Fans of The Blacklist come to expect stories about international intrigue, exotic locations, and multi-layered ulterior motives in each episode. Raymond Reddington (James Spader) is the international man of mystery who partners with the FBI as a confidential informant to help them topple the biggest criminals on the planet. It helps that Reddington (‘Red’) himself is on the FBI’s Most Wanted List.
The Blacklist is a list of baddies of every stripe who need to be taken down at any cost. Listed in no particular order (episodes are titled with numbers and names of each target criminal), the team tracks and takes down assassins for hire, rogue bankers, mob financiers, bagmen (and women), and more. In Season 10, Episode 2, ‘The Whaler’, the action turns to high stakes poker matches in Australia. Game on!
Poker fans know that a ‘whale’ is a player with more money than ability, and card sharks actively sniff the water for signs of a whale about to blunder too close to their shores. Usually within a few hours of play, the whale’s millions are lining the pockets of the pro players, who are happy to indulge the big fish—and school him in the process.
In this episode of The Blacklist, The Whaler (aka Anika de Beer) is a formidable woman who gathers billionaires to play in secret poker rooms in Australian casinos for the ultimate thrills involved. She then harpoons the whales for a hefty percentage of their bankrolls—win or lose. In real life, the whaler would be a VIP Junket tour operator, a very real role staged in casinos globally.
Betting on Red
After falling off the radar for some time, Reddington resurfaces in New York unexpectedly. Red is rough around the edges, sporting a scraggly beard, a burgeoning paunch, and wearing a rumpled suit which suggests he has fallen out with his tailor. Soon after he is spotted, a building explodes and Red casually gets into a cab and leaves.
Back at headquarters, the decimated task force is slowly getting back on its feet. After losing several key players, it’s time for some new blood. Fresh out of MI6 and ready to fill her spy mum’s shoes: enter Agent Siya Malik. It’s clear there’s some bad blood between Siya and Red from the get-go. After all, Siya’s mother Meera died while on a mission with Red. Awkwaaaaard.
“Mr. Reddington, you and I don’t need to be friends with one another,” Siya tells him when they first meet. “Like my mother, I’m also extremely capable and can liaise with you, work beside you, smile at your jokes. But this is a professional relationship to me, nothing more.”
“Practiced that, have you?”, Red replies.
Red Goes to War
Reddington explains the need to go after the next name on The Blacklist: The Whaler. She runs illegal high-stakes poker games with criminals, money launderers, gun runners, cartel members–hell, anyone with millions to dump on the card table.
But her list is exclusive, and one of The Whaler’s new high rolling whales is none other than Wujing, who has been trying to kill Red for several seasons. Red’s plan is to infiltrate the card game, confront Wujing, and dispatch him while capturing The Whaler.
But there is one flaw in Red’s plan: everyone would see him coming miles away, and he would not be allowed to sit with the high rollers in The Whaler’s room. New plan: invent a super card shark, pump up a pile of fake back stories, and send the shark after the whale. But in order to be invited to the big game, each high roller must attract the attention of The Whaler by winning minor tournaments.
Red’s plan? Send Siya into the deep as the card shark. It doesn’t matter that she can’t play poker. Red has already got a poker pro ready to teach her everything she needs to know to win her way into the big poker room in Australia.
And she only has a few hours to learn it all before her flight. What could go wrong?
Agent Donald Ressler balks at Red’s plan, saying that Siya is not ready for such a risky job. Red replies that he has a contingency plan: Ressler will go along Siya as her arm candy. He can be ‘the banker’ and bring her drinks at the table. Ressler scowls and Red tells him to pick a fine tux from the rack just behind him.
After conveniently trouncing a few cocky poker pros in some New York card rooms, Agent Malik finally catches the attention of The Whaler. Soon she is being whisked off to the land down under to the big poker show down.
Malik and Ressler stroll into a Sydney casino called Crown Rocks, loosely based on the real-life Aussie casino chain and scandal machine, The Crown. Much like the real Crown, The Whaler’s Ocean is filled with a sea of salty characters. VIP junket operators, Chinese billionaires, bored celebrities, and various betting barnacles clinging to bottom of the big boat.
In the back poker room, Malik starts to play. Meanwhile, Ressler’s job is to stand around looking pretty and fetching her drinks. When Wujing finally makes an appearance, Ressler fumbles for his phone and snaps a shot, then pings the task force.
This awkward behavior attracts the attention of security staff, who escort Ressler into a back room for questioning.
Poker Pro 101
After only a few hours of practice, anyone can play with billionaires in private high roller rooms, right? Anyone who has spent any time at a poker table knows that this part of the story is bogus.
Let’s hope Malik’s spy craft kit comes with some serious bluff mojo and a hell of a poker face.
Malik manages to lose millions to scoffing playboy billionaires while Ressler is being worked over in the back room. After enduring about as much mansplaining and condescension as she can take, Malik gets dragged into the back room to be questioned as well. Guess the jig is up.
Then Reddington crashes the party. The Whaler isn’t about to let Red dive into her ocean of whales, so he drops a bag of diamonds in her hand to win her over. It works. Diamonds are a Whalers’ best friend. Especially if her name is de Beer.
Red sits down to confront Wujing at the high rollers table. Wujing can’t believe Red’s audacity and exchanges some threats. Red takes it all in stride, then proceeds to propose one hand, winner takes all. Since Wujing was only playing cards to launder his money through the casino (thus financing his underground war with Reddington), he takes the bait. The game? Texas Hold’em of course.
Red starts betting without even looking at his pocket cards. This rattles Wujing, who keeps throwing more and more money into the pot with each turn of the cards. After the flop, the turn, and the river, Wujing has gone all in.
Red turns his pocket cards to reveal his winning hand, thus depriving Wujing of millions in cash. “This isn’t over,” the villain hisses, just as the cavalry bursts into the room. Wujing manages to slip away in the chaos, naturally.
The Spying Game
By then we discover that Agent Malik has an ace of her own up her sleeve. Well, in her earring, at least: a tiny spy lockpick, just what she needs to break free and unleash the kung fu fighting on the Aussie thugs.
The Whaler has already left the building and is rushing toward her private jet. But the limo stops and Wujing steps into the back seat facing The Whaler and pointing a gun. He wants to know how she could fail to notice the imposters in the poker room and why she let Red into the game.
Anika’s bravado crumbles from cocky confidence to begging and pleading within seconds. Turns out the Wujing whale is way too big for The Whaler to harpoon. Wujing punctuates his final sentence with a few slugs from his pistol, and The Whaler is no more.
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