This episode of The Blacklist moved fast and furious: Fast because it’s one of those edge-of-your-seat, truly-a-mystery kind of Blacklister plotlines, and furious… because this bozo is out here hurting kids, and we don’t do that.
I’ll admit, when the episode opened on a teenage boy being drafted by a suspicious man to go to a suspicious boarding school, I was excited by the prospect that we could be headed somewhere toward Tom’s origin story at the Major’s School for Sociopathically Gifted Youngsters. But about the time that boy’s skin started sloughing off, I was ready to throw hands.
Somehow, though, despite all the bubbling flesh in this episode, things are kind of… calm around The Blacklist right now? The Post Office gang somehow still doesn’t know that the mystery woman who abducted Reddington in Paris is Katarina Rostova, and even though Red does know that Russia’s most notorious former agent is after him, he seems in no particular hurry to catch up to her. I mean, he’s definitely putting feelers out there, but he’s also waxing poetic about vintage salt shakers and making moves to invest in pork belly futures, so like — business as usual, mostly.
Perhaps that’s because Red once again has the reassuring presence of his BFF4L, who we were introduced to at the end of season 6. The mysterious friend, previously only known as the Stranger (or alternatively, Brett Cullen, the super-recognizable character actor who plays him), assures Red that he’s not leaving his side until they figure out where Katarina is and what she wants with him…
But there shall be no such reassurance for us. Because victims of incurable illnesses abound in this episode, and by hour’s end, it seems like Raymond Reddington may just be one of them.
NORMAN DEVANE, NO. 138
The episode opens with a nervous-seeming man offering a place at Abbott Boarding School to a 14-year-old boy named Howie, who was apparently submitted by a third party to receive a full scholarship. Howie and his parents happily accept his placement for the upcoming semester, and the man leaves. Then in quick flashes we see him rush to his car, pour hand sanitizer on every inch of his skin, and put latex gloves on for the drive home, where he furiously showers, shoves a bar of soap in his mouth, and takes about 20 pills from various bottles littering the apartment.
So, that scholarship seems legit! And yet, Howie really does wind up attending Abbott Boarding School, where a goofy kid named Theo very subtly inquires if he smokes weed.
We know this because while Red is having many vials of blood drawn, the Stranger shows up at his apartment and tells him he has two new leads, the most solid of which is Norman Devane. That’s the man we know to be offering scholarships to teens (and currently watching Howie on video monitors during his first day at Abbott), but whom Red describes as “an ingenious assassin who hides murder behind illnesses.” The Stranger tells Red he’s discovered that their “friend in Paris” made a series of payments to Devane under the alias Constance Drucker.
So Red puts the Post Office on it the Devane case. But when Aram goes to put Liz’s preliminary findings on the screen, he accidentally flashes a photo of Elodie Radcliffe, the married woman he slept with a few weeks ago. As you’ll recall, Elodie’s husband was permanently incapacitated by Les Fleurs du Mal, so Lizzie later advises her buddy to go for it because he and Elodie both deserve to be happy. Unfortunately, Aram got so nervous after the initial hookup that he hasn’t called her in the two weeks since. Naturally, Ressler advises Aram to just tell her he’s been on FBI assignment and couldn’t reach out…
And as much as I cherish every peek into Ressler’s lothario stylings that we get, that’s enough about romance (for now). Lizzie says that in the past, Devane has killed people by infecting them with seemingly natural afflictions like cancer through some rather complicated and suspect science, but he’s most famous or masterminding a Libyan bioweapons attack. So Aram and Liz head to the WMD division of the National Security Branch to see if they’re still tracking Devane after Libya.
The NSB says the last they heard from Devane was seven years ago, when he hired a Ukrainian hacker before going completely off their radar. They know that hacker is somewhere in Havana but they can’t find him. “I know someone who can,” Liz says, smirking.
So off to Havana Red, Dembe, and the Stranger go, the latter of whom is insisting he won’t leave Red’s side, not even to go to his goddaughter’s wedding. When they find the Ukrainian hacker in Havana, Red manages to lure the guy’s gun away from him by offering him a set of original silver pepper shakers (technically pepper casters) from the workshop of Paul Revere that he thought he might like. Indeed, the man is highly persuaded from them, and readily spills that Devane paid him to create backdoor access to National Diagnostics Lab’s server farm —
And then Red accidentally shoots the man in the head with his own gun, spraying blood all over the Stranger. Luckily he got enough information before, uh, accidentally killing someone that the Post Office is able to get a warrant for National Diagnostics Lab’s data… which is to say, the detailed medical and financial information of 110 million people. But once Aram gets inside their servers, he discovers that Devane only used the data to hack the genome sequencing of 20 seemingly random teenage boys.
Meanwhile at Abbott Boarding School, we see Howie and his roommate peacefully sleeping inside their dorm room. And things get even more peaceful when Devane, dressed as a janitor, somehow pumps a gas into their room through the vents, knocking them unconscious, lifts Howie from his bed and into a laundry cart, and wheels him away to a lab that seems to be just down the hall. What Devane didn’t expect was for Theo to be hot-boxing the room next door, peek outside when he heard a noise, and see the creepy janitor carting Howie away.
Theo doesn’t say anything to the headmaster at the time because he’s, well, super-high. But the next day, when he sees Howie alive and well, Theo tells him about what he saw. Howie is sure he would have woken up if someone abducted him, though, so he tells Theo he was surely just high and paranoid. Even when Howie randomly passes out on the stairs, he won’t believe Theo that “weird stuff happens at Abbott.”
Naturally, Theo decides to investigate this himself. He swipes the headmaster’s keys and ventures into the abandoned South Wing, where he tries every door until he finds a fully operational science lab. But just as he leaves to find Howie, there stands Devane, ready to spray Theo with something that knocks him out and drag him off somewhere. The next morning, the headmaster makes an announcement that Theo was found unconscious the night before and taken to the hospital, but there was nothing they could do to save him. As a very ill-looking Howie comes to in his bed, he discovers a nasty looking rash on his arm…
Simultaneously, the Post Office is discovering that of the 20 boys Devane had gene-sequenced — all white, male, with B-negative blood — five developed life-threatening cancers or infections, three of whom died, and two recovered. Aram realizes that all those boys listed the same address on their medical records: Abbot Boarding School. But in every case, they didn’t become Abbott students until a few months after Devane tested their genome sequencing from the National Diagnostics Lab Data.
Of the 20 hacked profiles, only one student remains at Abbot Boarding School: Howard Keller, who is currently unconscious in Devane’s lab, and covered in oozing wounds all over his torso. That’s when we see the headmaster, Dr. Mitchell, come into Devane’s lab to tell him the FBI is on their way: “This is over, Norman, we’re even now — get rid of the kid and go.”
The next thing we see is Howie coming to, chained to the floor of a grungy-looking apartment covered in pill bottles, looking like all the skin is burning right off his body.
Ressler and Liz arrive at Abbott and immediately know something is up with Mitchell by his refusal to cooperate. Once they discover that Dr. Mitchell’s son was one of the original 20 boys Devane hacked, it all becomes clear (well, semi-clear): Devane saved Mitchell’s son, and in return, Mitchell allowed Devane to use his school as a lab to experiment on high school boys. But why?
Well, that’s a question that’s easy enough to get answered once Ressler is forced to defend himself by sticking Devane with a syringe full of the same flesh-eating bacteria that he infected Howie with, forcing Reddington to sweep in and take Devane to a warehouspital to pull some answers out of him before his face sizzles off. Ressler insists on coming along, though, so Reddington takes the whole gang to a lab very similar to Devane’s, only this one belongs to Spalding Stark, a.k.a. the Pharmacist, who informs them that Devane has a vibrio bacteria that’s aggressively attacking his body’s soft tissue; Devane informs them, as the bottom half of his face is bubbling up like a baked ziti, that it’s a bacteria of his own making, and it’s incurable. Except…
Devane also keeps inquiring about the safety of the boy. As Red surmises, Devane wasn’t trying to kill Howie, he was trying to cure him, by first infecting him with a previously incurable bacteria and then giving him a cure he created. What Red can’t figure out is why he would do that. Devane says he’ll tell him if Red promises he’ll get him the cure he created for the boy. Red gives him his word, and Devane tells them that after the Libyan drone strike, he got an infection that nearly killed him. When he realized how vulnerable he was, he set out to find a cure for every incurable disease he could ever possibly contract. As we saw earlier, Devane is a bit of a germaphobe.
But immune-therapy drugs have to be carefully calibrated to individual patients, so Devane found sample patients who genetically had enough in common with him to guarantee that if the cured worked for them, they would also work for him. And as we know, sometimes they did, sometimes they didn’t, and last we saw adorable little say-no-to-drugs Howie, all his skin was falling off. So no, I did not mind when Red immediately shot Devane the moment he got the information he needed from him: That Constance Drucker hired him to create a treatment for someone named Patrick Masada.
Thankfully, Devane’s cure did work on Howie and Reddington did get the information he needed. But he still wants the Stranger to follow up on his other lead: a skittish source who says he can identify the man who coordinated Red’s Parisian abduction. Red suggests they meet at the goddaughter’s wedding, determined to make the Stranger attend, and insisting that weddings are a place where anyone could feel safe.
And Elodie must feel the same way. Because when Aram finally calls her, fully fessing up to nerves being the reason for the two-week delay, Elodie invites him to attend a party with her friends at a fancy hotel that night. But when Aram shows up and Elodie sticks a “Frank Bloom” name tag to his suit, he realizes they’re not attending a party — they’re crashing a wedding.
As Elodie heads to the dance floor to try and lure Aram out, he hesitates about crashing a stranger’s wedding for just a moment, and a man approaches him. “The man you’re looking for is Gregory Flynn,” he says. Aram looks confused, but the man stares at his name tag, confirms that he’s Frank Bloom, then passes over a note that reads, “Berdy Chernov, a.k.a. Gregory Flynn,” and hurries away. Aram confusedly tucks the note away, then heads out to meet Elodie on the dance floor…
Just as the Stranger and his wife enter the room, telling the wedding planner that their name tags are missing from the table — they’re the Blooms.
A FEW LOOSE ENDS:
Listen, that was a wild wedding coincidence, but no wilder than a lot of things that we accept at face value on The Blacklist.
When the Stranger — wait, no! — Frank Bloom reports back to Red that his source didn’t show, Red says not to worry, at least they have their Patrick Masada lead. Plus, he’s I the middle of receiving much worse news from Dr. Stark: New bloodwork shows that Reddington’s “treatment was ineffective.”
So… is there any chance Peter Masada was just the name Katarina gave Devane, and the cure she hired him to create is actually meant for Red because Katarina still loves him (er, whoever “him” is), and she’s just really bad at expressing her emotions???
If anyone knows what’s going on with Red’s health, it’s Ressler, who briefly had some time with his medical chart inside Stark’s lab — but if he found out anything interesting, he’s not telling… yet.
Big ol’ props to The Blacklist’s makeup effects artist, Anthony Pepe, whose flesh-eating bacteria I could barely stand to look at.
RIP, Theo. You were a real one, for real.