Public Service Announcement 17 of 2017: The Blacklist

Now that The Blacklist: Redemption has finished its run, The Blacklist is returning, with Dembe the Blacklister of the Week in the next episode. Given what happened before the hiatus I can’t see that ending well.

As for Redemption: it hasn’t been renewed, and I can see why not. I watched it all. I quite liked it. The characters were interesting, as were the plots. But it stubbornly refused to take off. That does give the main show’s writers a few opportunities, though, particularly given that Redemption’s final episode was clearly designed to open up the possibility of a second season. It’s been announced that Ryan Eggold is returning to the parent show, and Scottie and Solomon have already been Blacklisters, so the crossover is in place. Moreover Howard Hargrave (Terry O’Quinn) hasn’t yet featured, nor has quantum computing genius Richard Whitehall (Clarke Peters), and given that The Blacklist itself has been renewed for another season I wouldn’t be surprised to see Halcyon Aegis featuring again (Wednesday 24 May, 9pm, Sky 1).

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Red is still trying to work out which of his intimates is trying to bring him down, so invites them all to a summit meeting at a restaurant. However, someone gives him a lethal dose of poison, meaning that – and it’s hardly an original plot device – he has around 24 hours to find the culprit, and an antidote, before the Task Force has to cope with life without Red.

As it happens, the identity of the person who administers the poison is reasonably clear – although still shocking – from the outset, although not to Red, whose memories of the past few hours are patchy at best. He does know, however, who created the poison: this week’s Blacklister, The Apothecary, a pharmaco-toxicologist who creates bespoke toxins designed to work with unique potency on their intended victims. (And who also has a deeply unpleasant home life.)

Finding The Apothecary isn’t unduly taxing for the Task Force: they dig up someone else who appears to be a victim, a young woman due to be a witness against a mobster but rendered comatose, and try to trace The Apothecary through her. Of course, all is not what it seems with the woman, but they find the Blacklister anyway, and thus save Red’s life. It’s a decent but unspectacular episode, with its significance presumably to be found in the revelation about who was behind the poisoning; and, in due course, why. (I’m guessing Mr. Kaplan-related…?) For which we’ll need to wait a few weeks: The Blacklist here and in the US now goes on hiatus for a few weeks, with spinoff Redemption filling the gap. We’ll preview that tomorrow.

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At the end of last week’s episode Red snatched Isabella Stone from the FBI, in order to interrogate her about who she was hired by, and Cooper – belatedly, one might reasonably argue – is steamed. “Give me back my prisoner!” he shouts down the phone at Red. “You’ve gone too far!” Red would, perhaps, have been entitled to reply that as his entire relationship with the FBI had hitherto been conducted on the basis that he could do whatever the hell he liked, he was somewhat surprised that a line was being drawn now.

Instead, though, Red offers up this week’s Blacklister, The Architect, whose somewhat imprecise skill set is that he designs, constructs, and executes the perfect crime. So, essentially a project manager then? OK; let’s go with it. The Architect has taken an interest in BlackMass13, a sort of competitive hacker convention in Philadelphia. Aram, apparently the only member of the FBI who might plausibly impersonate a hacker, attends undercover and immediately bumps into Elise, his fake girlfriend from a few episodes back. He expected her to be in prison, but she claims to be working for the NSA, who presumably wanted a Red of their own.

Anyway, the assembled hackers are pressed into crashing a power grid in Virginia, while the Red Squad tries to work out who’s hired The Architect. Meantime, Tom is still digging into his past, with a view to launching Redemption, and trying to discover who paid some dude called Richard Game to confess to murdering him. And Red still has Isabella Stone in a refrigerated meat locker, to find out who paid her to come after him. All of which means that not one, not two, but three plots this week are powered by the fundamental question, the one Jack Bauer made his own: “Who are you working for?” And while it’s a good question in all three cases, I don’t think I’m being entitled in hoping for a little more variety. In consequence, it’s an episode which is passable rather than great, although an Aram-centric storyline is always welcome.

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This week’s Blacklister is Isabella Stone, mentioned in the last episode as the person behind an anti-Red campaign: it’s the cover name for a ruthless character assassin (I’m one too, although just as an enthusiastic amateur, whereas Isabella is available for hire) who has now gone after Stratos, an old Red ally. Stratos has gone to Monte Carlo in order to buy up a shipping line so that Red, presumably, can continue to move illegal goods around the globe.

Now, on this occasion Red doesn’t even bother to pretend that there’s some big moral crimefighting reason why the FBI should be doing his bidding; although, in fairness, Isabella Stone does sound like the sort of person in whom it should be taking an interest. Nonetheless, this is essentially presented as the Task Force doing Red a solid, and Ressler at least is prepared to raise the issue. Although, as the FBI has been working for Red since season 1, there needs to be a reason why he’s mentioning it now, and it’s that his brother is going in for surgery, while he and Samar are in Monte Carlo ensuring that one of the world’s most dangerous criminals can sleep a little more easily. And here I call shenanigans: dude, if you’d said to Cooper that you need some personal time because your brother is getting a heart bypass, I’m sure he could have sent someone else to Monte Carlo, but don’t just say nothing and then whine about it.

Ahem. Anyway, Stone and her team have successfully framed Stratos for the murder of his wife, which means that Red and his team need to bust him out of prison. Then, once the Task Force has identified and arrested Stone, Red wants a private word with her, since no-one knows who Stone is working for. Cooper finally draws a line and makes it clear that he’s not going to hand a suspect over to Red for interrogation, so Red and his team just wait until she’s being transported, hijack the vehicle, and extract her anyway. Why not? It’s not as if it might cause the FBI to re-evaluate its relationship with Red, because nothing does. Along the way Liz finds something she calls a “pop-up safe house”. A pop-up safe house! Props to whoever in the writing room got that through.

Meantime Tom’s “father” has “died” in a “plane crash”, although as his father looks from the photos we’re shown as if he’s being played by Terry O’Quinn, and The Blacklist: Redemption is about to start, I think we would be entitled to a knowing look to camera. Tom doesn’t care about the death of his father; not to start with, anyway. But then he starts to delve into his complicated family history, and all of a sudden he wants to reconnect with his mother, who – coincidentally! – is also about to feature in The Blacklist: Redemption. Against my better judgment I’m kind of interested in this storyline, and I suppose I’ll take a look at Redemption when it starts in the UK in a couple of weeks. Anyway, The Blacklist has been in excellent form since it returned from hiatus, and this is another winner.

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This week’s Blacklister is Natalie Luca, and she’s come to the attention of the Red Task Force because she kills Red’s accountant, the one who went missing last week. And, as Red makes clear to Liz, the FBI has a duty, a responsibility to maintain his criminal empire as a going concern, otherwise he isn’t going to be able to help them. That line having been crossed years ago, Cooper and Liz are all, yeah, whatever.

Natalie, though, isn’t really a Blacklister: she’s carrying Luschen’s Disease, an unpleasant form of meningitis which is passed through touch and kills almost instantly, and she and her boyfriend are committing crimes to try and raise money so that he, too, can be immune to the disease, allowing them to touch and do all the good stuff. It’s like Bonnie and Clyde, were Bonnie the asymptomatic carrier of a fatal disease. Sometimes it’s just stealing, but on occasion it means working as a killer for hire, as with Red’s accountant.

Red is sure that this was ordered by a business rival in order to scupper his deal for a shipping line, and that the next step will be to order a hit on Red himself. Fortunately he has a plan: he’s already created a make-believe master assassin, Edgar Legate (I assumed that this must be a really clever anagram, but the best I can come up with is Get Red Algae, which isn’t exactly chilling), so all he needs is to find someone who can convincingly play a pay-for-play killer, then draw his rival out. Tom has his hand in the air to volunteer more or less before Red has started speaking, because the thing about Tom is that he lives for this kind of thing. They don’t even need to discuss terms; Tom would, one suspects, do it for the lolz.

And the plan works perfectly, except that Red’s rival didn’t order the hit; it was someone named Isabella Stone. Who I don’t think we’ve heard of before, unless it’s a cover name for Mr. Kaplan. The other problem is that Liz is now going to have to reckon with the truth of her marriage, which is that Tom isn’t going to be content as a stay-at-home dad.

There’s also a curious little subplot in which Samar is sulking with Aram for no obvious reason. It turns out that, as well as not being able to spot when a member of staff is working for a foreign intelligence agency, the FBI is remarkably lax about the confidentiality of its employees, and Samar has found out that she gets paid significantly less than Aram. Which isn’t even close to being Aram’s fault, but still. Also, of course, the real question is whether she gets paid the same as someone doing the same job, such as Liz or Ressler, rather than comparing herself to one of the FBI’s leading IT people. I’m guessing that there were two points to this: firstly, equal pay is good; secondly, Aram is such a romantic (or so pathetically needy) that he’s prepared to take a pay cut, and insist that the money goes to Samar, to ensure that they get paid the same, like that’s ever going to be a thing. I say again: how does this affect Ressler, who’s been there for longer and isn’t working for the Mossad at the same time? But I don’t intend to let that get in the way. Not quite as good as last week, but more than good enough.

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The Blacklist tried its audience’s patience a little with the less-than-successful Who’s Your Daddy? story, so it’s more than time for a decent back-to-basics episode. This one hit the spot. Our Blacklisters are The Harem, an elite all-female gang of thieves who only steal from other criminals. They’re after a missing list of people in witness protection, and the only way they can be stopped – apart from someone actually stopping them, and they’re waaaay too good for that – is for Liz to infiltrate them. Perhaps Samar might have been better placed, or maybe there’s a bit of belated agonising about where her loyalties lie. (And, sidebar – perhaps the best way of ensuring that everyone in Witsec isn’t simultaneously put in danger is to not compile their details into a list? Anyway.)

So Liz successfully blags her way onto The Harem, with a little collateral damage along the way, downs some shots with the gals, and gets to work on planning the theft of the Witsec list. There’s a nice twist halfway through, when she discovers that another member of Fox Force Five is already in Red’s pocket; and there’s a not-so-nice one, when it looks as if she might need to submit to sexual assault to remain a member of The Harem. Because, y’know, female criminal therefore gay. Nope, Blacklist.

But that doesn’t bring the episode down. I like a good heist – see reviews passim – and this has a couple, starting with the cold open which combines fake Braxton Hicks contractions and a real sniper rifle to excellent effect. There’s a hint of emotion towards the end, a reminder that the Kaplan business isn’t going away, and an elusive subplot in which Red tries to buy a shipping line but discovers that one of his dodgy accountants has disappeared, leaving his money in electronic limbo somewhere. I liked this a lot.

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Someone is leaving detailed dioramas outside Liz and Tom’s new house. A welcoming neighbour, perhaps, in lieu of a basket of warm muffins? No: these dioramas are of crime scenes which happen shortly afterwards. Liz, now restored to the FBI, takes one into the office. “Agent Keen, that is so cool!” exclaims Aram, before realising that he’s not being asked to appreciate their artistic merit, but instead find out who made them, and how in the holy hell s/he is able to predict crimes.

The “who” is a creepy-as-eff 9-year-old girl, and the “how”, according to her mother, is that the girl (who has learning difficulties) gets premonitions. Well, Cooper doesn’t buy that, nor do I; and nor, thank the Lord, do the writers. Instead, it turns out that Creepy’s hearing aid is blah blah something something so it’s tuned into telephone conversations between a nearby hitman and his clients, which she overhears and turns into gruesomely detailed, lovingly-fashioned dioramas of doom.

Meantime Tom, as part of his New Start With Liz And Agnes, throws out the bundle of fake passports we first saw away back near the start of season 1, then decides to keep them, presumably remembering that he’s contracted to The Blacklist: Redemption, and might need them. And Red, disporting himself in an antiseptic all-white apartment, engages in a bizarre, and somewhat wearing, pas de trois with a boss and employee from a cobalt mining company, ostensibly (I think) because he wanted a piece of the cobalt action, in fact (I think) because he wanted to shoot them and decided to amuse himself while doing so, and also because (I think) he wanted to audition new cleaners to replace Mr. Kaplan. And if I’ve got that wrong, I don’t care.

In short, ‘The Forecaster’ wasn’t terrible, but it was a little boring. The best things were the cleaners – “Well, aren’t you a tall drink of chocolate milk?” – and the final scene, which suggests that the show’s most enduring relationship, that between Red and Dembe, might be under threat as a result of Red’s summary treatment of Mr. Kaplan, who on reflection we haven’t seen for a few weeks now.