The Blacklist trivializes a real world issue again, but at least Liz finally realized Red is a liar

By Jodi Walker
February 01, 2018 at 02:47 AM EST
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  • NBC
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If you didn’t like when I went on a tear earlier this season about The Blacklist trivializing police brutality for the sake of dramatic flair, oh boy, are you not going to like this (and this episode doesn’t even have any redemptive elephants). You have been warned…

Vicious brutality against women at the hands of a man who blames them for his own sexual desires — that’s what we’re doing here? Really? I cannot be plainer than this: These are not the stories I want from The Blacklist, and they are not the stories that The Blacklist is capable of doing justice to. A story about Liz finally figuring out how to tell when Red isn’t telling her the truth, and pushing until she gets it? Absolutely. Tell that story. The Blacklist has more than earned that story. Ratcheting up the drama knob on a real-life epidemic for the sake of entertainment? Absolutely not.

Every day, there are women who suffer at the hands of men who believe women’s bodies are theirs to treat how they see fit. The hatred of women by men who find their sexuality threatening is an atrocity far too serious, and far too common to trivialize. Because stories of violence against women by men who see them as nothing more than the sum of their parts are not stories that need to be dramatized in order to be terrifying. There doesn’t need to be an evil priest who strings up fire bombs and leaves blacklight pentagrams behind in order for a woman named Claire to feel scared for her life because she happened to draw the attention of the wrong guy at a bar. That is a thing that many women know can happen anywhere.

I don’t want to see this kind of real-world trauma from The Blacklist because The Blacklist does not tell this story to serve a bigger purpose. The women attacked in this plot don’t get justice or closure; they barely even get personalities. This is not a series that attempts to bring light to real-life issues — this is a story about Red and Liz and the fictionalized outlandish world of omnipotent criminals and Fulcrums and cabals that they live in. And so when it draws on this kind of real-world horror, it does so only for the sake of being horrifying. When it comes to something as current and constant as violence against women…it’s really not okay. This recapper is not the one.

THE COOK, NO. 56

And so I’m going to sum up this insensitive story for you real quick. Because another frustrating thing about this unfortunate theme is that it distracts from something really interesting happening between Red and Liz. So, we’ll focus our energies on that, but let me just tell you about this priest who hates women just in case it comes up again (SO HELP ME, IT BETTER NOT).

The episode opens on, yes, a truly terrifying scene of a man covering himself in what turns out to be some sort of flame retardant, stringing up a bunch of mason jars around the ceiling of a living room, and lighting the whole contraption on fire as he sits just on the edge of the fire zone and the jars begin to drop like fire balls. A woman walks in the room and is immediately engulfed in flames. The man — who was drinking a beer, another super fun touch on the casual violence against women — calmly gets up and walks away, untouched by the flames.

As it turns out, this guy has a bit of a murder-by-arson habit, which is rare, so Red sicks the Post Office on the case. He also suggests that they borrow an imprisoned serial arsonist named Earl Fagan who would surely offer his expertise in exchange for a good word at his upcoming parole hearing. Indeed, Fagan is an expert and immediately identifies a difference in one of the burnt walls of the living room from the first scene. When Samar and Ressler put a blacklight on it as he instructs, they find an upside-down pentagram drawn on the wall with the words “Discipline Not Faith” written across it.

As it turns out, that’s a signifier Aram is able to tie to seven other arson fires, of which only one victim survived. Through a witness at one of those fires identifying a car, Aram is able to get an address from a rental car agency, and Ressler and Samar show up at the man’s arson lair. But the man is there and immediately triggers a contraption like the one we saw earlier, giving him time to run out and burning most of his evidence. When Fagan is brought back in, he uses some of the man’s supplies to uncover a receipt that places him at a hardware store, and the Post Office is able to identify him as…

A priest. A priest whom we see at an airport bar staring at a young woman. That young woman goes over to him and asks for some impromptu confession time. As she tells him that she cheated on her fiancé, the camera lingers all over her body. And when she hugs him goodbye, he holds on to her waist, touches her skin — and that’s when my stomach starts to churn. (Recap continues on page 2)

When Samar and Ressler go to question the head of the unique sect of priests that the man’s garb indicated he was part of, I kid you not, the head priest responds to news with: “Men?! He’s killing men, not just women?” Yes! He’s killing the normal kind of people who get killed, and then also throwing a few men in there when they get in the way. Because of course this dude confessed to having nonstop fantasies about burning women alive whom he found attractive, and of course he got fired for breaking his celibacy vows, and of course he hates women because of that, and of course he now cleanses any woman who tempts him sexually with an elaborate fire murder.

Of course.

So, this sicko shows up at the woman from the airport’s house, asks her why she “dresses like this” (oh yes, we’ve put her in a bra and panties for good measure), touches her all over while we get some nice, long close-ups on her face frozen in absolute terror, ties her to a chair, and begins rigging up his fire contraption. She begs to know why he’s doing this. He kisses her on the mouth, gets angry, then slaps her. Honestly — this sucks, and I hate it, and I know it was all for the final scene where the FBI storms in and the man runs outside, douses himself in accelerant and commits suicide-by fire. A woman sits inside, traumatized for life, having not been written as anything more than a victim for slaughter…

It’s all enough to make the fact that Red has been lying to Liz flagrantly and constantly for five seasons seem almost healthy! But today is the day — buried under all of this other infuriating plot, today is the day when Liz is finally like, Heyyyy, I’ve noticed that you mislead me a lot. You’re not hiding anything about Tom’s death are you?

And you know what? Apparently all it took was getting called out, and of course, a gentle scolding from Dembe about being dishonest. Elizabeth asked Red earlier — while a tiny teenage tech whiz works on figuring out what was up with Navarro’s glass eye — if he knew what Tom was talking about when he called Red and told her he had finally figured out “the truth.” And eventually, he tells her: “The truth he uncovered has to do with me.” Red tells Liz that it has to do with an item Mr. Kaplan unearthed that he wished to keep hidden and that he told Tom not to pursue. Tom died because he pursued it anyway, and he can’t tell her what it is.

Liz gets…really upset. She tells Red that if she missed one more day with Agnes than she had to because he’s not being completely honest — “But I am being honest,” Red cuts in. “I do know. But I can’t say… I have a secret, and I need to keep it…even from you.”

What! Is! In! That! Suitcase?! Whatever it is, it’s what got Tom killed, and as Red and Liz look on at a fully 4-year-old Agnes through the window of a daycare, Liz confesses that she knows she needs Red’s help to find it, but she doesn’t trust his help. Red gives his word that Liz won’t have to miss one more day with Agnes than is absolutely necessary. And Liz gives her word that she’ll honor Tom’s dying wish: “For me to know your truth. Before this is over, I’m going to find out what it is.” Hey, Liz? Just make sure you share that info with the rest of the class once you’ve got it, k?

A Few Loose Ends:

  • So I haven’t mentioned that Red’s tiny teen friend does figure out that glass eye, and it is a GPS tracking device, which I guess…no one ever considered? Ian Garvey storms the kid’s house seconds after they’ve figured it out and made their escape to Red’s hotel suite.
  • The kid (who is a great character, as is his foreboding mom) figures out how to reverse the GPS tracking, and Red and Liz arrive at the location from which they were being tracked to find an empty house with a bunch of abandoned technology inside it.
  • Despite the fact that Red has spent the entire episode doing his “I’m old and I have a flip phone and I don’t understand the Facebooks or the War of Stars” thing, he takes one look a data server and says, “We need to get this thing analyzed; it’s sophisticated, custom built.” Yeah okay, Red, do report back with your tech analysis.
  • We see Red’s car pull up to Fagan as he’s released from prison following a successful parole hearing. Fagan says, “Look, if it’s about that fire…” which I would love to know more about, but for now we just know that Red informs Fagan that he’s responsible for his freedom, and there’s only one thing he wants in return: “You don’t light a match, and when you do, it’s at my instruction.
  • What’s! In! THE! BOOOOOX?!

Episode Recaps

The Blacklist

James Spader returns as Raymond ‘Red’ Reddington, a mastermind criminal who teams up with the FBI.
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  • TV Show
seasons
  • 7
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network
  • NBC
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