On Thursday's midseason premiere of The Blacklist, Red (James Spader) found out that the person who's trying to destroy him is none other than Mr. Kaplan (Susan Blommaert), the former associate he shot in the face and left for dead earlier this season.
And viewers found out a LOT more about Mr. Kaplan herself, including that her original connection was with Liz (Megan Boone), not Red; and that this, unfortunately, was not the first time she took a bullet to the head.
But let's start at the beginning.
Dembe (Hisham Tawfiq) kidnaps Aram (Amir Arison) - who has a new girlfriend, BTW - in order to use his hacking skills to expose whoever's targeting Red. Surprise! It wasn't Dembe at all. He didn't even know there was poison in that glass of scotch. When Aram's tech prowess pulls up the name "Kathryn Nemec," Dembe goes white as a sheet.
Red, meanwhile, goes to Dembe's daughter's house to try to track him down, and she allows Red to use an emergency burner phone to contact her father. When Dembe answers, he's wandering around in a wooded area - hmm, those woods look awfully familiar - and says "She's not here," before he gets shot with a tranquilizer dart.
The shooter is none other than the woodsman who rescued Mr. Kaplan, and now the pieces are starting to fit together. (Mr. Kaplan's first name is Kate, after all.) En route to rescue Dembe, Red tells Liz it's Mr. Kaplan who's targeting him. They rescue Dembe and Red stays behind to go after the woodsman, and orders him to call "Kate." After a mild protest, the man does so with the foreboding warning: "She said you'd do this -- underestimate her." Once Red realizes Mr. Kaplan's phone is ringing inside the house, he and his muscle man Bose hightail it out of there... right as the house explodes.
Cut to Mr. Kaplan, listening to a voicemail from her woodsy friend (left apparently right after he shot Dembe) warning her that Red would be coming after her.
And that was just the first hour! The second hour, one of the show's finest to date, consisted almost entirely of flashbacks that offered a TON of insight into Mr. Kaplan's very complicated (and tragic) history. (Can we pause for a moment to note how actress Joanna P. Adler, who plays younger Mr. Kaplan, looks exactly like a younger version of Susan Blommaert, who plays present-day Mr. Kaplan? Kudos to the casting department.) We learn all kinds of tidbits, including that she attended medical school but changed careers because she found the cadavers too "compelling," opting instead to get a master's in childhood development.
But the important part is that her job search brings her to the home of none other than Katarina Rostova (Lotte Verbeek), where she takes a position as a nanny to... young Masha! Her job duties there also include helping Katarina kill an abusive boyfriend and bury the body and keeping quiet about the mysterious American man - Red Reddington - she sees Katarina boinking in a car.
One day, Kate notices police outside the house and Katarina tells her that her lover has kidnapped Masha and is going to take her to America, because he believes she's his daughter. Soon afterwards, there's a huge fire at Katarina's house, and Katarina tasks Kate with taking care of Liz while she goes into hiding. Weeks later, Katarina calls Kate and says she won't be coming back for Liz; the intelligence community has found out about her affair with Reddington and she needs to leave the country. She instructs Kate to leave Liz with Sam, a mutual friend of her and Red's, and advises Kate to disappear.
At some point after that, Kate's in a bar and reads in a newspaper that the search has been called off for the "missing Russian woman" Katarina. She's distraught, but meets another bar patron named Annie Kaplan who's passing through on her way to Amarillo, Texas on the way to work for her uncle, a bail bondsman. They dance, and the next flashback we see is Kate living in Amarillo, working in a medical examiner's office, and building a life with Annie. It's jarring, and a little sad, to see a playful, lovestruck version of Mr. Kaplan.
One night as the ladies are about to enjoy a semi-romantic dinner in the office, a man Annie's uncle tracked down for missing a hearing comes in waving a gun. He asks for Annie's name and then snorts at Kate, "I guess that makes you Mr. Kaplan," before shooting them both. Annie is killed and the bullet passes through Kate's head, requiring her to have a metal plate put in but not causing permanent damage.
Shortly thereafter, Sam tracks Kate down and says Red wants to meet her. "That man set off a chain reaction that took everything I loved from me," she replies icily. "I have nothing to say to him and I don't want to hear anything that he has to say to me." But she relents when Sam tells her he's reaching out because Liz is in danger.
When they meet, Red asks Kate if she'll come work for him. He needs to keep Liz's true identity a secret and in order to do that, has to become a bigger threat than the forces that would threaten her. Kate scoffs that she doesn't even know Red and has no interest in joining his crime ring. "I'm not as unknown as you might like to believe, Miss Nemec," Red tells her. She finally agrees, with the caveat that "If you ever put me in a position where I have to choose between what's best for you and what's best for her, I will choose Elizabeth every time." Red says he'd insist on that too.
The last flashback is to the day Red turned himself in to the FBI in the pilot episode. Mr. Kaplan begs him not to, but Red says elements from Katarina's past are circling Liz, and it's time for him to live up to his "mission statement."
In the present day, Red finally gets hold of Mr. Kaplan, who's still nursing a nasty head wound but has managed to transport many of Red's murder victims to a secure location in an Airstream. She tells him that the bullet to her eye provided the clarification that she needed - that at some point, she stopped serving Liz's needs and started serving Red's. When he protests, she points out that the fact that Red tried to kill her when she tried to help Liz escape proved to her that Red is only out for his own interests now as well. "In reality, I was helping you become a monster," she says coldly.
When Red tells her that his crime network is so intricate there's no way she could get into it to hurt him, she says the information she's gathered over the years about what he's done and where he's buried bodies (not to mention the bodies themselves) will be enough to take him down. And based on the final shot of her makeshift graveyard, she's certainly got all of her ducks - er, corpses - in a row.
The Blacklist airs Thursdays at 10/9c on NBC.