The Blacklist recap: The big bad Rostova wolf
This Blacklist episode had everything: Glamor! Intrigue! Cunning! Aram in a turtleneck! Little Red Riding Hood allegory! And multiple human-size glass boxes being filled with many terrible substances, including blood and… silica gel???
Listen, I do not know the biological origin of the tiny transparent spheres that nearly took the life of one Mrs. Elodie Cunningham, but I do know it has been quite a while since I’ve been this — ahem — roused by an episode of The Blacklist. There’s just something about an Aram episode, isn’t there? Even as he admitted to his own feelings of numbness since Samar’s departure, he remains the gooey emotional center of the series — someone who cares deeply and openly, and who freely admits to leading with his emotions (unless he’s shot-putting a pistol through a glass wall, in which case, he leads with his BICEPS).
This episode of The Blacklist felt particularly alive because while the focus was on all the glamorous espionage and the twisted fairy-tale machinations of three generations of Rostovas coming together, underneath it all was a thrumming current of emotion that felt entirely earned. Just because we haven’t been privy to much of Aram’s grieving process for the loss of Samar doesn’t mean it hasn’t been happing, and to get a glimpse of it tonight, however briefly, offered some much needed perspective.
LES FLEURS DU MAL, NO. 150
Y’know, perspective? Like, observing the difference between numbing yourself to feeling because the last emotion you truly felt was heartbreak and you’re scared to face that anew, versus feeling numb because you’re a billionaire and can have anything you want, so the only thing that could possibly thrill you is…the potential of being murdered. Slash… actually being murdered?
As part of her repayment plan for being forced into taking part in various attempts on Red’s life, Frankie (previously known as Nurse Mila) gave Red the tip that before his abduction, Louis T. Steinhil created one of his signature illusions for a secret society named after Charles Baudelaire’s volume of French poetry, Les Fleurs du Mal. Indeed, in the opening scene of Friday’s episode, we see a profusely sweating man trapped inside a glass box, trying to disable a bomb.
Now, on The Blacklist, someone being trapped inside a transparent box is pretty much par for the course, but the people in evening wear surrounding said box, and the wild-eyed man narrating the whole thing like they’re all watching American Ninja Warrior, are definitely new. The man in the bedazzled tuxedo explains that all the tools and schematics inside the box are enough for the man inside to save his own life. The man inside, however, does not feel so confident, screaming to be let out, until he finally takes one more look at the schematics and clips a wire on the bomb. It stops ticking! And then…
BOOM! Blood covers the walls of the box. The audience flinches and then… applauds???
At the Post Office, they’re following a lead on a man Reddington knows attended one of these events, Charles Radcliffe. If they can find who’s in charge of Les Fleurs du Mal, they can, uh, re-find Louis T. Steinhil, and then they can find the woman who kidnapped Red… whom Red already knows the identity of, but does not know the whereabouts of, which we know is… directly across the hall in Lizzie’s apartment building, where Katarina is posing as a kindly substitute-grandma-next-door named Maddy.
All caught up? Great! Cooper sends Aram and Ressler to check out Mr. Radcliffe because Aram needs more field experience and, as he tells Lizzie, he wants to make sure she knows she can take a break every once in a while. But when they arrive, Aram and Ressler find that Mr. Radcliffe is paralyzed and seems to have lost most of his brain function. His wife tells the agents that her husband’s injuries were explained as a diving accident, but she knows it was a coverup for whatever happened at Les Fleurs de Mal. Her husband had gotten them invited to the secret society as an anniversary gift, something to bring some excitement to their dwindling marriage. But once Elodie Radcliffe found out the potential terror of what could happen there, she backed out, and her husband returned to her paralyzed and mentally incapacitated after attending.
Elodie gives the FBI the email address of Thelonius Prackett, the man her husband was in contact with before he attended Les Fleurs de Mal (also a known wearer of bedazzled jackets). Thelonius says over email that Elodie may recommend a new member to the group, but in order for them to be invited to the next Fleurs de Mal event… she must also attend.
To which Cooper, assistant director at the FBI and knower-of-all-the-messes his team gets into, responds: “It’ll be all right, as long as Ressler’s with her the whole time.” Oh, sure! This civilian who’s already seen her husband’s life destroyed by this group will probably be fine at this super-secret murder meeting as long as Donald Ressler is there to singlehandedly take care of her???
I said I liked the episode — I did not say it was without The Blacklist’s regularly scheduled bouts of insanity. But it’s not even Ressler will be going undercover at Le Fleurs du Mal; Aram requests that he be the one to take Mrs. Radcliffe into the belly of the French poetry beast. He thinks they can be a convincing couple because they have something in common: “I can relate to her loss.… When the last real feeling you had is devastation, you’re not super-psyched to get out there and feel again.”
And he’s right, he and Elodie Radcliffe probably do have that in common. And perhaps that’s why they’re both willing to do something very dangerous just to feel like they have some control over their devastating circumstances. Does that make it a good idea for a fairly novice field agent to take a civilian into dangerous and unknown territory? Absolutely not. But are things about to get very good, nonetheless? Yes.
The next thing we know, Aram is dressed in a gorgeous cream turtleneck and checked blazer with his hair all coiffed, and Elodie is her finest day-at-the-races pleated dress, and they’re convincing Thelonius Prackett that they fell in love after Mr. Radcliffe’s unfortunate accident, which Elodie tooootally doesn’t blame Thelonius for, and now they want to attend one of his events because they are very bored rich people, and not at all so that they can catch him in the act of hosting a fatal escape room for billionaires.
The plan is dangerously simple — it’s basically one step. They’ll sneak in disassembled pieces of a tracker in their jewelry and shoes, and then whenever they arrive at whatever they’re taken to at the super-secret Les Fleurs du Mal location, they’ll reassemble the tracker. Presumably, the FBI will see where they are, and come bust up the illegal murder club before anyone gets murdered.
Sure, okay! After all, Reddington had an elaborate plan to start catching up with Katarina, but Frankie’s simple plan winds up working much better. Red forces Frankie to fly with him to Miami, because he needs a photo of two men together who are both staying separately in a hotel. One is a Russian thug whom Red already knows is involved with the Townsend Directive but who has also already told Red if he comes sniffing around again, he’ll shoot him. And the other is an FBI agent. Red knows that if he can catch the two of them together, he can blackmail the Russian thug into keeping him informed on the Townsend Directive and Katarina because he would have proof that the Russian thug is ratting out the KGB to the FBI. But the pair have taken every precaution to not be seen together or let anyone unauthorized get inside the hotel room they’ll be meeting in. So Frankie says to let her at it. She doesn’t want to be in Red’s debt anymore and she’s got a foolproof plan: ding-dong ditch.
However, it’s a little more complicated than that in the end: She sweet talks her away into the adjoining room to the meeting location and shouts like she’s being attacked once they’re both in the room next door. The FBI agent throws open the adjoining door to interfere, and Frankie snaps a photo of the two men, immediately wraps the phone in a plastic bag, and bolts over the balcony…
Into the swimming pool! “Oh, she’s good,” Red says in awe as she walks briskly toward the car, soaking wet, at the exact time she told them to meet her. So once Red shows the perfectly captured photo to the Russian insider, he’s got his inside track to at least knowing what the mysterious Townsend Directive knows about Katarina’s whereabouts.
Meanwhile, Aram and Elodie make it inside the Les Fleurs de Mal party, looking dashing in their evening wear, and they even manage to discreetly assemble the tracking device from its various bits and bobs hidden on their persons. They stick it under a table, and now all they have to do is wait for the FBI to arrive, save them, and bust up this popsicle stand.
But, if you can believe it, the FBI does not arrive, and while Aram and Elodie have been realizing that their lack of arrival likely means there is something jamming the transmitter’s signal, the time has come to select someone for the next “defiance,” which is what Thelonius calls his very special murders. That’s when the bingo ball spinner full of the audience member’s identities comes out, and I’ll give you one guess who’s selected to get locked inside a glass box and be forced to unlock an intricate box while having pounds of tiny clear balls poured rapidly into their box o’ terror, knowing that soon, those weird little balls will reach the top, taking all the remaining oxygen with them…
Aram looks on in terror as Elodie is dragged away to meet her box doom, but quickly snaps into action while all the event organizers are busy prepping her for death-by-ball. He finds a breaker box and shuts down the power to the entire facility for just long enough for the transmitter to signal their location to the Post Office. But their arrival would still be too late for Elodie. One she’s locked in the box and the tiny balls are being poured all over her, there’s no hope of her. So Aram begins inching his way toward the box, and when a security guard says he’ll need to escort him outside…
Aram throws champagne in his eyes, steals his gun, puts a bullet in each guard in the room, then fires what’s left into the glass walls of the box. But it’s not quite enough. So, as Thelonius starts coming for him, he chucks the whole gun at the glass box, and it shatters, sending silica gel everywhere, and offering enough of a distraction for Aram to grab Elodie to make their great escape. And what’s so great about said escape? Well, Aram naturally needs to push Elodie up against a wall to avoid discovery, their faces naturally linger in perfect silhouette, and Elodie naturally goes in for the kiss as a thank-you for saving her.
I should mention that these two have had a warm rapport during their undercover mission, and that they are both extremely attractive. It’s a win all around — except for the part where they’re quickly caught, and Thelonius informs them in front of all the Very Angry Billionaires that he’s going to bleed them for information on what the FBI knows about Les Fleurs du Mal, and then he’s going to mega-kill them.
And that’s when the flash grenades come sailing in, suckaaaaa!
The FBI has arrived, all of the billionaires squeal like pigs the moment they’re pressed, and Ressler and Liz handily talk Thelonius into giving up all the information he has on Louis T. Steinhil. All in a day’s work.
And when Liz arrives home from work, she finds a basket of books waiting for her with a sweet note to Agnes about hoping all her fairy tales come true. See, Liz had Maddy/Katarina over for coffee earlier in the day, and she learned all about Agnes’ love of princesses and fairy tales. So it was very easy for her to clone Liz’s house key when she wasn’t looking, sneak back in during the day and replace one of Agnes’ dolls with a replica containing listening device so that she hears Liz telling Red they know where Steinhil is. And then Maddy’s thoughtful gift on the doorstep seals the deal for yet another invite to Lizzie’s home.
In a truly inspired scene, Agnes lies on Maddy’s lap as she reads her Little Red Riding Hood: a story about a little girl endangered by a wolf in grandmother’s clothing. Aurora’s “Running With the Wolves” plays as the scene cuts to Red arriving to Louis T. Steinhil’s home, only to find his body and a note that reads: “You’re good. I’m better —K.” And finally, as if our emotions could handle any more than adorable Spy Kindergartner Agnes lying on the lap of her potentially evil grandmother, the scene finally cuts to Aram… at Elodie’s door… there to finish what they started at Les Fleurs de Mal, and just maybe start to feel something again.
A FEW LOOSE ENDS:
Now that Frankie’s debt is repaid and Red sees her for the badass(et) that she is, he asks her to consider working with him from time to time.
But there’s also an odd little side beat where it becomes clear that she’s lying to him about details of her personal life, like being married. And frankly, I like it. Red doesn’t need to know everybody’s life!
Elodie’s bronze-and-silver sequined armor-gown was a series-high for Blacklist fashion. (At some point we’re going to have to talk about why Liz is dressing like a disgruntled barista this season.)
“I thought you were working with the FBI?!” “A small, select group of agents are in my employ, yes.”
The version of Little Red Riding Hood that Katarina was reading Agnes ends with: “‘All the better to eat you with.’ And saying these words, the wicked wolf fell upon Little Red Riding Hood and ate her all up.” Yikes, Liz.
James Spader is Raymond "Red" Reddington, a mastermind criminal who teams up with the FBI.