The Blacklist recap: 'Abraham Stern'
Welcome, everyone, to The Blacklist’s Centennial episode (or as I’d prefer to call it, The Blacklist‘s Multiplatinum Jubilee)! One hundred episodes is a huge achievement, and so, in honor of such a momentous occasion…Raymond Reddington is going to steal the Declaration of Independence.
Just kidding! If The Blacklist can have a little fun on its 100th episode, then so can I. I mean, sure, Elizabeth straight-up killed a dude and turned him into a 300-pound batch of biological bisque, most definitely turning an irreversible corner in her descent into darkness — but other than that, this episode was just a jolly good time. Even better, it was a treasure hunt. A treasure hunt that had Red, Aram, and daggum Nathan Lane acting like a bunch of little boys who just found out they’re going to Disney World.
And what a perfect way to celebrate, because on The Blacklist, there’s nothing better than when Red is having a good time, except perhaps James Spader having a good time depicting Red having a good time, as he told EW that he did: “I’m very pleased with this particular episode, not because of what number it is, but it just is a very fun story.” Well, if it’s good enough to entertain Spader, and good enough for Spader’s “great friend” Andrew McCarthy to direct, and good enough for his “other friend” Nathan Lane to guest star in, then it’s certainly good enough for me. Plus, there’s secret spy gadgets, supersonic suction, heart-shaped bathtubs, and did I mention…? A real, bona fide, hidden-within-a-historic-national-artifact treasure hunt!
ABRAHAM STERN, NO. 100
It’s rare that a cold open features one of our main characters, but it’s Raymond Reddington who first gets in the crosshairs of our Blacklister tonight. We see Red riding along with Dembe, gazing at a 1943 penny in a ring box while Dembe teases him about loving mysteries. It’s one of those fast-paced scenes that’s light-hearted on the surface, but it also kind of feels like maybe everything being said is important. Raving about Edgar Allen Poe’s short story “The Gold-Bug,” Red says, “It has everything: the delirious search for treasure, the descent into madness, along with cyphers, bugs, a skull nailed to a tree!” Thesis statement much, Blacklist?
Then, BOOM, T-boned by a van! Red and Dembe’s car is flipped on its top, men are jumping out of the van with rifles, and shoes are walking toward Red’s car. But they stop amongst the broken glass, and we see hands pick up the 1943 penny. Going in and out of consciousness, Red sees the face of the thief…
It’s James Spader’s good friend Nathan Lane, of course.
Back to reality: As you might recall, Elizabeth Keen recently killed a guy. The episode opens back up on Liz in Robert Navarro’s apartment, where he is currently dead on the floor. Liz has a pretty gnarly piece of glass through her torso, which she attempts to put pressure on with a rag while going full Mr. Kaplan on Navarro’s apartment. She’s scrubbing, she’s bleaching, she’s stuffing his body in a large-man-sized duffel bag he happens to have lying around. She’s just about done, holding a bloody rag to her stomach wound when there’s a bang on the door: “Robert Navarro, MPD, we need you to open the door.” And for some reason, Liz grabs the paper towels and bleach to run into the closet, but stuffs that rag o’ DNA down the dispose-all.
Someone called in a domestic disturbance complaint on Navarro’s apartment, but when the police go in and everything looks fine (‘cept for that large-man-sized bag with a hand sticking out of it behind the couch), they leave unperturbed. And Elizabeth leaves with a roll of paper towels, a 300-pound cadaver, and no blood-rag. So later, when Detective Singleton, the detective investigating Tom’s death, comes to inspect why Robert Navarro had the cops called on him and orders a full and thorough sweep of that apartment…you know things aren’t looking great for our li’l budding criminal.
Things aren’t looking great for Red either, who was recently robbed, and now has Harold Cooper laughing in his face: “It’s just the irony caught me by surprise!” Red explains that the very rare 1943 Lincoln penny he “liberated” from Greyson Blaze at the beginning of the season has now been liberated from him, and he needs the FBI to help him get it back. Naturally, Cooper passes on helping Red steal this stupid penny twice. But — if you can believe this — Red talks him into it using the foolproof But This Guy IS a Criminal method. Red tells Cooper the man who stole the penny from him is on a quest: “He has killed in service of it, and unless we stop him, he will again.”
Because what Red knows is that there are three other rare 1943 Lincoln pennies just like this one, and they’re part of a Treasure(y) legend. In the last few years, Federal Reserve Notes have been popping up in other countries stating that the U.S. will “pay the bearer on-demand $100,000.” Red says that the government and the U.S. treasury deny the creation of any such Federal Reserve Notes, but there are four bronze pennies, minted in 1943, that prove their existence. Collectors think the value is in the fact that they were one-off bronze pennies, instead of copper. But Red says what makes them valuable “is not that they’re a mistake, but that there is a code put there by the man who minted them.” A map to a “financial holy grail” of lost Federal Reserve Notes, redeemable upon request…
The Task Force is going to steal the 1943 Bronze Lincoln Pennies! (Recap continues on page 2)
Except, of course, the pennies have already been stolen. In addition to Red’s stolen penny, recent other thefts indicate that all but one of the four pennies are in the thief’s possession. Aram figures out that the fourth and final penny is currently on loan at a museum in Maryland, so Cooper sends Samar and Ressler there to head off the thief. But he’s already there, and he has a detective from the museum’s insurance agency with him. They tell the museum director that there’s some concern about a certain Lincoln penny they have on display being a fake…they’ll need to get a closer look at it.
About the time the thief is getting his mitts on the penny though, the museum workers begin to stir and excuse themselves to go downstairs, where the FBI and police officers are waiting to tell them that the penny is real and the man is a fake. Luckily, they were suspicious enough not to let him hold on to the penny, but not so suspicious that they kept a guard on him so that he couldn’t slip out undetected when the fire alarm was pulled.
Elizabeth, on the other hand, is having a very close eye kept on her by Detective Singleton. He calls to let her know that there was a domestic disturbance called in on Robert Navarro, the man she recently told him she was going after, and now he’s missing. “You think I murdered the one person who could ID my husband’s killer?” Liz asks, while the one person who could ID her husband’s killer bumps along in her trunk, very-super-dead. Singleton says he doesn’t think that…”not until we receive results back from the bloody rag we found in Navarro’s apartment.
Not great. But Liz has bigger fish to fry. Like, full-grown-man-size fish. So she swings by the Post Office, getting Aram’s hopes up that she’s returning to the team, but she tells him she’s just there to look at some files. Specifically, she’s throwing it all the way back to season 1, taking some snaps of the Stewmaker’s file (No. 161). Then she checks into a seedy hotel with a giant heart-shaped tub, cleans herself and the room completely, lines the wall with plastic, pulls out her Fluorosulfuric acid, and gets started on getting rid of a body…stew-style.
As any good stew should, this will take some time; luckily, Liz has a task to distract her. Cooper tells Red that they’ve identified the thief as Abraham Stern — a loan officer who’s been threatening certain clients with bankruptcy if they don’t help him commit crimes that get him closer to his treasure — but that he didn’t get his penny. The MPD received an anonymous tip about the theft, so they were on the scene first and took the penny into evidence. They won’t release it without a court order, and a court order for “our criminal informant super-duper wants this treasure map” seems unlikely.
About that time, Liz gives her ol’ dad a call, and he tells her that despite his recent advisement to avoid her darker impulses in her quest for Tom’s killer — “which I’ve done…more or less,” she replies, ha! ha! ha! — he has a request for her. Liz says yes immediately. He’s her dad and he needs her help. That help happens to be breaking into the Maryland Police Department’s criminal evidence vault, which is no easy task, but Dark Liz is all over it. She’ll hand over a cell phone as a new piece of evidence in Tom’s case that can intercept traffic over a digital network, which will get them the code to the vault. Now they just have to get inside that vault…
Enter Glen! Who, in return for some cash and an excuse to get out of his mom’s house for a while, willingly takes some kind of medicine that induces heart attack-like symptoms, causing a big enough distraction near the evidence locker that Liz is able to sneak in and get the penny, which she hands over to Red. Cooper is frustrated, and it’s taken 100 episodes, but Red is finally upfront with him: “Your interest is in Stern; mine is in the treasure.” As always, they’re in pursuit of the same Blacklister, simply with different motives. And it looks like Red is going to get there first, because he’s using the one penny in his possession to cut a deal with Stern.
Cue the warehouse! Cue the guns! Cue the flashing headlights! Cue Nathan Lane and James Spader finally facing off over a card table: “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.”
But whereas so often it’s exciting to see Red go head to head with a good actor in a baddie roll because of the tension and the drama, this face-off sticks with the theme of the episode: fun. Red and Stern have a mutual interest, and for now, Red is willing to let Stern take the lead. After all, these pennies are his inheritance: the man who minted the four bronze pennies was Stern’s father (which makes Nathan Lane the Nicholas Cage and James Spader the Sean Bean, right???). Stern Sr. worked at the Denver Mint and had big dreams of becoming a master engraver. But when the Federal Reserve Notes went missing, and Stern’s father was suspected but unable to be charged, he was demoted, forced to work in the boiler room. Eventually, when the Mint made security upgrades in 1943, he was let go altogether, his dreams dashed.
So, when Stern’s father died, leaving behing four bronze pennies for his son, Stern considered his father a failure and spent the pennies on Fireballs. When the will executor gave him a letter from his father a month later, explaining the value in the pennies, he made it his life’s mission to find them again. “I’ve lied, I’ve cheated, I’ve killed in pursuit of it,” Stern says. “I believe my father was a criminal. And I assume he left me these pennies so I wouldn’t become one.” Red gives him a look. “The apple never falls very far, does it?” Stern says, wistfully.
Oh look, there’s Elizabeth plunging cream-of-Navarro soup down a heart-shaped-bathtub drain. (Recap continues on page 3)
With Stern and Red acting as a makeshift team now, Stern puts his Diane Kruger character on decoding the pennies. He tells them that Lincoln’s face on the pennies is a topographical representation of a mountain range, and that when you layer the images of each penny over each other, it creates a grid that clearly depicts…Denver. And when those pennies are layered, the slight flaws on the E Pluribus Unum inscription reveal a word: BOILER ROOM. “He did steal it,” Stern gasps. “He just couldn’t get it out, so he hid it right under their noses.”
The only problem is that boiler room was sealed off during the 1943 upgrades, covered up by a vault surrounded by 16 inches of steal in concrete. And the only thing they let in that vault is cash. The Ocean’s Eleven music starts in as Red calls in his homegirl Heddie to get $8 million in unmarked bills; they paint a truck with a few Treasury logos, Red and Stern suit up…and they’re in! Naturally, that’s when Stern pulls a gun on Red, telling him, “I’m sorry Raymond…But this is my birthright, not yours.” He forces Red back into the truck and locks it tight, as he and his men take down the vault guards, saw their way through 16 inches of cement, and find…yep, an old boiler stuffed with Federal Reserve Notes. Stern’s father did steal the Notes, he did hide them under the Treasury’s noses, and he did leave his son a map to an unimaginable fortune.
The one thing he didn’t do…was account for Raymond Reddington. Red unscrews his way out of the truck handily and meets back up with Heddie and a man who appears to be a plumber, and they begin handling a series of very large, cylindrical tubes. We don’t see where the tubes start, but we see that they end in Heddie’s van. Red asks the plumber, “You sure it’s going to work?” And he replies,” Well…it’s going to suck,” and flips the switch on his machine. Suddenly, in the boiler room where Stern and his men are packing the Federal Reserve Notes into duffel bags, everything begins to shift.
As bills begin flying into a before unseen opening in the boiler room, through the tubes, and into Red’s van, Red calls Cooper: “Hello Harold. Excuse the rush, I’m on the clock, but I discovered what our friend Abraham Stern is up to…he’s robbing the Denver Mint.” Red sucks every single Federal Reserve Note into his van, Samar and Ressler come for Stern, who you feel a little sorry for until you remember he killed a bunch of innocent people, and the kicky music starts up…
As we see Elizabeth’s face in the mirror above a crystal clean heart-shaped bathtub, Welshly Arms’ “Legendary” asks, How many times will you learn the same lesson?
Red congratulates Cooper on getting his man, and Cooper gives Red side eye because, somehow, he knows he got his treasure too. Cooper is willing to give Red back his stolen penny for a price: “The truth.” Red tells him that Stern’s father committed the crime of the 20th century, and he just committed the crime of the 21st by stealing hundreds of millions of dollars in payable Federal Reserve Notes.. Cooper thanks him for being honest, but that wasn’t the truth he was looking for. Why did he take something else from the evidence locker when he stole back the fourth penny? Why did he take the material evidence associated with the disappearance of Robert Navarro?
But we know Red didn’t take the rag with Elizabeth’s blood on it…
Elizabeth did. And she’s the one who called in the anonymous tip to the museum. “You didn’t call me to help me steal the penny, or distract you,” Red says to Lizzie. “You called me to help me help you retrieve a rag soaked in your blood, evidence that might have convicted you of murdering Robert Navarro.” Red seems a little angry at Liz, but mostly concerned. If they find Navarro’s body, she’s doomed. That won’t be a problem, she tells him. But in the process of getting rid of the body, she found that Navarro has a glass eye…and in that glass eye, we see, is some sort of “next-gen technology.”
Liz asks Red to forgive her, which of course he does. And would you believe me when I tell you that this 100th episode ends perfectly, which is to say: with a hat. A man comes in, telling Red he looks incomplete. Red hands over the penny he worked so hard for, and the man hands over the homburg hat Winston Churchill wore during the Blitz: “Under its brim, he beat back Hitler, with style and grace, and unwavering confidence.” Red puts on the homburg, and asks what Elizabeth thinks. “It’s kind of amazing,” she says.
It is. But I still prefer the fedora…
A Few Loose Ends:
WHAT’S IN THAT EYE THOUGH??? Red would not be the one to ask: “These Dick Tracy phones, the blue teeth connections…quite frankly, I miss the rotary phone.”
So, like…why did Stern Sr. have to mess around with that penny map? Why couldn’t he just leave his young son a Post-It note that said “DENVER MINT BOILER ROOM, KIDDO”?
“I have faith in you Harold. You always get your man.” Raymond Reddington, you ass. Happy 100th!
James Spader is Raymond "Red" Reddington, a mastermind criminal who teams up with the FBI.