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)