This episode of The Blacklist, “The Cook”, was a typical Blacklister of the week, with a nice dose of humor thrown in for good measure. As the show opens, we find our Blacklister preparing chemicals in jars, and stringing them up in a room. It soon becomes clear he’s about to set a house on fire, after soaking his clothing and dousing himself in what we assume is fire retardant. And as if settling in for the afternoon football game, he takes a seat, sipping on a beer. He watches the lady of the house burn to death before walking through the fire leaving her to her fate. As openings go, it got our attention.
Liz meets Reddington, after he’s found someone who can analyze that mechanical eye that is all that remains of the departed thug, Navarro. And after finding a suitable gift to appease the contact’s mother, spiders, of all things, he sends Liz off with the small terrarium to offer the gift to the woman. I think most of the audience agreed with Liz’s squeamish reaction to the small, 8-legged peace offerings. And off she goes to deliver them, but not before she’s made a point of asking Red if he knew what Tom was talking about, when he said he’d figured out the truth before he died. Red hedges around it, and Liz knows he’s not telling her what he knows. But then, when is Red ever telling her everything?
Reddington is keeping up his end of the bargain though, and in Liz’s absence from the task force, meets with Samar at his swanky new penthouse to give her their new case. The arsonist we saw at the top of the episode. Reddington points them toward someone who can help, but there’s a condition. To catch an arsonist, they’ll need help from another arsonist. Earl Fagen, a former arson investigator who set his own fires. Imprisoned for 11 years of a 14 year sentence, he’s up for parole. Reddington clarifies that if Fagen helps the task force, he’d like them to reciprocate.
With Fagen at the scene of the latest fire, it’s easy to see why he set fires. They speak to him in a language he understands. He lives and breathes them, and walks through the burnt out room and tells Ressler and Samar how it burned. When they find a hidden symbol of an inverted pentagram on the wall revealed only with a black light, Fagen voices what both agents are also feeling – they have got a humdinger of a fire bug on their hands.
Meanwhile, Red and Liz arrive at the home of 15 (and a half) year old Tadashi, who is a whiz with computers and all things technical, and a huge Star Wars fan. The kid is a genius, and would give Aram a run for his money. Their time in the boy’s basement while he’s running techy stuff through the mechanical eye, results in one of the most hilarious scenes ever with Reddington. He has never seen Star Wars. Yes, let that sink in. He was 17 on the movie’s release. How has he never seen it?! A confused Reddington cannot understand the mass appeal of a giant in a bear costume piloting an aircraft, and the little green fellow who is considerably too short to be effective in a sword fight. Reddington’s bemusement over Chewie and Yoda was something I never knew I needed until I saw it.
While Red is struggling with a galaxy far, far away, Liz returns to the question she asked Red earlier. Does he not know, or can he not say what truth Tom discovered? Tom kept things from her, and Red has kept so many things from her, she tells him she’d have to be an idiot to believe this was not another one. Reddington is uncomfortable. Liz is hitting all the right questions.
Aram is doing what Aram does best and tracks down an address of where they believe the Cook to be. It’s a workshop, complete with shelves of empty jars and chemicals. The Cook surprises Ressler and Samar, flipping a hidden switch on the wall and setting the entire place on fire. As it ignites, and the jars suspended from the ceiling explode, it traps Ressler behind the inferno. But thanks to a well placed metal stool through a window, he’s able to escape. As does the Cook.
Enter Earl Fagen again, hauled back out of his cell to help them with the booby trapped room that almost resulted in barbecued Ressler. While Fagen is looking around, Samar asks him what it was like, lying to everyone he worked with, acting like a hero while he was a criminal. I wondered how much Samar was referring to Ressler’s recent situation. She was aware something had been going on with Ressler, though not the specifics, that ended at the same time Henry Prescott met his own fiery death.
Following a lead from Fagen, Aram finds security footage of their suspect buying chemicals. The Cook is in fact a priest who has problems around young women. Elsewhere, in a creepy scene, a young woman seeks some sage advice from the Cook in an airport bar.
Meanwhile, young Tadashi is still looking at Navarro’s eye, when he discovers it’s a GPS – and it’s transmitting their location. Seconds later they hear a sound upstairs, and greeted by Red’s and Liz’s drawn weapons, we see Tadashi’s mother. And she is not a happy camper. She never is. But while she’s belittling Reddington over his ‘gift’ of spiders, along with her son for hanging out with criminals, the real bad guys arrive, having followed their GPS beacon. Why Navarro had a tracking beacon in his eye is anyone’s guess, but Ian Garvey has found them, or Damascus, as they’re calling him, because they do not know his identity. Outnumbered, Red and Liz make a hasty retreat, much to Liz’s disgust.
The task force have found out The Cook’s identity, one Tommy Wattles, an expelled member of the church, while Red is having an identity crisis of his own. Try as he might, his usual flair and charm falls flat on Tadashi’s stone faced mother. She terrifies Red. Tadashi has now reversed the GPS signal from the eye, to track the men after them. During this, Red comes clean with Liz. He knows the truth Tom discovered, and it is his truth.
Liz puts some pieces together. She hunts Tom’s killers, while Red has his own agenda, needing to retrieve the ‘item’ that got Tom killed. He isn’t working with her to avenge Tom’s death at all, but to retrieve his secret. The hurt in Reddington’s eyes is palpable as he tells her they want the same thing, but he has a secret he must keep, even from her.
Having determined Tommy Wattles next target, Ressler and Samar race to the young woman’s home. But Wattles has beaten them to it, and has the young woman from the airport gagged and bound, with the familiar strung up jars of fire accelerant hanging from the ceiling. This dude has issues, believing she needs to die as she tempted him. While he’s soaking all of his clothes in fire retardant, ready for his big show, Ressler and Samar arrive. As Tommy races outside, they hold him at gunpoint while he spouts about the ritual of auto-da-fe, holding the jar of fire accelerant. It’s obvious how he wants to go out to atone for his sins, and Ressler and Samar are helpless to stop him as he erupts into flames, taking his life.
Back at Reddington’s high rise pad, Tadashi has tracked where Tom’s killers are. As Red, Liz and Dembe burst into the address supplied by Tadashi, the place is empty, apart from banks of unplugged computers and a white board with a message on it – We Know the Truth. Damascus (Ian Garvey) left the note, but just what truth is he referring to? That’s what Liz and everyone watching would like to know.
Meanwhile, Ressler is in front of the parole board, putting in a good word for Earl Fagen. He says what he’s supposed to say, that Fagen’s help was instrumental to close the case. When asked if he believes Fagen should get parole, Ressler can’t answer that. But as he’s dismissed, Ressler’s morals kick in. His own situation comes to the fore, and his next words are not rote, but from the heart. Of how he used to think in terms of black and white. You were a bad guy, or you weren’t. He’s come to realize that under the right circumstances, even the best of us are capable of almost anything, and that everyone deserves a second chance. The parole board listen, and vote to release Fagen.
But as Fagen walks free, Reddington is waiting. Fagen owes him his freedom, and Red has terms. Fagen is not to light so much as a match, but when he does, it will be at Reddington’s instruction. Reddington now has an arsonist in his pocket. One can only wonder what he needs that for, with his history of fires.
Later, sitting outside a day care observing Agnes through the window, Red promises Liz that she won’t have to spend a day more than necessary away from her daughter. Liz promises Red something too. That when this is over, she will honor Tom’s dying words, and find the truth that Red is so desperate to keep hidden. The look of trepidation in Reddington’s eyes makes us wonder even more just what this secret is that he’s hiding.
This was a well balanced episode with Red and Liz’s mission to discover what that mechanical eye of Navarro’s could tell them, and the task force investigating the arsonist. The dynamic between Red and Liz continues to evolve. After watching the back and forth between them for years, they seem to be in a great place right now. Their banter is far more mature although he admits he must keep certain things from her. It appears the days of Liz storming off with “you’re a monster, I’m done,” are over. They now talk more openly, which has been a long time coming and is welcome.
And as an FYI, this episode was first titled “Tommy Wattles”, and changed at the last minute to “The Cook”. I think Tommy Wattles was the better title, but that aside, this was a very enjoyable episode.
The Blacklist airs on NBC on Wednesdays at 8/7c