The Blacklist recap: 'Natalie Luca'
These violent fake diseases have violent ends
Well, it’s a marvelous night for a Moondance
With the stars up above in your eyes
A fantabulous night to make romance
‘Neath the cover of October skies
No, that’s not a song from Thursday’s episode of The Blacklist — may have seemed a little insensitive as a young Romeo-type died in a young Juliet-as-a-biological-weapon-type’s arms. And yet, it seems an appropriate opening sentiment for what must be the most romantic episode of The Blacklist ever.
But since The Blacklist isn’t exactly made for romance, that amounted to a kind of mixed bag: While the stuff with Red trying to find the criminal mastermind seeking to take him down is intriguing… and the thing with the girl who kiss-kills people like Poison Ivy in Batman & Robin because she’s in luv is moving… and the stuff with Tom trying to figure out how to apply his life’s passion of hunting people down and killing in them in an occupational capacity is interesting… it all amounts to a little too much to be able to fully engage in any one of those novel plotlines. That makes for a somewhat muddied episode that also manages to contain a handful of exceptional scenes. I’ll take it.
Interested? Good. There’s a lot going on here, try to keep up — I haven’t even mentioned the equal pay in the storyline yet…
NATALIE LUCE, NO. 184
The episode opens in a truly creepy fashion that belies the Shakespearean/feminist romance ahead. Fourteen years in the past, a little girl wakes up in a hospital room and starts wandering around to find that every single other person in the hospital is disfigured with sores, foaming at the mouth, and quite dead. A team in hazmat suits storms the hospital and seems rather shocked to find one little blond girl alive among the diseased wreckage.
In present day, we see a blond young woman walk into a room where a man is waiting to get a massage from her. She mounts him; he is surprised, but game. She kisses him; he seems surprised, then disfigured with sores, then foaming at the mouth, then quite dead.
Red informs Lizzie that the man was, in fact, his accountant Zach Smoll, who turned up dead in the last episode. His associates heard Smoll died of a heart attack, but Red knew something more nefarious was at play considering the amount of his financial transactions. He tells Liz he believes a longtime rival, Baldur Magnusson (see? nefarious), is trying to wage a criminal war with him, but that doesn’t explain why Smoll was killed via an aggressive form of meningitis called Luschen’s disease. It can be contracted through minor physical contact, and symptoms like a violent rash and respiratory failure present themselves and kill any victim immediately. Well — almost any victim. You know where this is going…
Aram first finds another death similar to Smoll’s and pairs two matching surveillance captures to find out what the killer looks like: blond and constantly bundled, presumably to keep from giving anyone Luschen’s disease who isn’t her specific victim. Then he finds the first known outbreak of Luschen’s, when an entire family in Moldova was wiped out… except for one daughter. That little girl was taken to a local clinic, but when the outbreak was deemed too much for them to handle, a company called Hawthorne Biologics came and got the girl to bring her back to Alexandria for further treatment
That girl’s name was Natalie Luca, and a woman at Hawthorne Biologics wearing glasses distinct enough to make you know you can’t fully trust her says she can’t imagine sweet, kind Natalie would be capable of wielding her disease against people. How might a young woman with an incurable and deadly-upon-contact disease be roaming the streets, you might be wondering. Well, Ressler is wondering that, too, and I guarantee he’s doing it more smarmily than you are. The woman tells him that they had no legal right to hold her there, and you see… she fell in love. The woman tells Ressler that she and a promising young bio researcher fell in love and he agreed to take responsibility for Natalie’s quarantine if they could live independently, and they didn’t assume anything was wrong because Malik’s reports had still been coming in.
It’s, of course, revealed that the people at Hawthorne Biologics don’t really have Natalie’s best interests at heart, and they’ve been trying to track down Natalie and Malik, as well.
NEXT: Bad Romance…
Natalie and Malik are doing a bit of a cherub-faced, well-intentioned, poorly- and homicidally-executed Bonnie-and-Clyde thing right now. We see him stick a foot-long needle into her spine because it’s what they need to “move forward.” Unfortunately, it doesn’t yield the result he was hoping for, so they’re going to need more money for more equipment, which means… using her Luschen’s disease to get funds once more. Using the classic, “I’m on scavenger hunt with my sorority and have to kiss two men with guns” trick, Natalie takes out two guards of an armored car and Malik swipes the cash they were carrying. But just as they’ve stolen the money, Malik gets an alert from the cameras in his apartment showing that the FBI has raided his lab.
All the equipment they’ve collected and research they’ve been doing in secret is now in the hands of the police, and they’ll have to start all over. They reluctantly agree that pulling one final, huge job is their only option, hovering their hands over each other, saying what sounds like a promise: “I’ll take your hand in mine. And I’ll pull you closer. And I’ll feel your breath against in my skin. And I’ll kiss you forever.” They agree that after this, they’ll never hurt anyone else again.
And they’re pretty much the only people on this show who have a problem with hurting others. Some, like Red and Tom, seem to revel in it. Two kindred spirts, those two (don’t kill me). Red speaks with his presumed enemy Magnusson on the phone, asking what the deal is with this whole waging war thing — did he kill Smoll the accountant? Magnusson tells him that it doesn’t matter if he killed Smoll or not because it appears that he did to the criminal world they run in, and Red’s failure to retaliate looks to be weakness: “You have no choice but to come for me.”
So come Red does, but this time he has backup. He comes to his fave frenemy Tom Keen with a plan so sly it just might work. There’s this assassin named Edgar Legat who everybody knows of; even Tom says he’s the gold standard. But Red tells Tom he’s not real — he’s someone Red created to cover up various killings that he and his associates have committed. When Red tells Tom about his predicament with Magnusson, Tom assumes Red wants him to go “Legat” the guy, but that’s not it: He wants Tom to pretend to be Legat so that Magnusson will hire him to kill Red, and then Tom will lead Red to Magnusson instead.
I’ll spare you the details (okay, just one: I’m pretty sure Tom killed, or at least incapacitated a guy by throwing an oyster fork at his heart), but it works out, and Red lands in front of Magnusson. Red tells him that he fears he may be correct in his assertion that the truth of their situation doesn’t really matter: “Lately I find that the truth has become so illusive, often imaginary. But in the end, it’s all we’re left with… the words that pass between us as we look each other in the eye are all that we have to hold on to.”
So Magnusson tells him the truth: He didn’t kill Smolls. He merely took advantage of a situation for financial gain. Red says it would have been easier if he’d done it: “For the longest time I’ve been perfectly comfortable knowing I could die at any moment… but lately I can smell it in the air around me. Like death is slouching at me from every corner of the room.” It’s scene in the most classic of Blacklist traditions, where I don’t yet know why it’s important, I just know that it is. Also, Spader is given much to chew on, and he chews it so well.
From Malik’s computer, and with some assistance from Red, Aram figures out that Malik and Natalie are probably targeting a poker tournament for the uber-wealthy for the final funds they need. And from Malik’s research, they also figure out just what they’re trying to accomplish: They’re not trying to cure Natalie, as most were likely assuming; they’re trying to make Malik immune to Luschen’s disease like Natalie so that they can well and truly be together. Things go a little haywire at the tournament, and though Samar apprehends Natalie, she’s sneaked away by Hawthorne executives dressed as the Hazmat team. But Malik also sneaks away and T-bones the vehicle carrying Natalie.
NEXT: Aram + Samar = 4eva (eventually)
Everyone gets out of their wrecked cars, and in the mayhem of the FBI arriving and Natalie trying not to touch anyone, Malik is shot by someone from Hawthorne. And, you guys — I got really sad. I know I said that these storylines were so muddled together that it was hard for any single one of them to fully land, but they could not have picked two sweeter-faced young people to play Malik and Natalie. As he lies bleeding out on the ground, we realize at the exact same time Natalie does that his imminent death means one thing: They can finally touch. She takes his hand: “I take your hand in mine, and I pull you close, and I feel your breath against my skin, and I kiss you — the two of us forever.”
She kisses him and he dies, not from Luschen’s, but from trying everything to be with the woman he loved. And I don’t even feel bad for feeling a twinge of sappiness about it, because Samar of all people has bought all the way in. She tells the police to give them a minute as Natalie weeps over Malik’s body, and she listens as Natalie explains how they ended up so deep and apologizes for all the hurt they caused.
Cue up the “Heartbeats” by José Gonzalez and all the emotions as Samar relays to Aram how it all made her feel a little sorry for herself that she didn’t have someone like Malik and Natalie had in each other. See, all episode long, Samar and Aram have been talking about her annoyance that she discovered he makes 33 percent more than she does at the Post Office for the same job — except she gets guns fired at her. She has a freak-out on the ladies in payroll who accidentally revealed the information to her and assumes that they tell Cooper about it, because he calls her into his office and offers her a 16 percent raise. She says that’s almost more of an insult.
But later, after seeing Malik and Natalie, she realizes something. Sixteen percent is exactly half of the difference between her salary and Aram’s. Cooper didn’t give her a raise, and the ladies in payroll didn’t tell him something was going on. Aram offered to balance the scales by giving 16 percent of his salary. “Now we make the same,” he tells her. Samar says she doesn’t want his money, and it’s not about that anyway — what he did, no one else would have done for her. “I’d do anything for you,” he says matter-of-factly. “I know. Which is why I have no reason to feel sorry for myself,” Samar tells him, patting his hand on her way out, warming my heart, and hopefully moving one step closer to what I deem the truest love story of this show.
A Few Loose Ends:
- But some might disagree. Tom returns home from his mission with Red to a conflicted Lizzie. Tom is constantly saying that this family is the most important thing to him and offering to give up his espionage ways. But, (1) he doesn’t ever actually do that, (2) it’s part of who he is, and (3) Lizzie says they just arrested a woman who would have done anything to stay with the person she loved and lost him anyway. Liz wants to let Tom be the person that he is (a killer spy, I guess???) but doesn’t know if she’ll still love that person. Tom says, “Do you love me? Then you love that person because that’s who I am.”
- SPIN-OFF ALERT: See above.
- And what all this was boiling down to: Red goes to see Natalie in her quarantine cell because he knows she didn’t kill his accountant for money — she was hired to do it. She’s lost everything already, so with nothing else to lose, she tells Red that she was indeed hired: by Isaballa Stone. “Natalie, do you mind if I sit here for a moment? For the life of me I don’t think I could get up right now.”
- I first wanted to list the lyrics of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” at the top of this recap, but the line “I want your disease” just seemed too on the nose.
- “Typhoid Mary, meet Typhoid Larry.” At what point did Ressler turn into the guy from CSI: Miami who dramatically took his sunglasses off all the time?
- I get where Samar is coming from, but like, could we compare her salary to Ressler’s instead? Aram is literally the most important person in that office…
- And the way he said, “I’d do anything for you” — I die.