The Blacklist recap: 'The Architect'
In the last two minutes of Thursday’s episode of The Blacklist, there were about 10 different brutal, series-altering lines I could have pulled for the top of this recap. But instead of picking the most thematically apt, I’m just going to put my personal favorite, devoid of context, right here: “Forget having your testicles scratched; you have been castrated.”
Indeed, Raymond Reddington is in big trouble, and he’s not even the one who had to save his own life with a pair of custom Warby Parkers tonight. What seemed like a fun procedural episode — a chance for Aram to wear his undercover beanie and flex his bazooka trigger finger — for the first 58 minutes of its run time suddenly became, in its final scenes, a serious look into just how far Raymond Reddington has fallen. The outlook is far more dismal than we could have imagined for our omnipotent criminal kingpin with a heart of questionable gold-like substance… and the episode is far better for it.
Much like last week, this episode is juggling quite a few moving parts, but unlike last week, they’ve all fit together to tell a complete story by the end of the hour, while still leaving the larger questions open to gain traction one little piece of intel at a time. Why did someone pay a man to say he killed Tom/Christopher Hargrave as a child, forcing him into a life of orphan adolescent espionage? Who has so much power that they could hire Isabella Stone to take out Red with Red’s own money from Red’s own impenetrable bank? What will Cooper do now that he’s finally turned the corner on believing that Red is only involved with the Post Office for his own selfish reasons?
I don’t know! But this episode did give me enough insight to ask the right questions, it finally pulled the trigger on Cooper’s mounting fury with Red, and did I mention that Aram shot a bazooka?
THE ARCHITECT, NO. 107
The actual concept of the Architect as a Blacklister isn’t particularly novel — a man hired to “design, construct, and execute the perfect crime” — but the action that he brings about in the Post Office, plus a menacing performance from Brent Spiner, more than makes up for that. The episode opens on Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried” as a prison priest hands a Bible to a man scheduled to be executed, recommending a verse from Luke. That verse just happens to have the word “escape” in it, and that Bible just happens to have a detailed map in it. Something an architect might draw up…
Even though the Architect wasn’t originally scheduled into Red’s day planner. No, he’s still busy interrogating Isabella Stone about who hired her to character-assassinate Red. However, Harold Cooper is quite miffed that Red kidnapped his prisoner and brought her to the world’s largest ice gas station ice cooler. He tells Red that Main Justice is threatening to shut them down altogether: “From their point of view, you’ve become a bigger liability than an asset.” Coops demands a big ticket Blacklister as penance, and it almost sounds like Red is making it up when he settles on the Architect.
But he’s not! As Cooper explains to his agents, the Architect has a resume full of orchestrating intricate, long-con crimes, and at this very moment he’s in Philadelphia to recruit hackers at an underground event called BlackMass 13. Aram, resident non-underground hacker, describes it as where “the worst of the worst” compete for jobs that steal your soul. Scouring the internet, Aram finds some GPS coordinates in no time flat, but that’s just the first step — one doesn’t simply hack a hacking convention.
And so follows a very fun wild techy goose chase around Philadelphia led by Liz and Ressler, who I’m sure would still have a flip phone if the FBI would let him. My favorite Ressler is grumpy, by-the-book, nose-to-the-ground, gnome-kickin’ Ressler, and we get a lot of him this episode (see more in the Loose Ends). The GPS coordinates lead to a QR code on a mailbox, and the QR code leads to a weird phrase that Aram immediately knows the response to, which leads to a smoothie stand, which leads to Aram telling Liz what to order, which leads to a box with a keypad lock, which leads to Liz saying, “This is going to take hours!” which leads to Ressler putting it on the ground, stomping it open and smirking, “How long did that take?”
Not long at all, Donald. With the chip that was inside the box, Aram finds out the pick-up point for a hacker hoping to get on BlackMass 13 (and the dress code: a yellow hat). He explains to his co-workers why whoever goes undercover will really need to know their stuff about hacking while his co-workers all look at him like, “Boy, you playin’?” Obviously Aram is the only one for the job, but obviously Aram is a little hesitant because the last time he went undercover he got beat up by his “girlfriend” and wound up “screaming our safe word like a baby who needs his diaper changed.”
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But like a good FBI agent, Aram packs some extra Depends, dons a yellow beanie he looks all too comfortable in, and waits to be picked up with Samar comforting him all the while in his ear piece. But Aram hasn’t been in the transfer van more than five minutes before their signal is jammed by some sort of software that’s been rigged up for a six-block radius surrounding the conference. Aram is officially on his own.
Well, for the most part. About two minutes after he’s entered BlackMass, Aram, gentle spirit that he is, hisses at someone, “Aren’t you supposed to be in jail?” It’s Elise, backstabbing, intel-stealing ex-girlfriend who, indeed, is supposed to be in jail. But apparently her proven spy skillz started a bidding war between three agencies over her, and she had cut a deal and gotten a job with the NSA “before your girlfriend even finished reading my rights.” And I don’t know why this makes me so mad, because I also consider Samar Aram’s girlfriend, but Elise needs to watch who she’s stepping to, especially in those dumb-looking glasses. But, apparently, the glasses have a purpose: a built-in thumb drive to steal any proprietary information she finds at the conference for the NSA
But first: battle! I really could have used a little more hack-a-thon footage, but I understand that the goal is speed, and guess who’s the fastest competitive hacker in all the land? That’s right, belle of the ball, Aram. But as soon as Aram is declared the victor, a swarm of men come in shooting. Elise grabs Aram and tells him if anyone finds out they’re with the government, they’re dead. They escape to the back stairwells of the facility, but while Elise wants to get the hell out of there, Aram’s first priority is getting in touch with the Post Office so they can come in and capture the architect. Doing that will require a walk talkie, a distraction, and… leaving the beating up of guards to Elise, considering that she’s “personally kicked [his] ass” in the past.
If you’re wondering, non-undercover Elise is very feisty, and I like the frenemy thing they have going on, but she still ditches Aram once she’s helped him acquire a radio. Then he books it to the roof to make contact with the Post Office and chucks it just before the Architect’s men find him. See, part of the Architect’s mysterious master plan is using all of the hackers downstairs to coordinate something they would never otherwise work together on were it not for being held at gunpoint, and the other part is to use the winner — Undercover Beanie Aram — in his plan’s final steps.
Samar and Ressler arrive just in time to stop the Architect from shooting Aram when he refuses to cooperate with his plan, but when a grenade is thrown, the Architect and his men escape… along with Aram.
You might be wondering where Red is. Well, he’s still in that freezer, but this also happens to be a pretty Red-light episode, all the more impressive that the hour is so fun. In fact, it’s Red who eventually puts a real damper on things, but we’re not quite there yet. First, Red has to interrogate Isabella Stone, and it really doesn’t take long once he reveals to her that he is not, in fact, the person who got her husband captured by the FBI, but instead, the person who “helped him walk away from everything he loved to protect you and your innocence.” A fact he notes is ironic considering that she apparently became a stone-cold mega-villain because of her husband’s conviction and “death” in prison. With this new knowledge, Isabella tells Red that she took the assignment anonymously but was paid through a “credit stick” that he can find in her apartment.
Once found, Red realizes that he and the person hunting him belong to the same bank, a bank that specifically guarantees complete and total discretion. So naturally, Red shows up at its president’s house, who is having his portrait painted by a world famous painter, charms said painter, and also holds him at gunpoint until the man agrees to look into who issued the credit stick to Isabelle Stone.
The Post Office is also getting a few answers of its own about what the Architect is up to and how that will help them get Aram back. Apparently, in Aram’s absence Ressler becomes the Post Office’s resident answers man. From Elise (whose real name is apparently Janet Sutherland) they find out that the Architect made the hackers launch a cyber attack on a facility in southern Virginia, which helps Ressler figure out that he’s targeting Greenville Correctional Facility: one of the most secure prisons in America, home of Virginia’s death row, and also home of Lonnie Perkins, the man we saw getting hand delivered Bible-maps at the top of the episode.
NEXT: You get a bazooka, and you get a bazooka!
Cooper refers to Lonnie as “the cop killer,” and Ressler fills in that he’s the president of the Aryan Revolutionary Council, the biggest white supremacist gang in the prison system, and apparently a group that would have the resources to hire the Architect to free their leader. Yikes. Nothing like white supremacy to take the creep factor up to 100, and it may be an easy play by the writers, but it works. We immediately know everything we need to about why Lonnie shouldn’t escape, and then we’re immediately put into the room where he’s supposed to be being executed. But as the guards take their final preparatory measures, all of the doors in the prison lock and the Architect comes on the PA system.
He tells everyone listening to direct their attention to one of the three guard towers… and then his men shoot a bazooka at it, completely destroying it. Once he has their attention, he announces that all the Warden needs to do to not have a bazooka fired at the building where he and many innocent people are trapped inside is release Lonnie Perkins. The Architect blows up one more guard tower for good measure, and the Warden agrees.
That’s where Aram comes in. Once Lonnie is released, Aram has to hack each individual door he comes to until he makes it to the final gate. But that’s where Aram stops cooperating. And that’s when the Architect notices something extra plugged into the computer. You see, everyone’s favorite FBI tech managed to swipe Elise/Janet’s handy USB glasses before he was abducted from BlackMass, and, by plugging it into his computer, sent his location to the Post Office via Janet. The Architect is just about to kill Aram and go ahead and send another bazooka at the prison for good measure when Ressler, Samar, and the gang swoop in like white knights in business professional blazers and sensible shoes.
But in the shootout that follows, the Architect manages to get in a vehicle and speed off. Which is when Aram jumps on the back of the bazooka truck, takes aim, and launches a damn rocket at the Architect, citing that if the Architect escaped, more people would die. He’s come a long way since not being able to shut down Gaia’s helicopter in order to save an entire city. I guess that is what we call character growth (and surprising precision with a rocket launcher weapon).
And now that Cooper’s team has successfully stopped a Blacklister, and Red has successfully made another step toward identifying the person trying to take him down, it’s time to reconvene. Red shows up in Cooper’s office saying that it troubles him that Harold isn’t satisfied with their efforts to take down Blacklisters. And Cooper isn’t playing softball with Red this time. He tells him, “Doing good for selfish reasons doesn’t make you good — it just makes you good at being selfish.” So then Red tries to do that thing where he changes the subject by showing off how much secret information he knows and tells Cooper that he’s sorry his daughter is sick: “You’ve never spoken of her around me, but… when someone you love is sick, you don’t need to shoulder that burden alone.”
Red seems to have good intentions here, but Cooper, it seems, is past the point of good intentions. He informs Red that his daughter is not a burden, and she’s also none of Red’s business: “You want to know why those closest to you betray you? Why you’re alone and hunted? It’s because even when you try to do something good, you cannot seem to understand where your selfishness ends and other people’s lives begin.” And then Cooper excuses himself to “go home to people who love me.”
To that we say: OUCH. Exit Cooper, stage right. But at least things couldn’t get worse for Red…
That’s when the bank president calls him back. He’s angry after having checked on the origin of the credit stick, convinced this has all been some kind of test. Red doesn’t understand: “It’s you, Raymond — the money came from one of your accounts. You have been catastrophically compromised.”
A Few Loose Ends:
- And once more for the people in the back: Raymond Reddington, criminal overlord extraordinaire, has been catastrophically compromised. And I only have one guess who could pull off something like that on Raymond Reddington. But surely that’s too obvious. Surely…
- **SPIN-OFF WATCH** It may have been a little clumsily executed, but having Tom work up to actually wanting to know more about his past hasn’t been the worst idea, because it seems to have made me want to know more about his past too. Tonight he learns that someone anonymously paid the mother of Christopher Hargrave’s confessed killer $100,000 to instruct her son to claim the murder from prison. Tom and I share the same concerns as we barrel towards next week’s official spinning-off point: “What was there to gain from me disappearing? And why was it so important that someone confess to my murder?”
- Dembe speaks (some) Italian. Why? “There was a girl.”
- Red’s wondering why Cooper is so concerned with what Main Justice thinks of their task force, and if Red is wondering, then so am I. Are you?
- Ressler is looking back into the disappearance of Reven Wright (a.k.a. her murder by Laurel Hutchens), which is a Ressler subplot I can get behind.
- Samar referring to Janet Sutherland on speaker phone.: “That bitch.” “She’s sitting right here.” “Hi Samar!”
James Spader is Raymond "Red" Reddington, a mastermind criminal who teams up with the FBI.