WashingTelevision: The Blacklist, Season One, Episode Three, “Wujing”
A murder in Shanghai, a nicotine-patch tracker, and an underground Genius Bar.
Finally. At the end of episode three, titled “Wujing,” Red (James Spader) and Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone) address the central mystery of The Blacklist: What exactly is it that makes the Concierge of Crime so interested in this cub agent? The characters have made a deal that if Elizabeth helps Red take down a spy killer—the titular Wujing—then Red will offer some answers. That mission completed, it’s go time. “Because of your father,” Red offers by way of explanation. Keen asks, not for the first time, if Red knew her parents. “I wish the answer were as simple as the question seems,” he tells her, resident Spader smirk giving way to a frown of true regret.
And we realize that’s all we’ll get this week.
As silly as it often seems, this is a sly show—just when you think it’s ham-fisting you with clunky themes and obvious tropes, the writers pull the rug out. Liz asks a simple question—one whose answer seemed stupidly obvious to us just two episodes ago. Not so fast, says Red (and the writers). The answer may be more interesting than you think.
“Wujing” opens on crowded Shanghai streets. We watch as assassins shoot through the windows of a car, then sever the dead driver’s hand. Cut to a hacker opening a ziplock bag, pulling out the bloodied hand, and smooshing the pad of a finger onto a print-recognition device to access a code.
Meanwhile in Washington, Elizabeth Keen offers an object lesson on what to do with all those phone books cluttering your massive brownstone apartment: Use them to see if your sketchy husband’s secret firearm has been used to murder someone! Removing the gun from Tom’s secret box of spy toys, she takes it out in the yard and, using the books and a bag of fertilizer as silencers, she fires it, grabs the shell and casing, and drops them off at the FBI to see if they match anything on file. We’ll file this move under Seriously Stupid Things Elizabeth Keen Has Done—just last week, the FBI was giving her the lie detector treatment, now she thinks her nosy employer is just going to do some free research for her and let it go? “Should have given it to Red,” every viewer paying attention thought at that moment. And then we realize we trust the guy. Problem is, Keen doesn’t.
This week we also learn that Liz and Tom (Ryan Eggold) have friends—one named Ellie comes over to take Tom to the doctor as Liz heads out to a haberdashery to rendezvous with Red. Perusing the stock of handsome hats, he tells her about the next bad guy on the blacklist, Wujing—a legendary agent killer whom spy-world scenesters tend to dismiss as myth. Red insists he is real, responsible for the whole severed-hand situation in Shanghai, and about to off someone else right there in DC.
Out front of the brownstone, we see the back of a man hiding behind a tree eating an apple as his apparent associates enter Liz and Tom’s house—via the front door—dressed as painters. This overall-clad goon squad sets to work outfitting the home for video surveillance just as Ellie returns to grab her forgotten purse. She senses someone’s around but leaves anyway.
Liz, Red, Agent Ressler (Diego Klattenhoff), and the crew head to the clubhouse to plan Wujing’s capture. Liz is reluctant, since her part involves posing as an encryptor, and apparently she Cliff’s-Noted her way through Intro to Encryption at the academy. The idea is that she and Wujing’s encryptor will decrypt a message that tells Wujing who to kill next. Unbeknownst to the Chinese, the FBI will learn the message at the same time.
Eventually she agrees to do it, and Meera Malik (Parminder Nagra) outfits her with a bug that looks like a nicotine patch—the latest in surveillance chic, we are told. Red and Liz head to Wujing’s lair, which is a bit like the Apple genius bar except it’s hundreds of feet underground and everyone’s dressed like they’ve got reservations at some new Santa Monica restaurant that serves a kick-ass pork belly BLT. While Red distracts the team of murderous hackers, Liz manages to slide some wee contraption into one of their computers that begins feeding its secrets back to FBI HQ. Trouble is, Wujing’s Genius Bar is tricked out enough to notice the security breach, and it looks pretty bad for Keen and Red until he begins beating up the poor guy whose laptop Liz messed with. Before laptop guy can shed light on the situation, Red shoots him.
Oh yeah! I forgot to mention that the next guy on Wujing’s kill list isn’t an agent at all, but Henry Cho, an architect who has been working with the CIA on some secret Shanghai-building-related stuff. Both the Chinese and the FBI head to his newest project, where Cho is giving his son a hard-hat tour. Struggles ensue, and Ressler displays signs of PTSD while beating the pulp out of one of Wujing’s guys. Cho and son emerge unscathed.
In the meantime, Liz and Red manage to peace out of Wujing’s Suburban. Red laments that Wujing will get away, but Liz has affixed her nicotine patch to the side of his shiny SUV, and the agents are able to track and arrest him. That task sorted, she’s all, “What’s the deal with us?” But that’s a question we’re clearly not going to get the answer to soon.
One last important plot point: Liz receives the report on the bullet, but the information is classified above her pay grade. Thing is, Ressler got a copy too, and he’s taking it to the director Cooper (Harry Lennix), who is pretty freaked to learn that the young agent asked for info on it. Apparently, the weapon was used in a murder so important, you’re not allowed to even thing about it unless you ask the secretary of homeland security first.
Next up: an impromptu party chez Liz and Tom. Now, I know I’ve made case against playing plausibility police—the show’s ludicrous, and we should just go with it. Still, I really don’t think Liz and Tom are people that would have many friends. He’s a . . . what? Some sort of international spy posing as an elementary school teacher? She’s a forlorn control freak who admits that her classmates at Quantico think she’s a bitch. And yet, when Liz returns home that night, their house is full of wine-swilling friends who want to support Tom in his post-stab-session days. The scene seems dubious to Liz too—she stands clutching her wine, wide-eyed and stiff-limbed. The show closes with a point of view of the apple eater, who is taking in the action from a screen displaying all the surveillance camera his paint-splattered crew has planted around the house.
Lingering questions: Who is this apple-eating guy? Did we learn anything about Red’s relationship with Liz from the scene in the car? What up with Ressler? And if Tom offed some bin Laden-level offender with his gun, why on earth is he storing it unlocked under his floorboards along with a bunch of fake passports? Dumbest assassin/spy ever?