NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! To quote Raymond Reddington at the end of Thursday’s winter finale, “It can’t be.” And then one more time, in a horrified, heavy whisper: “It can’t be.”
Don’t make me choose between Red and Dembe. Because if pushed, I’m afraid I may choose Dembe, and this franchise simply can’t afford another spin-off right now. Dembe’s unwavering allegiance to Red has always been a bit of a conundrum: Yes, Red saved Dembe from a life of unspeakable horrors, but he’s also asked Dembe — a prenaturally moral person — to commit crime after crime, sin after sin, and that clearly weighs on his soul. Sure, many of Dembe’s actions as Red’s bodyguard can be explained away as being for the greater good, but even more of them cannot.
Let me be clear: I don’t buy capital-t Twist to be as as cut and dry as, “Dembe betrayed Red by attempting to destroy his empire and potentially kill him.” Dembe isn’t an “eye for an eye” guy; he’s a “turn the other cheek” guy. I believe there is more to this story. The success of this episode isn’t necessarily in the shocking Dembe turn but in the way the writers unfolded it. Whether Dembe has fully betrayed Red or not, Red can no longer ignore the reckoning that began with his own betrayal of Mr. Kaplan.
Often, the fun in a show like The Blacklist comes in getting ahead of the mystery, in figuring out each new puzzle piece just before the characters onscreen do. But it’s hard to get ahead of this one because our normally omnipotent guide is basically Girl on the Train-in’ it for the entire hour. The best thing the episode did is put Dembe’s name on the metaphorical table right from the top; the moment Dembe goes missing, he’s placed in the suspect pool for an audience of TV-watching professionals. But because this thought would never enter Red’s mind, each new explanation for Red’s current situation, each new distraction becomes another opportunity to convince ourselves it simply couldn’t be Dembe behind this takedown.
And that’s what makes the final reveal all the more shocking — nothing sucks the air out of being right like being right when you don’t want to be.
THE APOTHECARY, NO. 59
I’m kind of burying the lede here, though, which is that Red is straight-up poisoned during this episode like he’s some naughty royal in a George R. R. Martin novel. The hour opens typically enough, with Red listening to some island tunes while Dembe pours him a brown liquor drink and repeatedly warns him that something he’s about to do is dangerous. Red tells Dembe there’s “a traitor in the family” and he intends to find him — cut to Red nine hours later, wearing an oxygen mask and gasping for air.
The doctor who was on call for Red tells him he’s not actually sure what’s wrong; Red is having trouble breathing and was incapacitated, but there seems to be no physiological reason for it. Red can’t remember how he got in such a state, Dembe is missing and, and the doctor says he’s only certain of one thing: Red has been poisoned and is rapidly progressing toward death. Season 4 of The Blacklist has reinforced more than ever that, just like any other human, Red is fallible. Its winter finale is a reminder that — just like any other human — Red is also mortal.
Unlike most humans, though, Red has the Federal Bureau of Investigation on speed dial. Red shows up to the Post Office being delightfully dramatic and poppin’ the steroid concoction the doctor gave him to stave off complete and total collapse: “Your prayers have been answered, Donald. Apparently, I’m dying.” He informs the team that someone with access to his offshore accounts has been trying to destroy him from the inside out. There are 11 people — accountants, money launderers, investment advisers, etc. — who have access to those accounts. Red gathered them together for dinner the night before to confront them, and that’s the last thing he remembers: a restaurant… a glass of wine… and then waking up in a signature Reddington Warehouse Hospital, totally poisoned.
Red tells them of a man known as the Apothecary, “a druggist whose potions hijack the immune system, causing any number of allergic reactions, each one impossible to identify unless you know what to look for.” Red’s lead on how to find the Apothecary is Elario Penetti, head of a drug syndicate set to be charged with having his biggest rival’s company burned down thanks to a confession from his accountant… until that accountant, Helen Dolly, went into a mysterious coma two days before the trial. Red leaves, coughing and wheezing, to go find Dembe: “While you try to save my life, I’ll spend what time I have saving his.” (At which point I’ve written in my notes, “SO HELP ME, IF THEY MAKE IT DEMBE!!!”)
NEXT: I hope this dude’s snakes eat him alive…
Throughout the explanation of the Apothecary, we see a lot of creepy clips of snakes being extracted of their venom, but actually meeting the man behind the poisons is much worse. In both physicality and goober-y disposition, the Apothecary (guest star Jamie Harrold, nailing the smiley creep factor) has a real Tobias Funke thing going on. But replace the harmless-dolt aspects of that character with super-harmful-pharmacist vibes. To the dulcet tones of “My Girl,” we see him turn from a rat spinning on a wheel over to his wife, completely incapacitated in bed; she sheds a single tear. Later, he hooks up a bell to her finger, presumably so she can alert him to any discomfort with the slightest movement of her finger.
She starts ringing it repeatedly. He tells her, “I know, dear, I don’t want to, but what choice do I have?” and forces an inhaler in her mouth: “If you’re not sedated, you might try to run off again.” This… does not bode well.
Helen Dolly’s doctor informs Ressler and Liz that her symptoms presented as an acute allergic reaction, and since she had been to the hospital twice in the past for a tree nut allergy, that was how they treated it. But in fact, she’d been affected by a poison designed to mimic the symptoms of an allergic reaction precisely so the doctors would waste precious time treating the wrong thing, allowing her to lapse into a coma. Her husband tells them that the only time he’s left her bedside was on what would have been their 10-year anniversary, when he went to their special place in Saratoga Springs to think about what to do if Helen is unable to pull through the coma. Mmmhmm…
And just as Samar is finding out from Elario Penetti that that the money transfer Helen was testifying about was in fact being extorted by the actual arsonists, Liz is tracking down video footage that confirms Helen’s husband went to Saratoga Springs… uh, with his mistress. It turns out, Helen’s parents are billionaires and had to force her into getting her husband to sign a pre-nup. That pre-nup states that the spouse gets nothing as a result of death or divorce before 10 years. And would you look at that, two weeks before their 10-year anniversary, likely when Helen found out about her husband’s mistress, she went into a mysterious, incurable coma.
So, bottom line, the Apothecary is an extremely messed-up way for husbands to control their wives, and though it’s mostly a B-story to the larger Red business at play, the concept is still one of the more stomach-churning Blacklisters in recent memory — at no point more so than when the Apothecary stands in front of his sedated wife holding a positive pregnancy test and says, “Everything we’ve gone through has finally paid off.” Seriously, to hell with this guy.
While to Post Office pieces together clues to track the creep down, Red is piecing together the wild ‘n poisonous night he can’t remember with his craziest 11 accountants, all of whom are now nowhere to be found. The doctor who treated him says a man matching Demebe’s description delivered him in a green station wagon (and didn’t leave until Red stabilized, don’t forget that!) that’s still outside of the location. Red digs through the glove compartment and drives himself to the address on the car’s registration. He finds nothing particularly of note there… oh, except a young woman named Lulu trapped in the trunk of a car in the garage. He asks her who put her in there: “Is that a sick joke? You did!”
So it’s safe to say, Red is pretty out of control of his own life, let alone his business, right now, and his health is in an even worse state. Once Lulu realizes Red means her no harm, she helps him to a pharmacy — well, I should say, they help themselves to a pharmacy — to track down more of the steroids he’s been taking. Red tells Lulu, “I’ve lived my entire adult life surrounded by a corona of death. Some days I’ve even longed for it. But lately I find that I’m unwilling to go gently into the good night.” So it’s a really unfortunate time for him to pass right on out.
When he wakes up, he’s in Lulu’s apartment, and she has apparently forced some steroids down his gullet. She says once she got the pills in him and he regained consciousness, he kept saying one word: Elizabeth. Lulu wonders if Elizabeth is someone who’d miss him if he died. “I don’t know… maybe,” Red responds. And it’s of note that until this point, Aram is the only one who has expressed particular concern about the actual possibility of Red dying (“No!”). Everyone seems to be operating on the same presumption they always have: Red can’t die. But in fact… things are getting pretty dire.
NEXT: Where in the world is Dembe Zuma?
Lulu tells Red that she first ran into him when he was breaking into the apartment across the hall. When she told him she’d called the police, he politely told her he was sorry, but that meant he’d simply have to stuff her in the trunk. And the apartment across the hall belongs to? None other than Marvin Gerard, a.k.a Red’s attorney (a.k.a. Fisher Stevens). In Marvin’s apartment, Red hears a voicemail from himself asking Marvin where he is because everyone else is at John’s. Lulu tells Red that John’s is a restaurant and offers to take him there, but Red finally tells this poor woman that she’s done enough and he can go on without her.
And she probably wouldn’t have been too happy to find out that while she had to be trapped in the trunk of a car, Red’s 11 banking confidants had been trapped inside a spacious kitchen (probably with snacks!). Well, make that 10 confidants trapped in the kitchen because one never showed up: Marvin Gerard. As the rather disgruntled bankers piece together for Red, he summoned all of them to the dinner and gave a speech regarding whoever attacked his assets and killed his main accountant, Zach Smoll. There’s a flashback to Red talking at the head of the table with his arms extended, saying the 11 people to whom he extended invitations were the only ones who could have betrayed him. It’s all very last supper. And then Red straight up says in the flashback, “Perhaps our Judas didn’t have the nerve to attend the last supper.”
The wine Red was served that night? From a bottle sent with the note, “Sorry I can’t be there old friend. – Marvin Gerard.” Are you picking up on these very subtle Marvin Gerard hints everyone is throwing down?!
When Red calls Lizzie to tell her he’s tracked down the wine that surely poisoned him, he starts coughing profusely and passes out altogether while she’s still on the line. Luckily, the Post Office has located the Apothecary using the very specific snake venom that Helen’s husband had used to poison her. The Apothecary doesn’t know who commissioned the poison for Red because it’s all done anonymously on the dark internet, but he says he’ll give them the antidote in exchange for taking the death penalty off the table.
So it’s back to the warehouse hospital cubicle for the antidote, and when Red wakes, a finally worried Lizzie is waiting outside — and of course, so is Aram, with an Edible Arrangement in hand. But when Liz is cleared to go in and see him… Red is gone. He might technically be mortal, but the man loves nothing more than to rip tubes out of himself and scamper off the moment he regains consciousness.
Red has business to attend to. I’ll admit, I thought it was going to be pretty lame if they were pinning this whole thing on Marvin Gerard as just some absent presence, but then — BOOM! — Fisher Stevens. Glenn tracked him down in Dulles, headed for the South Pacific. When Red gets ahold of him, though, Marvin swears he and his fiancée were simply on their way to a yoga retreat… that’s why he had to miss dinner… that’s why he sent the wine.
And that’s when Lizzie calls. She got word from the lab: The wine from Marvin was clean. They said the poison Red was affected by would have to have been administered in something with a higher alcohol content. Something like… scotch, perhaps? Red says he did drink scotch the day of the dinner, but there were only two people who had access to the bottle. Himself and…
Dembe. Dembe, who’s in New York with his hood up, darting his eyes around as he heads down into a subway station. Heart, meet break.
A Few Loose Ends:
- As already stated, I’m with Red on the “it can’t be” train. I can see Dembe quitting after everything that went down with Kate… I can even see him doing something drastic… but I can’t see him hiring Isabella Stone or risking innocent people lives (and/or the lives of people he’s worked with for years) to do so. Nuh uh, no way.
- Buuuuut it really seems like Dembe giving Red that poison, no?
- So where does that leave Mr. Kaplan? In on it? The leader of it? Still hitchhiking in an oversized flannel shirt? Or my personal choice: hopefully off doing kind of an Eat-Pray-Love-meets-Wild thing somewhere.
- I was hoping we were going to find out some juicy tidbit from Red’s past with the “we need to find out his preexisting conditions” thread, but nothing really came of it.
- Lulu hopes Red finds the answers he’s looking for, and I hope that when Red ultimately gets out of this mess, he makes Lulu a millionaire for being, like, the nicest young woman in the world.
- The 10 accountants were only being held inside that kitchen by a coat rack through two door handles, so are we supposed to believe they couldn’t easily break through that because they’re math people?
- I was thrilled to see Brian Stokes Mitchell back as Red’s constantly annoyed banker: “If you’re even thinking about another parable, I may strangle you myself.”
- “There’s no shame in hoping for the best — even for the worst of us.” Oh yeah, Cooper’s still salty.
- Two months until we find out if the Dembe revelation really “can be” — sound off with your best theories in the comments, and I hope to see you over in the Blacklist: Redemption recaps in the interim!
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