The Blacklist recap: Dead men tell no tales
If a Blacklister with a scheme so complex he could have only come up with it by thinking, "What's the crime-iest crime I could possibly crime?" isn't enough to distract you from the chaos of our own current world, then this episode is also happy to offer you: Red being so passive-aggressive to Liz that she now knows he knows she knows he's not the real Ilya Koslov; a counterterrorism investigation that seems to get Dembe's Imam kidnapped from his mosque, but in fact, has nothing to do with the counterterrorism investigation which is, in reality, not terrorism, but an underground humanitarian effort; Anthony Michael Hall dropping in as Ressler's brother to subtly imply that they've maybe buried a few bodies under a few baseball fields in the past…
Oh, and the casual return of Katarina Rostova to our screens…
Ah, and I almost forgot that last little bit where Dembe finds Reddington sprawled out, unconscious on the floor, looking super dead, with no explanation in sight.
Distracted yet?! A little confused yet?? Good, me too. Let's get right into it because there's a lot to cover, and only half of it is regarding all the different ways Ressler and Liz try to talk to Cooper and Aram about sperm without actually saying the word sperm.
NYLE HATCHER, NO. 149
Normally, when we meet a Blacklister in the episode's cold open, it's via one single chilling scene that lays the foundation for said Blacklister's crime-of-choice. This cold open, however, transitions in-scene no less than three times, and no one scene seems to be related to the next; except, of course, for the Ned-Flanders-y looking man who's being a big weirdo in all of them.
The episode opens 10 months ago on the site of a terrible plane crash where people in hazmat suits are milling about, assessing the state of things. One man is comparing the face of a dead body to the flight manifesto, and when he matches the face of the man to the I.D. of Abraham Geller, he snaps a photo of the body with his own personal phone. The next time we see him, he's with that same body in an "identification" tent, saying, "Hello, Mr. Geller," and pulling out a syringe. Always a good sign!
And finally, we see this man, who we now know to be Nyle Hatcher, open the door of his hotel room to greet a woman named Crystal who he's hired on some sort of escort website. But Crystal soon learns that he hasn't called her there for sex. "Angela, sit down," he tells her, revealing that he knows her real name. Hatcher says that he knows about how Angela is trying to help pay off her father's medical debt, and he wants to tell her about "something very special that might just change your life." Cut to black, cue typing noises: NYLE HATCHER, NO 149.
So, color me that special Blacklist combination of intrigued and utterly confused. And this all turns out to not even be a Blacklister that Reddington is assigning to the Task Force, but a cold case from one of Liz's pre-Task-Force-profiling days that she asks Reddington's permission to assign herself. "If it's important to you, it's important to me," Red tells her, having recently learned that Liz hired a private investigator to find Ilya Koslov who she obviously knows is not Red's true identity, but isn't telling him about. "That's what so nice about finally being on the same side of things—same agenda, no subterfuge—what you want, I want."
Here's a novel idea: what if these two just told each other the whole truth and stopped being annoyed with one another for hiding things, when they are also actively hiding things??? Oh, that runs counter to the entire point of the series? Fine! I guess I'll just push down my frustration and hope no one dies from the side effects of passive aggression.
Liz briefs the Task Force, telling them that eight years ago she was part of an investigation of the Boneyard Killer, named after multiple women's bodies were found buried just a few feet above the coffins in freshly-dug graves. Murdered and hidden in the last place anyone would ever look," Liz tells them. All of the women were young, had a history of sex work, showed no signs of assault, and died from suffocation. Whoever killed them, buried them alive, but had heavily drugged them so that they would basically asphyxiate in their sleep rather than suffer.
A few weeks ago, flash floods in a cemetery revealed the body of a young woman that wasn't supposed to be buried there, bearing all the same signifiers as the other victims of the Boneyard Killer. However, the Bureau hasn't reached out to Liz about reopening the case because…well, she was dismissed from the case the first time around. The FBI thought Liz's profile of the killer wasn't "additive" because she didn’t think he wanted to kill at all: "I think he's mimicking these profiles in order to hide some other agenda … I think he finds satisfaction in something other than the crime itself."
This is a spoiler alert to say that Liz was correct about that all those years ago, but there is simply no way she could have guessed what Nyle Hatcher was actually up to. The Task Force's medical examiner identifies the newly uncovered body as Mara James and says that her lack of defensive wounds, and soil in the lungs all line up with the other victims. But there's one new thing: because her body was more preserved than the others, he's able to identify a C-section scar on her abdomen that couldn't have been more than a month old at the time she was killed.
Ressler and Park talk to Mara's family and find out that they had no idea she was ever pregnant, but Aram has a lead on the baby's father. He ran the fetal DNA that remained in Mara's body from the child she gave birth to, and by comparing it to genetic testing services, found out that the baby's father is Jonathan McClair. "The self-help guru?" Liz asks. Indeed, Aram tells her: Jonathan McClair, the self-help guru that died 11 months before Mara was murdered.
McClair's widow tells Ressler and Park that after her husband died, she found out he'd had an affair with Mara that resulted in a child. She agreed to a secret settlement for child support because Jonathan's entire business was based on the appearance of a happy marriage, and she still lives on the income from his book sales. His legacy would be ruined if anyone knew he'd been unfaithful, but even though DNA proved that Mara's baby was his, Ms. McClair still can't believe her husband would have stepped outside of their marriage.
And reader, would you believe me if I told you…he didn't.
After Liz confirms that all of the former victims had, in fact, given birth just before being murdered, Red is able to bribe a file clerk to dig up evidence that they'd also all been part of secret settlements with wealthy widows. Five mothers who died soon after giving birth, and five wealthy fathers who not only died soon after conception, but all died in crazy accidents in four different states, yet somehow had their death certificates signed by the same mortician: Nyle Hatcher.
At Hatcher's mortuary in Bethesda, Ressler and Liz find a freezer full of sperm and the key to this case. Hatcher is a member of the Disaster Mortuary Operation Response Team, which dispatches morticians to mass casualty events to help identify bodies. It's also given him access to recently deceased wealthy men up and down the east coast for the last decade…as in, physical access. Back at the Post Office, Liz and Ressler awkwardly explain to Cooper that they found a thermos with the sperm of Roger Ashby in Hatcher's freezer, and while this remains an extremely dark episode of The Blacklist, Cooper saying, "Run that by me again…sperm…from a dead man?" was a moment of weird respite.
As it turns out, sperm is viable up to 36 hours post-mortem and Hatcher has been extracting it from dead bodies, and preying on the vulnerability of young sex workers, by convincing them that their way out of this lifestyle is to get artificially inseminated, have a baby, file a paternity claim, and make a secret child support settlement that they split with Hatcher. And then, of course, Hatcher murders them…
So what happens to the babies?
In Hatcher's hard drive, Park finds a list of the fathers that includes one name they didn't know about: Abraham Geller. That's when we see Angela, 10 months later, with a baby in her backseat, getting a call from Hatcher telling her that the money from Abraham Geller's lawyer has been wired through. He tells her to drop the baby off at a fire station as planned, and meet him at Cedar Wynn cemetery (a bit of a red flag, but I guess it all is) to pick up her cut of the money. But when Angela arrives, she still has the baby, saying she just couldn’t give her up. As Hatcher plunges a syringe into her neck, he tells her not to give it another thought: "I think every child should have a loving home too—just not yours."
Because once the Task Force arrives at the cemetery to arrest Hatcher's evil ass (and dig Angela up from the grave before she dies), they come to find the full scope of his insane operation. He tells them that being a mortician is a lonely existence that he became convinced he could solve with money. So he came up with his plan to steal "from people who wouldn't care that it was missing—the dead." If he needed to murder a bunch of women along the way in order to execute his insane plan, well that doesn’t seem to bother him at all. And yet, he wasn’t finding fulfillment in all the money and murder. "I realized the money those children provided me wasn't the solution," he tells Liz and Ressler. "The children were the solution."
Hatcher forged adoption papers for all of the children he bred and used all the money he extorted to raise them as his own. And now he's going to jail forever. We do get at least one happy glimpse of Mara's mother cooing over her grandchild, and Liz tells Red that all of the children's biological families have been notified, but…it's not exactly a happy ending.
In fact, in the last five minutes of this episode, approximately 100 not-exactly-happy-endings occur in rapid succession. As I noted at the top of the recap, while the Task Force are working on their case, Red and Dembe are trying to find Dembe's beloved Imam who's been abducted. At first, they're led by the FBI to believe that two men from the masque have been smuggling something into the U.S. for a Syrian terrorist group, and the Imam somehow found out about it, and is now being punished. But when Red and Dembe discover that those men have actually just been smuggling refugees seeking asylum, they realize that the Imam's abduction is completely unrelated…
Cue a pair of snakeskin boots clicking into a dark room where Dembe's Imam looks up to see Katarina Rostova standing in front of him. "Who are you?" he asks. "How about you let me ask the questions," she replies.
But, that's not all! Ressler's brother whose calls he hasn't been taking finally shows up at his doorstep with a sinister look on his face, and shows Ressler a photo of what looks to be a baseball field. "They're digging up Ray Field," he tells him. "And all the secrets under it."
And if you're still not freaking out, well bring on the final 30 seconds, where Red's forensics analyst arrives to tell Dembe that she's uncovered a single fingerprint from his Imam's office, but when Dembe goes to tell Reddington who it belongs to, he finds him unconscious on the ground—pulse status, TBD.
A FEW LOOSE ENDS:
- Quick Q, Blacklist: what the what is going on?!
- I don't know where to stand on the character just yet, but Anthony Michael Hall as Diego Klattenhoff's wayward older brother is some inspired casting.
- I haven't actively hated a random Blacklister this much in a long time. Can you imagine looking down on the choices of a sex worker when you are out here stealing semen, making widows think their recently deceased husband cheated on them, and actively murdering people, like, all the time???
- We find out at the top of the episode that Red has persuaded Liz's P.I. to hide who she was taken by last week, but by the end of the episode, Liz has figured it out on her own. When Liz confronts her about it, the P.I. tells her that she has powerful enemies, but she also tells her the one thing she was able to glean from tracking Ilya before Red caught her:
- "The Sachrovsky Archive … whatever it is, he's obsessed with it. If Koslov has information that could save [your mother's] life, my guess is it's in that archive."
James Spader is Raymond "Red" Reddington, a mastermind criminal who teams up with the FBI.