The Blacklist recap: What's in the box?
I never thought I'd say this about The Blacklist, but — I think the stakes have become a little too high. I mean, yes, the Task Force has always been in the business of stopping murderers, terrorists, and a truly unhinged number of doctors who perform Face/Off-style surgeries. But that's the episodic side of this Post Office operation, and even with the loss of Lizzie and a two-year time jump, the professional part of things seems to be barreling on as if nothing has changed in season 9. But as of tonight's episode, the more personal, serialized mystery between Raymond Reddington and Elizabeth Keen that's propelled The Blacklist forward for the last eight seasons appears to have officially been put to the side in favor of…
Destroying all of our most beloved characters' lives?
In five short episodes, Aram has given up his stake in a huge-deal proprietary software that he designed; Ressler is battling the reemergence of his addiction to prescription pills, risking his job at the bureau to cheat a drug test; Cooper maybe killed a guy, or at the very least, someone is attempting to frame him for killing a guy. And in tonight's episode alone, Park thought she had cancer, was attacked by — checks notes — energy, lost a baby, lost the trust of her husband, and as a result of all that, is on the edge of losing control in a way she's spent her whole life being afraid of…
Oh, and did I mention Reddington and Dembe are fighting, which is, like, the worst? I'm trying to hold off judgment on the narrative choice to make every single character extremely unhappy and often in peril — Blacklist seasons are long, after all — but as a viewer, I'd like to at least offer you a warning about the level of angst happening in season 9. So, you may want to grab a glass of wine or a cup of coffee because this week's Blacklister is doing absolutely nothing to lift the already downtrodden mood around here.
BENJAMIN T. OKARA, NO. 183
You see, tonight, we're dealing with a style of Blacklister that is the easiest to stomach, morally speaking, but also the least amount of fun: a martyr.
The episode opens with a man driving a car while speaking frantically on the phone with a woman hiding out in a hotel. Suddenly all of the screens in the man's car begin to go haywire, he starts grabbing at his head while his nose bleeds, and he loses consciousness and crashes the car. The man dies on the scene, seemingly not from the crash, but from whatever unearthly tremors just wracked his body, apparently caused by another man in a van nearby, operating a handheld device that looks no more interesting than a video game controller.
But even with that small amount of intel, Reddington knows what's going on. He asks Dembe — more on their BFF angst later — if he's ever heard of Havana Syndrome, a series of ailments first reported by American diplomats in Cuba. As it turns out, Havana Syndrome wasn't a syndrome at all but the result of a "directed energy weapon" that could precisely pinpoint its target and penetrate through walls without detection to severely harm them. Reddington tells Dembe that the Americans took Cuba's specific target technology — "in the Yankee Doodle spirit of, 'any way you can kill, I can kill better'" — and expanded it into a potentially catastrophic level.
Dembe tells the Task Force that the chief engineer in charge of expanding America's directed energy weapon technology was Dr. Benjamin Okara… until Okara disappeared, along with his five-person team of engineers — including the two panicked people we saw at the beginning of the episode. We know the man from earlier is already dead, and we soon find out that the woman is next. Okara has tracked her down to her hotel room, and when she sees the wire she's hung from the ceiling fan glowing bright, she knows that he's arrived to kill her with the energy weapon they created together.
Just before Okara arrived, however, the woman received a call from one of the other engineers on their team who gave her coordinates to his hideout. Okara saw the coordinates written down inside the hotel room, but luckily (or, unluckily as it were), Ressler and Park saw them as well. Aram tracks down the location, and Park and Dembe arrive on the scene to tell the engineer that Okara may be after him. Unfortunately, Okara is already there, and once again, pinpoints his energy technology directly on top of the engineer, killing him on the spot. Even more unfortunately for fans of the Task Force gang, Agent Park is nearby, and though she's not directly hit by the energy attack, she is still convulsing and incoherent when Dembe finds her on the ground.
Dembe immediately makes a call for help, we assume to his FBI resources, but only one person could get a helicopter on location with a single phone call…
And Reddington is none too happy that Dembe called on his team. All episode long — and presumably for longer than that — Reddington has been dealing with a former associate who no longer wants to do business with him because of his former associate Dembe Zumba jumping ship to the FBI. Reddington has worked very hard (interestingly, in ways we've rarely seen) to keep his connection to the FBI a secret, and by becoming an FBI agent during the series' mysterious two-year time jump, Dembe has put all of that hard work in jeopardy.
Reddington tells Dembe angrily on the phone, "You're in or you're out; you can't be both — it's one or the other." Which is kind of a silly thing to say to someone who he's literally still co-workers with on a Task Force that regularly blurs the line of personal and professional… but there's obviously something deeper going on here with Reddington and Dembe. They keep mentioning something that happened in Brasilia during the time jump, and Reddington tells Dembe that assisting him now could prove fatal: "And despite our recent unpleasantness, I should hope that would be significant enough to steady your hand."
But what's done is done, and Dembe was able to get Park to the hospital in time to ward off most permanent damage. For Park, that hospital visit comes with good, bad, and tragic news. The good news is that Park doesn't have cancer, and her urine only indicated she might because it was applied to Ressler. In a woman, the high levels of hCG actually meant Park was pregnant…
But the directed energy attack caused her to lose the baby — a tragic reveal that her husband finds out at the same time he finds out that Park had been lying to him about returning to fieldwork, a lie that was hard to continue once she landed in the hospital from energy poisoning.
And speaking of the directed energy weapon — it's probably worth noting that every time we see Okara use his own technology, he looks extremely conflicted about killing his former colleagues. He also looks physically affected by the same torture that he's dolling out on others. Okara has a permanent tremor, halted movements, and sensitivity to light because, as turns out, he was the victim of directed energy attacks himself when the Pentagon sent him to study the technology in Cuba so he could replicate it for the U.S. government. Reddington is able to use his connections to track down an address for Okara, and when the Task Force descends upon him, he's sitting inside his van with the directed energy weapon, as well as a homemade bomb.
Okara has been killing his former colleagues not because he wants to keep the technology to himself in order to get rich — but because he never wants anyone to be able to create this technology again. He stole the prototype, wiped any evidence of its existence from the Pentagon databases, and finally, killed everyone with any knowledge of how to replicate it, all because he wants to save the world from the torture his design is capable of inflicting. Aram and Ressler attempt to stop him but finally heed his warning to back as far away as possible, and Okara blows himself — and his greatest mistake — to pieces.
In the episode's final moments, Reddington shows up at Dembe's house after preventing his suspicious colleague from killing Dembe and tells him that he expects the same amount of protection in return. Reddington wants Dembe to kill the suspicious colleague to tie up any loose threads, and for a moment, it seems like Dembe has done it…
But Dembe really has turned over a new leaf, and it was Reddington's new bodyguard, Weecha, who killed the man. Instead, we leave Dembe unwrapping a package that a flashback reminds us Reddington once gave him with the instruction to open it "on the day you decide to leave." So, I guess the end really has come, and you guys — it is looking dark.
A FEW LOOSE ENDS
- Cooper's story re: not being able to remember if he murdered Charlene's ex-lover seems to get wrapped up tonight when a detective interrogates Cooper about the murder but ultimately dismisses him as a suspect after Charlene corroborates his alibi for that night…
- But how wrapped up could it be when a bullet from Cooper's gun killed a man on the same night that something made him black out and wake up in a parking garage? Hmmmm?
- Brimley and Edna are both unavailable, so Reddington brings in their son Jeffrey for his torturing needs tonight. Jeffrey hasn't earned the right to use mammals just yet, but the shellfish he brings — as well as "mom's move," which looks a lot like a crotch-level twisting motion in pantomime — do the torture trick just fine.
- For the record, Reddington gave Dembe that mysterious package in season 4, episode 18, and at the time, told Dembe that he could leave at "any point of your own choosing … no questions asked, no debts accrued, whether it's today, or tomorrow, or years from now."
- But it seems the whole situation is just a little bit stickier than Reddington assumed it would be when he offered such kind words. So, what the hell happened in Brasilia. And what the hell is in that box?!
James Spader is Raymond "Red" Reddington, a mastermind criminal who teams up with the FBI.