for a new series, a spinoff starring some new and some familiar faces. The spinoff would star Famke Janssen whom we got introduced to in episode 21 as an old associate of Raymond’s named Susan “Scottie” Hargrave. Published reports have stated that Ryan Eggold (Tom Keen) and Edi Gathegi (Matias Solomon) will make the move with her if the series gets picked up.

This past episode served the dual purpose of introducing Scottie Hargrave to the viewers as well as setting up the action for the seasons two final episodes. Hargrave and her husband Howard are longtime associates of Raymond’s and the founders of Halcyon Aegis, a company that’s a subcontractor for the United States Government.

Reddington’s interest in Scottie however concerns a far different matter, turns out that Halcyon Aegis got hired by a client to deliver him Elizabeth Keen, alive and unharmed. They were of course unsuccessful in that mission and now Scottie faces the clients wrath for botching the job so badly. One of the first things that Raymond said to Hargrave when they finally met face to face was Elizabeth Keen’s dead, so that means you’re dead. Scottie took the statement as Red pronouncing he was going to kill her, but he was actually referring to her now unhappy client.

That client’s Alexander Kirk, whom NBC announced would debut near the end of Season Three to become the series new “BIG BAD.” The network and the show have done a great job so far on keeping most of the details about the character, who’ll be portrayed by Ulrich Thomsen a mystery. However, I’ve had a theory about the character over the last few weeks and seeing the expression on Raymond’s face after Hargrave revealed the identity of her client reinforced my belief that my theory’s correct: Alexander Kirk was the husband of Katerina Rostova and Lizzie Keen’s father.

Although Raymond told Laurel Hitchin that she and the Cabal were responsible for identifying Lizzie as Masha Rostova, I wonder how much he actually believes that statement? If Raymond kept his end of his pact with Dom and keeps his distance from Keen, would she be living an uneventful life as an FBI profiler possibly happily married to Dr. Nick Korpal? Or was Raymond aware that Kirk’s getting closer to finding his daughter and Red’s reason for coming into her life was truly to protect her?

After lots of pondering I’ve come up with what I believe is a viable scenario for what really went down in the late eighties. Katerina and her husband were both KGB Agents when the Soviet Union collapsed, leaving them both in a state of limbo. We’ve heard from Raymond that Katerina adjusted quite well to her new reality, while her husband descended into a downward spiral.

If Red and Katerina ever had an affair, this would seem to be the most likely time for it to have begun. Her life in turmoil with a husband growing more depressed by the day may have been the impetus that drove her to Raymond’s arms. A time for her to escape from reality, a relationship that she didn’t need to be the strong one in. Although if Raymond’s suppositions are correct and the only man Katerina truly loved was her husband, then her affair with Reddington was just temporary.

At the conclusion of Season Two after shooting United States Attorney General Tom Connelly to death, Keen had a flashback to a long-buried memory. She was four-years-old and her parents were arguing and Masha picked up a pistol and shot her father trying to protect her mother. Most viewers likely believed that the shot killed Masha’s father, but there’s yet to be any evidence or even a character’s statement that backs that theory up.

During the conversation Raymond had with the vision of Katerina after ingesting copious amounts of Opium, Rostova told Red that her life was in danger due to what she said to a man. It sounded as if she was referring to her husband, however she was unclear. She then told Reddington that she had a choice, to sacrifice her own life to save her daughter’s. She couldn’t live if she chose the opposite path. If Katerina’s husband did survive the shooting than we know he was the source of the information that Rostova regretted revealing.

If Alexander Kirk was indeed Masha’s father and Katerina’s husband, he would of course expect and demand full custody of his daughter. Which might be the explanation about the fire during Masha’s childhood that only comes back to Keen in glimpses. Was it indeed concocted so that Alexander Kirk believed his daughter perished in the blaze. Did Raymond, Dom, Sam and who ever else was involved that frightened of Kirk being part of Masha’s life that they faked the child’s death?

Has Kirk lived all these years believing his daughter died as a toddler, only to find out the truth when the name Masha Rostova appeared in homes across the planet? Raymond wasn’t surprised when Hargrave mentioned Kirk’s name, so if he’s indeed Katerina’s husband, Red’s known he was still alive. Kirk wanting Halcyon Aegis to kill Raymond as part of their contract, makes sense if Raymond’s what stood between Kirk and his daughter for nearly 30-years.

The answer to Kirk’s identity and his reasons for wanting Masha Rostova alive and unharmed will be revealed in less than two weeks. What ever the outcome however, for the third straight season the series will leave it’s fans with a huge cliffhanger that will cause at least some of them to hope that Summer goes by quickly.

House of Cards Season 3: Cast In This Unlikely Role, Ill-Equipped To Act, With Insufficient Tact

House of Cards Season 3
Photo Courtesy of Netflix

Warning: Spoiler Alert

As was detailed in the spoiler-free analysis of House of Cards Season 3, this run of episodes – 27 through 39 in the series – represented the sharpest break yet for viewers.  While Francis Urquhart served as Prime Minister for two-thirds of the BBC original, Frank Underwood (inhabited by the excellent Kevin Spacey) took until the end of the second season to become president – and had never been without his most trusted aide and henchman, Doug Stamper, until that point.  The journey from the start of Season One – with Frank, seething at having been passed over for Secretary of State by new President Walker, deciding to use his post as House Minority Whip to secretly take his revenge – through to Season Two’s adventures as Vice President and up to the actual seizure of the Oval Office at the end of it all – seemed to indicate that there was nothing that Frank and his equally cunning wife Claire (portrayed in fascinating fashion by Robin Wright) could not do.  As such, the presidency itself should be a breeze, right?

Oh, dead wrong.

Why was Frank’s journey in Season 3 so fitful?  It would be cynical to spend too much time analyzing the meta angle about Beau Willimon’s crew needing to maintain the intrigue by making Frank suddenly seem fallible.  After all, there should have been plenty of warning signs about the actualization of the goal being more perilous than the amazing journey to attain it … and some of these elements may actually have been conceptualized by the writing staff!

1 The difference between Urquhart’s and Underwood’s difficulties at the top can be explained by the difference between the UK and American electorates.  The real president compared most often to Underwood is, of course, Richard Nixon – who, in typical awkward fashion, was known to remark that, unlike other politicians, he was not a “personality kid.”  Well, neither is Underwood, although he’s better at faking it enough to get by than Tricky Dick, who was undone not only by scandal but by a complete lack of a safety net in the form of public affection.  Meanwhile, in the UK, Gordon Brown lasted three years as prime minister despite possessing the magnetism of a fat-free, unsalted potato chip.  Francis Urquhart ruling Britain with an iron fist despite an unlovable persona made sense: over there, if the public perceives you as delivering for them, you don’t have to be a baby-kisser.  Did showrunner Beau Willimon take this difference into account when fashioning Season 3?  Candidly, it doesn’t seem likely, but it was brilliant if he did.

2 An egotistical man on his best days – witness his smug asides to the camera – Frank’s cockiness was bound to grow out of control and undermine him when he achieved his ultimate prize.  Realistically, attaining the Oval Office itself was Frank’s only goal once he put his revenge plans into motion at the start of the series.  American society views the office with Godlike awe, reflective of the reality that less than 50 men in the 239-year history of the country have ever held the office.  When you become the president, there are few if any opposing voices in your inner circle grounding you as there might have been previously.  So with all of this taken into account and with Frank’s journey to the top of government probably more difficult and unlikely than any in actual US history, how was Frank possibly going to keep his ego in check and prepare for the very real daggers being sent his way?  He couldn’t possibly muster the necessary humility to make those adjustments.

3 As noted at the end of the season, there’s only one chair behind the desk in the Oval Office and at some point after achieving the goal, Frank and Claire were going to have to come to grips with all of the glory being his.  Again, for Frank and Claire, the journey to the White House was all-consuming.  They both knew that they were consumed with the prize, but when it arrived, Frank’s “equal partner” wanted more than he could deliver – and when the grievances hit the light of day, Frank alienated her just as he had Jackie (played by Molly Parker) and Remy (played by Mahershala Ali) earlier.

4 Frank’s skill set seems suited to working in the shadows, rather than the broad daylight of the presidency.  Like the British “FU,” Frank’s talents for backstabbing, leaking, undermining and outright murder were unmatched.  However, none of those abilities are nearly as useful in the 24-7 bright spotlight of the presidency.  It was surprising how often his adversaries – such as Vladimir Putin knockoff Viktor Petrov (played by Lars Mikkelsen), Supreme Court Justice Jacobs (played by Jonathan Hogan) and Solicitor General-turned-rival candidate Heather Dunbar (played by Elizabeth Marvel) – saw right through manipulations that would have easily succeeded in the first two seasons.  When you don’t get to use your core skills at all times, they can get rusty.  Frank Underwood: Peter Principle prototype?

5 Even Frank didn’t realize just how indispensable that Doug was to his successful schemes over the years.  Clearly, Frank knew that Doug the henchman accomplished a great deal for him over the years, and as such, he should have been alarmed at the prospect of serving in the presidency without him.  But he wasn’t and it took Doug’s stunt late in the season, offering to sell Claire’s most sensitive secrets to Heather, for Frank to realize just how vital Doug was to his success.  Seth Grayson (played by Derrick Cecil) is no Doug Stamper.

Having proven that he was, by a large amount, the most duplicitous and untouchable predator in D.C. on his way up the ladder, Frank’s lack of footing in the Oval Office proved confusing and even greatly disappointing to many critics and fans.  And an even more controversial angle involved Frank’s earnest pursuit of actual public policy initiatives: the America Works program at home that would aim to ensure full employment and the plan for international peacekeepers in the Jordan Valley to (somehow???) bring about peace in the Middle East.  Some commentators have been so cynical (in true Frank Underwood fashion, fittingly!) as to refer to Prez FU as a cut-rate Jed Bartlet, the liberal idealist chief executive from the West Wing.

The latter criticism is patently unfair.  Sure, it’s jarring to see the human embodiment of selfishness pushing a public policy agenda not aimed directly at personal enrichment or power – but there is in fact a bit of the pursuit of power in the plans.  After all, Frank believes that these policies, if implemented, will be successful – and that could allow him, questionable public personality and all, to be re-elected as a man who “gets things done.”  And Frank also alluded during the season to his legacy.  Mere attainment of the presidency brings with it a form of immortality, but a successful, two-term presidency?  That’s true immortality and what could be more important to a narcissist like Frank Underwood?  Remember, in the aftermath of Bill Clinton’s impeachment, his aides used to joke about doing opposition research on his predecessors so that history might remember him more kindly relative to his peers.  Having become president, Frank Underwood wants to be known for the rest of his life and well beyond that as one of the all-time greats.  So watching him push his programs – no matter how ill-conceived they are in the real world – is entirely consistent with his persona.  Those who don’t understand this point simply don’t understand his new role.

As noted above, Frank was forced to navigate the presidency without Stamper at his side until his stunt at the end of the season.  Prior to that, extensive surgery and rehabilitation was necessary for Doug to regain his faculties.  At the end of his training with his female therapist, a passionate encounter took place between the two, leaving red-blooded males everywhere to wonder why they don’t have more inclusive health insurance.  Doug kept making efforts to get back into the inner circle, but Frank – not trusting his effectiveness because of the lack of decisiveness in dealing with loose end Rachel Posner (played by Rachel Brosnahan) – kept putting him off with the “sure, pal, once you’re 100%, we’ll talk” rap.  Through it all, Doug struggled with backsliding into substance abuse before getting clean with the great help of his brother.  In connecting for the first time with his brother’s family and appearing to understand that there is life outside the corridors of power, Doug appeared to become a fully redeemable human being.  But then he spotted the opportunity to betray Heather, get appointed as Frank’s chief of staff – replacing Remy, who had replaced him – and the true relapse, to becoming a scumbag yet again, was underway.  Having tracked down hacker Gavin Orsay (played by the always-awesome Jimmi Simpson) in South America, Doug used the information that he obtained there to track down Rachel yet again.  It’s clear that she posed no threat whatsoever; she was a scared, helpless little puppy who wanted to live off the grid, away from the power circles she once inhabited as a call girl.  And when he caught up with her, Doug appeared to accept this – until he changed his mind, murdering her in cold blood after he initially set her free.  Doug, you’re going to Hell, dude.

And while four of the five reasons identified above for Frank’s struggles in the presidency didn’t involve Doug, one wonders how he might have made a difference for the chief executive had he had the opportunity – and how he might be able to weave his magic in Season 4.  In his absence, Frank’s America Works program perished nastily in Congress, leaving Frank’s former colleagues in the party leadership from those chambers to withdraw their support for his re-election.  Borrowing a page from LBJ, Frank gave a nationally-televised address to announce his withdrawal from the 2016 race so that he might devote all of his efforts to the passage of the program.  But unlike LBJ, who stayed out of the 1968 race despite rumors that he might reenter at some point, Frank’s statement was a ruse that he always intended to abandon later.  With his efforts still flailing, he relied on a highly dubious interpretation of the Stafford Act to provide the legal authority for him to raid FEMA funds.  When the mayor of Washington, D.C., at his instigation, requested federal emergency relief for rampant unemployment, Frank put $1 billion worth of FEMA’s dwindling cash reserves at his disposal in the pursuit of full employment in the capital.  The leadership of both parties screamed and howled, but they were powerless – until, inevitably, a Sandy-like superstorm headed straight for the East Coast.  The authorization that was passed ahead of time included a poison pill for any future FEMA participation in America Works.  Frank’s feverish study of weather patterns did not give him confidence that the storm would veer away, so he capitulated.  But the storm did, in fact, hook back around to sea, leaving the predictions of catastrophe unfulfilled and depositing Frank’s hopes and dreams for first-term America Works success somewhere out in the Atlantic as well.  But the forced abandonment of the program, just when joblessness in D.C. was plummeting – providing even old rib-cooker Freddy Armstrong (played by Reg E. Cathey) a job, although House of Cards of course doesn’t reveal the cost-benefit analysis behind the public sector’s massive investment – provided him the excuse he needed to “get back into the race” so that he might obtain a public mandate for a second-term America Works push.

But he was still trailing Heather in the polls (perhaps voters intuited that he was the kind of man to urinate on his father’s grave and spit on a hanging crucifix, both of which he did this season – in cowardly secret fashion, of course).  She had resigned as his solicitor general to take him on, enraged that he acted on rumors that she was interested in the race by “subtly” threatening Jacobs with the public revelation of his dementia, so that he might clear his seat for her.  Frank’s divide-and-conquer tactic, pushing Jackie into the race with the plan of putting her on the ticket when she dropped out, backfired when he greeted her dissatisfaction with the implementation of the plan with arrogant attempts at intimidation.  Notwithstanding the fact that Heather wouldn’t promise her anything for her support, Jackie quit the race and endorsed Heather completely out of spite.  This debacle caused Remy, who remained closer than he should be to the now-married Jackie, to resign his post.

Frank, however, gained ground in Iowa thanks to his star surrogate, Claire.  The story of how she ended up there, however, was another major plot point for the season, covering her ill-fated stint as UN Ambassador.  The nomination process was, of course, fraught with accusations of nepotism, but Claire appeared to have neutralized perhaps her most powerful potential opponent, Republican Senate Majority Leader Hector Mendoza (played by Benito Martinez).  However, his promise of not actively opposing her nomination was merely a ploy to lull her to sleep so that he might ambush her in the hearings.  Her clumsy response doomed the vote, but she badgered Frank successfully for a recess appointment.  While she was demagogued in fairly stupid fashion, the “No” votes turned out to be correct about her aptitude for the position.  Understandably, Secretary of State Catherine Durant (played by Jayne Atkinson) was uneasy about having an ostensible subordinate who was sleeping with the president.  Well, Frank and Claire don’t do much of that – with the exception of one notable scene this season – but that’s the assumption about them, anyway.  Claire’s sole triumph in the position consisted of winning over Catherine after a state dinner with the Russian president by – believe it or not – tanking a game of beer pong with her.  Statecraft in 2015, ladies and gentlemen!

But Claire’s relations with the rest of the world were far more challenging.  She struggled to whip the Israelis and Palestinians in line with Frank’s Jordan Valley peacekeeping initiative, but really had her hands full with Petrov.  Having started on a bad note with the Russian strongman at the aforementioned banquet – it didn’t help matters when Petrov spoke to Frank of killing a man with his bare hands and the president stayed silent, aware that he was a coward in terms of how he executed his two murders – she and Frank became sidetracked in their pursuit of his support for the Middle East plan by Heather’s traction in the polls on the issue of Russia’s jailing of American gay activist Michael Corrigan (played by Christian Camargo).  She and Frank flew to Moscow to obtain his release, only to learn that he wouldn’t sign a statement that basically renounced all of his beliefs.  Arguing with him in his prison cell while Frank sat through an uncomfortable meeting with Petrov – so much for the supposition that an American president “more like theirs” would be more successful in dealing with them – she succumbed to sleep only to awaken to the discovery that he had hung himself.  Having a rare attack of conscience, she made an impromptu decision at the joint press conference to attack Petrov for his cynical scapegoating of minorities.  Of course, this caused a complete breakdown in US-Russian relations and she and Frank had a vicious fight on Air Force One as they returned home.

This rupture coincided with the window that she and Frank had established every seven years when they always renewed their wedding vows – with the understanding that either party could end the marriage at that time.  Working their way through the rubble once Russia (apparently) reconsidered and sent troops for the peacekeeping force to the Jordan Valley, Frank and Claire followed through with the vows, only to confront more problems in the form of her worst failure yet.  Gaslighted by Petrov’s operatives, she became convinced that an attack on Russian forces in the region was a false flag instigated by their own government.  When Frank sent in special forces to penetrate the area ruled off-limits by the Russians for an investigation, a firefight ensued and an American casualty resulted.  Flying to the Jordan Valley for an emergency summit with Petrov, Frank was devastated to learn that his wife had been set up and he had compromised himself by being persuaded by her.  Petrov was willing to make nice, but the price for his support on any geopolitical issues would involve Claire’s head on a stick.  Pointing out that she was needed in Iowa anyway, Frank told her to announce her resignation with that face-saving excuse handy.  During her door-to-door campaigning, she encountered an Iowa housewife dealing with the same kind of double standards that she increasingly saw Frank as imposing upon her.  She imposed a “sit-down strike” of sorts, claiming ill health as an excuse to stay in the White House over the last few days of the campaign while Frank barnstormed the state.  In the end, his victory was narrow, but it was all he needed to survive to New Hampshire.  With his ego fueled by what resembled a “Truman-in-‘48” comeback and his anger at Claire’s sudden resistance to going along with the program, the two had another vicious fight that resulted in her delivering the season-ending cliffhanger: she was leaving him.

Other loose ends involved Gavin on the loose in Venezuela with the capacity to become a Snowden-like thorn in the administration’s side (or possibly much worse, considering that Snowden apparently does not possess any dirt on President Obama or his inner circle personally) and star novelist Thomas Yates (played by Paul Sparks), who was enlisted by Frank to write a hagiographic book about Frank/America Works to aid in the 2016 election, only to have a falling-out after Frank and Claire confided many sensitive details about themselves.

Other returning characters for the season included Vice-President (!) Donald Blythe (played by Reed Birney), Edward Meechum (played by Nathan Darrow), Lisa Williams (played by Kate Lyn Sheil), Ayla Sayyad (played by Mozhan Marno), and the wonderfully greasy Bob Birch (played by Larry Pine).  Another cast addition was decorated aggressive journalist Kate Baldwin (played by Kim Dickens).

The season was very compelling and entertaining on the whole.  In terms of the execution of public policy and geopolitics, House of Cards is easily picked apart by political junkies, but the target audience is far wider than that – and this season’s plotlines were no more unrealistic than those of the first two.  It’s a program that’s always going to wallow in some soapiness, like Magic City, but not as often as some critics allege.  While Frank’s various missteps throughout the season are jarring given what was shown of him in the first two seasons – and do not really ring true in terms of him ultimately avoiding all consequences in Iowa, a turnaround that is never explained – the widely-circulated conventional wisdom that this season represents a dramatic departure is extremely overwrought.  President Frank Underwood, especially shorn of his essential right-hand man, Doug Stamper, was always going to be traveling a tougher road than Future President Underwood.  Remember that old saying about airplanes, that passengers in first class hit the mountain first when there’s a crash?  Well, when you’re riding Air Force One, the entire plane is first class.


House of Cards Season 3: Be Careful Of What You Wished For, Frank, Because Now You Have It

House of Cards Frank Claire Petrov
Photo Courtesy of Netflix

NOTE: This is the spoiler-free analysis of House of Cards, Season 3, but with Season 1 and 2 spoilers.

As with any “based on the BBC original” series, the American version of House of Cards veered from the original a bit in the first two seasons.  Some of this discrepancy owes to the difference between the British parliamentary system and the American “three branches” structure.  It would have seemed strange for Francis Urquhart to take more than one season to rise to Prime Minister from whip; however, with the separation of powers across the pond, Frank Underwood (played so memorably by the great Kevin Spacey) must traverse the Gerald Ford path, hopping to the executive branch when the vice presidency is vacated at the end of Season 1 and taking the promotion to the Oval Office at the end of Season 2 when he secretly instigates the scandal that eliminates the man above him.

So while two of the three British seasons of the program featured the antihero protagonist dispensing with rivals while on top, everything that we’ve seen until now on the Netflix version saw the bad guy still working his way up the ladder.  As such, with Frank Underwood now at the head of government (“God help us,” as he memorably intones to the camera midway through Season 3 at the thought of a lesser hack succeeding him in office), Season 3 was set up to be something completely different from what we’ve seen.

The other most important feature distinguishing this season from those that came before involves the absence from Frank’s side of his most important aide/henchman, Doug Stamper (played by Michael Kelly).  When we last saw this indispensable creeper, he was being pounded with a rock in the head by onetime call girl Rachel Posner (played by Rachel Brosnahan), who feared for her life at his hands.  In the spirit of keeping this column spoiler-free, let it be noted that Kelly reappears this season, but whether that’s in ghost, flashback or “real” form won’t be revealed here.  But all fans of the show know that, like Frank and Doug, the program doesn’t tolerate loose ends – so Rachel’s heart-rending attempts to escape the consequences of her actions are intense indeed.

Frank’s curious lack of mojo as Commander-in-Chief, at least relative to his peerless string-pulling in the first two seasons, demonstrates how badly he misses having Stamper by his side.  Of course, the arrogance in him that keeps growing exponentially during his young presidency blinds him to the need for a Stamper-like presence – until a dramatic reversal late in the season.  But before that point, he alienates two key allies and suffers setbacks in his dealings with Vladimir Putin knockoff Viktor Petrov (played by Lars Mikkelsen) and even his own wife Claire (once again played in alternating icy and passionate manners by Robin Wright).

Jockeying with the Russian president on different fronts occupies the primary foreign policy subplot for the season, while the domestic issue du jour is Frank’s large-scale jobs bill, America Works.  The reluctance of Congress to move the measure forward causes him to take extreme measures to get at least part of it in place – with consequences invariably following.  Additionally, Frank tries to maneuver a potential Supreme Court opening into the sidelining of a potential rival in his re-election efforts.  And his attempt to persuade an author to write an admiring portrait of him for the 2016 race ends up injecting tension into a marriage that Claire’s new job as UN Ambassador has already larded with trouble.  A series of other incidents – an ill-fated special forces mission in the Jordan Valley, the ultimate decision made by a jailed gay American activist in Moscow, Frank’s fateful early-season address to the nation and an Iowa debate for the ages – help to shape a season crackling with consequences.

Returning characters include Seth Grayson (played by Derrick Cecil), Vice-President (!) Donald Blythe (played by Reed Birney), former rib-cooker Freddy Armstrong (played by Reg E. Cathey), Edward Meechum (played by Nathan Darrow), Gavin Orsay (played by the always-awesome Jimmi Simpson), Remy Danton (played by Mahershala Ali), Jackie Sharp (played by Molly Parker), Lisa Williams (played by Kate Lyn Sheil), Catherine Durant (played by Jayne Atkinson), Heather Dunbar (played by Elizabeth Marvel), Ayla Sayyad (played by Mozhan Marno), Hector Mendoza (played by Benito Martinez) and the wonderfully greasy Bob Birch (played by Larry Pine).  The most prominent cast additions are star novelist Thomas Yates (played by Paul Sparks) and the decorated aggressive journalist Kate Baldwin (played by Kim Dickens).

Overall, this is a season that doesn’t require as much suspension of disbelief in terms of machinations like Frank’s murder plots, but it does take some in terms of the workings of the political system.  Nevertheless, this has never been a program that has promised C-SPAN-like fidelity to the realities of American civics, so it’s not fair to grade it in large part on that basis.  While it’s hard to pick which of the three seasons of House of Cards has been the best, it’s reasonable to argue Season 3 for that designation – which is why you need to see it quickly if you’re a fan of the show and haven’t yet begun to watch it.