The Blacklist recap: The sound of silence
If you're looking for distractions from reality right now, this episode of The Blacklist has 'em in spades. You want a mysterious D-plot about Lizzie receiving texts from four-digit numbers screaming at her that the information she's looking for is a "DEAD END… SO SORRY!!!!"? You got it. Would you care for an emotional tale about Aram finally giving in to his feelings for Elodie just as the universe aligns to make room for their relationship, only to discover that she's told him at least one huge lie? You got it! Perhaps you'd like a Blacklister who alerts you to a new kind of insidious pollutant that you can't see or protect yourself from, but could very well kill you? Okay, you probably don't want that, but you got it anyway…
Most importantly in these trying times, you might be looking for a little comic relief, and to that I say: "Never doubt the Jelly Bean." I don't know if there will be some deeper significance to Glen trying to earn Red's faith via his ability to perform non-DMV-related tasks, but I do know that this was a story line so weird, I couldn't help but love it. And since it existed completely outside of the rest of the story, I'll just go ahead and tell you about it now…
I take great joy in Red getting creative with his crimin', and the idea to transport $12 million worth of tritium from Japan by infusing it into the metal of a truck that's then legally shipped to a car dealership in Houston to be purchased by one of Reddington's men, and then driven to the buyer, is so creative it might as well be given its own HGTV show. Unfortunately, the man Reddington chose to put on the job was Glen, who accidentally shipped the truck to Scranton instead of Houston. So Glen gets on a plane to go personally retrieve the truck, and the next time we see him, he's dressed in a full sweatsuit with a cooler full of Diet Cokes next to him, mainlining cheese puffs from his gloved hands…
Because that $12 million truck is being used at the Scranton dealership as part of their annual Hands on a Hard Body competition, wherein whoever keeps their gloved hand on the truck longest wins it. For the past two years, the winner has been Pastor Ritzen; this year, Glen assures Red it will be him. And so ensue the high jinks of Glen massaging his hammertoe during semi-occasional breaks, having stare-offs with Pastor Ritzen, and doing a number of full-body stretches to the perfectly deployed tune of "Eye of the Tiger."
Somewhere around hour 64 of Glen keeping his hand on a $12 million truck, Red shows up in Scranton because his buyer is getting antsy, and he figures offering Pastor Ritzen a Mercedes might get him to back down and give Glen the win. The pastor says he'll pray on it, and in the end, Glen seems to win the truck fair and square, delivering it to the buyers and driving off in his very own Mercedes as payment. Of course, the most important payment of all is Red's respect… and also the commemorative license plate reading "ID-ZERV."
So, now that we've gotten all that fun out of the way, how about some good old fashioned sonic torture?
NEWTON PURCELL, NO. 144
The episode opens with a man who appears to work for an electric company digging up an underground electric box and… plowing his shovel into it. The next time we see the electrician, he's arriving at Optimus Data to repair the power outage that he caused. The Optimus worker takes him back to the server room, where he gets to work repairing the damage, and when he leaves… the server room promptly explodes So like, best-case scenario, this guy is a terrible electrician.
Worst-case scenario, as Red explains to Liz a few days later, Optimus Data is under domestic attack. Two of their data centers have been blown up in a matter of weeks, and even though their servers store data for the NSA, CIA, and DOD, Red is sure these attacks haven't been for the purposes of targeting classified United States intel. At the Post Office, the Task Force guesses that the attacks could be for the purposes of corporate sabotage or metadata protection, but the facts point elsewhere; even though the Culpepper Energy Company said the explosion had already occurred when their technicians arrived at the Optimus Data to fix the power, Optimus Data said that someone from Culpepper arrived before the explosion.
Security cameras show a Culpepper truck that had previously been reported stolen arriving just before the explosion. The stealer of that truck also stole data from both Optimus facilities before blowing them up, but an external backup of Optimus' data shows that it wasn't state secrets that were taken… but boring ol' personnel files and internal company data.
Cue the fake electrician from the cold open, who we now know to be Newton Purcell, abducting a man from a parking garage by slamming his head with the hood of his own car a number of times. Great! And when the man regains consciousness, he's strapped into a tub full of water, surrounded by… speakers. Great?
Newton Purcell introduces himself to the man from behind a glass partition that separates the speaker-bath from a soundboard. Purcell tells the man they've actually already met before, a few years ago when they had a conversation about the impact sound can have on a person's mind, body, and soul. "You were something of a skeptic," Purcell says as he begins moving the dials on the soundboard, and the water in the tank attached to the speakers begins shaking. He tells the man that by making adjustments to the amplitude and frequency of sound waves, one can do anything from causing mild tingling to destroying blood circulation and nerve functions. "You didn't believe me when I told you sound could drive a man insane," Purcell says. "So I'll pose a different question, one which you'll never be able to answer: Can person be killed by sound?"
If you can believe it after that glowing speech, the next time we see the man from the water tank, the Task Force is finding his sound-murdered body inside the stolen Culpepper Energy van, which they've now located. They identify him as Ryan Healy, a city councilman in Maryland who's listed within the data Purcell stole as having received a series of hidden payments from Optimus along with another city council member named Libby Bishop.
As Agents Park and Keen speed toward Bishop's house, Park calls to tell her she may be in danger. Bishop tells her that she's just helping a strange man who came to her front door looking for his lost dog, so you know, things should be fine. Park tells her to act normal in front of the man, but should things go awry, to fight like hell. When Park and Keen arrive at Bishop's house, they find obvious signs of a struggle, including what appears to be a hearing aid. They're quickly able to identify it as a device designed by Dr. Dara Lin, and Dr. Lin is able to tell them that it's actually a hearing aid designed to block sound rather than amplify it.
"When I became an EMT it was unheard of, but now my patients are as concerned by what they can hear as what they can't," she tells Park and Keen. One of those patients was Newton Purcell, who Dr. Lin is able to identify from the serial number on his sound-eliminating hearing aid. She also mentions that the noises generated by the cooling systems of server farm like those at Optimus Data are precisely the type of low-frequency sound that can elevate stress hormones, leading to high blood pressure, stroke, and even heart failure.
I guess that's why Purcell is so perturbed. It still doesn't make it okay for him to have Libby Bishop strapped in a bathtub surrounded by speakers, torturing her with sonic waves right now… but that's just where we are. As Purcell explains to her, when he was a mechanical engineer working at Optimus Data, the hum of the servers began to drive him crazy, so he sold his house and moved to Maryland… only to find out that Optimus was trying to build another facility a mile from their new house. Luckily, construction was stopped by an environmental impact report that recommended further study of the acoustic effects of server farms. But suddenly, a few weeks later, the zoning commission canceled the study, and the facility was built anyway.
Now that Purcell has stolen the data and knows Healy and Bishop were paid off to allow the Optimus facility to be built, he has someone to blame for the noise pollution that destroyed his life. And blame he will, by cranking all the dials on his sound board to 100. But that's when he notices Agents Park and Keen circling his house. He runs to hide, leaving Bishop in the tub to be discovered by Keen, who radios to Park in the basement to cut the power. She does, saving Bishop's life, but soon she's in a struggle for her own when Purcell attacks her from behind. And just as I'd been thinking we hadn't seen Agent Park do anything suspicious in quite some time, she's got a cable around Purcell's neck, and it's clear she's not going to stop pulling until he stops breathing. Luckily, Liz makes it into the basement just in time to jog her back to her senses.
They take Purcell to an interrogation room in the Post Office, where he confesses to everything in highly dramatic fashion, proclaiming that "sound pollution has drowned out God's music, and no one cares." And you know, this episode does have me a little worried about sound pollution killing us all… but for now, I'm going to put it on the back burner. As for the front burner, Liz recommends that Agent Park prioritize dealing with whatever it is that snaps her into kill mode every time she has to defend herself.
Lizzie has had to learn those lessons the hard way, after all, like that time she killed the attorney general. But she's all chilled out as she fields texts from a mysterious number throughout the episode, saying things like, "Still nothing on Mr. X. LOOKING EVERYWHERE." It turns out it's her FBI friends she has looking for intel on Ilya Koslov, but the friend tells her that Koslov is a ghost: "To find him, you're going to need a ghost hunter." He gives Liz the name of the best private investigator he knows: "Psychotic and worth every penny."
Back at her apartment, we see Liz take the Box — you know the one, with the symbol carved into it that matches her burn scar, neither of which we've laid eyes on in quite some time — out of an air vent, and she dig out cash while also glancing at a spare Colombian passport with Li'l Agnes' photo inside. Later, sitting in her car, a mysterious woman gets in the back seat, where she finds a backpack stuffed with cash and young Ilya Koslov's file. "Handsome — you wanna kiss him or kill him?" the P.I. asks.
"I want him found," Lizzie replies.
A FEW LOOSE ENDS
- As mentioned at the top of the recap, during all this, Aram is dealing with what has become his standard Elodie drama: She's making him do high-octane things that he half-hates, half-loves. While skydiving, Elodie tells him she'd like to have children with him in the future, but that also doesn’t seem totally plausible considering that she's technically married, and she won't divorce her husband in the state he's in because it just wouldn't be right, specifically mentioning that they don't even have a prenup.
- And wouldn't you know it, after Aram stops thinking so much and leans into his feelings (as encouraged by Lizzie)… and after Elodie's husband actually dies from an unexpected aneurism… and while Aram is waxing poetic to Lizzie on the phone at Elodie's husbands wake about how he loves her precisely because of how wild but also moral she is… he innocently comes across the prenup that she did, in fact, have with her husband that specified she would receive nothing from her husband's estate upon divorce — only upon death.
- What does this mean? I have no idea. But I've always had trouble getting on board with a woman who encourages Aram to do things that cause Cooper to "note" Aram's "tardiness."
- Speaking of jarring Cooper lines, him saying, "You're telling me that sound did this" about Healy's corpse had such an "Ice-T in Law & Order: SVU" cadence, I almost spit out my water.
- "I'm a contrarian by necessity, not by choice — if people were wrong less often, my life would be much easier." "And considerably less smug." Liz making Red laugh by calling him out was pretty cute.
- Liz cuddling Agnes and asking, "Have I ever told you how your daddy and I met?" was also sweet, but like… Liz… that is a very long, maybe not altogether age-appropriate story for your kindergartener.
- Red to his buyer: "As I said, never doubt my man Glen!" Red to Glen: "Glen, I was beginning to doubt you."
James Spader is Raymond "Red" Reddington, a mastermind criminal who teams up with the FBI.