Warning: Spoiler Alert
The United States Government’s conducted some barbaric experiments on some of it'[s citizens over the last 80-years or so. Back in the thirties, they introduced syphilis into Federal Prisons, without informing the convicts. In the fifties, the CIA and other Intelligence Agencies, experimented on soldiers with LSD and other hallucinogens, to test its effect as a mind controlling subject. It’s too scary to even contemplate what our Government’s doing in the current era, when elected officials show their constituents how little they care about them.
That’s one of the storylines introduced in the latest episode of the NBC series “The Blacklist,” as a scientist involved in “Black-Ops” for some branch of the Government, now’s working independently on experiments involving the “warrior gene”, an anomaly in some folks genetic makeup. Dr. Linus Creel’s found a band of subjects he’s experimented on, turning docile souls into killing machines.
The other story-arc in the episode, involved Raymond Reddington’s former wife Naomi Hyland, whom Red has kept imprisoned since he got her back from his adversary Berlin in the second episode of this season. Berlin planned on killing Naomi and sending her to Raymond in pieces, as he claimed that Reddington did to Berlin’s daughter, but Red got control of his enemy’s assets, returning them in exchange for Naomi.
Before we explore this installment’s plot, let’s take a moment to discuss the current state of “The Blacklist.” The series rocketed out of the starting blocks last year, in its freshman season and maintained its velocity throughout the entire season, concluding with a no-holds barred finale, that got fans even more excited for season two. However, in this young television season, the series has yet to recapture the magic from the first season.
James Spader’s Red’s, a far toned down less grand version of the former Government Operative turned Master Criminal, we enjoyed last year. We’ve experienced a more brusque, less charming Reddington, so far this year. That made Reddington a larger-than-life figure, showing a charm and sophistication of an earlier era, while able to switch gears to ruthless, without bating an eye. Even the childlike joy and laughter he displayed when he and Dembe laughed like six-year-olds over an old “Three Stooges” short, while holding a prisoner. These contradictions made Raymond Reddington a charismatic character.
Megan Boone’s Lizzie Keen, morphed from a sweet naïve girl, who thought she lived the perfect life, into a cynical, bitter, paranoid woman this season. The transformation’s understandable, given the year she experienced finding out her life was essentially a lie, however it makes for a far less sympathetic character and dampens the viewer’s desire to watch her succeed.
Mozhan Marnò’s former Mossad agent Samar Navabi’s joined the team and while she’s an attractive woman, so far we know little about her and she has yet to show her abilities as an asset. Former member Agent Meera Malik’s not a character that I enjoyed, as she sold out her team to Government bureaucrat Diane Fowler, but she served a purpose. Navabi’s yet to show any reason for the character to exist, other than as a place holder. The one character that’s improved from the first season’s Amir Arison’s techie Aram Mojtabai, the team’s techie and biggest team player. He’s incredibly loyal to Kean and follows suggestions without questioning.
The series has yet to find its cadence this season, starting with the strained relationship between Lizzie and Red, the secrets that have remained unanswered for the past year and the distrust that’s forming on both sides. Except for the deal he consummated with Berlin to get back Naomi, Raymond’s not played a prominent role in any of the investigations he’s given as leads to Harold Cooper’s Task-Force, instead working on his own separate agendas.
The show seemed to start finding it’s footing in this episode, although still not clearing the bar set last year. Red’s new name’s Creel, not only experiments on his subjects without their knowledge or permission, he seems certifiably insane complete with a fetish that causes him to pull out a patch of hair from the back of his head, every time one of his subjects commits violent acts. We first meet the scientist as he monitors one of his subjects, a formerly docile single mom that he’s turned into a ticking bomb.
Creel orchestrated her losing her job, her longtime boyfriend and she’s close to losing her home. After standing outside the bank that holds the loan on her home in a trance for a while, she walks into the building and deals with an unsympathetic loan officer. He says the bank’s got no choice but foreclosure and she leaves the building, upset, distraught and incredibly angry. She stomps to her car, grabs a revolver from her glove compartment, goes back into the bank and opens fire. After she’s captured she’s sent to a mental hospital to evaluate her.
Back at the cabin, Red’s holding Naomi in, he asks her where their now grown daughter’s at, but she refuses to tell him. He then tells her he’s gotten new passports and new identities for her and her husband Frank as they must leave Philadelphia, or face danger on a daily basis. Hyland argues at first then realizes Red’s right and just then Frank pulls up in his car to the cabin. He however refuses to give up their lives and start anew and convinces Naomi to return to Philadelphia with him.
Keen realizes that Red’s holding Naomi and she desperately wants to talk to her about what Hyland knows about Lizzie’s connection with Raymond. So she gets Amir to monitor the cell phone records of both Naomi and Frank, plus their frequent contacts to determine where Hyland’s being held.
Cooper calls Liz into his office and tells her that the rumors over the years about “Black-Ops,” are factual and he begins listing some incredulous sounding projects, he then pulls out an old photo from his desk of the “Black-Ops” team that worked on stimulating the “warrior gene,” before they lost their funding. Keen asks who a familiar face in the corner of the photo belongs to and she’s told the research assistant, Linus Creel. He gives her a classified document on the project but it’s almost totally redacted, making it impossible to derive info from.
A report comes in that another man with a connection to Creel, went on a shooting spree, killing many until gunned down by police. Liz speaks of her frustration about the redacted document and Navabi asks if the Government employs a polyglot, a person who can determine what redacted documents actually say. She calls Red and asks if he’s aware of such a person and he laughs at the term and takes her to an old associate, who possesses a clean copy of the document. The experiment works in three parts, first reducing the subject’s self-esteem, then taking away important possessions and relationships, finally pushing them to the point of anger. They realize that’s what Creel’s doing with his subjects.
An old friend, whose opinion I greatly value told me that he got put off by Paul Reuben’s character Mr. Vargas, introduced in the previous episode, but I happen to enjoy the character and the out of the box casting choice. He returns in this episode, in a scene that begins with an attractive young woman talking on her cellphone as she enters her house. She’s talking to a man she’s having an affair with, who promised to leave his wife for her. She tells him she doesn’t care if it’s a bad time, either he tells his wife about them or she will, then hangs up the phone.
At that point the woman’s startled as Mr. Vargas marches over to her from the living room and starts berating her about the way she treats her dog, a white, pudgy, Lab mix. He says it’s shameful, leaving the poor animal locked in the house all day and having the choice to relieve himself inside the house or wait until his owner comes home. Mr. Vargas says, he’s cleaned up four messes in the last twenty-minutes, then demands the dog’s leash and tells her he’s taking the pup for a walk. She tells him no, instead she’ll call the police, until one of his enforcers pushes her down into a chair.
Creel’s programmed 18-subjects over the previous 18-months and all have carried out his plan except for one young man he’s held back for this occasion. He invented a beautiful girl on Facebook, that seduced the hapless teen online, then told him there’s somebody else and she and he are deeply involved. The teen starts to lose it and heads down to a question and answer session conducted by a US Senator, he believes the fictitious Amanda Palmer supports. Creel’s talking to the Senator about the “warrior gene” and that he can stop subjects from acting on the impulses in their heads, but the Senator cuts him short. Linus then reveals he’s attempted to contact the Senator for over a year and the Senator’s refused to speak with him.
Back at the cabin, Red asks Frank to take a walk with him, when they reach a parking lot, Mr. Vargas and crew drive up with the woman’s dog. The woman’s named Monica and Frank’s the man she’s having the affair with. Raymond tells Frank the affair’s over and that he and Naomi will relocate and assume new identities. He then picks up a sharp stick and holds it to Hyland’s jugular vein and says the only reason he’s still living’s the fact he makes Naomi happy. Keep her happy he says.
The teen and the Task-Force arrive at the Q&A session at the same time and the kid starts looking for Amanda, but Creel tells him he set the whole thing up. He purposely tricked him and broke his heart so the teen would kill him, make him a martyr and cause people to study and eventually adopt his work, but Liz and Ressler attempt to talk the kid out of it. But the boy’s confused, finally shooting Creel but just winging him. Liz goes to him and tells Ressler to call for a medic, but Linus rises, grabs Keen and holds a pistol to her head. Ressler tells him to let her go but Creel says if he shoots Liz they’ll kill him, but Ressler tells him he won’t get killed, just injured. Just then a shot rings out striking Linus in the back killing him instantly, the agents look up and see a sniper who then disappears.
Frank and Naomi talk and he tells her he thought things through and the biggest priority in his life’s her safety, so he believes they should move and start over again. Although she’ll never realize it, Red saved her marriage and probably both hers and Frank’s lives. Lizzy gets some info from Amir on being able to triangulate the phone calls of the Hyland’s and he’s located where Naomi’s at. Keen drives to the cabin to find Naomi alone, Hyland starts to talk about Berlin and her being held by Raymond, but Lizzie cuts her off. She says she came to talk to see if Naomi can shed light on her connection with her former husband. Although Naomi’s got the info Keen wants, she feigns ignorance, then tells her Red’s just using her until she’s no longer an asset. Red’s been standing at the door listening and chooses to come in the cabin at that point. He says something disparaging both of them then tells Naomi it’s time to leave.
As she’s leaving she tells Red she’s got no idea where their daughter is, the girl knew Raymond would attempt to find her and lives off the grid. Reddington clearly appreciates her telling him that and kisses her on the forehead, then her and Frank take off for their new lives. We can see that Raymond’s more than perturbed at Liz for trying to get info from Naomi, driving them just a bit more apart.
The Story Continues Next Monday at 9:00 pm on NBC.