The Blacklist recap: Lovely Little Ironies
The Blacklist’s biggest battle, like so many new shows, is against itself: It wants to be a serialized drama, but it’s built into its very premise to be a weekly procedural. The line in the sand that it continues to draw between itself and Criminal Order Investigation Minds SVU: Miami, takes the form of James Spader…or Red Reddington, there’s really no separating the two. It’s a division that has been disjointedly splitting storylines into two halves since the show’s midseason return.
So far, The Blacklist has been fairly compelling in its serialized half, but mostly middling in its procedural plots. Probably because the former relies on the character of Red, a complex, mysterious, highly intelligent enigma, and the latter relies on a team of FBI agents who seem to always be flying by the seat of their pants, only successful when Uncle Red steps in to nudge them toward the shiniest Easter eggs. Red’s plot could go on forever being interesting simply with James Spader, a few years’ worth of fedoras and a pretty impressive musical rights budget; but the procedural plots would accomplish little without the backdrop of Red and Lizzie’s mysterious pasts. But tonight, finally, the Blacklist case serves a purpose to the larger narrative of the show.
The Cyprus Agency stuff was played with a pretty heavy hand, sure, but it was exactly that: a play. This episode goes the furthest to show that Red is serving up these Blacklisters whenever and however he best sees fit to play to his advantage. Last week, it was to get the Alchemist’s falsified deaths list, a seemingly minor point (for now), but this week, Red played Lizzie like Director Fowler’s vinyl collection, manipulating her belief that she was ready to adopt a child with Tom via an evil adoption agency he happened to have in his Blacklist back pocket, just waiting for such an occasion: The Cyprus Agency, No. 64.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that the procedural half of The Blacklist doesn’t continue to glaze over large points of plausibility, both scientific and logical, and rob its federal agents of the intelligence their jobs should warrant, hand-holding the audience in such a way that seems highly unnecessary, when it asks so much of its viewers in the Spader half of its plot. But more on that later…there are babies to be saved.
The episode opens on a drugged woman in a hospital gown, wandering the streets asking for help and whispering something about someone taking her baby. She stumbles upon a police officer just as a mustachioed man hops out of a van to claim her as his sister. Hint: No one with a sister gets away with having a mustache like that. The police officer, a firm believer in the honor code, tells them to stay put while he goes to grab something from his car. And the mustache man shoots him, and then the woman.
Only slightly less disturbing are Lizzie and Tom, still acting like they’re ready to have a baby. I mean, technically they’ve told a pregnant woman that they would raise her child and they’ve had all of their friends give them expensive baby gifts, both things that would imply they’re well on their way to adopting a child, but they continue to act as surprised by the prospect as the audience was when they brought the idea back up last week. “Are we really doing this?” Tom asks. I SURE HOPE NOT, I scream internally.
NEXT: Playing in traffic with boys
Lizzie meets up with Red for her weekly Blacklist assignment and he begins subtly talking about the profound impact of the decision to have a child, and an organization that has been exploiting that very decision – The Cyprus Adoption Agency. Lizzie has learned her lesson on coincidences, and is skeptical of Red presenting an adoption agency on the Blacklist at the exact time that she and her husband are about to adopt a child. “Life is full of lovely little ironies,” Red replies, because it doesn’t matter whether she’s right or wrong, this is his world, and the FBI is just living in it.
The Cyprus Agency “offers perfection,” selecting genetic traits for a child like you’d choose appliances for a new kitchen. The founder of the Agency is Mr. Mallory, who tells a prospective couple, “You select your preferences, and we scour the planet for a child that matches that criteria.” That’s sounds creepy enough, even before the big reveal. Red gives Lizzie the file for the next couple, about to receive their baby, the Rowlands, suggesting that these perfect babies aren’t being located, but stolen.
When Lizzie goes to tell the Rowlands the truth about the baby they’ve been promised, they ask what they can do to help. So, of course, she sends them undercover to meet with the Cyprus Agency’s lawyer. Maybe they’re distracted by Lizzie and Ressler standing in the middle of the street where anybody could see them, or maybe it’s that they’re civilians with no undercover training whatsoever, but the Rowlands don’t operate so smoothly in their covert lawyer meeting. He suspects something is up and goes outside to “take a call,” so Lizzie approaches him for answers. When he panics and starts walking into traffic, she makes no attempt to stop him, but appeals to him to do the right thing. He seems like he’s about to crack: “Oh my god, you have no idea. I’m sorry. The truth is, the Cyprus Agency –” *boom* HIT BY A BUS! There goes that lead.
In other non-starters, Red has Meera in a warehouse being interrogated by a man named Teddy with an oxygen tank (yep), after finding out she was the mole last week. Teddy says she’s clean and Meera tells Red that the memo he found was authorized by someone above her. And she’ll help him figure out who, because they both want the same thing: to find out who on the inside betrayed them by giving the Post Office’s layout to Anslo Garrick. So, once again, Meera = not the mole.
The agents seize Cyprus’ files and find out they’ve brokered 27 adoptions in the last three years. Lizzie, the adoption expert, says that’s a lot when you’re adopting out infants. Unnecessary side note: I’m sure it’s not easy turning around 27 genetically perfect babies in three years, but with a number that low, this operation doesn’t seem like a real money maker. Let’s just say each baby is going for around a million dollars. I’ve seen at least five people working here, and I’m sure the science of in vitro fertilization isn’t cheap, not to mention that prime office space and kickass kidnapping van. Evil adoption agency overhead and number of employees considered, some simple math says no one’s taking home more than half a mil annually, and if that’s the case, why not just practice, like, regular non-evil medicine? I guess “evil” is the operative word…
NEXT: Vans, the preferred vehicle of moms and criminals everywhere
Ressler and Lizzie track down the 27 adopted babies, but when they run their DNA, they don’t match any reports of missing or abducted children. When Lizzie complains about this hiccup to Red, he scoffs back, “You’re so linear…not every missing child is on the back of a milk carton, Lizzie.” As though he’s known more than he let on all along, Red suggests they might be the children of people who couldn’t, or wouldn’t, report that their child went missing, so she should look for partial DNA matches to find the babies’ relatives. Watching this show requires knowing a very specific amount about DNA: enough to understand the science of what they’re testing, but not so much that you realize last week’s plot was probably 100% implausible.
In a parting aside, Red mentions to Lizzie that she’s arriving at a point of no return adopting a child with Tom. “If you have any doubts about your husband, you can’t go through with this adoption.” Ugh, I don’t Dad, just leave me alone! (She totally does.)
The DNA matches don’t come back as criminals, but as five missing women, all attractive, educated and in their early 20s. It’s pretty immediately clear that these women are being used as baby incubators, but it takes a lot of date-checking and looking at the evidence board for Lizzie to figure out they didn’t become pregnant until after they were abducted. But that’s just fine with Meera the non-mole, who needs the extra time to sneak into Agent Cooper’s unattended briefcase to steal his ID card so she can access who authorized the security upgrade memo that Red found. When she passes the information to Red, he tells her he has all that he needs from her.
Aram has tracked down a file from the lawyer’s computer that indicates the next woman on the abduction list is a Georgetown student. Flash to her leaving class and Mustache man pulling up next to her car in a parking garage – you guys, never get in your car if it’s next to a van door! Don’t you read the email forwards your mom sends you?? Mustache drugs her and is peeling out just as Ressler and Lizzie make it to the parking lot. Ressler gets hit by the van but Red’s manual blood transfusion a few weeks ago must have made him superhuman, because he’s fine. Mallory gets angry because he instructed everyone to “hold off on new orders,” but Mustache says this was an old order because they needed a replacement for the girl he killed at the beginning or the episode. Mallory shoots him.
NEXT: Nestor does not take care of it
Speaking of that girl, a dog finds her body in the woods and after she’s examined, the doctor reports back to Lizzie and Ressler that she has severe muscular atrophy and even though she’s been in an induced coma, has given birth several times over the last three years and received excellent prenatal care. All signs point to Mallory, who Aram has just tracked down to an alternate name: Charles Lassiter Jr. But when they go to the Lassiter parents’ house, and show them the picture, they say his name was Michael Shaw, a boy that they adopted years ago as their son, but had to give back to foster care when he began threatening to hurt them and himself. Well, this is going nowhere good.
They say that in hindsight, they weren’t ready: “The marriage was troubled. We just weren’t equipped for a child.” And suddenly Lizzie realizes, when she’s been away from her house for 72 hours straight, that this might also be the case for her.
The agents use a rare sleep medication found in the woman’s body to trace back to a prescription from a fertility doctor who works for the Cyprus Agency and go back to investigate further. When Mallory catches wind they’re in the building, he tells the receptionist to get rid of them: “Take care of it, Nestor!” Nestor’s version of taking care of it is to tell them the doctor is out and when they begin to question him, to loudly pull a gun out of his desk drawer. That’s enough reason for Ressler and Lizzie to storm the building, and suddenly Lizzie finds herself face to face with a room full of 22 unconscious and probably pregnant women. It’s pretty chilling stuff. Mallory and Lizzie get in a scuffle, but Ressler shoots him (not a kill shot, finally) just as he’s pulled a gun.
During questioning Mallory tells Lizzie that the Lassiters only “wanted an accessory to smile for their Christmas card…they wanted perfection,” and when he wasn’t perfect, they returned him like a defective toy. So, he made his business making non-defective toys. And now his legacy is complete. His legacy, of course, being that he was the father of all 27 of the Cyprus Agency children. That one I actually did not see coming, and now I feel like I need a shower (for my brain). That little tidbit is all it takes for Lizzie to go home and tell Tom that something is broken in their marriage and she can’t have a baby right now. Look at Lizzie, making grown-up decisions! And look at Tom, going straight back to the arms of mysterious Lucy Brooks/Jolene, who consoles him in his car.
Finally, as Gordon Lightfoot’s “Sundown” plays on a record (this show makes just perfect music choices), Red sits in FBI Director Diane Fowler’s living room and tells her he knows it was her that gave the directive to Meera and the Post Office blueprints to Anslo Garrick. And then this goes down:
Red: You’re the dirty rat, Diane.
Fowler: You stupid son of a bitch.
Red: Sit your ass down.
He pulls a gun on her and she sits her ass down, but tells him Fitch would never let him get away with doing anything to her. He shoots her in the stomach and tells her he and Fitch have an agreement to go about their business…and they don’t. In a last ditch effort, she reminds him that she knows the truth about “that night,” about what happened to his family. Doesn’t he want to know?
“More than anything in the world.” And then he shoots her dead in her white satin nightgown and lets the music play.
I can see her lying back in her satin dress,
In a room where you do what you don’t confess.
James Spader is Raymond "Red" Reddington, a mastermind criminal who teams up with the FBI.