The Blacklist recap: 'Isabella Stone'
Let’s just be upfront about this: The only thing worse than a filler episode… is a bridge episode. Last week’s Blacklist ended with the dramatic unveiling of a name: Isabella Stone, the woman who has been coming after Raymond Reddington’s empire for the last few weeks. Her name and recent actions led the viewer to believe that she is a big deal, maybe even someone we’ve met before. But the pace of this episode squanders those high hopes in favor of spreading out the reveal of who Isabella really is over at least one more week, leaving many a plot hole in its wake.
Technically we do learn who Isabella is, but we never really get a handle on what she’s up to, as clear-cut motivations are in short supply. Who she is? Judith Pruitt, which is to say Jan Levinson Gould, which is to actually say excellent actress Melora Hardin, a perfect fit for The Blacklist — Hardin takes every chilling impulse from “Dinner Party” (“snip snap, snip snap, snip snap!” Is it clear I’ve been rewatching The Office recently?) and pours it into this fearsome woman.
The flaw of tonight’s episode is not in the character of Isabella Stone — a professional character assassin dripping in cubic zirconia, sure, color me interested — but in her slow, muddied unveiling. I believe that Isabella has more in her than just knocking saintlike wheelchair-bound men into indoor pools and busting out mediocre impersonations that rely a little too heavily on sunglasses… I also believe that whatever those deeper levels are, we’re going to have to wait until next week to discover them.
ISABELLA STONE, NO. 34
A problem this week’s episode doesn’t suffer from is focus. Tonight is all Isabella Stone, all the time, with only a few breaks to explore Tom Keen’s past, which I personally always find interesting. Missing boy turned sociopathic teen assassin turned stay-at-home dad… I mean, c’mon! But a sub-50 Blacklister surely deserves the majority of the episode, which is why it’s all the more frustrating coming away from the hour feeling like I still don’t really understand what’s motivating Isabella/Judith to wreak so much havoc.
From the top, we meet Isabella’s two main lackeys, Ms. Kills for Fun and Mr. Ugly Sweater. They’ve just killed a man by running him down in his car and are now taking off his prosthetic leg, where he apparently stored wads of cash and a mysterious envelope. Soon, we find out who this mysterious man is and what his mysterious leg parcels contain, and would you believe it — it all leads back to Raymond Reddington.
After a meeting with his Mediterranean shipping operator, Stratos, Red welcomes Liz in to tell her about the next Blacklister. The guy who was murdered and leg-jacked at the top of the episode was Red’s courier, and he joins his accountant in the ranks of people killed by Isabella Stone to sully Raymond Reddington’s reputation. Red doesn’t know what she’ll do with them yet, but inside the envelope stolen from his courier were bearer bonds that trace back to a shell company he owns. Isabella Stone (an alias, of course) is “quite literally, a character assassin.” She will go to any lengths to scandalize, humiliate, and vanquish her target, “with no regard for the collateral damage,” Red tells Liz.
Previous takedowns include a renowned cardiologist charged with a series of angel-of-death killings that Red says were in fact cause by Isabella Stone hacking his patients’ prescription drug regimens, as well as a high-end fashion designer who was discovered to be employing awful child labor practices when a factory that burned down in a developing country turned out to belong to her. It’s a little muffled by another conversation, but it sounds like Liz reports that Red said, in fact, the factory was torched by Isabella and was likely another setup — hence, the professional character assassin thing. That’s why I’m very confused about the conclusions the Post Office later draws regarding Isabella’s motivation. Or should I say Judith’s motivation.
NEXT: The character assassination of Raymond Reddington by the coward Isabelle Stone…
By tracking security footage from the courier’s murder, Aram identifies Mr. Ugly Sweater and links him back to his employer: Judith Pruitt, a.k.a., Isabella Stone. Judith was the wife of Gavin Pruitt, a man arrested years ago for one of the first big Wall Street pyramid schemes. Apparently he insisted he was innocent all along, and his wife stood by him, but he was sentenced to prison for 10 years, during which time he was stabbed to death by a fellow inmate. Is it just me… or does that sound like an elaborate setup, the likes of which we’ve heard before? But that’s not the conclusion Liz draws…
She says to look at Isabella’s victimology, including, “an esteemed cardiologist butchering his patients for fat fees” and “an international fashion icon exploiting third world children.” Add crime kingpin Raymond Reddington on top of those two and, as she sums it up, they’re “powerful and guilty as sin, all of them… What better way for the grieving wife of a powerful man than to inflict that same fate upon the guilty?”
But that’s not really explanation for these cases that we were given in the first place, is it? And even if I misunderstood the specifics of whether Isabella framed those people completely or just framed them to expose their misdeeds, “powerful and guilty as sin” is definitely not the structure that her later target takes. And that’s where this episode lost me. The logic laid out for us as to why Isabella Stone does what she does just doesn’t follow. If it doesn’t follow on purpose — like the wunderkind behavioral analyst Lizzie Keen somehow got the profile wrong, or Red led them in the wrong direction, etc. — that’s really not something I can wait a week to get the inside hookup on. Because we’re spending a lot of time with this woman…
We first officially meet Isabella/Judith when she shows up on the Monte Carlo vacation Red planned for his business pal Santos and Santos’ wife for their anniversary. Santos heads down to the tables while his beloved wife gets ready, and when she emerges from the bathroom, Isabella is standing there with a gun on her: “Oh honey, I’m not going to shoot you.” Phew. “This gun is just to make sure you stay quiet while Charlotte strangles you.” Oh no, this is not a nice woman.
Meanwhile, Mr. Ugly Sweater is downstairs putting a sedative in Santos’ drink, so that when Isabella comes downstairs dressed in his wife’s gown and sunglasses, yelling at him about continuing to do business with Raymond Reddington, he’s confused enough to follow her back up to his room, where she waits until he passes out and then makes it look like he killed his wife. Santos is taken into Monaco Police custody, and even though Ressler and Samar zip on over to Monaco to free him for Red, there’s nothing they can really do to get past the murder charges.
So Red goes himself, because Red was always going to go himself. By having those two tricksters Boz and Dembe steal his car, all three of them are able to get inside the station where Santos is being held and overtake an entire police department. But as they’re escaping out the back way, Santos is shot. Red really does seem to care for him deeply, but it goes both ways, and Santos insists that they go on without him lest they all get caught. Red tells him that his children will always be cared for and leaves.
Back at the Post Office, Aram has figured out that Judith Pruitt, a very active philanthropist following her husband’s death, is supposed to be attending a fundraiser for the Sperry Medical Foundation, headed up by Dr. Justin Sperry, an admired physician who’s been restricted to a wheelchair by ALS. We see Isabella Stone smiling in the audience as he takes the stage to speak, and then everyone begins frantically looking at their phones. “Right on schedule,” she mumbles into her earpiece to her operatives. Earlier, we saw Mr. Ugly Sweater swipe and replace the carry-on of a man who was headed to Nigeria for the Sperry Foundation, and now news has broken that a physician from the Sperry Foundation was just arrested by Nigerian customs for trying to smuggle $22 million in bearer bonds belonging to none other than FBI’s Most Wanted’s Raymond Reddington.
NEXT: The Ice Queen becomes the Ice Prisoner…
Now, we know that those bonds were planted on the doctor, but nobody else does. And Isabella tells Dr. Sperry that’s exactly how she wants it once she abducts him and takes him back to the indoor pool inside his home, where his nurse has been sedated. She tells Dr. Sperry she has proof of multiple wire transfers made from Raymond Reddington to the Sperry Foundation in exchange for acting as part of his criminal cartel. Dr. Sperry says they both know that’s not true, that the bonds were planted and his organization hasn’t been a part of any criminal activity. “Which is why I’m so glad that I can count on people buying into appearances,” Isabella says, referring to her fake jewelry and the ice running through her veins.
But she says the bonds aren’t damning enough on their own, so if he doesn’t read the statement she’s prepared for him expressing his illegal partnership with Reddington, she’s going to push him into the pool to drown: “No matter how sterling your reputation, people will believe the most awful things.” But just as Dr. Sperry is beginning to read the admission, the FBI storms his house… and this biatch pushes him in the water the second she sees them! SO rude. Liz goes jumping in after him, and though it takes her a while to unstrap him from his wheelchair, they both make it back to the surface still breathing.
Isabella might not be long for this world, though, if she doesn’t start cooperating. Samar and Ressler have her back at Post Office headquarters and are demanding to know who contracted her to go after Reddington. She says they should be thanking her for targeting, but they tell her it’s no use if they don’t know who hired her so they can actually capture Reddington (ha. ha. ha). Isabella simpers, “I can help you. But I’m never going to do that.” This. Woman.
She’s taken off in handcuffs and chains, but wouldn’t you know it, her transportation caravan is run off the road and held at gunpoint. Looks like Red N’ Tha Gang made it back from Monte Carlo and are in need of some answers. Still handcuffed, and now bloodied in her flipped can, Isabella looks over to see Reddington through the broken glass, and for the first time all episode, she looks concerned. And considering that the next time we see her, a hood is being taken off her face inside a walk-in freezer packed floor to ceiling with ice… she probably has good reason to be a little wary.
A Few Loose Ends:
- So that’s an exciting ending! Kind of wish it had been in the middle of the episode instead…
- **SPINOFF ALERT** For the last few episodes, Liz and Tom have been having conversations where she encourages him to find out more about his past and maybe even team up with this mom to become a questionably legal spy operative again (wth, Lizzie???). But every time, Tom assures her that’s his past, and she and Agnes are his future. But this is Tom, so he ditches Agnes somewhere and goes digging anyway, this time fueled by the news that his father Howard Hargrave died in a plane crash (yeah, okay, I see you Terry O’Quinn). Tom finds the detective who led the investigation when he went missing as a little boy, and next thing we know, Tom is at home watching the video confession of Christopher Hargrave’s alleged killer. It’s real creepy.
- Lots of excellent Aram details this episode: He’s in hacky sack league, but mostly for the cardio; the most immediately available video on his computer is kitten playing in garbage; he gambles in cherry Slurpees.
- But how over “the Post Office gets annoyed when they realize Raymond Reddington, criminal kingpin, is telling them about Blacklisters for his own personal motives” storyline am I? Somewhere around “Santos saying, ‘Give me the gun and leave me here to die'” over it.
- And Ressler, ask for some damn PTO to go to your brother’s surgery, pal! Your contributions were mostly useless tonight, anyway!
- Ponytail and Muscle Shake is a show I would watch.
- Exactly how many orphaned children’s well-beings is Raymond Reddington currently bankrolling?
- Red apparently had wired millions of dollars to the Sperry Medical Foundation, but just because he respected Dr. Sperry from a charming little run-in they had in West Africa decades ago.
- Dembe’s Foreshadowing Corner: “You keep putting yourself in more and more danger every year. Every day. And people are dying all around you.”
James Spader is Raymond "Red" Reddington, a mastermind criminal who teams up with the FBI.