The Blacklist recap: The secret life of Harold Cooper
After the death of Elizabeth Keen at the end of season 8, I had a lot of questions about what season 9 of The Blacklist might look like. Would we still focus on the origin of Raymond Reddington as it pertained to Elizabeth? Would we give up on focusing on Reddington's past entirely? Would the Blacklist cease to exist? Would the Task Force simply go on capturing (and sometimes releasing) baddies as usual?
I still have all of those questions, but what I could never have predicted — would never have even dared to consider — was that this much of the season 9 plot would center around urine. Not that a newly instated Task Force member would open a drawer to find a cup of urine sitting inside it. Not that a crooked doctor would tell Ressler, "The only way you're going to pee out clean urine is if I put clean urine in you, and the only way I can do that is by putting this catheter through your penis." And definitely not that Ressler would have to deliver devastating news to Park because she had offered him a cup of her urine as an act of care and support.
No, that simply was not on my radar. But I have been wondering how season 9 would address the significantly lowered stakes of sorting through the Mythology of Raymond Reddington. Episode 4 brought that question to the very front of my mind, not because there was any hint at continuing to pull on the thread of Red's past — but because the themes of this episode were so prime for thread-pulling. Back in the (dare I say good? better?) old days, an episodic Blacklister raising questions about a binary world of sinners and saints, and being judged solely on the worst decision of your life, would have run thematically parallel to the serialized story of Lizzie and Reddington…
But, ultimately, this thematic lesson on judgment turns out to be for Cooper, who's going through a morally mysterious journey of his own. Can that mystery hold the narrative weight that the mythology of Red and Liz once did? Only time and more episodes — and ideally, less urine — will tell.
THE AVENGING ANGEL, NO. 49
The episode opens with a tech bro celebrating that his former business partner lost an intellectual property suit against him, seemingly because he had the prosecution's star witness killed off. But about the time we see gas filtering in through his penthouse vents, we know this night will not ultimately be a win for him.
When the man wakes up, he's tied to a chair in front of our Blacklister, who's telling him that there's a special place in hell for people who play with others' lives just because they can. This is where I admit that I was quite fond of this Blacklister — she was like a sassier Robin Hood, and her one-liners were deadly. Of course, she was also just deadly in general, which was a little less endearing. The Blacklister tells the man that if he doesn't read the cards in front of him out loud, she'll kill him. And then after he confesses aloud to betraying his partner and declares his intention to turn his shares in the company back over to himself…
The woman kills him anyway, making it look like a death by suicide, taped final confession and all.
As Reddington tells Dembe in their Blacklister debrief — oh how the tables have turned... and iced over from awkwardness! — this death is likely the work of "the Avenging Angel," a woman they previously crossed paths with in Bruges during her "insistent effort to restore wartime plunder to its rightful owners, which among her other avid pursuits, is often nasty business."
Apparently, the Avenging Angel has made it her mission to steal from those who have stolen, reuniting rightful owners with what was unjustly taken from them through murder, extortion, violence, etc. Given the way the tech company owner died, one could assume that his former business partner hired the Avenging Angel. But when the Task Force brings him in, they're able to verify that he spent that night sad-boy-blogging from his own home. It turns out, the person — or platform, rather — on the other end of that blogging is the key to finding the Avenging Angel. Because, after losing the suit, the man went deep, deep into the world wide web and ended up venting his frustrations to a prayer subreddit.
And who might the host of that subreddit be but "AvengingAngel1317." In recent years, this subreddit is how the Avenging Angel has chosen the unknowing recipients of her righteous vengeance. After Aram traces the subreddit host's router, he and Dembe arrive at a house where the Avenging Angel has clearly been squatting. They find a rosary and a hospital bracelet that lead them to uncover the Blacklister's true identity: Michaela Belucci, a teenager who disappeared without a trace after she was forced to give up her baby for adoption as an unwed mother "taken in" by a convent in Rome. Since then, she's been "stealing back for those who've had precious things stolen from them."
Inside the house, Aram and Dembe also find a lead on her next target, but they have no way of figuring out where they are or how to save them. That's where Reddington comes in…
In his typically convoluted way. My fav logistics coordinator Heddie is back, and Reddington has tasked her with an assignment: getting him into the penthouse of one of their colleagues, Oleg Nikovitch, who has something hidden there that Reddington needs. But once they successfully get inside the apartment, Heddie and Red find a bumping party hosted by Nikovitch's son who's been living there due to some "cash flow" issues. Reddington quickly sorts out a plan to help his cash flow issues which include Reddington walking out of the apartment with a piece of art he tells the son is worth at least six digits…
Only to reveal in the elevator with Heddie that the piece was ripped off the wall of a random hotel by Oleg, but that's because it's simply a vessel. Sealed inside the back of the canvas is — hold onto your berets — Van Gogh's "Painter on the Road to Tarascon," stolen from its rightful owners by the Nazis, and thought to have been destroyed. But it wasn't. And Reddington knows Michaela was once on the hunt for it, hoping to return it to its rightful owner, before Oleg somehow acquired it, hid it away, and then lost interest in it.
So while Reddington sets Heddie on finding the descendent of the painting's rightful owner — an amazing woman in her 90s who uses her difficult backstory to inspire her performance as the lead singer of a death metal band — he sets about letting Michaela know that the painting is back on the black market. She responds just as he'd hoped, requesting a meeting with the current owner. Reddington arrives at the meeting spot just as Michaela is about to oversee the exchange of a heart that a billionaire cut the transplant line for, taking the spot of a steelworker who was then bumped from the list.
Reddington knows as much because Cooper has updated him on the intel they found at Michaela's house, but instead of telling the FBI what he knows, Reddington confronts Michaela on his own and tells her that he's been crunching the numbers on her special form of justice, and the math just isn't adding up.
He says that, yes, the billionaire made a mistake in cutting the line, but he also donated a pediatrics wing to the hospital in order to do so and has personally contributed to research that has eliminated childhood diseases that disproportionately affect poor children. "That man is no saint," Michaela tells Reddington of the man whose heart she is about to cut out and turn over to the steelworker she believes to be its rightful owner. "No, he's not, he's a sinner," Reddington replies: "But you think that's all he is… and when you do that math, the answer you've come to is that he deserves to die." Instead, Reddington decides that the steelworker will receive Michaela's heart, killing her, and saving the lives of both men…
But as Reddington tells Cooper later, he really just saw having this billionaire owe him a favor as a shrewd business move. So, I found Reddington's sanctimonious attitude toward this woman who has pretty similar justice practices as him to be a little absurd. But the message wasn't pointed at Red tonight — it was pointed at Cooper. Reddington and Cooper have a thematic little chat about whether one's character should be judged by the worst day of their lives on the exact same day that Cooper has woken up in a car with no memory of what happened to him the night before, discovered that his service weapon is missing exactly one bullet, and that the man his wife previously had an affair with was killed the night before…
With one single, unidentified bullet.
Well, unidentified to the authorities. Cooper gets ahold of the incident report and asks an insider buddy of his to secretly run a ballistics test on his own weapon and the bullet that killed his wife's former lover. And, my friends, the bullet is a match. The episode ends with Cooper looking at proof that his gun killed a man… while sitting in his car outside of a police station.
A FEW LOOSE ENDS
There's simply no chance in the world that Harold Cooper had two fingers of whiskey at a retirement party, blacked out, and killed a man. So, who's setting him up? And why?
Aram clearly knows something is up with Cooper — is it because he's an empath, or because he knows something is up with Cooper (because he seems to be the only person in the Post Office that files are delivered to)?
And speaking of files: Park caves and lets Ressler use her clean urine for his second FBI drug test, but the results are mixed. Ressler is reinstated with a negative drug test, but he has to tell Park that the results of her urine show there's a high likelihood that she may have some kind of cancer.
Why would those tech bros name their site something that sounded so much like "genocide," and why would it be so popular???
"I was at home, drinking, blogging my troubles." Girl, same.
"The vodka is cold, the girls are hot." "What do you have that's room temperature." Girl, same. See you back here next week!
James Spader is Raymond "Red" Reddington, a mastermind criminal who teams up with the FBI.