The Blacklist recap: The good old days
If you thought the two-year time jump between seasons 8 and 9 employed to make a clean narrative break after the death of Elizabeth Keen, I am here to tell you (re: me) that we were wrong. Nothing about this is clean! This Task Force is an absolute mess, and that's putting it generously.
Cooper (Harry Lennix) has not only been framed for murder, but the framer is now entrapping him in the coverup he made for said murder, making constant Deep Throat calls to remind Cooper that he's responsible for one — no, make that two — deaths. Reddington (James Spader) is about to lose his relationship with Mierce (Karina Arroyave), the one happy thing in his life, because he can't let Liz's death go. As Park (Laura Sohn) reminds Ressler (Diego Klattenhoff) when she's having to stop him from stealing prescription pads while she's actively giving CPR to an attempted-murder victim: her marriage is hanging by a threat, she "got zapped by a next-gen weapon that can kill people through walls," and as a result of the latter in combination with giving Ressler her urine for a drug test, she recently found out that she had a miscarriage.
And as for Ressler, his hopeful tone at the end of the last episode is a little harder to maintain in the present. He is quite literally handcuffing himself to his desk to try and stay off drugs because, well, addiction is no joke — nor can it be tied up in an hour-long bottle episode, even if that would make everything a lot easier. So, it's difficult to walk out of this episode feeling very hopeful for the future of our beloved Task Force …
Well, except for one thing. Stay tuned for the new (old) direction of The Blacklist season 9, by way of Raymond Reddington's inability to be anything but an extremely resourceful dog with a highly dangerous bone.
DR. RAZMIK MAIER, NO. 168
Hot tip: if you instantly recognize an actor's face on The Blacklist, and that actor is not playing the bad guy … that person is going to wind up worse than the bad guy!
The episode opens with a pro tennis player exiting a building to a bunch of reporters asking variations on two questions: 1. how is he continuing to play so well at his age, and 2. one lone reporter asking what his affiliation with German pharmacologist Dr. Razmik Maier (Henry Stram) is. The tennis player, Sam, bristles at the latter question because, as it turns out, Dr. Meier has been giving him performance-enhancing injections that Sam seems to be begrudgingly accepting. The last we see of Sam, he's lying dead with a needle in his arm after Dr. Maier over-injects him and induces a heart attack.
Reddington passes along the case to Cooper, knowing that Dr. Maier is somehow involved with Sam's death, but when Ressler and Park interview Sam's parents, they've never heard of Maier. Their family friend, Walker Burgos, however — ding, ding, ding, recognizable character actor in the form of Josh Cooke — does recognize Maier's name because Bergos just so happens to be the owner of a popular athleticwear brand that was one of Sam's sponsors. Bergos says he's heard of Maier, but anyone in the sports industry knows to stay away from him, and at that point, Sam's parents also recognize the name because there was a reporter who'd been hounding Sam about his affiliation with some doctor …
Unfortunately, said reporter is currently being drugged on the street by Dr. Maier for knowing too much. Maier drags Stella Wong back to her apartment where she gives him all of her notes on the story in exchange for the anecdote to the drug that's slowly killing her — which Maier ultimately destroys before leaving Stella dead in her apartment.
When Park and Ressler find Stella's body, they call Bergos into the Post Office to see if he has any more helpful information since he was sooooo informative before. He tells them that even though Sam denied it, he does believe Sam was doping, and he may have been using Maier to do it. The Task Force asks for a list of Bergos' other sponsored athletes in case they be future targets, which he graciously provides. And later, when it turns out that in her final living moments, Stella Wong swallowed a flash drive with all of her research on it, Bergos graciously offers to contact the woman seen in photos with Dr. Maier, another one of Bergos' sponsored athletes, Annie Bolin. Ultimately, Bergos does one better than just call Annie to warn her — he shows up at Annie's door, promises to protect her from Maier who she's also been begrudgingly accepting injections of — and then drugs her himself!
As it turns out, Bergos was employing Mairer to drug his sponsored athletes so that they could enhance their performances, and he could sell more shoes. When he found out the FBI was investigating Maier, he got Maier to kill Stella Wong, then immediately turned around and killed Maier so that everyone who knew what he was up to would be dead. Annie is the last living proof of Stella's research (he thinks), so Bergos steals Maier's druggin' kit, and is in the process of drugging Annie when Park and Aram show up. And I kid you not, this man slips out the back door, then runs around to the front door, acting as if he's just arrived to warn Annie about Maier at the instruction of the FBI.
The guy is good! I mean, I was still appalled that Aram (Amir Arison) ultimately followed Bergos' urging to leave Annie unattended and chase after Maier, who Aram and Park think is the one who escaped out the front door … but the guy is good. Luckily, the Post Office has finished sorting through all the files that weren't destroyed by Stella Wong's stomach acid, and have figured out that Bergos was the one employing Maier all along — both to drug his athletes, and later, to kill the ones he thought could expose him — and Park busts back into the house right as Bergos is about to kill Annie. So Maier the Blacklister is dead, Bergos the criminal is caught, and Annie's life is saved …
"But," you may be wondering, "where on earth is Raymond Reddington?"
After getting the Task Force started on this week's Blacklister, Reddington gets caught up in some personal affairs. You see, since Elizabeth died, Red has been in possession of the cell phone of her murderer (Neville Townsend's righthand man). And ever since he found out that Dembe gave Elizabeth his letter before she died, he's been questioning everything about what happened that night — a night that he thought he'd put a close to once he moved away and met Mierce and Weecha. But now, Reddington's thoughts have returned to obsessing over Liz, and he's asked his hacker buddy Tadashi to investigate the contents of the murderer's phone, which concerns Mierce. She thinks that if Reddington goes back down that road, he's going to fall back into old, obsessive habits, and she can already see him changing from the man she first met.
While I feel for Mierce — we are on very different pages about this! Reddington reopening the investigation into Liz's death means reopening the door to the Reddington/Elizabeth mythology. I don't love that the contents of the murderer's phone ultimately lead Red to shame Dembe when he sees that Elizabeth's killer was watching Dembe and Elizabeth at the moment Dembe handed over the letter to her. But, if this is what finally allows us to find out the implications of Reddington's letter — to find out what Elizabeth was to Reddington, and why it was worth risking so much — well, all is fair and love and network television, I guess.
A FEW LOOSE ENDS:
Post-houmous Pulitzer for Stella Wong who swallowed a flash drive on her deathbed to save the story.
Park is absolutely savage to Ressler in this episode, who is disappointing her left and right. But she eventually comes back around to help him beat his addiction. Which is good, because he eventually handcuffs himself to his desk, and she's the one on call to get him out in the morning!
Cooper gets definitive proof that he was drugged by a bartender on the night of Doug's murder … only to find that bartender dead in his apartment, and get yet another taunting call (on a landline) from whoever is framing him. Aram is all of us: signing up for a triathlon, settling for "getting really into running," — and then just buying a pair of athletic sunglasses and giving up.
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James Spader is Raymond "Red" Reddington, a mastermind criminal who teams up with the FBI.