'The Blacklist' recap: 'The Longevity Initiative'
Last week, Liz told Agent Cooper that he was the only person in the world she completely trusted. At the time, she was trying to get away with a patented kidnapping/murder combo and he was waving around his morality flags like one of those inflatable creatures outside a car dealership because he couldn’t even recognize the person she’d become anymore; but tonight, ol’ Coops gets the unrecognizable tables turned on him. Cooper hasn’t exactly kidnapped his ex-spouse and watched them strangle someone with a chain, but he did let a billionaire slip a few past the murder net in the name of appeasing slimy Tom Connolly and keeping himself in the medical trial that’s currently keeping him alive. Morality is funny that way… the threat of its imminence, and the fight against it, will lead people to do all sorts of things they never could have predicted for themselves.
Let’s call his episode what it was: glue (not filler). It arranged some important pieces on the Blacklist chessboard so that at some point in the near future, Red can come in and light those pieces on fire with a blow torch and then probably “blood angel” them, or whatever. Or, hopefully, all the seemingly random things we learned tonight will come to mean much more very soon. It seems we might finally be to the point in the series where every Blacklister relates directly to something we as the audience are at least somewhat clued in on—goodness knows there are enough story arcs up in the air at any given time to do so. Surely we’re all past believing that Red is doing any of this work for the task force any reason other than those directly related to the welfare of himself and Lizzie. I’m fine with not knowing why Red needs to have Hobbs on his side, just as long as I know we’re spending time with Hobbs for a reason.
Tonight, there was even a big picture purpose to secondary Blacklister Dr. Powell, and that purpose was explicitly Fulcrum-related, a story line that’s pretty important to—let me get the wording right, here—the world, but has been idling for quite a while now. Still, this wasn’t an episode that sent the mind racing; but something about its mortality theme—life, death, birthdays—made it surprisingly emotional. Maybe it was all the frontal lobe talk, maybe it was missing Ressler having, y’know, lines this season, or maybe it was seeing little Lizzie Keen with a full forehead of bangs, but I got a little choked up as Liz shared her birthday wine with likely the only man she should actually completely trust at the end of the hour.
And then Tom showed up on Liz’s doorstep, back bloody-eyed and bushy-bearded from Germany, and I was confused about everything all over again.
THE LONGEVITY INITIATIVE, NO. 97
First of all, props on that name, I like an immortality research project that just puts all its card on the table from the get-go. Unfortunately, The Longevity Initiative has a few renegade cards that it doesn’t quite seem to have a handle on. The episode opens on a scientist lingering in front of a tank full of jellyfish arguing with a man named Lloyd about whether Lloyd is going to keep helping him with some questionable experiments. Those experiments aren’t elaborated on, but the next thing you know, Lloyd is being pulled over on the highway with three bodies in the back of his produce truck that all have their scalps missing, brains sticking out of the skull like a Chapstick tube. So, Lloyd shoots the cop and makes a run for it. Because Lloyd is a man of many morally reprehensible talents.
Speaking of, Red has a new assignment for Lizzie, and they don’t know it yet, but it has to do with Lloyd and his truck o’ brains. But before he gets down to business, Red delivers Lizzie a bottle of wine that was made from grape vines that she and her adoptive father Sam harvested together. It’s her 31st birthday today, you see. Tom also called her earlier to tell her to have a nice dinner at Wing Yee’s, and also, he’s in a ton of trouble and needs help—oh hey, there’s the Major pulling up with ambiguous intentions, gotta go! So blessed to have such consistently thoughtful men in her life, that Lizzie.
Now that Red has made Liz wonder just how long he’s really been a part of her life, and told her that his yogi thinks time doesn’t exist, he has the perfect segue to tell her about the Longevity Initiative. It’s a private company run by Roger Hobbs, a tech billionaire that funds ongoing experiments dedicated to extending human life indefinitely as a sort of pet project; and judging by the bodies that just turned up in the produce truck, they’ve moved into the human experimentation phase. Luckily, Red knows Hobbs personally, so he sends Liz and Ressler to have a little chat with him before they jump to any conclusions about his desire to be immortal.
NEXT: The immortal life research of Roger Hobbs…
Hobbs tells them that the Longevity Initiative has no official office, but scientists all over the world doing research, and he’s happy to give them all the information they need regarding their work. He has nothing to hide about his scientific quest for immortality. (Cue his dubious look as they walk away.)
If you’re the kind of guy who’s spending millions to discover human immortality, then you’re probably the kind of guy who has the confidence that he can get away with being a little morally loose in his experimental research, and it looks like Hobbs’ confidence comes from having friends in high places. As soon as Connolly hears that Ressler and Keen have been sniffing around Hobbs, he swings by his old pal Cooper’s office to let him know that Hobbs is a friend of the Department of Defense, and he should totally do what he thinks is right and not feel like Connolly is threatening him, but also, don’t eff with Hobbs.
Which is going to be hard to do considering that the FBI Medical Examiner has made a new discovery: All of the bodies from the truck had damage to their brains’ frontal lobe that existed before any experimentation began. The Post Office team uses that information to find that all of the people being experimented on were abducted from medical facilities while a certain pharmaceuticals rep was visiting: Lloyd, himself. He’s not too difficult to track down and, as it turns out, if you tell a guy he’s likely to get the death penalty, he’ll tell you pretty quickly that he was working for Dr. Julian Powell, who Aram is able to link back as a former employee of one of Hobbs’ medical companies.
Hobbs writes that connection off as him having thousands of employees, all of whom he couldn’t possibly know, when he’s brought into the Post Office for more questioning, but the audience is privy to the scene before—the one where we see Hobbs on the phone with Dr. Powell, telling him that his recklessness has jeopardized the entire Initiative and he needs to come in. Oh, and did I mention that Red is hanging out in Hobbs’ billionaire pad while this conversation is going on. Red tells him that whether he knew exactly what Dr. Powell was doing, he knew human experimentation was risking innocent lives. Hobbs half-heartedly lists a few vaccines that also took some innocent lives in the experimentation process, and then hands Red a file on Dr. Powell and tells him it’s everything he needs to know “to take care of the problem.”
Reminder that this is the guy that the Post Office just let off with a “we better not find out you were killing people” because Cooper told Liz and Ressler they didn’t really have any precedent to hold him there until they could directly connect him to the experiments. Because while Cooper was sticking to his guns when Connolly first approached him about Hobbs, he’s now had an informative conversation with his doctor; one where he told his doctor how much better he’s been feeling while on his new treatment plan, and the doctor informed him in turn that he just found out that they might be changing the age limit on the next phase of the trial, excluding Cooper from continuing on. You know… the medical trial that Connolly got him into. So, as Connolly suggested, Cooper lets Hobbs go even though Liz and Ressler are positive he’s connected.
And they’re on the road to tracking down the man who can prove it. Once they find Dr. Powell’s lab, the Medical Examiner is able to figure out exactly what kind of immortality research he was doing: It appears that Dr. Powell was doing transgenic research, transferring cells of one species into the genome of others, specifically putting the cells of “immortal jellyfish” into humans. Immortal jellyfish are the only known species that never dies; they can grow old, but when they’re threatened or under duress, they have the ability to reverse the aging process, to transform their own cells back into a biologically younger version. In Dr. Powell’s meticulous records they find all of the people with frontal lobe damage whose medical history he has tracked and experimented on. All are dead, except one, so the Post Office team assumes she’s his next target and dispatch Liz and Ressler to the facility where she’s being cared for.
NEXT: I’ve seen your jellyfish work, now what do you know about memories…
What they find when they get there, and what Red already knew when he arrived to take Dr. Powell on a ride just a few minutes before Liz and Ressler did, is that the final woman with frontal lobe brain damage who Powell was tracking isn’t his next experiment, she’s his fiancée, the very reason for his research. Once Powell gets in the car with Red, Red immediately informs him that he was sent there by Hobbs to kill him—but that’s not his intention: “You are a potential solution to a problem.” Red tells him that a young woman he knows had a distant memory taken away from her and he wants to know if Powell can apply his research to memory extraction, if he could restore “her” memory.
I really appreciate Powell’s honesty here: He can’t. In theory, the work he was doing with cell restoration could help in rebuilding memory synapses, but in execution, his experiments have failed. He takes Red to his apartment, the one he used to share with his fiancé that has an April 2005 calendar on the wall, and tells him how he falsified his research to keep getting funding from Hobbs, how he experimented on those innocent people to try to figure out how to reverse his fiancé’s brain damage… and then he pulls a gun out of the desk drawer and kills himself.
When Red returns from Hobbs telling him he owes him one for making Dr. Powell’s death look like a suicide, Liz pops up to tell Red he’s the worst for stealing Powell before they could get to him, to which Red gives the response of the night: “I’m happy to discuss the day’s events, but not if you insist on doing so at this volume.” Once Liz lowers her voice, Red confirms that he used the task force to flush out Powell for his own purposes, but Liz knows that’s only half the truth. He tells her that the other half is that he used the FBI to create a problem for Roger Hobbs specifically so he could solve it and Hobbs would owe him one. “You don’t see it yet, Lizzie, but a dark cloud is approaching and when it arrives, Roger Hobbs will be a very good friend at exactly the moment he needs to be.”
A good friend: That’s what Liz sees that she has in Ressler when he tries to send a bottle of wine to her “dinner with friends” at Wing Yee’s, discovers she never even had a reservation, gets Wing Yee’s takeout instead, and arrives at her office door ready to distract Lizzie from the life she’s lost and help her focus on whatever little bits of it she has left. It’s very sweet, and of course, even sweeter when Liz pops open the wine that she once harvested with Sam. Somewhere else, certainly drinking a significantly better wine, Red is looking at photos of Lizzie throughout her life on her birthday. He truly had a friend in Sam, it seems. And for a moment earlier in the episode when the Major showed up to wherever Tom was hiding out from the many, many people he did wrong before having his cover blown by Red, it seemed like Tom also had a friend in his former boss/kidnapper. But when the Major pulls a gun on him and reminds him that he betrayed him and “went to the Feds for the girl,” Tom’s savior suddenly seems a little less reliable. But that turns out to be the least of Tom’s worries because the very next moment, the Major’s car is surrounded by German men shooting it up. When Tom and the Major come to, they’re covered in blood in the presence of Tom’s old neo-Nazi pals. They want to know who Tom was working for when he infiltrated their ranks, but no amount of torture is making either man talk, not even when their leader tells Tom he’s about to introduce him to a Blood Eagle (“We cut the skin along the spine, pull the lungs out through the ribs, watch them flutter like bloodstained wings. It’s actually quite beautiful.”)
But Tom isn’t swayed until the leader suddenly says, “Elizabeth Keen.” They’ve found his wallet, and a sonogram image inside, apparently with Liz’s name on the back. Immediately Tom is fessing up that he was originally sent to them because someone in their ranks killed Sarah Hastings, and that made some important people very angry. He’ll tell them who those people are if they promise not to hurt Keen. In between the Major screaming at him that he better not “sell [him] out for that bitch,” Tom also lets it slip that Keen is in the FBI, and between that, and Tom’s promise to help them if they don’t hurt Keen, they come to an understanding. The blood eagle would have been fine with him, but Liz’s mortality, and his role in it, is more than Tom can bear, it seems. He tells the Major, “You know that girl you said cost me my life… she just saved it.”
And then he shows up on Liz’s doorstep: “I didn’t know where else to go.” H’oh boy.
And a Few Loose Ends:
- The Germans just let the Major go, then? The guy who sent Tom/Cristoff after them in the first place? The guy who was all, “If you tell them what’s going on, I’ll bloody-eagle you myself.” They let that guy go walk down an alleyway to make mysterious phone calls about wanting Jacob Phelps found??
- If Dr. Powell had been able to restore memories with his cell research… what would Red’s next move have been? Pump Lizzie full of jellyfish cells and find the Fulcrum?
- Thoughts on what Red has planned for Hobbs’ usefulness in the future? I do believe his is a name we’ve heard in passing before…
- So, that sonogram picture. That’s just left over from the days when Tom and Liz were going to adopt a baby, right? And just has Liz’s full name written on it because she was going to be the mom… and was in Tom’s wallet because he’s pining for his old fake-life-and-maybe-real-love, right? RIGHT???
- Aram is the office party planner of my dreams. Red velvet cupcakes, timely cards… he’s got it all.
- Elizabeth Keen: Not aware of her real name, her real birthday, or seemingly, the fact that she is a pet owner.
James Spader is Raymond "Red" Reddington, a mastermind criminal who teams up with the FBI.