Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Blacklist Recap: Monarch Douglas Bank, Episode 2.02

When All Hell Breaks Loose, 
Thank God the Coffee Machine Still Works!
Written by Chompstick

The second episode of season two is again packed with action and Red's bon mots that leave us with more questions than they answer.  We begin in Warsaw, Poland, with a group of guys in white bio-hazard suits and masks storming the Monarch Douglas Bank.  In six minutes, they terrorize the staff and customers, ransack the vault, erase their tracks with buckets of what is likely bleach, and get away with … nothing?

But before we discover the details of the bank heist, back stateside, Red meets with Mr. Kaplan, who it turns out does have a first name, and a female one at that – Kate.  She’s there to dispose of 3 bodies; it's a mystery how she carries all the tools of her trade in that one satchel.  She and Red are uncharacteristically snippy with each other, with Mr. Kaplan telling Red, “This business with your wife, this pursuit, it’s pushing you in ways I don’t like,” to which he more or less retorts "mind your own business".  Later, he plays nice and apologizes with deference, restoring the proper equilibrium in their relationship. While there, Red receives a call from a contact alerting him to the bank robbery in Warsaw.

Living With Berlin is Like Pulling Teeth
Cut to the terrified Naomi in a stately mansion where she is being held captive by Berlin.  She begs him not to harm her, telling him that Red doesn't care about her and that she was only in hiding to protect her daughter. Way to throw your kid to the sharks. Berlin doesn't buy it and approaches menacingly with pliers destined for her teeth.

Liz has been summoned to Red’s hotel where she finds him indulging in yet another beauty treatment. Red introduces his manicurist, a former trauma surgeon. As Cooper would say, of course she is.  Liz has brought a file (case file, not nail file) and reveals that his ex-wife and her daughter, Jennifer, went into protective custody in 1990. (Note that Red’s story of the bloody house on Christmas Eve occurred in 1990.  If they went into hiding for reasons related to this event, it means that no time passed between the two events. View the Blacklist Timeline.)  We also find out Jennifer has been unaccountable for 7 years since the Marshals lost contact with her.  James Spader leaves no question as to whether Red feels grief over this news, with the sublime subtly that he exhibits throughout the episode.

Sometime later, Dembe delivers another envelope, this time with a newly pulled tooth in a jewelry box.  Again, Red is visibly distressed. Red informs Lizzy about the Monarch Douglas robbery and states that it is the preferred bank of criminals, dictators, and terrorists. The bank is widespread, located in 63 countries, but the criminal operations are at the Warsaw branch. But, fortunately, the bank is headquartered in New York and insured by the FDIC, giving the FBI  jurisdiction.

The task force gathers for a briefing from Liz.  She reports that the bank launders money without a trace for the “criminal elite” around the globe.  The Treasury Department says that Monarch Douglas is clean and in full compliance.  Because the bank reported nothing stolen, the team correctly concludes they are looking for the bank ledger. An American legal attaché in Poland, agent Paul Salerno, will join the team for the case. Liz detects that Ressler is off his game. As Liz and Ressler leave the building  to prepare for their trip to Warsaw, we see them being watched by Samar Navabi, the beautiful former Mossad agent who abducted Red via chopper last week. Is she who was watching Liz last week, too?  Once in Poland, Liz, Ressler, and the smarmy Salerno question the EVP of Branch Operations, Matt Strickland. His story flip flops regarding what was stolen, if anything. Strickland then confronts the Warsaw bank manager privately and we’re starting to see that these guys seem a bit questionable.

Back home, Berlin receives a call from Colonel Yusef.  We are told nothing more about the colonel but let's tuck away this name for the future.  Later, Berlin calls Strickland and when he gets unsatisfactory answers, tells him to get his butt back to NYC.

Armed with security camera footage, Aram remotely shows Liz and Ressler that five guys in hazmat suits entered the bank, but six come out.  On further examination, they notice that the sixth is a woman whom they determine was being kidnapped. The "what" was stolen becomes a "who". She’s the Formula, an asset because of her photographic memory that allows her to glance at the ledger and remember the names and numbers without leaving any paper trail.  (Incidentally, Spader reportedly has a photographic memory.)  After concluding that the woman, Kaja Tomczak, was the only employee who clocked in but not out, they question Strickland. He reports that she went home sick, and with that the FBI knows they’re lying and are as crooked as Owen Wilson’s nose.  When L&R go to Kaja’s apartment, the landlord tells them the unit is owned by the bank and she is constantly guarded.

The getaway van is found; it had been set aflame but the fire fizzled.  On the front seat Liz spots something red and sticky.  Via phone, Red tells her it's jam from a rum soaked rose-petal paczki, a Polish donut.  Seriously?  How does this man know everything?

Red proves that yes, yes he does know everything about everywhere in the world when he and Dembe show up at the bakery where the jelly donut originated.  The matronly baker greets them warmly, calling Dembe a sweet, gentle boy. Never one to put business before pleasure, Red indulges in a paczki before we discover that the placid Polish pastry producer is, in fact, an arms dealer! But first, Red announces that the donut tastes just like, um, Patty Sutton, to which we’re treated to an uncharacteristic and amusing eye roll from Dembe. Red persuades her to give up the name of her customers, the bank robbers, in exchange for protection. Judging by the expansive firearms vault in her walk-in fridge, I’d say she’s already well protected. 

The Drumstick Dagger
Meanwhile back at the mansion, Naomi noshes on a meal that requires gnawing chicken off the bone. With a mouth that very recently had a tooth violently removed? She slyly hides one of the thin, sharp bones behind her back. Strickland meets with Berlin. There is the biggest vase I've ever seen in the room.  A couple of bad guys could be crouched in there hiding. Berlin demands the restoration of his accounts and threatens the banker’s life.

L&R rescue Kaja from the apartment where she is being held. They jump in a cab and traipse all over the city while avoiding the likely dirty cops. They meet up with Salerno, and Ressler questions Kaja in an interrogation room with Liz observing from the other side of a two-way mirror.  She finds it challenging to concentrate, however, because she's being beaten to a pulp by Salerno, another bad seed.  After a lengthy violent struggle, which Ressler is completely oblivious to, a gun goes off shattering the mirror.  Liz screams for Ressler but he moves in slo-mo.  Salerno runs, Kaja spots Salerno’s cohorts on a security camera, slinking around the building, and from nowhere, Samar shows up to spray bullets into the men. She accidentally hits Kaja's leg. Still, they escape in a cab.  Apparently either tampons are standard Bureau issue or the feminine hygiene gods were in that cab because Ressler whips one out and uses it to stop the bleeding from Kaja’s bullet wound. In the interim, Red creates a little diversion with a little car that makes a Big Boom when his men arrange for it explode. L&R steal a car, hop on a freight train, and Ressler steps up to calm Kaja. They are all dumbstruck when Red materializes in the train car with his armed henchman.  He absconds with Kaja to fly her home on his Gulfstream and Liz recognizes that she’s been outsmarted. Bottom line, Kaja was originally working for the bank, then arranged for her own kidnapping by the Warsaw gang we saw remove her.  The FBI got a hold of her with their sights on laying their hands on the criminal masterminds' account data. But the Concierge of Crime himself nabbed her from the FBI to use Berlin's assets as a bargaining chip in rescuing Naomi.

Naomi’s No Chicken
Back at Berlin’s humble abode, we see that some of Red’s cunning criminality has rubbed off on Naomi because she’s not waiting around to be rescued by a knight in shining fedora.  She fakes illness to distract Berlin’s guard, pulls out the chicken bone, expertly stabs him in the face, and runs out of the room. 

Her actions are so deft it raises the question of whether she might be an expert of some sort.  She attempts to escape through a window but ultimately gets caught by Berlin.  He breaks out the vile pliers again but is interrupted by a well-timed phone call from Red, who pronounces that it’s time for them to meet.

The best scene of the episode unfolds on the colorful Coney Island boardwalk where Red and Berlin meet for a fantastic exchange of witty repartee. Red is beautifully attired in a dove gray, vested bespoke suit that screams Southern Gentleman.  He is not, however, wearing a Zegna geometric tie in either chocolate or oxblood.  Berlin oozes a bit of desperation in his untucked, open collared peach shirt.  Moving on from What Not to Wear, I will relate their conversation verbatim since it might provide clues to Red's past.

Berlin:           This has been a long time coming.
Red:                I hope it’s been worth it.  What a terrible waste.  Time, blood, money – in the end, for what?
B:                    Revenge.  That’s my passion.
R:                    Revenge isn’t a passion, it’s a disease.  It eats at your mind and poisons your soul.

Berlin listens intently to Red’s ensuing story about an anorexic acquaintance, Twila Stansberry, who was obsessed with her appearance.

R:           She spent her entire life chasing something that destroyed her... We have a common enemy.
B:           Who?
R:           Whoever told you that I killed your daughter...You are finished with my wife... I  have something you value much more than revenge. Your money.
B:           Your wife is coming apart nicely.  (An unpleasant but awesome line that leaves Red a loss for words.)
R:           You’re finished with my wife.

Gone, Gone, Gone
The team determines that Red's manicurist, because of her medical training, must be treating the injured Kaja. Liz shocks her by jumping in her car demanding to know Kaja’s location.  Back at the post office, Cooper is having a fit and showing some spunk, finally, because the team has managed to lose Reddington, Red’s wife, the witness, and Berlin.

Back on the bench in Coney Island, Red reveals that he has Kaja, and therefore, control of Berlin’s assets. “Hear that?” he asks while looking skyward. “That’s the sound of your checks bouncing.” He proposes a trade:  Naomi for his money.  With equal parts mirth and grimace, Berlin provides the Long Speech Of The Week:

“I almost gave up looking for you. You were like a ghost for twelve years.  Heard rumors and I followed them from Barcelona to Melbourne to Stockholm and always, nothing.  Until one day I made a connection.  Elizabeth Keen. (Cue ominous music.) That’s why we’re sitting here today.  Because of Keen.  I know you care for her as much as you care for your wife.  I think underneath it all, under that hat of yours, you’re not much different from Twila Stansberry.  You have the power to destroy me.  But you’re offering me a way out because you’re blinded by passion.  Guess we both are.”  He finishes their business by telling Red to have a meeting set up for the trade.

Still in Coney Island, Red is busy with target practice.  At a shooting gallery on the boardwalk, aiming at little metal army men. After winning an oversized, floppy stuffed duck, he takes Lizzy's call and her anger almost seeps through the phone.  She calls him a bank robber, an embezzler, a thief who took Kaja just to steal Berlin’s money and get his wife back. She refuses to let him get away with funding Berlin’s reign of terror which will result in the loss of thousands of lives, and says that Kaja gave up the account numbers and she froze Berlin’s account.  Maybe if she had a real husband, Red responds, she would understand his decision. “I’m sorry,” Liz says. Red replies, “No you’re not. Not yet. Maybe someday if you’re very lucky you might.  You might wonder, at exactly what point did I become this … thing.  But not now.  Right now you’re just doing your job.” He tells her in no uncertain terms that he will be going through with the deal.

That night in an empty lot, Berlin and Red meet for the trade. Red gives the six account codes to one of Berlin’s men who enters them into his tablet while Berlin waits, anxiously clenching his jaw. And then the tidy sum of 6.7 million dollars is successfully transferred.  All in a day’s work.  Naomi is released to Dembe who walks her, blindfolded, toward Red. They pause in front of him and I’m expecting a loving reunion.  She chooses to stay blindfolded, though, and continues to the car.  Red stands by struggling with his emotions, flooded with pain, but knowing it had to be her decision to reach out, not his.

The Wrap Up
In the closing montage, Cooper discovers that $6.7 million from an FBI field office has been laundered through Salerno.  The Deputy Attorney General, however, claims there is no such person.  The Bureau, she tells him, uses Monarch to fund sanctioned operations, like this one.  Purge Salerno from all records, she orders, while Cooper retrieves his chin from the floor.

Liz apologizes to Ressler for jumping down his throat about his slow reaction time. All’s good until she leaves his office and he retrieves his pain killers from his drawer.

Cooper looks over Samar’s dossier, clearly impressed, and implicitly establishes a working relationship with her. 

At Red’s hotel, Liz walks in, the door unlocked in anticipation of her arrival. He thanks her and she snaps back that she only transferred the money to keep him safe because she’s responsible for protecting him. In one of the most fascinating moments of the show, Red informs Lizzy that he has figured out she has her own secret source of information. He's quietly proud that she's finally standing on her own.

Samar phones Red to report “I’m in”.

And finally, Dembe drives Naomi off into the sunset. Or rather, the darkness.

So where are we left? 
Red speaks about revenge and passion passionately. But isn't revenge what his quest is all about?  Is there any language Spader can’t speak convincingly?  Peter Stormare is a heck of an actor. I miss Cooper’s beard.  And I've been spelling Lizzy incorrectly for a year now (Lizzie).

Paul Reubens as villain Mr. Vargas

Next week on Dr. John Covington, the team tries to track down a sinister doctor and uncover his black-market operation. Meanwhile, Red tries to take advantage of a new opportunity in Indonesia, leaving him in a vulnerable position.  And we'll be treated to guest star, Paul Reubens.

Sleuth on over at The Blacklist Monarch Douglas Bank discussion page.

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