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WashingTelevision: The Blacklist, Season One, Episode Four, “The Stewmaker”
Don’t watch this episode while eating soup. Actually, don’t watch it while eating anything.
Episode four of The Blacklist is named for its villain of the week, “The Stewmaker” (Tom Noonan—the excellent actor who played Detective Huntley in Damages). He’s a dentist who, in his spare time, dissolves bodies in chemicals for evidence-destroying purposes.
Are Breaking Bad bells ringing? That show’s meth-making duo used hydrofluoric acid to liquefy bodies on several occasions. But The Blacklist is far less interested in the specifics of science than that AMC masterwork, and we never do learn what deadly recipe reduces the Stewmaker’s victims to a bloody broth. As far as murderous fellows go, he’s more reminiscent of Dexter than Walter White—he lines the room in plastic and scours away traceable hairs and skin flakes in the shower … but his flappy-skinned nudity has shades of Buffalo Bill as well. Obvious influences aside, Noonan’s performance is among The Blacklist’s best thus far—chilling and gross and genuinely disturbing.
Back at the FBI, Elizabeth Keen sneaks into the evidence stacks in search of clues surrounding her husband, Tom, his gun, and last week’s heavily redacted murder report. Before the guy at the desk figures out she’s sleuthing above her pay grade, Keen finds the evidence box she’s after. It’s labeled “Angel Station, June 23, 2012.”
On the same day, Keen is scheduled to testify against drug dealer Hector Lorca (Clifton Collins Jr.). But first Red summons her to his favorite public bench for a little court-related confab. It seems our avuncular anti-hero has been contacted by Lorca—the murderous trafficker wants help leaving the country, an indication he thinks the case is going to go his way. Keen is characteristically incredulous, listing facts that would prevent Lorca from going free. The two characters’ clothing choices in this scene reflect their contrasting perspectives: Red’s shiny white suit and hat—the outfit of an angel in an ’80s movie—show the clarity with which he can analyze the criminal world, while Keen’s black-on-black ensemble reinforces the fact that she’s still lost in the murky details that stymy her fellow agents.
As Red predicted, things go poorly in court. We learn that Lorca has disappeared more than 109 bodies over the last six years—he basically kills anyone in law enforcement who gets in his way. Just as a witness is about to condemn the drug dealer, a poisoned juror goes into cardiac arrest, and the judge clears the room. Faux security guards drag the witness away and inject him with something. Meanwhile, Ressler and Keen wave their guns around insanely, one step behind as usual.
Back in his plastic-lined hotel room, the Stewmaker drops the ill-fated witness into his jacuzzi—if you’ve been heedless enough to make use of cheap-hotel hot tubs in the past, this scene should wisen you up—takes a keepsake photo, and douses him in chemicals.
At home in the kitchen, Keen is googling “Angel Station” just as pesky Tom pops in the room and sneaks a peek at her legal pad bearing the date from the evidence box. He guesses she’s doodling about their “best day ever”—turns out they road-tripped to Boston on June 23, 2012, because Tom supposedly had a job interview. Snuggles ensue, but the moment is interrupted by a phone call and Keen is soon off to the hot tub hotel where the FBI can find nothing traceable except a dog hair. Luckily, Red calls and tells her to check the tub. She crawls in—nasty—and smells the drain. Chemicals.
In an interrogation room back at the FBI, Meera Malik and Keen threaten Lorca with money laundering charges. The drug dealer is not impressed. As they transport him to a helicopter headed for, I dunno, Homeland Security maybe, Lorca’s henchmen show up and start firing machine guns at his escorting agents. Keen is kidnapped in the confusion. With the goal of saving her, Ressler and Red head to a bar in the Ivy District for Red’s rendezvous with Lorca. Lorca gives up the contact info for the Stewmaker in exchange for Red’s help fleeing the country. The Stewmaker turns out to be a Maryland dentist named Stanley Cornish.
Cut to Cornish/the Stewmaker driving to his cabin and removing Keen from the trunk. As he prepares to torture her, Keen attempts to profile him and learns about his young son. Ressler and company meander over to Cornish’s house to question his wife, but Red, of course, has a faster plan: He calls animal control and concocts a story that gains him access to a tracking chip implanted in the Stewmaker’s dog. At the cabin, Cornish injects Keen with a chemical that will “eventually induce paralysis” while still allowing her to feel pain. (Win-win!) She manages to escape and run into the woods, but the damn dog tracks her, and soon Cornish is dragging her back to the creepy-ass cabin. Good news though: Red’s there.
Red tells Cornish and Keen a story. A farmer returns home to find his fields burned, animals slaughtered, his family murdered. Eventually, this trauma turns him into a monstrous baddie. “He knows in his heart he must pay, doesn’t he, Stanley?” Red asks. Keen protests—she sees the chance for redemption in her would-be murderer. But Red doesn’t care—he drops the Stewmaker into the very chemicals meant for Keen. The FBI shows up—better late than never, guys—while Red finds Cornish’s souvenir album of victim pictures. Flipping through it, he spies a photo of a young woman and removes it before handing the album over to Keen. Far from grateful, she calls Red a monster for killing Cornish.
The episode ends, as it did last week, at home. Tom finds Keen perched on the bathtub, buzzing from the day’s traumas. In an echo of episode one’s zoo-clue moment, he whips out a brochure and hands it to her. These crazy kids are headed for New England for a romantic vacay! The name of the hotel where they’re staying? Angel Station.
Lingering questions: Why would the Stewmaker be a farmer? Shouldn’t his prior life relate somehow to his dentist and/or chemistry skills? He seems sort of oddly dilettante-ish, no? Or is the farmer that Red’s talking about someone else entirely? Then there’s the girl from the album. Red’s daughter? How does she relate to Keen? Lots of things to ponder and very few answers. All I know is, I’m kind of excited to go to Angel Station.
What did you think of this week’s episode? Let us know in the comments.