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WashingTelevision: The Blacklist, Season One, Episode Seven, “Frederick Barnes”
This week: radioactive suitcases, exploding houses, and a lamp named Ike.
We begin the episode in a Metro car that looks nothing like a WMATA Metro car—note the convenient handles that hang down so your arm doesn’t go numb attempting to hold on to ceiling poles, as well as the general absence of acid orange. A young woman strikes up a conversation with a man played by Robert Sean Leonard—the dreamiest of the Dead Poets Society clan. The man gets off at the next station, Woodley Park, leaving his briefcase on the train. Pretty soon, the commuters are all choking as veiny scars appear on their skin. Everyone dies.
At Casa Keen, Liz attempts to erase the memory of the mystery box and Tom’s torture by redecorating the dining room. She learns of the Metro attack and quickly heads to the scene.
Red calls; he and Keen arrange to meet, and he explains that the briefcase guy is Frederick Barnes, a chemical warfare specialist and former “savant of government-sanctioned mass killing” who decided to strike out on his own, creating chemical cocktails for various nefarious entities. This time he’s infected the train car with a rare disease brought on by exposure to nuclear weapons. Thing is, Barnes has never actually delivered his poison gases in person before. Why the shift in protocol?
On a long elevator ride at the black site—this place must have a lot of floors—Red and Keen quibble over Tom; the agent insists that he’s an innocent fourth-grade teacher as Red implores her to see the truth. Keen and Kessler leave to interview Barnes’s former research partner, a pretty lady whose husband recalls the “long hours” his wife endured with the demonic disease-spreader. Their son, Ethan, wanders in, his short sleeves revealing the same scarring we saw on the Metro victims. Keen confronts the assistant, who confesses that Ethan is Barnes’s son. Motive (sort of) established: Barnes is infecting the public with the same sickness with which his son struggles in order to … what? Create a sort of public awareness campaign? Think, agents, think!
Next up: every cliché about Cuba—crumbling buildings, Afro-Caribbean music, 1950s cars—in one shot! A fedora-clad Red arranges to buy 12 kilos of “Transium 90” from his contact, played by David Zayas (Angel Batista from Dexter). The dealer calls Barnes, and Red traces the call, leading him to Barnes’s location. Bad news: He’s at the Arlington courthouse, which apparently lacks even the most basic security screening. Someone should look into that. Barnes releases deadly suitcase number two in a packed courtroom as Kessler and Keen—cue the Benny Hill theme—run ridiculous laps around the place in their signature inept style while a bunch of innocent people die. Kessler manages to save one lady among the corpses as Keen confronts Barnes outside the courthouse. She lets him go in order to save the life of a security guard—bad move, as it turns out. Kessler ends up narcing on her big time for saving one guy at the expense of many.
In Takoma Park, Red’s minion Luli buys a Victorian-style fixer-upper with cash, while back at the black site, Malik theorizes that Barnes is targeting diverse populations in order to conduct research—to see who survives the disease and who doesn’t in an effort to develop a cure. “I don’t quite follow,” says Keen. Surprise, surprise. How did she get through agent school, anyway?
So, listen. In TV land, all you have to do is slap on some scrubs and suddenly you’re granted access to, like, everything. That’s how Barnes easily enters the room of the Arlington Courthouse survivor and does a lickety-split procedure that allows him to (maybe) create a cure for the disease. Of course, figuring out that the patient might be of interest to Barnes requires input from Red, but the tip sends the agents scrambling as the scientist shows up chez Ethan to cure his son. Just as he is about to (possibly) cure the kid, Keen appears in the doorway, gun waving. She kills Barnes, saving the kid while also condemning him to certain death. So much moral ambiguity, don’t you think?
But now here is Tom, all goofy grin and adorable beard scruff, eating Chinese food on the dining room floor next to an Ikea floor lamp with a ruched paper shade. Keen enters, and Tom takes her back to the first night at this great old house where he was recently tortured; how they had no furniture except for “Ike,” the bargain-bin beacon that guided them towards their new life, in which all they needed was each other—plus maybe some chicken chow mein and that great shrimp dish they do with the water chestnuts. Oh, and egg rolls; you can’t have Chinese food without egg rolls. Snogs ensue, and the passion of our once-precarious young couple is strong enough to knock over poor old Ike in the process.
Back at the Takoma Park Victorian, Luli and Red have a look about the place while bodyguard Dembe disappears into the basement. We learn that Red raised a family at the house. He rips open a wooden board to reveal a wall of markings chronicling a child’s various heights, then looks out a window and sees a curly-haired girl blowing bubbles in the yard. Dembe emerges, and the three exit the house, which subsequently blows up.
Lingering questions: Is the little girl blowing bubbles Red’s daughter, and the same person whose photograph he stole from the Stewmaker’s scrap book? What happened in the house that motivates Red to blow up the place? How does Elizabeth Keen fit into all that? Ressler’s continued efforts to get Keen kicked off the job point toward something more than just your garden-variety Washington ambition, so what’s he hiding? Speaking of hiding, how long will we endure the Liz/Tom snogfest before some new bit of sketchiness leads our heroine back on track to the truth? And speaking of heroin, what’s with this show’s writers and needles? They love nothing more than injecting their characters with nasty concoctions.
What did you think of last night’s Blacklist? Let us know in the comments.