The Blacklist recap: The Vehm
- TV Show
In advance of tonight’s episode, Blacklist creator and executive producer Jon Bokenkamp advised fans: “Get ready…. Tonight is gonna be a strange one.”
Strange, indeed — Mr. Bokenkamp was not messing around. And not just because there were a bunch of bald guys flinging Adamantium at clowns, though that was concerning. The Blacklist has done creepy cults, and it’s done creepy religious stuff, and despite bringing a surprisingly fresh twist to the return of those two themes tonight, that wasn’t the strangest part. No, it was that this episode made the personal stuff as enthralling as — let’s see, how did Red put it? — “someone [reorganizing] a 15th century cult to hunt and kill pedophiles.”
My response to last week’s reveal that Lizzie was pregnant with Tom’s baby was pretty simple: “Hey, here’s an idea: What if we just didn’t?” Writing a pregnancy into Everybody Loves Raymond or whatever is one thing, but adding an infant into the mix on a show like this just because the actor is pregnant in real life is…less than logical. So, that this episode managed to loop the pregnancy into some major character development for Lizzie was a pleasant surprise. We’ll have to wait and see what the follow through on that phone call in the final scene is, but for now, it signifies a major shift in Liz’s acceptance of the world around her.
Lizzie has been a guest in her own life for a long time, pretty much since Red came into her life. No matter her commitment to working on the Task Force or fighting the Cabal while road tripping, she’s always seemed to have the idea that at a certain point, things would go back to normal. Last week, she expressed that she thought that point may be with the “defeat” of the Cabal and her exoneration. Luckily, realist Red was around to remind her that, like, everyone in the world wants her dead, not just the Director. While I take no joy in the decision Liz has been tasked with in finding out she’s pregnant, I very much appreciated the conflict and what it revealed about the life that Lizzie is choosing to lead, not just the one that’s been forced upon her.
THE VEHM, NO. 132
Thank goodness then that amidst all that emotional turmoil — and the deadly religious zealots, we’ll get to them! — this was a particularly humorous episode of The Blacklist, starting with Liz’s “BABY” pro/con list. CONS: Everything in life; Reddington; No friends; No family; Don’t know anyone with kids; Don’t really take care of myself. PROS: My baby; Family; Chance for a normal life; “Tom??” Speak of the devil: Tom’s at the door, and he’s ready to be overbearing! He says they’re moving to Boston because he got a teaching job there (countdown to the return of the Warby Parkers), and he thinks it’s time for them to start a new life together. The writers think it’s time for Liz to leave the apartment and Tom to discover that pro/con list.
Liz had to get to the Post Office, you see, because the opening scene featured a birthday clown being run off the road, captured, and taken back to some sort of underground dungeon where he had molten lead flung at him, then forcibly poured down his throat by a bunch of completely hairless men. And people say clowns are creepy!
Turns out, an associate of Red’s, Edward Westson, was murdered in a similar fashion, which until this point had remained a mystery. Aram says the lead on the clown’s body they found was likely distributed by a medieval device “subtly called a lead sprinkler.” It was used by a vigilante group called the Holy Vehm, directed by an archbishop in the 15th century to weed out heresy and witchcraft. And while all of that is really interesting, everyone seems more concerned that Lizzie is back to work so soon after being attacked in a parking lot (gah, so many vigilantes on this show). Red — about a subtly as a lead sprinkler — tells Cooper it won’t be necessary for the FBI to find the man who attacked Liz.
For Red is a man of action…and also a man of, uh, extreme observation. Liz admits to him that she’s pregnant, to which Red responds that he’s known that for some time. The look on Megan Boone’s face says, “Oh god, he’s been stealing my urine,” but luckily his response to how is ever-so-slightly less creepy than that: “Everything: your body; your skin; the look in your eyes; different tastes for different foods; nausea; distracted; moody.” But in addition to the subtle, he also states the obvious: “I know you want to believe that our work is done, but it’s not. The addition of a child will make that infinitely more difficult.”
NEXT: These are their confessions (murder, lots of murder)
For example, imagine having a baby on your hip while you find out that the liquid lead murders match the MO of at least a dozen other murders involving fun things like a “Spanish Boot” and, y’know, being whipped to death. Ressler and Samar head out to speak to the wife of the clown, who seems normal, except for the fact that she mentions a daughter, but the team finds no evidence of her in the home. Tracking down the daughter reveals that she left home and changed her identity at a young age after discovering her father molesting a young boy in their basement. So, it seems that the new age Vehm are targeting pedophiles…
And they’re getting their intel the old-fashioned way: a confession booth. The main bald man from the opening scene shows up in at a Catholic church to confess that he’s killed two men since his last confession, for which he gets a, “Well done, my son,” and a file passed through the grate containing the details on a local child psychologist.
And guess who shows up at that child psychologist’s office? The bald man, now complete with wig, fake eyebrows, and an even faker son for whom he booked the appointment. The rest of the Vehm lackeys show up as he tells the psychologist: “Sooner or later we all pay for our sins. I paid for mine, and now you’ll pay for yours.” And by pay, he of course means the man will have lead poured down his throat, which is how Ressler and Samar find his body (complete with gaping torso hole!) after Aram tracks the lead to a supplier that leads them to St. James, a halfway house for ex-cons.
Samar knocks one of the Vehm out as they attempt to escape, and they’re able to bring him in for questioning, at which point Liz reveals to him that the eye witness account they had for the psychologist’s sexual abuse was made up. In fact, many of the facts they had on the pedophiles they killed were made up. The bald man may be right that “there’s no justice in your system,” but there are some pretty big holes in his system, too, and they start at the top. So who was giving the Vehm false information on their targets?
Red has an idea…but it involves drinking red wine out of a crystal goblet in the woods, as it always seems to with him. See, Red has figured out that, like his murdered associate, a few of the Vehm’s other marks were big-time money launderers — it seems as if someone was trying to clear the playing field, and that someone is Gerald, another money launderer who’s on the run with his wife and living out of their Bentley in the woods. But he’s not on the run because he’s doing the killing; he’s on the run because he thinks he’s next. And he knows the name of the man who’s chasing him.
Which is how Red finds himself in front of Cardinal Richards, a local clergyman and a big ol’ money launderer. By killing a few pedophiles along with his criminal competition, he seems to think he’s serving both God and himself. What he doesn’t realize is he’s talking to the king of self-serving good deeds: the one and only Raymond Reddington. He tells Cardinal Richards that he can protect him from the FBI if he gets the Vehm to do a hit for him: “It’s a money launderer — a valuable player to anyone interested in clearing the playing field.”
And you guessed it — Red sics the Vehm on the very man who’d been manipulating them, the Cardinal himself. As we know, Red doesn’t look to kindly on those who violate his very particular moral code… Just ask the guy who beat up Lizzie and the three brand spankin’ new bullets in his chest. Or Tom Keen, who suddenly finds his job offer in Boston rescinded.
Red’s protection, much like his wrath, is all consuming — it’s nearly omnipotent in its accounting for every detail. When Tom finds out about the pregnancy, he of course is ready to run away and get married, to start the life they used to want together. But Lizzie lives a different life now. She tells him that as much as she wants to focus on the pros, all of the cons are fixable except one: Reddinton. “His life — my life — is so filled with violence and anger and hatred and death. How can I bring a child into that world?” Liz offers no conjunction to bring together “his life” and “my life” there because she and Red are intrinsically intertwined. There is no escaping this life that she lives now or molding it into one where she could have a normal family. Start-over haircuts are a thing of the past; we’ve officially moved into Begrudging Acceptance haircuts. And it looks pretty good!
NEXT: Katarina Rostova had a child once, too…
But even with the acceptance that her life with Reddinton is no place for a child, she still hasn’t quite decided what to do, and that decision is made no less complicated when Red comes around with a new couch and an apology for implying that having her child would be inconvenient: When your mother was pregnant with you, it was terribly inconvenient. The Cold War was ending, and her country was falling apart… She dreaded having a child — almost aborted it. Not one day of her pregnancy did she ever think of you as anything but a curse. And then from the second you were born, there was never a day that she thought you were anything but a blessing.”
That’s a lot of information about Liz’s mother and a (mostly) sweet sentiment. But it’s followed up by Liz going to neighbor’s door for some company later — a young mother whom she’d met with her baby in the hall earlier, notably fixing one con: “Don’t know anyone with kids” — only to find that Red has moved her into a bigger apartment elsewhere so that the space next door can be used for constant surveillance.
For everything that Red gives to Lizzie, he takes something away, too. That has been the push and pull of their relationship all along: Did he bring trouble to her doorstep? Or did he get there just in time for trouble to find her? And can it really be both? Some oppositional truths can exist simultaneously, and some — like a life that can support and a life that can’t — cannot. And it’s only Lizzie that can make those final decisions. Which is why it can be simultaneously heartbreaking and a little hopeful to hear her leaving a message at an adoption agency in the final scene, telling them she’d like more information about giving up her child.
A Few Loose Ends:
- I hate to leave Aram and Samar to the extras section because their scene really was so sweet, but alas, here we are: Samar is working with Ressler amicably because Cooper tells her that he wrote her a glowing review to get her rehired. But when she thanks him for it, he tells her he did no such thing and, in fact, thought she should have stayed fired. I’ll give you one guess who wrote the letter and slipped it into the files…
- Aram, the bestest pal to ever pal. Samar tells him she doesn’t deserve a friend like him. “Maybe not, but you have one,” says the guy who sent Lizzie trashy novels during her recovery and offered to drink limeade with Cooper when he finds out he and his wife have separated.
- “Okay, well it’s nothing personal, but you sucked in bed.” Never change, Samar.
- Is Lizzie’s getting a new hairstyle with each transformation of her character a continual nod/troll by the writers to how terrible her wig was in the first season?
- Just when I thought Red was acting like going full-maniacal-villain in the scene where he made Gerald sing him a campfire song, Dembe told him to knock it off. Great episode for the side characters
- “Are you drinking communion wine” “Yes it’s god awful. If they’d only switch to a good Burgundy, people would be much more devout.”