The Blacklist recap: Attractive but Treacherous
Lizzie and the team deal in some questionable science and Red finds his mole
The Blacklist is doing something kind of big in the second half of its first season: It’s earning my trust. As just an episode, last night’s “The Alchemist” wasn’t the most exciting, but in the big picture of the series, it did remind me that I can count on this show to answer the questions that it raises (whenever it sees fit), answer questions I didn’t even know I had, and for every new piece of the puzzle that’s successfully snapped together, reveal a new corner that needs tending to. In the first half of the season, I felt like I was always waiting for the other shoe to drop. Now, even if the plotting of this episode left plenty to be desired, I’m beginning to trust that Jon Bokenkamp has a solid long-term plan for this series.
And it’s good to be able to count on something because we can’t exactly trust any of the characters. Red? Don’t be ridiculous. Lizzie? At this point, everything she does well, she does well as a direct result of Red, so also a no. Tom? Shifty as hell. Ressler? Clearly a wizard judging by his miraculous leg recovery tonight, aka, can’t be trusted. Aram? Computers give people too much power. Well, what about Meera? Oh yeah, Meera seems competent and intelli– damnit, Meera! Why did you have to be the mole, Meera? But we’ll get to that…
This week, we’re back onto the regularly scheduled Blacklist; no more cases that Lizzie has worked on at some point in her illustrious FBI career that just happen to also be Blacklisters. Red made a promise to deliver a fresh project at the end of last week’s episode and this week, after procuring a glass of wine from somewhere in Lizzie’s house, he comes through: The Alchemist, No. 101.
The Alchemist has been hired to protect a mob informant and his wife. Red says he’s a man who protects the guilty by preying on the innocent, “who relies upon science to transform one person into another.” Cut to guest star Ryan O’Nan seducing a girl, roofie-ing her, dyeing her hair and maybe doing some other science-y stuff we don’t see, all to have her wake up on a private plane, dripping with jewels, sitting across from another man who doesn’t know how he got there or why he has the name Pytor Madrczyk inside his passport. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of time to play detective when the man who drugged you is revealing himself to also be the pilot of your plane, ripping the door open and jumping out, plunging you to your fiery death. This…is The Blacklist!
And as The Blacklist, this episode has one overarching question: Who is the mole? Thought we answered that question last week? Well, Newton Phillips was only one half of the mole-iness going on around here and Red is cracking down to find the inside man. He’s rounded up a team of Julian-Assange-associated nerds – they’re all in glasses and plaid shirts, so you know they’re smart – to sift through any communications going into and out of the FBI since his little adjunct arrangement started. When they tell him that they’re coming to a standstill, Red encourages them to piece together the metric ton of shredded documents they’ve acquired. Lead Nerd thinks he might be joking, to which Red replies, “I hate sarcasm and I love puzzles.” Which must mean he both hates and loves himself, and, yes, that sounds exactly right.
NEXT: What’s in a name? (Kind of a lot when you’re on the Blacklist…)
Until the mole problem is taken care of, Red refuses to meet with Lizzie on site, so she goes to see him at the synagogue sanctuary that he’s turned into his own personal clubhouse (and his main spot to look at an obituary of Lucy Brooks, the young woman he used his one ViCAP search from Wujing to find). I believe that Red could be Jewish, but I also believe he could just be doing this for the yarmukle.
Lizzie goes full “ugh, dad,” telling him he was wrong about the Alchemist protecting the Madrczyks, because they just turned up dead. Per usual, Red is waiting patiently to reveal exactly what’s going on to Lizzie, when maybe he could have just put this all in an email or something: “This man is a forensic virtuoso. He’s an artist who paints in blood and saliva samples. Human tissue is his canvas.” Yum. I will give Lizzie a little credit for being confused because whoever coined this guy “The Alchemist” did a pretty bad job of naming him, considering he works strictly in the realm of DNA science, not the pseudo-science of alchemy; no mythology or magic to speak of, it seems. I guess The Forensic Genetic Pathologist, No. 101, didn’t have the same ring to it.
Red sends Lizzie off in the right direction of the real Pytor Madrczyk with the promise that she’ll try those fertilized duck eggs he’s been pestering her about. On the hunt, she brings Meera, sassy as ever, and Ressler, who can’t stop talking about his ex, Audrey, texting him. Really. The guy who couldn’t stand Lizzie and her little plans just a few weeks ago is now all in to chat with her on missions, if for the vodka sodas alone. I don’t mind them becoming pals, but I’d like a little more background on this transition.
I just want to give you an unadulterated list of the things that Lizzie does once they have eyes on Madrczyk: continues to touch her ear every time someone talks into the radio to her; makes direct eye contact with him; looks directly over her shoulder at him and then whips her head back around when he caches her; immediately gets up when he gets up because he realizes he’s been found — because Lizzie is maybe the least sneaky FBI agent in the world. Madrczyk makes a break for it and ends up cornering Lizzie in the kitchen, but Ressler pulls a gun on him before he can shoot and they take him into custody.
When Lizzie gets back home, Tom is returning from his jaunt to Nebraska, but he tells her that he didn’t go through with the interview. I’m sure the school in Nebraska that spent half its science book budget on flying a fourth grade teacher out for an interview appreciates that he couldn’t stop thinking about how much Lizzie had been through and how he didn’t want to make her choose between him and her job. He is cool, however, to bring back up that they have a pregnant mother whose baby they’re supposed to be adopting in six weeks, which has hardly been mentioned since the pilot. And Lizzie is cool to act like she’s at all prepared to bring a child into her life right now. Tom just asks her to be more careful, and all that’s left to do to prepare to be parents for the rest of their lives is plan the baby shower!
NEXT: Jolene, please don’t take him just because you can!
The team finds that the real plane crash victim’s last internet activity was on a dating website called Meet Up, which is also where Aram “met Phyllis Tuggenberg…and her cankles.” Amir Arison deserves some major recognition for being able to deliver some of the series’ lightest lines while constantly strapped behind a computer.
We finally see the Alchemist again – just a normal, good-looking guy, who happens to know how to change people’s DNA – when the real Catherine Madrczyk storms into his office demanding answers on the whereabouts of her husband and, oh yeah, that jet of hers he crashed into the ground. So, he confirms she didn’t tell anyone about him, gets the name of her husband’s lawyer, and kills her. Next thing we know, this scientist of all trades is showing up to Ressler’s interrogation of Madrczyk wearing a pretty conspicuous plum dress shirt and magenta tie, saying he’s the lawyer’s associate and he needs a moment alone with his client. Ressler buys it and leaves him alone in an unlocked conference room and, you guessed it, the Alchemist kills Madrczyk with some drugged nicotine gum and gets back out of there, no problem.
The photo of the Alchemist they found on the dating site matches an Eric Trettle, who flunked out of med school and then falsified a Harvard degree to become an expert witness in court cases involving DNA evidence (I’m not positive, but I think that might be the plot of Suits). Once he was revealed to be a fraud in court, he left his wife and daughter and began his, uh, alchemy. Family and abandoned children really seem to be a commonly occurring theme on this show considering the Blacklisters Red chooses to go after. The Alchemist’s wife tells Lizzie that Eric is highly dangerous and sometimes he comes back to the house under the delusion they’re still a family. As the team races to figure out what a bar code they found in the Alchemists’ burned out car means, he’s already tracked down his next victim and convinced her to share a cab with him. Life tip: Never share a cab with a stranger. It is not worth the extra $10 and it will immediately turn into The Bone Collector up in there. While the Alchemist is kidnapping Mandi the Actress, someone is looking over a profile on Tom – it’s Lucy Brooks! Not dead, apparently.
It’s time for the baby shower to get presents for the baby Tom and Lizzie really shouldn’t be having, and while I would not say that to their faces, Tom’s coworkers have no problem judging Lizzie’s plan not to take maternity leave. Tom doesn’t seem to be taking any leave either, so hopefully this is just one of those self-cleaning babies.
They go up to their room to fight about it and out of the bathroom comes Lucy Brooks (Rachel Brosnahan, TV’s go-to seductress these days), introducing herself as Jolene, a substitute teacher from Tom’s school. You know how substitute teachers are always going to staff baby showers in the homes of people they don’t know? Lizzie, the professional profiler, doesn’t seem to thinks it’s weird because she takes a work call and leaves her husband in the bedroom with a very attractive woman who’s named after a song literally about having your man stolen out from under you. Next thing you know, she’s hopped up on the counter, telling Tom about a photography exhibit he should take his wife to, where the photographer takes pictures of married men while they’re cheating on their wives. I see what you’re doing, Jolene!
The serial number from the car helps the team track the Alchemist to his warehouse and they realize he’s killing everyone who could lead back to him, like his family. By the time they get to the family’s house, bodies of the wife and daughter are on the floor. Of course, this guy’s entire M.O. is that he fakes people’s deaths, but it takes about three scenes and a consult with Red before Lizzie or anyone else figures out that even though the DNA says it’s the wife and the daughter, it’s not. The only real problem with the episode presents itself most clearly here: The audience is a step (or two, or three) ahead of the plot the whole time. We’re privy to some information the characters aren’t, sure, but it is beyond reason that these agents wouldn’t think to test the marrow of the bodies when they’ve had to do that for every single other victim of the Alchemist’s.
By the time they catch up to the Alchemist and his abducted wife and daughter, he’s taken them and an entire convenience store hostage. Lizzie goes to work her magic – maybe they should call her the Alchemist? – and try to convince him to let the daughter, who was caught in the crossfire of a shoot-off with one of the civilians, come out to see a medic. While he’s trying to arrange a deal, the mother finds the civilian’s gun and shoots him in the back, followed swiftly by a head shot from local police. They really just cannot keep these Blacklisters alive for any questioning, can they?
Ressler finally follows through on those texts and goes to meet with Audrey, where she tells him she’s no longer engaged because she can’t stop thinking about him. He seems excited about that. Almost as excited as Tom, who gets to go hang out with Jolene at the sexy art show when Lizzie ditches him for yet another dinner. Lizzie passes the list Aram found of criminals the Alchemist helped escape over to Red and accuses him of only ever wanting the list in the first place. (We’re all feeling like Lucy is on that list at this point, right?) I’m sure the Alchemist dying was a nice little add-on, but, yeah, duh.
Well, there was ONE other thing he wanted: the identity of that damn mole. And his army of nerds came through for him, finding a memo signed by…Meera Malik, who arrives into her dark apartment to find Red waiting for her, gun pointed, accusation ready:
“I trust you know why I’m here?”
“Yes, you’re here to kill me. Because I’m the mole.”
MEERA, NO! I support this only because it means more screen time together for James Spader and Parminder Nagra, but I’m hoping it doesn’t mean a swift exit for Meera, one of the few characters who could truly give Red a run for his money.