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WashingTelevision: The Blacklist Recap, Season One, Episode Five, “The Courier”
A murderous mailman who can’t feel pain? Just another week in the life of Elizabeth Keen.
Welcome back, Blacklist fans (all gazillion of you). This week’s episode, “The Courier,” is all about pain: how we experience it, and to what degree; how we alleviate it, and by what means. The titular villain suffers from a condition called congenital analgesia. Stab him in the chest—as his kidnapping victim does early in the episode—and he won’t feel a thing. But pain comes in many forms, we are reminded, and when you find the key to what hurts someone, you pretty much control them.
Interwoven with the episode’s plotline is the ongoing mystery of maybe-spy Tom. Elizabeth Keen’s puppy-eyed husband appears to be wrapped up in a murder that occurred in Massachusetts around the same time the picture-frame-pretty couple was there on vacation. “The Courier” begins with a dream sequence—Keen’s—in which she confronts her husband about the crime and he attacks her. The show ends with the actual confrontation; the last thing we see is Tom placing the box of spy booty in front of his wife.
Between those bookends, however, there is much to explore. Let’s get into it.
After learning that Tom has found a mother who wants him and Keen to adopt her unborn child—am I the only one who thought that plan had been backburnered?—we leave the couple to join a violent night scene in the woods. A masked man restrains a younger one, who squirms beneath him, begging for his life. His captor forces a gas mask onto his face. The young guy manages to wrestle away a knife and stab his captor in the chest, but the antagonist, eerily unfazed by the knife wound, shoves him into an abandoned refrigerator and buries it.
Daytime. Red is in a book-lined apartment in Baltimore, sipping some sort of unaged liquor and chatting with an associate to whom we have not been introduced. Red is interested in intercepting a package to be delivered to “the Iranians.” The associate warns this could be tricky, as said Iranians have dispatched “the Courier” to pick up the delivery. Red’s eyes grow milky as he recalls some deadly incident in Cairo that involved the Courier.
Back at the FBI clubhouse, a phone call from Red interrupts a sex-tinged argument between Liz and Agent Ressler concerning the value of profiling. Liz heads to Baltimore, where we learn that Red’s hideout belonged to a brilliant writer. No, not Edgar Allen Poe. It’s one “Frederick Hemstead,” an unpublished genius who thoughtfully stashed bottles of moonshine about the place before himself expiring, allowing Red to partake of it liberally.
We head to the Alexandria farmers market, where the Courier will make contact with Iranian spy Hamid Soroush. Stealthy as always, the FBI manage to bungle the matter entirely, and as they run about waving their guns in the air like they just don’t care, the Courier kills the spy and runs away. Agent Malik boosts a car, then rams it into the Courier’s. He hides behind a building, rips the stitches from a fresh wound, and sticks a microchip in his arm. Malik and Keen arrest him, and we’re off to questioning.
The Courier won’t talk, so Ressler squeezes his wounded arm—just a little casual torture, no biggie. Of course, you can’t hurt the guy that way, as our brainiac agents soon learn. Another thing they learn: Their little farmers market shoot-out prevented a $20 million exchange that would have freed the guy in the fridge. The victim turns out to be an NSA agent privy to super-giant secrets. Next up, Liz asks Red for intel on the Courier, but must first divulge her current suspicions about Tom’s murderous past. In exchange, Red explains that the Courier killed two of his own associates “in an opium den in Cairo.” He thanks Liz for being honest with him concerning her husband, an expression of deep sadness on his face. Red’s pain: He lives in a world of deceit and subterfuge that prevents him from getting close to anyone. It’s a pain that Keen—given the suspicions surrounding Tom—now experiences too. Through their shared sense of isolation, a bond begins to form.
Searching through the Courier’s personal stuff, Keen finds a photo of him and his brother as children. She tracks down the sibling, who is in prison, and he explains that the Courier is helpless—their dad made him fight dogs as a child, so, yeah, he’s probably a little off. Keen realizes that the Courier can still feel pain in one way: He cares about the fate of his brother. Meanwhile, the FBI identifies the woman who gave up the NSA agent to the Courier. She’s a spy-gone-bad named … um … Shampoo maybe? I couldn’t quite catch her name. Let’s just call her Shampoo.
Ressler goes to Shampoo’s nightclub posing as the Courier. Dubious, she asks him to prove that he has congenital analgesia. Speechy time for Ressler, who divulges that he has lost everything except for his job, so what does he care? Dude. What happened to Ressler? Is this why he’s such an uptight whiner all the time? Past tragedy? He and the Courier share a nothing-to-lose approach to life, but in Ressler’s case we don’t know why. I’m thinking somebody killed a beautiful wife he once had, but that’s just a hunch based on everything Hollywood has ever produced ever. Shampoo is arrested, but then released on Red’s suggestion. He goes to the club himself and convinces her to spill the beans on where she left the NSA guy in exchange for a private jet ride out of the country.
NSA guy is about to suffocate, so the FBI and, separately, Keen and Red, use maps and things to try to find him. Through this, Tom keeps calling Keen and telling her to come home because he has discovered the box full of passports and such. NSA is unearthed but is no longer breathing. Once resuscitated, he wonders how he will repay his discoverers for saving his life—Red clearly has a couple ideas on that front. He wants NSA secrets, and those secrets have everything to do with why he’s teamed up with this goon squad in the first place.
Profiling away at her desk, Keen receives a delivery. Red has sent her an un-redacted version of the Angel Station case. We see photos of Tom at the scene and learn the name of the victim: Victor Fokin. Instead of returning home to confront Tom, she makes the journey to Charm City once more. She accepts a glass of the house hooch from Red. “I don’t even know why I’m here,” she says. But we do. Just as the Courier can only share his pain with his brother—the one person who understands the sheer screwiness of his dog-fighting youth—Red has become Keen’s closest associate, the only person she can talk to about the sheer screwiness of her marital situation. At the end of the episode she goes home, and we watch along with the mysterious surveillance team (remember them?) as Keen tells her husband they need to talk. “Funny,” he says, “I was just going to say the same thing to you.”
Lingering questions: I mean, let’s start with the obvious: Is Tom totally being framed, or did he kill that Russian guy in Massachusetts? Also, what happened to Ressler to make him such a Debbie Downer? What is Red’s bigger plan, and how does Keen fit in? Will he ultimately betray her, once he has gained her complete trust? Did he devise the whole Tom murder thing to bring her closer to him? Finally, what on earth was that French lady’s name? I could have sworn they were calling her Shampoo.