The Blacklist recap: It's all quite unfortunate
You know we've got a particularly nasty Blacklister on our hands when she casually rattles off the phrase "Killing has never been easier." Even among your average chemical weapon brokers, this lady and her infomercial-style criminal pitch are bad news. So you may be asking yourself: Why is this "Chemical Mary" such a Cruella-level baddie? Unfortunately, I have no answers for you, and neither does The Blacklist.
There's not an origin story in sight for Chemical Mary! In fact, we only ever see her make good on her easier-than-1-2-3 killing technique once. And though that one time is legitimately scarring, this episode makes it clear that when Elizabeth Keen is out there stacking the board, it's the Blacklisters who are the pawns — and Reddington is the one getting played. (Sort of… kind of… depending on who you ask.)
Don't get me wrong, it's definitely fun to watch the slow coming together of an elaborate plan that involves youth hostels and near plane crashes, and honestly, more vital thumb drives than I ever could have imagined. But in the end, it's all kind of just complication for complication's sake. I think we're ultimately meant to understand that Liz is replicating a Reddington-like approach in order to make her eventual victory over him even more delicious — but we're also supposed to believe that she's still not bad, because she's not using these Blacklisters for their originally intended bad purposes.
It's just a little hard to buy given that Liz has never, ever been this savvy (although I guess with $40 million, you really can buy almost anything, including savviness). And call me a prude, but risking 160 lives in a plane crash that was avoided by seconds still seems pretty bad to me. But I'll let you be the judge of that one.
CHEMICAL MARY, NO. 143
I've told you about the most fun parts of this episode, so now let me tell you about its least fun moment: the murder of an unsuspecting pig!
We meet Chemical Mary as she checks in on the newest chemical weapon she's developing: a nerve agent that incapacitates any human's muscles, lungs, and heart with nothing more than a single touch or inhaled droplet. It's odorless, invisible, and last for days on any hard surface. To reiterate, "killing has never been easier," and I super-hope the Task Force can stop Chemical Mary sooner rather than later.
Luckily, Dembe recently made a trip to Bosnia and discovered that last week's translator was used by Liz to hire a bounty hunter who she then tasked with finding this Chemical Mary — an MIT professor turned chemical weapons dealer who the U.S. government has been unable to locate for seven years. Reddington doesn't quite know why Liz would require the services of a chemical criminal, but he knows to what end: "She wants to break me, and then kill me, and I think it's safe to assume she's using the Freelancer and Chemical Mary to accomplish that."
While Reddington tracks down the Freelancer, the Task Force focuses on Mary. Her last known whereabouts were in 2013, when she was delivering a shipment of sarin gas to Assad forces that was intercepted by the U.S. military, and her entire convoy was blown up. Mary escaped, and only one person from her security team survived.
Ressler and Park take a whole trip to Turkey to talk to this guy, but he gives them nothing. Luckily, Aram exists to crack all codes, make all connections, and find all chemical criminals; he points out that the man Ressler and Park spoke to was severely burned from the convoy explosion, and it stands to reason that Mary would have been too, and would have had to get undocumented medical attention in order to survive.
So Red checks in with his network of "dirtbag doctors without borders" (thank you, Ressler, for adding that little phrase to the warehousepital canon), and finds out the identity of the doctor who treated her after the burns. Aram hacks those medical records and runs a photo of what Chemical Mary looks like now through the Interpol database…
And comes up with six known passports, the most recent of which was used to fly from Paris to Albania.
Meanwhile, Reddington corners the fancy lawyer — Scooter, never forget — who represented the Freelancer, and is able to track him to the youth hostel where he's hiding out after performing the job Liz got him out of prison for. But after a bit of confusion, the Freelancer informs Reddington that Liz didn't hire him to kill Red — she hired him to kill Chemical Mary.
As you'll recall from 158 episodes ago, the Freelancer's bit is disguising his murders behind what would otherwise appear to be everyday tragedies. You know, like a plane crash. Earlier, we saw the Freelancer working as part of a flight crew and sneaking off to tamper with some kind of panel inside a plane… a plane we now know Chemical Mary will soon be boarding to fly back to Paris. I think Agent Park puts it best when she says, "So Keen's taking out a chemical arms trader — air hugs for that — but she's going to waste a plane full of passenger in the process?"
And that really does seem to be the case. By the time the Task Force puts all these pieces together, Mary's flight has already taken off with 162 passengers, including a few adorable children and their teddy bears. While Cooper is on the phone with air traffic control, who reports that everything seems normal, Aram suddenly remembers one of the Freelancer's earliest attacks: He crashed a passenger train by rigging the instrument panel to show that the train was traveling at a much slower rate than it actually was.
When the pilots of Mary's flight are instructed to check their own instrument panel, they find a — you guessed it — thumb drive that isn't normally there. Aram screams for them to take it out immediately, at which point their now appropriately functioning panel informs them that their plane is moments away from crashing directly into another plane. It is a horrifying visual!
The pilots yank the plane to the right, just barely missing the other plane, and everyone erupts in cheers that Aram briefly mistakes for screams of terror. The plane lands safely, and Ressler waits at the Paris airport to arrest Chemical Mary — but she's not among the passengers who exit the plane. A review of security camera footage shows that Mary was abducted at the Albanian airport, and a woman wearing a disguise used her passport and ticket to board the plane to Paris.
A woman who Cooper and Reddington are pretty sure is Elizabeth Keen. This, coupled with Red finding out that he was also able to find the Freelancer because of a tip seeded by Liz, leads them to believe that Liz always intended for the FBI to intervene just in time to save the plane. But she needed it to seem like she saved Chemical Mary from boarding a tampered plane in order to gain her trust. To which I say: That's an unnecessarily risky plan, Liz! Couldn't you have just paid Chemical Mary the money you originally paid the Freelancer, and never hired him to tamper with any planes at all? Payment is a really good way to get people to do what you want.
But I guess we'll simply have to wait and see if Liz's plans for Mary were worth all the fuss…
Because one other very important thing has been happening while Liz was risking 160 people's lives: Aram has been working on cracking the thumb drive that Liz stole from Red and delivered to Cooper. Aram still can't crack the password, but his friend at the NSA was able to find out that the thumb drive bears the digital signature of a known hacker: Rakitin.
So Cooper meets with the congressman who chairs the House Intelligence Committee — you know, the same committee where Red recently bribed a romance novel enthusiast to destroy a select group of files, as demanded by his "friend in the East" — for more information about Ratikin.
Turns out those destroyed files contained all the intel the House Intelligence Committee had on this hacker, Ratikin. There are a lot of theories about Ratikin and what he/she/they may be up to, but personally, this congressman thinks Ratikin feeds hacked intel to N13, the infamous Russian asset who this congressman not only believes is real but believes is deeply embedded in the U.S. government. "I don't know whose trust he may have gained — CIA, Defense Intelligence, God forbid the FBI," he says. "But I think he's been here a long time, long enough to become one of us. And he's using us."
Cooper gets himself out of that meeting real quick and scoots back to the Post Office, where Aram has had a big breakthrough: The thumb drive isn't password-protected at all, that's just a front. He thinks there's a biometric scanner hidden inside the drive, so when it's connected to a special device that he hands over to Cooper, the right fingerprint will grant access to the files it contains. "That's where the miracle comes in," Aram says. "Figuring out whose fingerprint to use."
After Aram leaves, Cooper's eyes drift over to the tumbler that Reddington drank Scotch from in his office just minutes ago. He lifts a print off the glass, puts it in the biometric scanner, connects it to his computer, and in pour pages and pages of documents — all written in Russian. All accessed with Reddington's fingerprint.
A FEW LOOSE ENDS
- Top that off with Red's final scene with his "friend" in Moscow, who says that if the flash drive that was stolen from Red's safety deposit box is compromised, Harold Cooper will have to be eliminated — to which Reddington agrees — and I guess we've officially determined the identity of N13.
- What determining the identity of N13 really means… is still up for debate.
- During a casual aside in the episode, Reddington says to Dembe: "Well, I'm not Elizabeth's father… maybe if I were, I'd want to understand her even better." Which feels notable given Dembe's knowledge of Red's past, and the fact that he nods right along.
- Lots of flashbacks and exposition throughout the episode to reminds us that Agent Park now owes Reddington a favor for covering up that time she bludgeoned a guy to death with an ashtray for killing her friend.
- "Agent Keen would never work with someone like this." "No, Agent Keen wouldn't — but she's not an agent anymore, is she?" I appreciate how Park, who is very much also a criminal, simply will not take her heel off "Agent" Keen's neck.
- It's always silly to hear someone dramatically say the phrase "thumb drive" on this show, but seeing the thumb drive that nearly took the plane down nestled in next to a DVD port was visually just a bridge too far to take this technology seriously anymore.
James Spader is Raymond "Red" Reddington, a mastermind criminal who teams up with the FBI.