By Jodi Walker
November 09, 2019 at 11:16 AM EST
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A robot computer tries to commit a murder/suicide on this episode of The Blacklist, and that’s about…the least weird thing happening here.

That’s not to suggest that I’m not interested in what happened in Anchorage with the new Task Force team member who ever so briefly morphs into a scene from Jennifer’s Body, nor am I not intrigued by Aram falling in love with a self-destructive housewife with an exhibitionist streak. But I am saying I’m a little confused as to what all these side plots mean to the grand scheme of thing when there its lit’rally a killer computer on the loose. And let us not forget, Katarina Rostova, super-spy with seemingly unlimited access to little Agnes is still very much alive, well, and currently setting up an internet café in Lizzie’s apartment.

THE BLACKLIST -- "Dr. Lewis Powell (#130)" Episode 706 -- Pictured: (l-r) James Spader as Raymond "Red" Reddington, Hisham Tawfiq as Dembe Zuma -- (Photo by: Virginia Sherwood/NBC)
Virginia Sherwood/NBC

But perhaps I’m just feeling overly emotional because I was led to believe that both Frankie and Vontae—two of my very favorite loosely affiliated members of Team Reddington—were betraying Red tonight. In the end, it was only one, but still: not a happy ending Reddington moving forward. I guess this episode was really all about bumpy transitions: an answer on allegiances for Reddington, a new team member for the Task Force, and a helluva unhealthy romantic decision for Aram.

Indeed, there were many disparate threads running throughout this hour of The Blacklist, and I do not think you will be surprised to learn that it all started on Reddit, perhaps the greatest opportunity for disparate, distracting threads of our time.

  1. LEWIS POWELL, NO. 130

For such a high concept Blacklister, the episode doesn’t beat around the bush getting to who’s doing what and why. First, there’s the suicide of Dr. Michael Alexander—well, actually, it wasn’t a suicide, though it first seemed to be so.

The episode opens on a video of a man named Dr. Michael Alexander announcing that he is a senior programmer at DXE labs where he has seen some of the worst of humanity: “My co-workers are unethical sheep, management asks me to lie repeatedly, our research team regularly fixes data to serve stockholder interest—someone needs to stand up to this!” As Dr. Alexander backs away from the camera, he’s revealed to be wearing a bomb which he presumably detonates in an act of resistance. But when the police show up at DXE labs, there’s Dr. Alexander, walking in like it’s a normal workday. When the police surround him, they see a phone in his hand, believe it to be a detonator, and shoot Dr. Alexander dead.

But it turns out, there was never any detonator. As Red tells Liz when she arrives at his apartment and finds Tadashi there, the video of Dr. Alexander was an ultra-realistic counterfeit made with AI software using stitched-together clips from the real Dr. Alexander. Tadashi says he’s never seen a deepfake this good. At the Post Office, the team decides even if the video was fake, its intention was real: whoever uploaded that video to Reddit intended for Dr. Alexander to die, and used the police to kill him.

Aram has tried tracking the Reddit handle that posted it, but it’s purposefully bounced all over the internet, so there’s no telling where it started. Except there’s someone who can tell…

That’s right—NEW AGENT! Even though Red wants Frankie to fill the Samar-shaped hole in the Task Force, Liz has vetted an actual FBI agent for the task: Alina Park. The writers do a good job of establishing who Agent Park is quickly: she’s sharp, she’s eager, maybe a little Type-A, definitely by-the-book…and she’s got something murky lurking around in her past when, after graduating top of her class from Quantico, she rejected all the more prestigious assignments available to her, and went to Alaska. But Liz likes that she has a secret, and tells Red that there’s a darkness in Park she thinks he’ll like too.

But for now, we don’t see it. For now, Agent Park rushes into the Post Office on her first day with Big Teacher’s Pet energy, saying that the reason she’s late is that she was able to trace the Reddit handle using a different, less hacker-y approach than Aram, successfully tracking it to a 16-year-old kid named Aiden. And Aram is shook by someone coming in and doing their job well. I rarely say this, but: not a great episode for Aram (more on why in the Loose Ends).

It’s soon determined, however, that the kid wasn’t involved in the making of the Dr. Alexander video at all. His computer was infected by a rootkit that basically used it as a zombie computer to plant the video. Park soon finds that the computer was also used to wire $70,000 to a Walter Higgins, but Red still isn’t impressed with the new agent, and insists that Frankie will be the better fit…

That’s Frankie who was just taken at gunpoint to a warehouse and played a video of Katarina Rostova saying she’s veeeery disappointed that Frankie betrayed her to work for Reddington. Katarina tells Frankie she has an assignment that could make it up to her though: an associate of Reddington’s is ready to turn on him, but Katarina is afraid it might be a trap, so Frankie needs to go get the associate and bring him to her. Coincidentally, Red has also heard that someone is ready to betray him, and asks Frankie to find out who. It’s a real two-villains-one-traitor kind of scenario!

The traitor who set up a meeting with Katarina turns out to be sweet, bespectacled Vontae, reading War and Peace, and very offended that Katarina wouldn’t have met him in person considering he’s risking his life to turn Red over. Frankie doesn’t ask any questions about why he’s betraying Red or how he got in touch with Katarina, she just marches a now even more annoyed Vontae back to the warehouse at gunpoint.

And while she’s been doing that, Red has tracked down Walter Higgins, brought Bremley in to torture his him, and managed to accidentally kill the man in the process. So, after Liz and Ressler have spent all day assuring Park that it’s A-okay they work with the FBI’s most wanted criminal because they do so much good together, she and Liz enter the room to find a comedy of criminal errors that—whoops—resulted in murder. Park storms out, her suspicions proven right about Reddington, managing to only further prove Reddington’s suspicions about her that she’s not ruthless enough for this role. On the upside, before Bremley accidentally killed Higgins, they found out that he was an assassin anonymously hired to kill a scientist named Tracy Long in Arlington.

Dr. Long tells Ressler and Liz that she’d gone to Arlington to meet with a fellow scientist named—dun, dun, dun—Dr. Lewis Powell, “a pioneer in our field whose research into neural networks is the foundation of modern A.I.” He didn’t show up to the meeting, but Dr. Long didn’t think that was odd because Dr. Powell has ALS and his health can be unpredictable.

The Task Force assumes Dr. Powell may also be at risk, and through a tip from Dr. Long and some careful Cooper maneuvering, they find out that Fleet A.I., a defense contractor, is the next target for a systems breach by the same entity that killed Dr. Alexander, and tried to kill Dr. Long.

So Ressler and Liz head to Fleet A.I. where they, indeed, find chaos. There’s been an explosion in the sub-basement near the main data server the emergency protocols like sprinkler systems and doors automatically unlocking are being blocked by something…

Or someone? When Aram and Park show up at Dr. Powell’s apartment, they find him wheelchair-bound and on a breathing tube because of his ALS—and he’s also suspiciously sitting in front of a wall of monitors showing the chaos at Fleet A.I. There’s not a lot you can do to get a mostly paralyzed man to stop controlling an entire building except move his hand off the mouse pad, but when Aram goes to do that, he realizes Dr. Powell doesn’t have a pulse.

“I’m afraid Dr. Powell was taken offline some time ago due to security measures,” a tinny voice says to the room. “Might I assist you?”

Oh, that’s right—it’s a computer talking to them! And that thing has been busy. It seems that Dr. Powell, a predominant A.I. scientist, designed his own A.I. named Clark (“Lewis and Clark … Dr. Powell liked jokes”), with one core principal: to protect human life any cost. “Ironically, the program he used to create me and the software I operate is a threat to humanity,” Clark tells them. So, when Clark figured out that his own technology was too advanced, he (…it???) took it upon himself (…itself???) to protect humanity by first terminating the man who created him via hacking his pacemaker, and then he set out to kill the other leading A.I. scientists who would possibly be capable of creating an A.I. program like…well, like him.

Clark created the video of Dr. Alexander, he attempted to hire an assassin to kill Dr. Long, and now he’s in the process of destroying the data servers that hold the research of all three scientists, and finally—himself (itself???).

After some slight hesitation from Aram, he and Park start unplugging Clark so that the emergency protocols can go into place at Fleet A.I. and hopefully save the servers Clark was trying to destroy even if it destroys Clark in the process. But we never really find out if any of it works because there are more important fish to fry than murderous computers, I guess…

At the warehouse where Frankie has Vontae, Katarina’s lackey returns with a briefcase full of cash and says Katarina wants Frankie to call Reddington, tell him she has his traitor, and lure him to the warehouse. And once Katarina kills Reddington, Frankie won’t have to worry about him coming after her, and she’ll have a suitcase full of cash. So Frankie accepts the cash, calls him, and Reddington comes. It seems he really does trust h—

OH WAIT, IT WAS ALL A TEST! Red didn’t fully trust Frankie: the video of Katarina was a deepfake, Vontae was a plant (obviously), Frankie proved she can’t be trusted, and now Reddington will have to kill her. Just one problem—back at the Post Office, Park is telling Liz that she enjoyed taking down a killer computer and maybe saving the entire field of A.I. with the gang, but she can’t accept the job: “It’s unhealthy for me to work with someone like Reddington.” Aram and Liz kind of laugh that off, like, Yeah, yeah us too, but Park is clearly choosing her words carefully. “I’m sure it upsets you sometimes, but it doesn’t alter your DNA,” she tells them. “After what I saw him do today, I know it would alter mine.”

So Park quits, but she tells Liz that she wants to let Reddington know to his face. Which is how Park winds up strolling into the warehouse just as Red has pulled his gun on Frankie, causing Park to pull her own gun, and giving Frankie just enough of a distraction to get Red’s gun from him. Frankie warns that Park will kill Red if she tries to shoot her, which does not seem of particular concern for Park.

She purposefully shoots Red in the shoulder, causing Frankie to drop him, and she take off running. Park catches up with her, they get in a fistfight, and Frankie nearly gets the upper hand until Park enters what can only be described as beast mode…literally. She screams like a banshee, gets ahold of Frankie and begins absolutely wailing on her; a close-up of Park reveals her to look like monster, bearing her teeth covered in blood, grunting, and punching and punching, until she finally throws Frankie though a glass window…

Whereupon she pounces on the completely incapacitated Frankie, picks up a huge shard of glass, and is about to stab Frankie with it until Dembe stops her. Park looks around startled, like she doesn’t know what’s happened the last few minutes. Red asks her why she’s there. “I’m here because I wanted you to know I could never work with a man like you,” she tells him. “You’re far too brutal.”

Later, Liz calls Park and tells her that Red said he wants her: “Whatever you said or did, he really wants you … the job’s yours if you want it.” Park says that she does want the job—but first she needs to tell Liz what happened in Anchorage. Because it might make them change their minds…

A FEW LOOSE ENDS

What happened in Anchoraaaaaaaage?!

And WHAT happened to Elodie? I want Aram to be happy, but frankly, I feel that this simply ain’t it, bro. Aram meets Elodie for what he thought was a lunch date, but really, Elodie has planned for them to break into a mansion and have sex. When they wind up terrifying the elderly woman who owns the home, Aram is upset. So Elodie tells him that she and her husband loved taking risks, and doing dangerous things like this makes her feel alive: “I can’t live without it and I didn’t think you could either… and it’s kind of a deal-breaker if you can.”

WHAT?! Where would she get that impression about Aram? Because he hesitantly crashed one wedding with her??? If she’s referring to Les Fleurs du Mal, I distinctly remember that not only did she originally wimp out on going with her husband who she allegedly looooved taking risks with, and not only was she scared to go undercover with Aram, but then when she was chosen for the ultimate risk at the big event, she was majorly terrified??? It’s just such an odd development. I missed the old Elodie who wore tennis skirts and just thought Aram was regular-hot, not risky-hot.

Agent Park’s secretly suppressed rage is also an odd development, but a much more intriguing one. And with all that talk of DNA, a recapper has to wonder—we ’bout to talk about the warrior gene again?! Who’s up for a Riverdale crossover??

“What do you mean, no ice cream?” I’m as incredulous as Dembe, Bremley.

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James Spader returns as Raymond ‘Red’ Reddington, a mastermind criminal who teams up with the FBI.
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