Airplane! The Sequel (Updated)

NBC’s The Blacklist: Redemption is on the air for a few weeks now and as I predicted it’s utter dreck. James Spader is missing every second, and the entire premise just feels extremely forced. Tom “I just want to be a dad” Keen suddenly spends all his time at his mother’s beck and call instead of doing that parenting thing he always dreamed of. Liz doesn’t really seem to mind or even notice – and how could she when she’s out chasing bad guys for Reddington in the main series?

Without Spader, there’s no comic relief either – unless the computer nerd counts, but his kind of humor really doesn’t click with me. Or maybe Solomon? He’s cool, but he’s ultimately a bad guy (not unlike Reddington, but Red’s just more charming).

After all, however, Redemption isn’t so different from your standard Blacklist fare: the storylines are ridiculous, the computers can’t be controlled without hammering on some kind of holo-keyboard (ever heared of a mouse, guys?) and Famke Janssen plays every bit as terrible and wooden as Megan Boone. The only upside is Terry O’Quinn, but his character is just not written well enough to be of much interest.

This post is a bit long, read on if you dare.

Updated on 2016-04-02 to include some thoughts about the whole “code word” and “book cipher” stuff. Click here to jump directly to the added paragraph.

This post is about episode 5. The opener is already as insane and crazy as we’re used to: we see an immigration officer in Berlin at his workplace. That’s him:

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He’s really just lacking the beard. – Image (c) NBC

Ahh, what would TV be without Nazis! As if his looks in combination with the flag didn’t give it away already, of course he’s a white supremacist.

Behind him we can spot an interesting map:

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He really looks like he could take a break right now. – Image (c) NBC

If this is set in Germany, why is the map in English language?

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Property of some government. Which one? Who knows! – Image (c) NBC

Young Hitler has a plan: he’s going to gas the entire immigration center with some kind of nerve agent (Sarin gas, as we’ll learn later). Devious! He almost gets gassed himself, by the way, just because some annoying immigrant brat is expressing his thanks to him a bit too eager. The nerve! Unfortunately, he’s still able to get out before everyone’s dead. He also manages to stammer “Deutschland erwache!” in mangled German.

What’s a little bit odd, however, is that the opening scene shows him ordering his fellow officers to open the doors and immigrants enter the building. He accepts one refugee and immediately goes to lunch afterwards. I’m sure the scene is just cut that way for pacing reasons because we can imagine he’s not just working one case for a minute before his first break of the day, but it just feels rushed and strange. Or it’s supposed to be a commentary on the lax work ethic of government employees, but I doubt that.

Of course, it’s all very wrong anyway. Police doesn’t accept or decline requests for asylum, they are merely registering refugees at the border. The immigrants then have to apply at the BAMF (Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge – Federal Office for Immigration and Refugees). Requests aren’t denied or approved within seconds, either, many applications take months to be processed.

Off to America we go! Here, we learn that the “Office of Secure Transportation” apparently uses civilian flights to transport highly classified (and also highly illegal) stuff, like the Sarin gas used in Germany. Unfortunately, this makes these flights a bit more risky than expected (not really) since hijackers have learned about this and are now hijacking planes left and right to steal these goods. Yeah, right.

We don’t know who or how, but they have to be stopped.

Thank you, Mother of Tom, that’s a great example for the kind of redundant dialogue The Blacklist: Redemption sports in abundance.

There’s another flight going to be hijacked and Tom and Solomon are here to save the day – not as air marshals, but as flight attendants! Apparently, the airline wanted to cut costs so they end up being the only flight attendants on the entire flight. Since this is an international flight from Seattle to Beijing, this feels a bit odd – on every long-range flight I have been on there have been at least six attendants, if not more. It’s also more than a little odd for a steward to ask an economy class passenger what drink he’d like while people are still boarding – Tom’s just standing in the way most of the time. He’s not a professional flight attendant, though, so I’ll let this one slide.

In the take-off shot the plane looks like it’s a Boeing 787-8 so the seating plan the team back home is looking at feels a bit wrong:

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Image (c) NBC

Compared to a real seating plan from a real Seattle/Beijing flight, it seems that this plan isn’t from the correct type of aircraft. There’s only one business (or first) class compartment as opposed to two and way less economy seats. Considering the size of the aircraft, the idea that two stewards are going to handle this many passengers is especially ludicious. The interior shots make it clear that the exterior of the plane doesn’t match either as there are indeed just six seats in each row, not nine, so it’s a much smaller plane. If there’s any doubt left, the cockpit is entirely different from that of a 787-8 as well.

The hijackers manage to block communications between the plane and ground control. They also have 3D-printed weapons on-board. While they are putting their plan in motion, we can see the business class of the plane:

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I really don’t care about free beer but where’s my entertainment? – Image (c) NBC

It leaves a bit to be desired compared to the economy compartment as there are no monitors on the back of each seat.

A while later, Tom finally discovers the device that’s jamming the communication systems in the cargo hold:

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Image (c) NBC

To me, this looks like a WiFi router crudely masked with silver foil to look like something else. I’ve been asking Google about it and it might be a TP-Link Archer C2 but I’m not certain.

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Image (c) NBC

When he throws the device to the ground and stomps it, it becomes obvious it’s indeed a router as the network ports on the back have also been masked with tape.

After some more time searching the cargo hold, Tom manages to retrieve the case with the shotguns. It’s not locked at all despite TSA regulations requiring otherwise:

Firearms must be unloaded and locked in a hard-sided container and transported as checked baggage only. Only the passenger should retain the key or combination to the lock. (Source: tsa.gov)

Considering how strict TSA rules are enforced nowadays I’m pretty sure nobody would have overlooked that little gem when checking the baggage.

Things get a little hectic now as the kidnappers want to get away with their prize which turns out to be an asian woman, not some item in the hold. They blow one of the doors open and parachute off. Solomon manages to overwhelm one of the hijackers and goes out off the door with him and his parachute. Meanwhile, Tom is locked in the cargo hold but manages to escape. He emerges the hatch without any hitch (see what I did there?) despite the open door being right next to the cargo hold exit. He proceeds to the cockpit and attempts to wake the dozed-off pilot, only to take place in the pilot’s seat himself. She wakes a few seconds later and starts to berate Tom about how to control the plane. Sure, she’s a bit sleepy, but if she’s sharp enough to tell Tom what to do, she could probably just fly the damn plane herself, couldn’t she?

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Go left! No, the other left, you bloody amateur! – Image (c) NBC

After Keen is done stabilizing the plane, he finally gets the right idea and asks the pilot to continue, something he could have done when it actually mattered. She was sitting a few inches behind him, for God’s sake!

So it turns out the asian woman the kidnappers, well, kidnapped, was a “deep-cover asset” nobody could have known about “because of her mission in Macao”. That doesn’t make much sense but if that’s how you want to roll …

Tom’s mom is busy looking at a dossier about Aldon Braddock, one of the hijackers. It’s supposedly classified, but I’m not sure what part of it would be as it seems to be mostly copied verbatim from an Wikipedia article on Navy SEALs as well as an article on Chechen terrorism on cfr.org.

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This is classified how? Even the Wikipedia footnotes are still in. – Image (c) NBC

Naturally, I wondered about the QR code on top of the page, so I scanned it with my extremely smart phone …

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Image (c) NBC

… and found out it translates to the text “This is Aztec Code”, so it’s likely an example for the QR code standard of the same name. Very classified stuff indeed!

Meanwhile at Halcyon, Tom tries to find out the code word John Locke his father wanted him to retrieve from his mother’s safe. He quickly finds the folder it’s supposed to be in and lo and behold, the first document looks like this:

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By the way, did you know the code word is FALCON? – Image (c) NBC

The page mostly seems to consist of legalese copied verbatim from the law itself. The code word? FALCON, hidden in plain sight, although it feels rather strange to a) put it on the first page in all-caps and bold and b) have such an easy code word in the first place. Not that anything here says “this is the code word” but maybe that’s the point? When I watched the episode the first time, I couldn’t really understand how Tom would immediately know that FALCON is the code word – there were other documents in that folder and the code could certainly have been hidden in any of them. Tom doesn’t bother looking at any of the other pages, though. Also, there was a gypsum cast of young Tom’s handprint in the safe with the word “Chris” (his real name) written on it – could have been the safe word too, couldn’t it? His mother misses her lost son, so why not?

When Tom leaves his mother’s office (sorry, I never remember her name) he forgets to lock the safe. The key is also still in the lock. For someone who’s so capable of spying he sure is careless in that moment – and since the office is empty, he could have put the key back without any issue.

He brings the code word back to John daddy who’s eager to decode the message. It becomes clear that the message is encoded using a rather simple substitution cipher: the first six letters of the alphabet are substituted with F, A, L, C, O, N and the rest of the letters are just what they always are in order from A to Z. The encoding alphabet looks like this:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26
F A L C O N B D E  G  H  I  J  K  M  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z

In the decoding table daddy writes down, however, there’s something missing:

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Can anybody tell me what’s wrong with this picture? – Image (c) NBC

The comic book daddy tries to decode the message from is looking quite suspicious, by the way – it seems several pages have been glued on plain paper for some reason. Oh well.

Update: the more I think about this whole “message decryption” plot the more confused I get. Daddy states it’s a book cipher and also tells us how it works:

Each set of three numbers gives us a page, a panel, and a word within the panel.

But he already has the numbers, so what does he need a “code word” for and why is he trying to find out the key alphabet if the numbers plus the key book should be enough to decrypt the message? And how does he get to the conclusion it’s a comic book anyway? There are millions of books (and likely an equal number of comic books) that could be used as key, why would it be this exact one? How does he get to the conclusion it has to be a comic book? Just so Tom can discover by accident that the key book is indeed a graphic novel? I’m sorry, but this just doesn’t make much sense at all. Did he want to test Tom’s loyalty? If that’s the case, what’s the deal with the code alphabet? Why bother with writing it all down if it all was just a test anyway? So many questions without answers …

Solomon has been located and he’s supposedly near Osoyoos, Canada. In the scenes with him playing in the snow, it’s bright day. Considering Osoyoos is about 2.600 miles from New York City, a trip there would take more than 8 hours (there’s no airport in Osoyoos and you’d need to factor in travel time to/from the airport). We don’t know the exact time of day, but it would be rather late when the rescue team arrives – definitely late enough for the light to change. However, it doesn’t.

The team chases after the bad guys. Only one of them is still alive and is escaping with the kidnapped woman on his boat, the Here Fishy, Fishy II:

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Image (c) NBC

Note how the weather changed within minutes, it’s now partially cloudy with no sun at all, although that changes in subsequent indoor shots. Also, according to this article on nydailynews.com (last sentence), the boat is registered in New York, not Canada. Doesn’t mean it can’t get there, but it would need to cross the entire continent first.

Oh wait! According to the script, the boat is supposed to be near Seattle, 284 miles south-west of Osoyoos. How did they even get there that fast?

But it gets better in an instant. The boat is registered to a certain Colin Hordwell, who seems to be an alias for Aldon Braddock, the guy fleeing with his hostage (who’s turns out to be his love interest by the way). Here is his Army Identification card and his driver’s license:

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I wonder what the barcode says … unfortunately it’s too low-rez to scan. – Image (c) NBC

That Army card sure looks fake, doesn’t it? According to the driver’s license, his birth year is 1985, the army card however states an issue date of 1980 – five years before his actual birth. Okay, sure, the driver’s license is fake too, but … oh hell, look what I found on eBay:

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Image (c) some eBay seller

That’s a movie prop sold by some eBay seller. Look at the issue and expiration dates, they are exactly the same! His rank is MAJ as well, only the pay grade has been adjusted for inflation. Even the barcode looks similar. The entire thing was merely flipped and edited, that’s it.

Mr. Braddock has it all figured out, by the way. There’s “this town on the Skeena river” where he wants to rent a cabin and spend an easy life.  Jennifer, his hostage, doesn’t really want to hear about it so she hits him over the head and runs. Suddenly Tom and Solomon materialize out of thin air, a struggle ensues, Jennifer shoots the guy and we can all die happy.

What a shit story! The guy just wanted to be with his girl so he convinced his army buddies to hijack a passenger plane, grab his sweetheart and jump out of the plane over Canada, where they were free to torture her for information he knows she doesn’t have? Love sure can be strange sometimes but jeez, that’s some hare-brained scheme if I ever knew one!

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