The penultimate episode of Season 5 of The Blacklist turned out to be less about the duffel bag of bones, and more about a race against time to save one of the team. With Samar taken in the last episode, this week focused on what happened to her. The episode was entitled “Lawrence Dane Devin” but in reality it was more like “Nicholas T. Moore: Conclusion.”
With the leaders of last weeks cult from New Haven in custody and being questioned, everyone on the task force is busy finding out the identity of the man who took Samar. Red even helpfully suggests bringing in Brimley (Teddy Coluca), and if his oxygen tank is full, he can be there in an hour. That’s not fast enough for Aram, beside himself with worry over Samar being missing for a whole day. After scrambling the video feed from the interrogation room, Aram makes a deal with Nicholas Moore (Bob Gunton) and agrees to get the man’s small bible out of evidence. Aram then gives it to Moore in the interrogation room, unseen by the task force.
Reddington receives a call from Smokey Putnam, who is following up on the bag of bones in Costa Rica. He’s narrowed down where Ian Garvey (Jonny Coyne) went with them, and it’s not good news. Garvey visited a man who runs an underground auction house and it looks like the bones are going to be bid on at the next auction. When Liz overhears, she’s not impressed that Red is still after the duffel bag after Red promised to help find Samar. Red placates Liz though. He’s juggling. Multi-tasking.
Meanwhile, Samar is awake in the back of the van that’s being driven by Lawrence Devlin. He’s very casually discussing how he could kill her in a way that’s natural, so that she can return to the earth. He makes it sounds so peaceful. Samar is only half listening, having found an emergency kit in the back and is furtively looking through it, while keeping Devlin talking. All the while, we hear the Himalayan Field rats that Devlin is very proud of, squeaking from a cage in the front seat. The rats are also very content, having just eaten what appeared to be a small babies hand. While Samar is his prisoner, it doesn’t feel like she’s in that much danger. She’s a talented gal, and can get out of this one. And as if to prove that point, she secures a flare and a knife from the emergency kit, sets off the flare, cuts herself free and escapes the van. Devlin follows her into the woods, shooting at her.
Back at the Post Office, Brimley has arrived, complete with a badger named Bernice. While extolling the virtues of Bernice to Cooper, Red assures Harold that Brimley and Bernice will get what they need from Moore. Aram interrupts. He’s already obtained the name, and as it happens, Reddington knows the guy, one Julius Hannelore (Jeffrey Bean). But Aram’s method to obtain that name proves to be a very bad move. Moore wanted the bible for the cyanide pill stashed in the binding. Before he can be questioned further, he drops to the floor in a writhing, foaming mess, and promptly dies at his own hand. Cooper is not impressed that Aram broke protocol to get the bible to Moore.
Red visits Julius, and then obtains the name of the man he calls to do the dirty work, one Steven Feltmeyer, whose real name is Lawrence Dane Devlin. He’s a Fixer, just like our dear departed Henry Prescott was. He makes problems go away – namely, the people who found New Haven. The man is obsessed with death and decay, and considers himself a thanatologist, having previously run the body farm at the University of Tennessee.
Devlin, the man of the hour, is at this very moment chasing Samar through the forest at gunpoint. Samar surrenders to Devlin, but not before she’s grabbed a very sharp stick and hidden it up her sleeve. As Devlin relates how he’s going to immobilize her by severing her spinal cord and letting the rats feast on her, she rams the sharp stick into his abdomen. Atta girl, Samar. But it was both a good move and a bad move, when Devlin collapses from blood loss while driving. As the van veers off the road, it hits a tree and rolls onto its side, with Samar and everything else flying around in the back of the van – including a tire iron that pierces Samar in the abdomen. Now both her and Devlin have bleeding abdomens.
Reddington, meanwhile, is still juggling and has made his way to San Jose, Costa Rica at long last. After having Smokey obtain the necessary token to gain entry to the Auction, Red demands to see the head honcho, Gonzalez (José Zúñiga). But Red’s charm isn’t working, and his request is refused, despite his teasing (insulting) the very muscular body guard. Never one to be told ‘no’, Reddington then makes quite a stir at the auction by shooting a couple of patrons in the leg. That gets him what he wants and in no time at all he’s standing in front of Gonzalez. Initially angry, Gonzalez soon gives Reddington what he needs. Not the duffel bag (of course not…) but security footage of Ian Garvey meeting with a man and handing over said duffel bag. Red knows who the other man is. Sutton Ross, an enemy of his he’d thought long dead. Apparently he’s alive and well (and next weeks Blacklister) and is now in possession of the bones.
Armed with new information, the task force are on the hunt for Devlin, and Ressler, Liz and Aram raid Devlin’s hom. He’s not there, but they discover cages of rodents and insects. While questioning one of the employees, they learn that Devlin operates a ‘lab’ out of his grandfather’s property. It’s here he researches human decay and decomposition, at his own personal body farm. Hence why he needs all those rodents, insects and all manner of creatures who feast on human flesh. Making death ‘natural’, and all that. The task force leave Devlin’s home and head to the home grown body farm, and begin a grid search. Ressler stumbles across the first of many bodies. Horrified, they begin to look for Samar among the collection of decaying bodies.
Samar, meanwhile is still attempting to escape the overturned van, when Devlin crawls out to find a doctor. For himself, not Samar. According to him, she can just die there. Nice fella. As soon as he leaves the van, Samar returns to her exit maneuvers. She then hears growling outside and a bloody Devlin is flung against the van. He’s being mauled by a bear. Yes, a bear. It could have been a shark at this point, for how far the episode jumped… With Devlin dead and a bear outside, Samar is momentarily at a loss, but does manage to grab the phone that Devlin dropped in the bear attack. At this moment, the bear takes matters into its own paws and pushes the van, causing it to roll down the embankment into the river. This bear really has a personal grudge against vans. Good news is the van is upright again. Bad news is it’s filling with water. Other good news is the phone works, and Samar calls Aram.
And this was the scene that actually gave me a lump in my throat. Kudos to Mozhan Marno on this one. Aram frantically asks her where she is, after she told him the van was filling with water. He asks her what sort of water. A river or a lake? And she answers, “Yes.” Aram is confused, and asks her again what sort of water. Samar, certain she is going to drown before anyone can find her, tells Aram, “If you had asked me to marry you, my love, the answer would have been yes.” And not wanting Aram to hear her drown, she hangs up.
As the team focus their search on a 5 mile stretch of river where the cell phone signal originated from, Aram takes off in one of the SUV’s. I guess he learned to drive as well as become a field agent in our missing 10 months. Desperate, Aram finally sees the submerged van in the river. Jumping in, he manages to unlock the padlock that is keeping Samar in the back of the van. But how long has it been? Samar is unresponsive as Aram swims with her to the bank. Doing CPR and begging her not to leave him, Samar is still not responding. Is she dead? We were made to wait to find out as we went to a commercial break…
As we come back, Samar is in hospital, ventilated and in a minimally responsive state. Otherwise known as a coma. Really? Another coma? Aram is at her side and plays music for her, just in case she can hear. Ressler and Cooper stand outside the glass. The prognosis is not good. She went without oxygen for a long time, and can’t breathe by herself. The doctors don’t know if she will be able to again. Cooper asks where Liz is.
Liz is in Costa Rica, having tracked down what Red was up to with his ‘juggling’. She finds the auction site, watches the same footage that Reddington had, and knows who has the duffel bag. She still doesn’t know what it contains though. Red is both disappointed and impressed that she followed him and got this far. Their sprint to the finish line is almost complete. It won’t be long before one of them has the bag. Liz assures Red it will be her.
We finish the episode with Aram at Samar’s side, kneeling down and offering her his grandmother’s ring that she had previously returned. And with the voice of Etta James singing At Last, Aram slips the ring on her finger and proposes to the comatose Samar.
While the episode was a change of pace, and was moving in parts, it suffered from one major flaw. The episode description was,“When Samar (Mozhan Marnò) lands in the crosshairs of an unconventional Blacklister, Aram (Amir Arison) and the Task Force spring into action to find her before it’s too late. Meanwhile, Red (James Spader) journeys to Costa Rica to prevent the duffel bag of bones from being sold to the highest bidder at an underground auction. ”
And therein lay the problem with this episode as a whole. Red was reduced to ‘meanwhile….’ in the episode. James Spader is the star of this show. His role should never be relegated to ‘meanwhile’. And especially not with only one more episode to go in the season. A season ending that has promised to answer the question of whose bones are in that darn duffel bag. That is what we should have been counting down to. The stakes should have had us on the edge of our collective seats with Red and Liz.
To put it in context – last year at this time the 21st episode of season 4 was fast paced with Red firing on all cylinders. Red and Ressler had just found Reven Wright’s body. Laurel Hitchin was forced to play ball and make a deal when Red and Ressler called on her. Julian Gale was trying to bring down the entire task force and kill Reddington. Mr Kaplan had unearthed 86 bodies, put them in an ice rink and was hell bent on destroying Reddington.
This year’s 21st episode? Samar was trapped in a van.
Oh, and we had a bear. I actually Googled ‘are there bears in West Virginia’ and found out that, yes, there are about 8000 black bears in the state. They stick to themselves as much as possible, eat berries and shoots and sleep a lot. They don’t usually drag people to their deaths, as they did to Devlin. And they aren’t generally interested in rocking vans until they hurtle down the hill into rivers.
The relationship between Aram and Samar has always been a rocky one, but is usually kept to a minimum in an episode. To elevate it to the lead story for two weeks and tone down the main story arc resulted in the last two episodes being unsatisfying. It was out of balance. This story would have been a great mid-season episode and arc, because despite its timing in the season, it was still a good watch in parts. However, it was not strong enough to hold the coveted season ending arc. Nor were the majority of the viewing audience invested enough in these two characters to care.
That fact was clearly shown in the early viewing numbers. We dropped to a 0.7 in the 18-49 demographic (this has since risen a little to 0.8), when we’ve been holding steady around 0.9-1.0 all season. It was a risky move by the powers that be, and one that did not pay off. And with The Blacklist not having been renewed for another season (at the time of this writing) it was ridiculous to take the focus off their star, James Spader, and concentrate on two lower ranked characters. The numbers don’t lie. They pushed the #SaveSamar tag all week, but it drove viewers away.
Viewers want to know what’s going on with Red and Liz. Not Aram and Samar. Yet even saying that, the biggest problem with this entire ‘bag of bones’ arc in Season 5 is that it’s taken WAY too long. A year to find out who the bones belong to is ridiculous. I can’t tell you how many tweets from viewers I have seen who ask ‘what is in the duffel bag?’ It’s gone on so long, some viewers have forgotten it was the bones in the suitcase that Mr Kaplan unearthed a year ago.
I watch several shows that only have 10-13 episodes a season and they pack far more into each episode and tell a whole lot more story per season than The Blacklist ever manages to. This has been an ongoing problem, and I think the main reason viewers have left over the years. People have got bored. They simply can’t wait this long for a story reveal.
Don’t get me wrong. – despite my complaints, I still love this show. I am so invested in it that it’s why I see its faults and wish it could come back to the caliber of show we had in Season 1 and 2. I can only hope the Season 5 finale next week is everything creator Jon Bokenkamp has promised. That it will indeed be a heart stopping cliffhanger of an ending that changes everything moving forward. Plus I also have a sneaky suspicion that Liz stages her own kidnapping in the season finale, just to force the truth out of Reddington. We’ll see next week.
The Blacklist airs on NBC on Wednesdays at 8/7c
Images courtesy NBC