The Blacklist recap: The brazen bull
Reddington may lay down his life for Dembe's, but that doesn't mean he always understands his pain.
Have you ever noticed that The Blacklist episodes about torture are… particularly torturous to watch? Call me crazy, but watching people in pain is simply not a pleasant experience for me! And not only was this hour a totally messed-up game of musical torture chairs, but they laid hands on our precious Dembe, to which I say: Oh, hell no!
So, who exactly do I mean by "they"? Well, the writers, first of all — how dare they cause harm to Dembe. But mostly, I mean this be-bunned Blacklister, Dr. Perillos, played by Laverne Cox with sadistic glee. And of course, I mean Neville Townsend, the nightmare who hired Dr. Perillos to torture Dembe. So the question then becomes, do I also mean the person who hired him, Elizabeth Keen?
I tend to roll my eyes when members of the Task Fore repeatedly make excuses for Liz's rapid descent into darkness, saying she would never do things that she's already proved she most definitely would do a half-dozen times (y'know, like lie to them, betray them, break the law, commit murder by proxy in their office, etc.). But I have to admit that when the possibility of Liz directly causing harm to Dembe arose, even I was clutching my pearls. She wants to super-murder Reddington, sure, but Liz would never hurt Dembe, right?
DR. LAKEN PERILLOS, NO. 70
Someone who I'm completely positive is willing to hurt Dembe is this week's Blacklister, who we're introduced to as she straps a "heretic fork" to a man's neck, which is kind of like a dual-ended barbecue fork attached to a collar. But just as she's really cranking that fork wide, asking this man what sins he's going to renounce today, she gets a call saying she can leave him alone — Mr. Townsend needs her in the United States as soon as possible. She does not look thrilled to be pulled away mid-torture.
Dr. Perillo is apparently Townsend's most prolific method of getting people to talk, but we don't know what he needs her back in the States for just yet. However, we do know Reddington is on the hunt now that he knows Liz and Townsend have joined forces. First Red visits Townsend's money launderer, who just so happens to also run a laundromat. The launderer tells Reddington that he's never known where Townsend resides, but he knows where his money goes: most recently, to a woman named Laken Perillos. "The brazen bull," Red mutters, referencing what sounds like a truly awful torture device, invented by the ancient Greek Perillos, from whom the (bad) doctor takes her name.
While with the launderer, Dembe gets a call about a bomb that Ruddiger has been investigating. On the way to Ruddiger's warehouse, Reddington calls Cooper to tell him that Liz is working with Townsend now, and the Post Office's best lead for getting to them is Dr. Perillos.
Aram's response: "Reddington says Liz is working with Townsend? This is impossible!"
Ruddiger's response to similar news: "Who could do this, Raymond? Not Elizabeth, I'm sure."
When will these men learn? Only Reddington seems to understand what Liz might be capable of, and even his definition grows when men suddenly swarm the warehouse and abduct Dembe. We later learn that they were supposed to abduct only Reddington, but when Dembe helped him escape and tried to hold the men off, they took him instead…
Directly to Dr. Perillos' office, where she has him strapped to a chair, with a set of torture tongs poking into his Adam's apple in two seconds flat. As she tightens the heretic fork on Dembe's neck, Perillo tells him a story about how, when she was 12, her mother went to the hospital with a neural infection, and was sent home with Ibuprofen and a misdiagnosis, leading to an infection that left her in excruciating pain for the rest of her life. "What caused the misdiagnosis?" Perillo asks Dembe in a way that suggests the answer is already on its way. "The color of her skin — the belief, even by some doctors, that Blacks feel less pain than whites… leading to Black patients receiving far fewer pain meds than white patients."
Medical racism and inequality are very real problems for Black people in America, and in most ways I'm glad to see The Blacklist use its large prime-time platform to spread some knowledge, even citing a 2016 study that showed future doctors prescribing less pain medication to Black patients because "they said they thought Black people had less sensitive nerve endings." But I was also a little queasy to watch this information be relayed while torturing a Black man. Perillo, a Black woman, continues to relay to Dembe that Reddington will never be able to understand the pain he goes through. "I know who you are to him, what you do for him," she tells Dembe while continuing to, y'know, stab him. "Does he know the pain that causes you? The pain inside your heart, can he see that?"
Dembe doesn't give her an answer — about that or anything else. Because medical inequity is just an extra-credit topic of Perillos'; her real task is, of course, to torture information about the Sikorsky Archive out of Dembe for Townsend, and by proxy, Liz. We never see Liz in the episode, and there are a few suggestions that she doesn't know how far Townsend is going to get the answers they're looking for, but still… Dembe is bleeding because of Townsend, and Townsend is involved because of Liz's desire to take down Reddington.
That's Reddington, who's doing everything he can to locate Dembe, until the only option left is to make a trade. In a tirade that harkens back to older, more Johnny-Cash-scored days, Reddington busts into the laundering laundromat, and holds the launderer at gunpoint. Knowing the launderer would have triggered an alarm, Reddington answers when Townsend's people call the landline, giving them his number and instructing Townsend to call him in 20 minutes for a unique opportunity.
When Townsend does, Reddington offers him a trade: him for Dembe. Townsend agrees, and the next thing we know, Red is at a motel drinking a thermos full of something sketchy that the office manager gives him, and passing out on a bench as a van pulls up and stuffs him inside. And at the same time Reddington is offering himself up as a sacrifice to get Dembe back, Perillo is refusing to let Dembe go even though Townsend has instructed her to, because this lady just looooves to torture. Luckily, Dembe loves to take care of business, and he manages to break his bindings and escape just before Perillo is about to inject him with jellyfish venom. She pulls a gun on him, but he stabs her in the hand with one of her torture-forks and escapes.
Dembe goes straight to the Post Office, where Cooper shows him the forensics from the van that abducted him, and the Task Force later found torched with nothing left inside to give them a lead. But Dembe notices something about the accelerant used to burn the van: It sounds like an accelerant Ruddiger was describing when they were in his warehouse earlier. Y'know… when Townsend's men showed up?
Dembe busts into Ruddiger's apartment, saying he knows he's the one who gave Reddington up to Townsend and demanding to know where Perillo has him now.
Meanwhile, Red is being injected with jellyfish venom that will paralyze his lungs within the hour. There's an antidote, which Perillo says she'll be happy to give him just as soon as he answers Mr. Townsend's questions about the Sikorsky Archive…
Which Red isn't going to do, so I guess he'll just die. As the venom starts to inhibit his breathing, Red says toward the monitors, "It's not everything you thought it would be, is it? This moment — you waited for it, anticipated it, and somehow it's dissatisfying." Townsend responds that, to the contrary, he's having a wonderful time. But Reddington says he wasn't talk to Townsend: "We know who my assassin really is, don't we, Elizabeth? It saddens me to bear witness to this moment in your life, this crossing of the Rubicon, from which you can never get back." Reddington suggests that Liz tell Townsend to give him the antidote, and not just because he wants to live. But because he's "seen the other side of that river, and it's a place I never want you to go."
But if Liz really is listening, she does nothing. It is, of course, Dembe who comes to Reddington's rescue, demanding Perillo give Red the antidote at gunpoint. She does, at which point Dembe ties her up and gives her a literal taste of her own venomous medicine in order to find out as much as they can about Townsend. But it's not a lethal taste, because when the Task Force shows up, she's still alive.
After Dembe gets Reddington to the warehouspital, we find out that Perillo didn't have much intel anyway, telling them that she got paid in cash and used burner phones. But Reddington has something else on his mind. "Do you think that I see your pain?" he asks Dembe.
To which Dembe responds, honestly: "No, I don't… not always."
A FEW LOOSE ENDS
- The episode ends with the toughest scene yet! Townsend going HAM on a punching bag, which is eventually revealed to contain Ruddiger's body. Townsend tells him he's lucky: "You're only alive because Keen begged me to spare your life — a life which I now own. Welcome to the family, don't fail me again!" This effin' guy…
- Honestly, where was Bremley? I much prefer his torture methods that involve walking a goat into a room, followed by NO VISUALS WHATSOEVER.
- "You're familiar with Dr. Perillos?" "Legendary Draconian methods, undeniably effective results? This is almost a bucket list moment for me." Glad the bucket didn't come for ol' Red just yet.
- What's! In! The! Sikorsky Archive?!
- Where! Is! Megan Boone?!