Following decades on the Most Wanted list, Raymond “Red” Reddington surrenders to FBI assistant director of counterterrorism Harold Cooper and offers to deliver Ranko Zamani, a Serbian terrorist thought to have died years ago. When Red refuses to cooperate further until he can speak with Elizabeth Keen, a rookie agent and criminal profiler, agent Donald Ressler intercepts her on her way to work and whisks her away to the covert operations center where Red is being held. Surprising Liz with how much he knows about her, Red reveals that Zamani is planning to kidnap general Daniel Ryker’s eight-year-old daughter, Beth.
After calling her husband Tom to say she won’t be at a meeting to finalize their adoption of a new baby, Liz is escorting Beth to safety when some suspicious roadwork along their route is revealed to be an elaborate trap set by Zamani’s men. Leaving a scene of death and destruction in their wake, the kidnappers escape with Beth. As Liz concludes that Zamani is seeking to avenge the deaths of his own children during the Bosnian civil war, Red leads her to a bomb maker and Zamani henchman known as the Chemist. But when Liz finds her husband badly beaten and being held hostage at home, Zamani claims he’s done with the Chemist anyway and escapes after stabbing Tom, leaving Liz struggling to save him.
Frustrated and scared, Liz heads to the hotel where Red’s being held and disables the security cameras before stabbing him in the neck. While she threatens to let him die if he doesn’t turn over Zamani, she calls for an ambulance after Red claims to know a secret about Tom. But once she arrives at the hospital to question him, Red escapes. Though Ressler is tracking him with a microchip injected under his skin, Red cuts it out before meeting Zamani. When Zamani says he’s after more than Beth, Red calls to warn Liz, and she realizes that his target is the National Zoo. Alerting Ressler, she hurries to the zoo to find Beth strapped with a chemical bomb. Certain he’s got him cornered, Ressler discovers that Red surreptitiously gave the tracking chip to Zamani, who chooses suicide over being captured. After Red calls to say that help is on the way, a Ukrainian henchman arrives to defuse the bomb and then take it with him as payment. Finally, as Beth is reunited with her father, Red offers to continue helping the FBI – but only if he can work with Liz. So after finding evidence that Tom is part of a criminal network, she returns to the black ops site to make a deal with Red.