The Blacklist s6 ep 5

Not for the first time, it’s worth remarking that The Blacklist isn’t scared to get weird every now and again: this week’s cold open features home invaders wearing monkey masks forcing a wealthy businessman to drink poison from a flask. The deceased, Harris Van Ness, was one of Red’s allies, and Red breaks off from his ongoing court case to alert the Task Force. Which, of course, springs into action, as it always does when Red’s interests are threatened.

But the actual problem lies elsewhere. Van Ness left all of his wealth to his son, one Tim Peterson, whose existence was unknown to the rest of Van Ness’s relatives. Tim works in a bowling alley, seems to move in somewhat more trailer-park-adjacent circles than the rest of his newly-discovered family, and has just got engaged to Deidre, a charming school teacher. None of it quite adds up, though, and a brief investigation reveals that Deidre isn’t what she seems. She’s an actor, provided by an agency named Alter Ego, which “fills vacancies”: a wife, a family, whatever. (It all reminded me a little of this astonishing piece in The New Yorker.) And a baddie.

Meantime Red is in court, arguing that the search which yielded the gun found on him was illegal, that the gun is inadmissible in evidence, and that therefore he hasn’t breached his immunity agreement. As he’s representing himself, that means we get the pleasure of James Spader cross-examining a witness and making legal submissions. (I’ve never seen The Practice or Boston Legal, and I’m kind of regretting that now.) Even more pleasingly – for those of us who care about these things – the show actually pays the viewer the compliment of providing a reasoned, nuanced decision on Red’s motion to suppress. No doubt the judge will be revealed, in due course, to be in someone’s pay. For now, though, I’m liking her.

As with last week, the supposed Blacklister – Alter Ego itself – isn’t much of a villain at all; in fact Ressler, who has a family wedding to go to and needs a plus-one, consults them at the end in order to hire a partner. But, again as with last week, that’s very much beside the point, because The Blacklist is on terrific form at the moment.

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The Blacklist s6 ep 4

Red, in prison awaiting trial, throws the Task Force the names of Rod and Delaine Uhlman, who offer criminals huge cash advances in return for items being deposited with them, which they sell if the cash isn’t repaid. A bit like… pawnbrokers, which is presumably why they’re known as The Pawnbrokers; even if it doesn’t strike me as a particularly niche or, for that matter, Blacklisty service. Never mind. The Pawnbrokers have exchanged cash for a hard drive stolen by an NSA employee who, rather prosaically, wants the money for gambling. He loses it all, can’t buy the hard drive back, and it’s offered for sale to China, which has particular reasons for wanting to get its hands on it. Samar – possibly suffering from aphasia, in a storyline I’m already fed up with – goes undercover as an agent from the Mossad in order to gazump the Chinese. It’s well done without being exceptional.

Meantime, Red is having fun. One of his fellow prisoners, Baldomero, bears a grudge against him. (This turns out to be because Red boned his mother.) Convincing death threats are uttered. Red identifies an ally in the initially unconvincing form of inmate Vontae, who is played charmingly by Coy Stewart, a young actor new to me but of whom I hope we’ll see much more. He also uses a rat to smuggle messages out of the prison to Dembe. Even by The Blacklist’s standards, this plot really doesn’t stand up to a second’s scrutiny, which is all the more reason not to bother with that sort of thing and, instead, just sit back and watch James Spader lording it over everyone else on the screen. Interestingly, Liz now seems to have got over the whole Red-impersonating-her-father business; she seems to be genuinely concerned when Red takes a beating in prison, and fairly relaxed when the DNA guy she and Jen brought in is at first unable to offer any information about Red’s real identity. But DNA guy tries again and comes up with… something. I guess this plot will run and run, which is fine with me: the standard of Blacklist episodes, six seasons in, remains remarkably high. 

The Blacklist s6 ep 3

Red, under arrest and facing prosecution, sacks his useless public defender and represents himself in court. His main argument is that he had an immunity agreement with the FBI, which had been signed off by the Attorney-General, and that all of the charges before the court are covered by it. This is not an unreasonable argument, on the face of it. And, again on the face of it, his position is reinforced by the fact that AUSA Sima (Ken Leung, who was Miles in Lost and Leon in Person of Interest, and is therefore edging ever-closer to becoming Unpopcult royalty) has hidden the existence of the immunity agreement, to the point where Red has to bring Cooper into court to confirm the position. Would Cooper do it all again? “You’re damn right I would”, he snaps. Sima’s counter-submission – that Red is a really bad person – seems to me to be kind of beside the point. 

While the court is wrestling with this non-issue, Red has thrown out the name of another Blacklister: Spalding Stark, The Pharmacist, an “icon in the biohacking community”, per Aram. We first see Stark offering a non-FDA-approved treatment to five people suffering from a degenerative illness, all of whom immediately die. A charlatan, then? Well, no; his treatment works, but he’s being sabotaged. Big Pharma is to blame, in a roundabout sort of way. Which leaves open the bigger question of why – on the reasonably safe assumption that there was an ulterior motive – Red wanted Stark found at all. We’re not told the whole answer yet, although we do learn that Stark is doing a job for Red. I’m guessing something to do with DNA, maybe?

Back in court, the judge has sided with Red, and is about to release him. But there’s a problem: when Red was arrested he was in possession of a gun, which would invalidate the agreement. Red wants to argue that the search and seizure was unlawful, but meantime he’s locked up. And presumably for his argument to succeed Liz will need to cop to dobbing him in. It’s yet another bracing, entertaining episode from the Blacklist team, with added anti-Trumpery from Cooper, who is keen to make the point that truth and facts matter. Mind you, I don’t quite know what was happening with Samar, who seems quite distressed about forgetting a word she wanted to use. You should try being my age, girlfriend.

The Blacklist s6 ep 2

Picking up where we left off last week, more or less: it turns out that the Corsican, Bastien Moreau, was having cosmetic surgery in order to resemble a courier for the Turkish consulate in New York City. Moreau kills the courier in order to replace him and thus take a bomb, concealed in a diplomatic pouch, into the United Nations building. Red, meantime, recruits the bombmaker himself – a camp, alcoholic Mitteleuropean named Max Rudiger, who we’ve seen before – to render the device harmless.

So far, so procedural. Even in its sixth season, though, this show knows how to keep you off balance. The defusing of the bomb – the traditional climax to any episode of any show with a bomb in it – is sorted out before the episode is halfway done. The soundtrack to this is particularly thrilling: Wire’s angular ‘I Am The Fly’ and Soul Coughing’s ‘Super Bon Bon’. (“Move a-side and let the man go through!”) Moreau gets away. “We lost him”, explains Ressler. No, dude. You lost him. Red and Dembe, meantime, are free to roam around a deserted UN building, culminating in Red taking the podium in the General Assembly hall and delivering a weird speech about Cary Grant’s love for LSD.

And we’re still not done. Red – who has, after all, evaded capture for decades –  is arrested by a NYPD beat cop, of all people, while doing nothing more suspicious than buying pretzels from a food truck. The FBI refuses to acknowledge its deal with Red, leaving Cooper furious. The politically ambitious DA, Ms Holt, isn’t of a mood to drop charges either. Red knows he was betrayed by someone, and asks Keen to find out who it was. Keen already knows who it was. It’s a quite outstanding episode.

The Blacklist s6 ep 1

It’s a typically swaggering start to a new season of The Blacklist: armed bank robbers are demanding money, banging on about their to-the-second timetable, and so on, when they’re interrupted by one of the bank’s customers. Who then proceeds to offer a detailed critique of their style. He can do that, of course, because he’s legendary criminal Raymond “Red” Reddington. (Actually, as we established at the end of season 5 that’s one thing he definitely isn’t, but until we have an alternative name I think that’s what we’re stuck with for now.) He then executes a theft of his own, stealing a famously missing Van Gogh from a safety deposit box, only to return it the next day. But why? Just, he claims, to prove to himself that he’s still got it.

I’m not sure I believe that. Meantime, though, he supplies a Blacklist name to the Task Force: Dr Hans Koehler, plastic surgeon to the underworld. Ressler gets a bit snarky about this, understandably wondering why the FBI is still doing Red’s bidding; although a moment’s reflection would presumably remind him that everyone in the Task Force now has dirty hands in one way or another. Koehler and his team are presently being held captive by Bastien Moreau, a criminal known as The Corsican (Christopher Lambert. “Scenery? Nom nom nom.”).

While this is going on Liz and her sister Jennifer are on a road trip to Liz’s childhood home, the one that burned down and allowed the Reddington swap to take place. Liz is determined that, for now, she’s not going to tell Red that she’s found out the truth about him. She even makes a remark about wanting to prove herself to be a better actor than Red, which might be capable of being read as an oblique, meta comment on the alleged nature of the off-camera relationship between Megan Boone and James Spader. Unfortunately she does this with the sort of loaded dialogue which makes it clear that something’s changed. You’d need to be incredibly stupid – something else Red isn’t – to miss the hints being dropped.

And when Koehler has been found and Liz returns to the Task Force, it’s to make the usual complaint: yes, Red has of course been employing them to track someone down for his own interests. “I thought we were past this!” Liz snaps. “Using us to catch the people you can’t!” Why in the name of eff she thinks they’re “past this” is a mystery which goes unaddressed. That’s kind of what he does, Liz. Red’s purpose this time appears to have been to get Koehler’s client list before the FBI does, as it contains details of his own plastic surgery, which could be inconvenient. Koehler dies; the Corsican lives; no doubt we’ll see him again. Standard still high.

Public Service Announcement 33 of 2019: The Blacklist, Private Eyes

Quite a few Unpopcult-friendly shows starting over the next few days, leading up to the remarkable prospect, next week, of The West Wing’s Sam Seaborn on ITV as a cop in Lincolnshire.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The Blacklist is returning for its sixth season tomorrow night, and it has to be said that it’s maintained a remarkably high standard over the years, given that its original premise could easily have burned itself out. (And it’s already been renewed for a seventh season.) The writers, of course, Went There at the end of season 5, confirming a long-held fan theory in the process, and I’m tremendously excited about how they’re going to get themselves out of that particular corner. Weekly reviews to come (Wednesday 5 June, 9pm, Sky One).

And, while we wait for the third season of delightful Canadian nonsense Private Eyes, it’s worth quickly mentioning that the first season is now getting a run on 5 USA, also on Wednesdays at 9, starting tomorrow. We love this show. We ship the leads. And Ennis Esmer is in it. If you’re tempted to give it a go, our reviews of the first two episodes are here. (And most of the other episodes are here.)

The Blacklist s5 ep 22

Osseous spoilers. Big ones.

This episode is really all about the final five minutes, but it has a lot of fun getting there, including a bizarre cameo from John Waters. This week’s Blacklister, Sutton Ross, is – not that it matters – an expert in stealing R&D secrets. More significantly, though, he’s the present holder of the Bones, which means that Liz and Red are both after him; Liz being assisted by the FBI, including Aram, who needs a distraction from the fact that Samar is still in a coma.

Liz and the FBI get to Ross first, and he’s taken into custody. A furious Red tells Cooper that if Ross isn’t handed over to him, there will be no more Blacklisters. Cooper stands firm. Ross, meantime, offers to tell Liz and only her the truth about the bones, and the two of them are left alone in an interrogation room. But he then takes her hostage and manages to get her out of the building. Ross phones Red and proposed to trade his life for Liz, and Red agrees.

Once Ross – who is evidently quite a player – has both Red and Liz in his hands, Liz is taken away and smacked around a bit. Red is told that she’ll be killed unless he tells Ross the truth about the Bones, but he only gets as far as “I am not…” before the FBI bursts in. Ross is arrested, but with typical insouciance Red shoots him on his way out, taking the Bones with him, then burning them in front of Liz’s grandfather (Brian Dennehy). So Red’s secret remains safe. And Samar has regained consciousness and accepted the marriage proposal she received while comatose, which is nice, albeit maybe a proposal when she could hear it would have been nicer.

Which… brings us to two reveals. The smaller one (although still pretty spectacular) is that Liz was working with Sutton Ross from the point at which the two of them were alone in the interrogation room, and that she already knows the truth about the bones. As does Jennifer, also part of the Ross/Liz scam. And the bigger reveal: those are the bones of Raymond Reddington. Whoever “Red” is, he’s not Reddington. (This has been a fan theory for a while: in addition, the producers have confirmed that they have had this in mind for a long time, and that James Spader has been in on it to inform his acting.)

So who is Fraud Frauddington? He’s a criminal mastermind, for sure, but why he came into Liz’s life a few years ago is something which is now entirely unexplained. And Liz and Jennifer have teamed up to find out who Fraud is, what he wants, and then, y’know, bring him down. The show has been renewed for a sixth season, which I’m delighted about: quite a few of Unpopcult’s favourite shows seem to run a bit dry on inspiration after only one or two years, but the fact that The Blacklist, five seasons in, is still fairly close to the top of its game is hugely impressive.