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All posts for the month January, 2019

Photo Courtesy of NBC.

WARNING: SPOILER ALERT!

Well, we got a Marvin Gerard, mention, can a “Jellybean,” sighting be far off? After starting off season six, with a wildly careening two-part premiere, the veteran NBC series “The Blacklist,” served up a far more palatable episode this week, entitled “The Pharmacist (124).” After seemingly throwing away five years of continuity in the two-part outing, Jon Bokenkamp and company, started putting things back in their proper places in the universe they’ve created.

However the level of writing’s still not as sharp as in even previous seasons. “The Blacklist,” once had the ability to take the viewer down what seemed like a familiar path, only for the viewer to realize that circumstances were not what they appeared to be. Without that ability to surprise, the show’s more reliant than ever before on the characters and the actors who portray them. Thankfully James Spader, and Harry Lennix, were more than up to the task.

The hour mainly concentrated on two story-arcs, the first concerning the preliminary hearing for Reddington, after getting busted for a concealed weapon, by some seemingly hapless New York City patrolman. The other story-line centered around the latest name provided to the Task-Force, as well as a debate about innovation versus regulation.

THE TRIAL OF RAYMOND REDDINGTON

Our universe would be far better off, if our courts were presided by jurists like Judge Roberta Wilkins. A no-nonsense woman, who never the less has the highest regard for the law, and refuses to bend to political will. The prosecutor Michael Sima, representing the Southern District of New York, was portrayed by veteran character actor Ken Leung. Leung first came to my attention as reoccurring characters, in “LOST,” and “Person Of Interest,” and chances are high that you’ve seen his face many times on the small screen over the last dozen-years.

With the Justice Department, refusing to admit that they’ve entered into an immunity agreement with Red, Raymond approaches the bench and informs the judge himself. When the jurist asks for proof of such an agreement, Reddington calls on Harold Cooper to verify the agreement.

Keen, chastises Cooper, for allowing Reddington to use him, telling her boss that Red counted on Harold’s honesty and decency, despite any consequences Cooper suffers from the Bureau. Harold, then states that the immunity agreement with the government exists, and he’s not going to follow orders for political expediency. He ends the conversation with Keen, saying he’s going to tell the truth.

After refusing Reddington’s request for old friend Marvin Gerard, to represent him at the hearing, Red dismisses his court appointed attorney and decides to represent himself. Leave it to the man we’ve come to know as Raymond Reddington, to disprove Abraham Lincoln’s old bromide “He who represents himself has a fool for a client.”

Raymond asked just one question of the Task-Force director; would you do it again? After a second to collect his thoughts Cooper stated, that he’d make the same decisions without hesitation. He spoke of the scores of criminals that Reddington helped bring to justice, many that the government and law enforcement officials were unaware of. He told the court of the hundreds, if not thousands of people saved from harm and even death by their actions.

Harold failed to stay true to his last statement to Keen, when Sima asked him if Reddington had committed any crimes since signing his agreement with the Justice Department. With images of Raymond shooting Diane Fowler, and Sutton Ross’ deaths, being flashed across the screen, Cooper tells the prosecutor, none that he’s aware of.

Harold’s decision to perjure himself hearken back to last year’s episode when he refused to accept Donald Ressler’s resignation letter. Each member of the Task-Force made a deal with the devil, and they’ve all committed acts they wouldn’t have considered doing five years earlier. They all decided long-ago that the mission was important enough to blur and sometimes break lines. They will all have to examine their acts eventually, this was not that day.

Sima’s argument to the court was that the United States Government, shouldn’t be involved in immunity deals with criminals like Reddington. Judge Wilkins, tells the prosecutor that she agrees with his opinion, however the United States government’s derived a bounty of information from the arrangement. She echoes Cooper’s statement to Liz, that the government’s obligated to fulfill its obligations, and tells Red that he’s free to leave.

Sima’s legal aide gives the prosecutor one more bite of the apple, as the SDNY will prosecute Reddington for possessing a gun, violating the terms of the agreement. Raymond informs Judge Wilkins that the weapon was discovered during an illegal search and seizure. Wilkins tells both sides they’ll reconvene in two-weeks, and Raymond’s sent to a maximum security facility for that time period.

This gives the writers the chance to indulge their “Raymond In Prison Fantasy,” while ensuring that the story-arc should wrap up around episode five or six. Episode four will center around Raymond exerting his influence on the facility in record time. Perhaps Reddington can talk his new friend John Waters, into directing a musical starring the inmates?

BLACKLIST MEMBER OF THE WEEK

We’re introduced to bio-hackers Spalding Stark, and his rather creepy partner Dr. Ethan Webb, in the cold open, as they perform clinical trials on a group of severely physically disabled people. The patients suffer from Motor Cortex Degenerative Disease, a condition that leads to the victims becoming prisoners in their own bodies. Stark’s work’s unsanctioned and highly illegal, however he offers his patients a chance to actually live again, instead of just slowly and painfully dying.

Spalding explains to his patients that the procedure’s so risky, that the patients will have to inject themselves with the serum, and asks them to do so simultaneously. Seconds later we hear giggling from one of the elderly women, and we see the faces of the other patients filled with joy, as they realize they now control their bodies again. The victory’s short-lived however, as one by one the victims lapse into seizures and then flat-line. Stark, and Webb, abandon the facility leaving the victims behind.


Raymond sees a news story on the TV that his guards are watching, after the bodies are discovered. He informs Lizzie that he knows the man responsible for the deaths. Red explains to Lizzie that Stark approached him about bankrolling one of his projects a while back, and Reddington felt confident enough in the scientist to provide him the funds. Hearing the reports have caused Reddington to doubt his initial instincts.

Spalding Stark’s looked upon as a sort of demi-god by the techno-geek community, so of course Aram’s well aware of him. He even watched a live stream of Stark injecting himself with malaria, and then coaxing a a malaria infected mosquito to bite him as well. His theory was that the two strains of malaria would cancel each other out. The theory didn’t hold up and Stark’s entire left side of his body and face are now paralyzed.

Ressler, and Samar Navabi, head to the warehouse the bodies were discovered in. They speak to the owner of the building Warren Kirby, who tells them he rented the facility to a third party, and he discovered the bodies when he came to check up on the occupants, then called 911.

He’s been unable to get in touch with his client since. Investigators don’t have much to go on, however they recover one of the high-tech injector guns that dispensed the drugs to the victims. Navabi, and Mojtabai, head to question some of Aram’s friends, while Ressler heads to Crown Life Pharmaceuticals, to try to get a handle on what they’re dealing with.

Ressler talks with one of Crown Life’s executives, and the man boats that his company’s far ahead of the curve dealing with MCDD. He tells Donald that while a cure for the condition’s yet to be discovered, Crown Life’s made tremendous advances in drugs that should help to control the symptoms of the disease.

This viewer’s antennae were raised when Donald asked the executive about Spalding Stark, and then without hesitation said he’d never heard of him. It didn’t seem logical that a man so renowned by the tech counter-culture, would escape his notice. Especially as the conversation progressed, and he expressed such disdain for the bio-hacker community.

Samar then met some friends of Aram’s who likely won’t be getting wedding invitations. The man who greets them at the door has a micro-processor embedded in his forehead, and on the back of each hand. He explains to Navabi that they turn on the lights and his computer. We then pass by three other young bio-hackers working on projects. One of them’s attempting to rewrite his DNA to give him more athleticism. The other two are playing with a CRISPR, the instrument a Chinese doctor allegedly used to create designer DNA.

We then watch as the Crown Life executive and the bio-hacker completely refute each other’s points, as they engage in their own conversations. The executive states that these outliers prey on the desperate who have run out of options and hope. He says that they operate without any regulations, and that he’s terrified of them. The bio-hacker tells Aram, and Samar, that they represent the future of science and the reason Big-Pharma’s afraid of them, is because they’ll soon become obsolete. The bio-hacker scoffs at the concerns over regulation and asks what about innovation?

Aram’s friend’s been able to identify the high-tech injector, found at the scene. When he pulls the URL up for the website, Navabi gasps. The man in the forefront of the website’s image, holding the injector’s Warren Kirby.

Kirby’s brought to the Post Office for questioning, and not only admits to knowing Stark, he says Stark cured him of MCDD. He tells the agents that he’s got all the information readily available from his own trials, and that he met Stark, when the scientist worked as a clerk at his local pharmacy. He says Stark realized the extent to which Kirby was suffering and offered him an option.

Aram checks out all the documentation and says it’s legit, and that Stark used the drugs on himself as well, as he was suffering from the disease. Kirby compares his own blood panels to those of the deceased, and discovers one significant difference. The deceased all had traces of Cylovex, a nerve agent in their systems. The agents do a background check on Mr. Creepy, Ethan Webb, and discover he used to work for Crown Life Pharmaceuticals. They assume Webb’s attempting to discredit Stark, so he can sell their cure to Big Pharma.

While hiding from the authorities, Stark’s gathered a new group of MCDD sufferers, and he believes he’s convinced Webb to assist him in the new trial session. Stark’s new group of patients are just about to self-inject, when the agents burst into the room. Unfortunately they arrived too late for one of the patients, who injected himself with the tainted formula.

Webb admits to Ressler, that he was never really Stark’s partner. He’d in fact been a plant by Crown Life Pharmaceuticals, whom intended to bury the cure, so that they could keep enriching their coffers with formulas that would only treat the symptoms.

Navabi, informs Stark, that Webb had always been out to keep him from succeeding, and that Webb was the one responsible for the victim’s deaths. She tells the bio-hacker any punishment he receives will likely be lenient, as he’ll only be charged with abandoning the original victims. Ressler heads back to Crown Life Pharmaceuticals, and tells the executive he’s under arrest.

However Stark soon learns he’s not quite off the hook, as Dembe arrives to talk to him. Zuma tells the bio-hacker that Reddington’s getting impatient waiting for Stark to finish the project he paid him for. The bio-hacker assures Dembe that completing the project’s his highest priority.

ODDS AND ENDS

One thing we didn’t discuss in our previous column, was the condition of Navabi, who got cleared to return to active duty in the premiere episode. Although the doctor eagerly signed off on allowing Navabi to return to active duty, it was quite apparent that she wasn’t being truthful with the physician, about lingering effects from her being in a coma. That point was reinforced when Dembe congratulated Samar on her engagement to Aram, and at first she had no idea what he was congratulating her for.

We saw further evidence in this episode, when Navabi couldn’t remember the word sabotage. Although people search for the proper words constantly, the episode clearly bothered her, and looks like it will become an issue she has to deal with in the next few weeks.

Yes, I read the interview with Jon Bokenkamp, in which he stated that Lizzie’s the one who turned Raymond in. I still stand by my initial impression, that the woman claiming to be Jennifer Reddington, actually informed the police behind Keen’s back. If Elizabeth had actually been the person who turned in Reddington, I don’t think she’d have had the nerve to go visit him in his cell. In this viewer’s opinion, Lizzie found out the truth when she returned to her apartment.

Yes, in case you didn’t catch on last week, I’m labeling the character portrayed by Fiona Dourif, as the woman claiming to be Jennifer Reddington. I’ve had my doubts since the character was introduced, and they’ve only increased over time. I also have had doubts that Naomi’s really dead, and I think the two subjects are intertwined.

The Story Continues on Friday Night, at 10:00 pm, on NBC.

Photo Courtesy Of NBC

WARNING SPOILER ALERT:

This will now be my tenth attempt at writing this column, which has changed in tone and format throughout this past week. This writer became hooked on the NBC veteran series “The Blacklist,” the moment James Spader, doffed his fedora and dropped to his knees in the Hoover Building in September, 2013. Beginning in September, 2014, we have faithfully recapped the last four seasons of the series.

Returning readers to these pages are well aware that we are not afraid to share both bold opinion, as well as speculation. There have been times when these pages expressed disagreement with series creator Jon Bokenkamp, and his staff of writers. Despite those disagreements, this viewer kept faith that the writing staff knew exactly where they wanted to take this epic tale. After watching the two-hour-premiere of Season Six, this viewer now doubts that premise.

It’s been almost nineteen-months, since Tom Keen picked up a battered old suitcase containing a skeleton, per the last request of Kate Kaplan. The contents of that valise would lead to the demise of two beloved characters, and stood the show on its ear in the process. The man who said “criminals are notorious liars,” shortly after meeting FBI profiler Elizabeth Keen, turned out to be living an existence built upon a foundation of falsehoods. Although the man we know as Raymond Reddington IS the “Concierge Of Crime,” he’s not the former United States Naval Officer, who decades before had a torrid affair with Katarina Rostova.

After surviving a near-apocalyptic battle against his former “better-half,” in the series fourth season, season five started out on a lighter note. Nearly penniless, Raymond was reduced to living in the seedy Terra Vista Motor Lodge, wearing borrowed clothes. Rather than being crushed by the loss of his empire and many long time associates, the situation seemed to energize Reddington. He knew that it was just a matter of time before he’d be back amongst the criminal elite, as they had left him with his greatest asset. He still possessed the mind of a chess player, who had deduced the next ten moves he’d make on the board.

Despite the lighter tone throughout the first episode of season five, our evening concluded with what proved to be a flash-forward, giving us a brief glimpse of a horrific event that took place later in the season. After a surprisingly brief period, Raymond’s financial coffers filled quickly and the comedic tone of the first few episodes receded into the background.

When the series went into it’s Fall hiatus, the show-runners’ ended the romance of the star-crossed-lovers Tom and Elizabeth Keen, killing off Tom, for getting too close to the truth. We also met the “BIG BAD” of the season, Ian Garvey, a corrupt Federal Marshall who had personal reasons for going after Reddington. Garvey took possession of the bones, after he and his goons invaded the Keen’s home, and then beat up the couple so severely that Tom died and Lizzie lapsed into an eight-month coma.

We fast forward to May, 2018. We’re introduced to a woman claiming to be Jennifer Reddington, Red’s long lost daughter, living under an assumed name thanks to the witness protection program, and the aid of Garvey. A showdown takes place in a Baltimore bar, concluding with Garvey shooting Reddington, and Keen killing Garvey. However the location of the knapsack containing the bones remained a mystery.

Season five concluded with Raymond and Elizabeth receiving what they wanted. Reddington reclaimed possession of the skeleton, and then burned the remains with Dembe, and Dom, by his side. However Elizabeth attained the knowledge she’d been seeking for months, the secret that Red refused to share with her. The man that Garvey sent the bones to Sutton Ross, revealed to Keen, and her half-sister Jennifer, that the bones were the last remains of their biological father, the actual Raymond Reddington. Sutton would not live long enough to share that information with the authorities, as Reddington snuffed out his life, while Sutton was being arrested.

Renewing “The Blacklist,” became an eleventh-hour decision for NBC, and it came with a caveat. Although season six would run a complete 22-episode schedule, the network wouldn’t air the episodes until January, 2019. So began the interminable wait, replete with rabid fan speculation, including a faction that refused to believe that James Spader’s character wasn’t a man who had taken on a new identity decades earlier.

Reading that the series would kick-off the season with a two-hour premiere, I hoped that the fan’s patience would be rewarded by transporting us back to the 20th Century, revealing the true story. Although we’ve seen that era through the perspective of four-year-old Masha Rostova, as well as Kathryn Nemec, that gave us only glimpses colored by perception. The origin story of the man we’ve come to know as Raymond Reddington, would have made for a powerful premiere, and set the tone for the season.

Instead of providing answers Bokenkamp and company, decided to venture down a new path. In the midst of a rather convoluted mish-mash, that had it’s share of highlights, every thing suddenly ground to a halt. While stopping to pick up three pretzels from a street vendor, a uniformed officer walks over to Reddington and asks for identification, and notices Raymond’s packing. The cop’s soon informed by some other uniforms, that he’s captured the man atop the FBI’S Most Wanted List. Welcome to our new adventure “Raymond Reddington Goes To Prison.”

In a nod to our current political atmosphere, Harold Cooper’s informed in no uncertain terms by Cynthia Pannabaker, that the Justice Department will deny any agreement the Task-Force has with Reddington. Cooper arranges a meeting with the prosecutor from the Southern District of New York, hoping to persuade her to kick Reddington loose. The woman who has political ambitions and her eyes on the Governor’s mansion, scoffs at the suggestion. Upon returning to New York City, she holds a press conference announcing to the planet that she’s got Raymond Reddington in custody, and intends to prosecute him to the fullest extent of the law.

While Keen and Donald Ressler attempt to track down the Blacklist member of the week, The Corsican, they receive a call from Aram Mojtabai, informing them of Reddington’s arrest. Keen’s overcome by emotion and rushes to the holding cell Raymond’s in. He tells her not to worry about his imprisonment, however he wants her to find out who tipped off the cops. He tells her he believes that it’s somebody close. She asks if he wants the person’s identity in order to kill them, and he responds, that depends.

Keen returns to her apartment, where Jennifer informs her that she’s the one that tipped off the police. After an earlier conversation, when Keen expressed second thoughts about going after Raymond, Jennifer decided to take matters into her own hands making certain Liz couldn’t back out. Despite the betrayal by her half-sister, Keen takes responsibility for Reddington’s arrest, and fears the results of Raymond finding out she’s to blame.

Although the premise of Raymond, running a maximum security prison’s somewhat intriguing, if they introduced this story-arc during the series’ fourth season, I’d likely be far more receptive to it. If the speculation’s correct that this could be the final season for this show I’m so emotionally invested in, I don’t want episodes wasted going down this rabbit hole.

Once again James Spader proved that despite the lack of recognition, he’s turned Raymond Reddington into one of the medium’s most iconic characters. The “cold-open” for Dr. Hans Koehler, may have been the best the show’s ever produced. While Reddington and Dembe case a bank they plan to rob the following week, a masked gang break into the facility carrying heavy artillery. Raymond then precedes to dress down the would-be robbers, and offers to help them escape for the lion’s share of their take. The group escape in a dump truck Reddington’s arranged for, and when the police start pursuing the vehicle, Raymond dumps the crooks, their weapons, and their money onto the street and into the officer’s arms.

Spader used his added girth to his advantage in these two episodes. The weight that he’s gained the series’ run, makes him look far older than the svelte man we were introduced to in 2013. The image accompanying this piece, evoked the aging Don Corleone, brilliantly portrayed by Marlon Brando, in my mind.

His journey to the maximum security prison was wordless, but there was no need for dialogue, as Spader’s face told us exactly what he was feeling. Despite his bravado, a primal fear gripped him, a fear that he’ll keep to himself in order to survive this ordeal. It’s just a matter of time before all the gangs within the facility, start reporting to him on a daily basis.

This won’t be Raymond’s last stand, switching from the chess analogy to poker, Reddington’s got at least two or three Aces hidden up his sleeve. It would not surprise me in the least if the POTUS from the Blacklist Universe, Robert Diaz, who of course has a history with Reddington, enters the mix. Let’s keep in mind that it’s sometime in October, 2019, in Raymond’s world, making it that much closer to Diaz entering a reelection campaign.

Raymond’s address to the empty chamber of the General Assembly at the United Nations, ranks with some of the best soliloquies Raymond’s ever performed. A long and rambling speech starting off with depreciating remarks, including tales of Cary Grant and LSD, making it sound that “Our Raymond’s” found solace through use of the chemical. We know of his taste for opium, it’s not that far a leap to surmise that Raymond’s had his share of acid-trips.

That scene lead to Elizabeth’s revelation about the man we know as Raymond Reddington. Yes, the man who assumed the identity of her biological father 30-years-earlier; is a cold-blooded killer, capable of committing heinous, unspeakable, inexcusable, acts.

However, he’s not soulless, and is indeed just as capable of showing kindness. Whether that be to a young boy born with birth-defects he buys three ice-cream sundaes for, or saving the lives of those in the United Nations Building. Reddington got nothing in return by getting Max to disarm the bomb, nor will he ever receive credit for it.

There was another nice exchange between longtime partners Keen, and Ressler, as Donald told Lizzie that she wasn’t fooling him that she was “fine” still working with Reddington, after Raymond killed Sutton Ross, and walked away with the skeleton. He told her he was willing to accept her explanation, but he wasn’t buying it. She thanked him for backing off.

There’s no doubt in this viewer’s mind that Raymond realizes Keen knows the truth. The fact that she’s yet to question him about his actions, wouldn’t get by a grade-schooler. That knowledge lead to a script hammering the viewers over the head with puns. There were variations throughout the two-hours, on I’ll show you mine, if you show me yours. The episodes also contained several versions of Raymond stating that he felt like a different person.

I’d also venture a guess that we shall soon encounter Bastien Moreau, and the shadowy organization that hired him to plant the bomb inside the United Nations building. The series has utilized the art of stunt-casting, quite successfully since the first season. Christopher Lambert, whom this writer hasn’t seen since Highlander, portrayed the assassin with a nationalist agenda. What purpose did the organization have for the man known as the Corsican to plant the explosive device inside the UN?


The Blacklist,” has bounced back before from less than stellar episodes, and story-arcs. I’m willing to give Bokenkamp and company time to improve from a rather disappointing sixth season premiere.

The Story Continues Friday Night, at 9:00 pm, on NBC.