Who else was ready to fast forward past all that football stuff to get to the new episode of The Blacklist? After a far, far, far too long of a break (we’re talking to you, NBC), our favorite black hat wearing drama is back offering up a danger-filled, explosive return. “Luther Braxton” is the first of a two-part episode that doesn’t really pick up where we last left off, but begins anew with a creepy, mysteriously-connected-to-Red villain and a slightly vulnerable Red who, for once, does not hold all the cards.

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Red Gets Apprehended Accidentally on Purpose

“Luther Braxton” opens with the breaking news that Raymond Reddington has been arrested in Hong Kong. The US takes him to the dreaded “Factory” where the CIA holds its most dangerous terrorists. Lizzie and the team suspect he let himself get apprehended and we tend to agree. You don’t take in Red unless he wants to be taken in.

It turns out they’re right. Red embarks on his factory vacation to warn the warden that detainee Luther Braxton (guest star Ron Perlman) is planning something big. Enter our new villain, who Liz says is “a thief … meticulous and he is bloody.” 

Luther does have big, explosive plans. Step one: escape. He rigs the door to his cell to electrocute a guard bringing him food, sets off some kind of poison-laden bomb and — poof — he’s out, releasing the other prisoners as well. Turns out the other cell block neighbors are his team put in place to accomplish his big goal, which is exactly what?

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Barely Hanging On

Liz, Ressler and Samar are en route by helicopter to get Red out of The Factory, but as soon as their chopper lands on the roof of the compound, the bad guys offer a shoot-out welcome. Samar’s shot in the leg, leading to her capture. Ress joins her, and they end up hanging by their necks, feet just touching boxes below. They spend much of the episode in this precarious position, creating a tension beyond the normal Blacklist stress.

Keen avoids capture and makes it to Red, admonishing him for not telling her what was going on with his on-purpose arrest. They work to free the team by trying to blow up the boiler room that holds the server to the entire compound.

Red and Luther reconnect, talking through The Factory’s telecommunication system. They chit chat cryptically, almost in code, mainly about “Belgrade.”

It’s a battle of insults, with Braxton criticizing Red’s “snobbiness” and asking, “Do you even drive?”

Red answers with, “You’re not getting the fulcrum.” So that’s what this whole thing’s about? Luther wants the mysterious fulcrum? Not so fast; there may be more to the story.

“How you gonna stop me, Red? Bore me to death with Beethoven? Put me to sleep quoting Nietzsche? C’mon, we both know that in order to stop me, you gotta have balls…” Low blow, Braxton. 

Red counters with the always appropriate quote, “A wise man can learn more from a foolish question than a fool can learn from a wise answer.” Nietzsche, perhaps? No, Bruce Lee, sucker. Score one for Red.

Luther wants more than the mystic fulcrum. Apparently, there’s a master code for The Factory and Braxton demands it now. The code will give him access to a database holding all the government’s secrets (or at least a couple). Harold says he’ll get right on it. Wrong answer. Luther shoots a hostage in the head and moves quickly to Samar, saying give me the code within 10 minutes or the pretty lady is dead.

Surprisingly, Harold actually gives up the code when Braxton pulls up the wire holding Samar, choking her. It can’t be the real code, right?

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Red and Lizzie Team Up

Red and Lizzie work together in the boiler/server room, opening valves, taking measurements, all engineering stuff that makes Mousetrap look like Chutes & Ladders. It’s all in an effort to blow the server and save the day. 

Meanwhile, higher-ups in the CIA formulate a plan to stop Braxton from using his all-access pass to the government’s secrets and rid themselves of the pesky Red: they order a strike on The Factory. Problem solved. The strike will happen in an hour.

In between their boiler room shenanigans, Liz demands to know why he’s holding out on her; why he didn’t just tell her his whole plan? Red reveals that he needed to protect himself; it was really a selfish endeavor, self-preservation. He gives one of his classic metaphors in a vulnerable moment that is a highlight of the episode. He tells the story of these fish in Mexico who had to live in complete darkness; they adapted to survive. To continue living, they became hideous. He wonders, “If a ray of light were to make it into the cave, would I be able to see it … would I become less hideous?”

In a bit of a reveal, he didn’t want Lizzie involved because Braxton may find out he can’t get the fulcrum without Keen. Before he can offer up any more answers, the bad guys show up, shooting again. The boiler blows and Red looks a little dead. He’s unresponsive while Lizzie administers CPR, yelling at him to breathe. Keen’s taken by Braxton, but Red’s up and most definitely alive. Our anti-hero’s on the prowl with a mighty gun and a mighty scowl, looking for his daught — I mean, agent friend, Liz. 

Luther has Keen in a back room, putting a gun to her head; Ressler has a gun to his as well. It looks like this is the end for our Blacklisters. Red busts in, gun blazing, wounding Braxton and gaining the upper hand. But wait, the missiles have been launched. But wait, that’s bad, right? Luther comes to the realization that Liz was there “that night of the fire.” Red says, “Shoot him, shoot him,” but before Keen pulls the trigger, those missiles hit, leaving us with the biggest cliffhanger in The Blacklist‘s history (until we see the previews for the next episode). 

“Luther Braxton” brought back The Blacklist with some over the top elements that took our breath away. The explosions, the blood, the shoot-outs and that evil gleam in Ron Perlman’s eyes had our eyes riveted to the screen in this one. The pure suspense and tension made for some great Sunday night television. Who didn’t think that Samar might be sacrificed? Maybe even Ressler? 

It won’t be much of a wait for the Red/Braxton face-off we expect and look forward to. The Blacklist returns on a new day when we might finally get some answers to what happened the night of “the fire.” And more important, what is Red’s connection to Lizzie? So time to take a breath, calm down and gear up for another episode of The Blacklist.

The Blacklist moves to its new day and time on Thursday, February 5 at 9pm on NBC.

(Image courtesy of NBC)

Lisa Casas

Contributing Writer, BuddyTV