It’s a simple episode of The Blacklist, really. Sure, it’s one where a deranged doctor alters the DNA of three triplets, splits them up at birth, and locks them in his torture greenhouse for the alleged sake of humanity…and yes, it also tracks a nontraditional family trying to homogenize their code of ethics, one of which reads like The Odyssey, and the other, an off-brand greeting card…
But other than that, Friday’s episode is a nice little break from last week’s two hour Raymond Reddington origin story riddle, wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. If there is a key to the truth of that Ilya story, we won’t find it tonight. The Blacklist usually likes to offer up a little mental reprieve after they drag us out to Cape May and ask us to remember everything the show has ever told us about Katarina Rostova and the night the real Raymond Reddington died…
And this time they have to make up for giving us memories that might be made up entirely! Opium dreams, sure, we can take that with a grain of…opium, I guess. But what are we to make of Dom’s tale about Katarina’s plea to her good pal Ilya that he aid her and her progeny until his dying days? Color me completely relieved to hear Ressler, upon hearing Lizzie’s summary of Dom’s story, be like: Hey Liz, do you think there’s any chance that’s not the truth given that there’s no reason whatsoever that Red wouldn’t want to tell you he’s your mom’s childhood best friend and he’s just Mr. Ripley’d the identity Reddington in order to protect you, and also to pay for that two-bedroom apartment made entirely of exposed brick in the middle of Washington D.C. that you like so much?
But I guess we just have to be willing to live in the unknown like Liz, who ultimately tells Ressler that she realizes there are holes in this story, and she’s aware that it’s possible she’s more accepting of Dom’s tale because it’s, well, really sweet. “But it’s more possible it’s true.”
So, it’s looking like the final showdown of season 6 will not be between Red and an increasingly tolerant Liz—though, to be clear, they’re still dealing with some stuff—but instead, between the Task Force and Anna McMahon. Because as of tonight, our formidable ginger villainess is finally starting to feel the heat.
GUILLERMO RIZAL, NO. 128
The cold open introduces us to an adorable 9-year-old girl who I love immediately because she’s self-conscious about her lack of athleticism and her defense mechanism is cursing—no relation. When the girl steps away from her dad to get a new ball, we see a strange man offering her a stuffed turtle, and she never turns back up again. The police assure her parents they’re doing everything they can to find Corinne, but something strange happens while they’re at the station: an officer spots an already existing missing person flyer for Corrinne; except it’s not Corrinne. It looks exactly like her, but it says this child is named Nora, she was abducted 37 hours ago, and she lives over 1,000 miles from where Corinne was abducted.
When Liz meets up with Reddington, she wants to talk about the small detail that she (thinks she) knows who his true identity now. He is…not interested, and definitely still salty about her turning him into the police and almost getting him killed by lethal injection that one time…
Liz asks if Red is upset and he says no (lie), he’s conflicted: “I live and work by a very strict code, built on loyalty, justice, and trust. I survive because I eliminate those who betray it. Up until now, no one has been spared, not even my closest associates—not even Kate Kaplan.” So Red is conflicted because he wants to kill Elizabeth for not abiding his very obvious and clear-cut code of ethics? No: “I’m conflicted because I can’t—I can neither kill, nor trust, nor forgive.”
Hm, yes, so might just be best if we move onto that Blacklister then. Liz reports back to the Post Office that Red is certain the abduction of little Corinne has something to do with Anna McMahon because he has a photo of McMahon with the same creepy man who was spotted in footage outside the mini golf establishment after Corinne was abducted. As for Corinne’s doppelganger, Nora, who was abducted 37 hours before her, she is apparently of no relation—they were born at different hospitals, a day apart, on opposite sides of the country.
But after running DNA tests, the Task Force finds out the girls are, in fact, identical twins, neither of whom are biologically related to their own mothers and fathers. When Ressler and Liz split up to deliver that information to the already distraught parents, they find out another important piece of information: both Nora and Corinne were conceived with the help of the same IVF clinic, New Dawn. More than willing to give any information that will clear them of mixing up eggs at their clinic, New Dawn goes over their files in detail and discovers that the two IVF cases were conducted by totally different teams. There was only one overlap: the embryologist.
When Liz and Ressler show up at his doorstep and ultimately throw him in the interrogation room with Aram, the embryologist reveals that 10 years ago, a mysterious man approached him about simply swapping out some embryos. “It was a lot of money,” the guy says, “and the chances of all three embryos implanting successfully was…”
Hold up, what’s that now? THREE embryos???
That’s right, another little girl, Grace, who looks exactly like Nora and Corinne, has just been abducted from her school in Pennsylvania by a fake CPS agent. Oh, and these poor little girls! They simply could not have chosen a more cherubic little nugget to play these triplets—and indeed, Nora, Corinna, and Grace are triplets. Aram has done some research on their DNA, and it’s almost identical, with some very subtle differences. His guess is that someone took a fertilized egg, split it into three embryos, and then used a virally-delivered editing tool to rewrite the DNA of Nora and Corrinne, keeping Grace as a control group.
That’s right, this all comes down to experimenting on children. And it’s not just these triplets. Over the last 18 months, multiple sets of previously unconnected multiples have gone missing all over the country. But we don’t see those twins and triplets—we only see Corinne, Nora, and Grace being suited up in white jumpsuits, put inside some kind of greenhouse, and discovering what appears to be their identical replicas. I really loved how the girls immediately looked out for each other, holding hands and doing their best to comfort one another.
You know what I hated? How this yet to be named scientist, uh, starts cranking up the heat and humidity in the greenhouse to see how it affects these nine-year-olds. Spoiler alert: it is very bad for them because it’s unlawful human experimentation!
Luckily, Reddington is on the task of finding the man who relates both to Anna McMahon in some way, and the abduction of the triplets. All it takes is accosting a senator in a fancy restaurant and telling him he knows the man from the abductions is “in the business of finding difficult-to-find items” and that he’s doing that very thing for the senator right now. The senator names the man as Francis Cotton, and shows Red a photo of the painting Cotton was supposed to be locating for him. Red looks at it…and then Red promptly leaves with the Senator’s phone.
From there, it’s just luring Cotton to a clock shop that doubles as a black market warehouse, bringing Brimley and his son in to operate the family business of applying bees to testicles for answers (Brimley Sr. has to step in to get answers on McMahon, stay tuned for that), and then BOOM—Cotton gives up the name of the doctor who organized that embryo switching all those years ago.
Guillermo Rizal “basically invented gene mapping,” as Aram tells it. He wrote the code that runs the gene sequencing software now used by every hospital lab and university around the world when he was 24, and then retired, before apparently getting into embryo-napping and DNA tampering, and later, kidnapping and experimenting on children. As Rizal watches the girls’ skin blister and their little bodies keel over from exhaustion, he tells his team, “They may be scared, but these girls are pioneers. In many ways, humanity depends on them.” Then he instructs them to “introduce the solution,” which winds up being glasses of saltwater wheeled into the greenhouse that the dehydrated girls naturally gulp down.
Nora and Grace start coughing immediately, but Corrinne seems to find some sort of relief from the water. She’s also not blistering like her sisters, just lightly sweating. She seems to hold just the secret DNA sauce Rizal has been testing for. So when Ressler and Liz come busting into his compound, Rizal does his best to hold onto Corinne. And stuff is messed up in there. Liz looks on in horror as she finds a hall lined with rooms and rooms of twins and triplets, who look alarmingly unfazed by the blaring lights and alarms that have now been set off to notify Rizal that authorities are there. His building is heavily armed, and for some reason, these guards are willing to die for this nutter.
Luckily the SWAT team finally arrives, allowing Ressler to get inside the greenhouse and save Nora and Grace. But in the mayhem, as Rizal attempts to carry her out, Corinne is shot. As the FBI gets Rizal on the ground and Corrinne into their care, he cries, “She can’t die, I’m begging you, please she cannot die.” And it’s like, okay bro, maybe you should have thought about that before you kidnapped her and put her in an oven with only ocean water to drink…
Thank goodness, however, she does not die. When Rizal is asked back at the Post Office why he created all these children, why he abducted them and experimented on them, he answers smugly: “Because you eat meat, waste water, guzzle gas. You like riddles? How many SUVs does it take to bring in a single suspect.” Well, Dr. Rizal, when that suspect has kidnapped like 40 kids, as many as necessary, I guess! But we know where he’s going with this. Rizal says that if humanity is going to survive climate change, we not only have to adapt to our environment, we have to evolve as a species. Since we don’t have time to do that naturally, he figured out a way to accelerate the process, and Corinne is the successful result of that. Y’know, except for how he hid two sisters from her for a decade, tortured her, and nearly got her killed.
The happy ending is that all the girls are reunited with their families, who love them just the same despite recently learning that they’re not biologically related. There’s an extremely subtle message in there for Lizzie, as The Lumineers cover of “This Must Be the Place” kicks in: Home is where I want to be / Pick me up and turn me ’round…
Red meets Liz in the park and tells her what Brimley got out of Cotton: McMahon hired him to find the dossier containing the detailed description of her secret plot against the United States, the one that Bastien Moreau tossed in a random kid’s backpack. Cotton had just located it, so Red knows where to look—but Cotton also just told McMahon the same information, so she knows where to look with a headstart.
Liz is there to talk about something else though: “I have a code too,” she tells Reddington. “I don’t kill people who violate it, but it’s every bit as important to my life as your code is to yours … love wins.” Thankfully, Red calls her out on that being “greeting card” corny (and I might add, a little simplistic for her rather complicated life), but for Liz, that’s apparently all she needs to move forward. She tells him that she knows he’ll forgive her because, “Parents don’t stay angry with their children or their grandchildren—and that’s what you are to us.” Liz looks out at the carousel in front of them, and there’s the spitting image of her: Agnes.
She’s taking Agnes back from Scottie’s care now because she’s not afraid of who Reddington might turn out to be anymore. Now, Raymond Reddington is just home—where she wants to be.
A FEW LOOSE ENDS:
Red, for the record, looks terrified at the thought of Agnes being returned to potential danger, or maybe it’s because Liz also says she wants to do for Agnes whatever Red did behind the scenes for her growing up to make sure she was prepared for the complicated life that stood ahead of her.
Why is that Lurch-like bodyguard who works for Anna McMahon always so angry? He stays furious, before McMahon even tells him the bad news. Which of course this time, is that Reddington has talked to Cotton. “Find the dossier before Reddington does, and we finish this,” McMahon grits out ominously.
I very much enjoyed Brimley pointing out to Red that it might be difficult for some people to keep up with his particular code of ethics because at that very moment he had “a guy in the next room getting his avocados pollinated.” Well said.
Okay, if Aram is going to start doing the interrogations too, there’s really not much crime-solvin’ left for the rest of the team.
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