In the fourth episode of The Blacklist, one of Liz’s pre-James Spader cases has finally come to trial. The defendant is a brutal gang leader who has left skrillions of bodies in his wake, and Liz is confident she’ll get her guilty verdict. Reddington isn’t so sure; said gang leader has contacted him seeking passage out of the country, so it’s a good bet some shit’s going down at the trial. Since he’s James Spader, he’s right, and one of the jurors dies of poisoning. The defendant escapes during the confusion. Reddington is disinterested in helping to clean up the mess until he discovers that the gang has been calling upon the services of The Stewmaker, a shadowy figure who will dissolve your dead bodies in chemical solution, to clean up after them. So, once again, the hunt is on and this one proves to be very dangerous indeed.
The drug lord plot doesn’t matter a whole lot in the end. It’s the B-story, really. He exists as a means to find the Stewmaker, and nothing more. It does give us the opportunity to see Reddington and Ressler working together one-on-one, but despite the undercover routine and even a few explosions, it’s just a means to an end and is wrapped up with a line or two at the close of the episode.
Can we just talk about The Stewmaker himself? Besides the fact that he sounds like a character in a fairy tale who just can’t make ends meet at his simple stew shop until one day a bunch of elves help him out and the local viscount tastes the stew and it’s amazing and he ends up cooking for the king but then the elves can’t help him any more and he worries but it’s okay because the magic was in him all along, he is a bald, naked, scarred white guy. He looks like Stan Sitwell, for fuck’s sake. I’m not sure whether or not I appreciate the character’s appearance, but it definitely drives home the point that this man is an odd little duck splashing around in his own little pond full of corrosive chemicals.
Speaking of, during the teaser for this episode, he’s shown dissolving a body in your standard issue motel bathtub. Motherfucker, I saw Breaking Bad. I know that shit’s a terrible idea and that way lies horror and holes in your ceiling. I find it a little difficult to believe that The Stewmaker has such a unique skillset and is worthy of being on the blacklist. Surely there are other criminals with a basic understanding of chemistry who know how to tape down some plastic sheeting. Not to mention, this goofy motherfucker is working with dangerous, highly corrosive chemicals in the nude. No wonder he’s got scars and shit all over. It’s like cooking bacon with no pants on.
Oh, and did I mention that I’m still not a fan of the cute little code names? It’s a little ridiculous. I liked that Wujing was just Wujing, and not The Fuck Goblin or something. “You’re in luck, Liz. The Fuck Goblin just so happens to be in town just like every other international criminal ever. Better hurry up and catch him or else you’ll never find him again!” Shit’s wearing thin, yo.
Quick aside – if you’ve ever seen action or disaster shows before, you know that whenever something violent goes down in a public place, there’s going to be some bitplayers going through hysterics and running and screaming and all that good stuff. There’s a fair amount of panicking crowds in this week’s Blacklist, and after twenty-two years of TV watching, whenever that shit happens I can’t help but picture everyone doing this:
I guess it’s time once again for the weekly James Spader praise. I think I’ve said as much in every previous Blacklist review, but godsdammit, I can’t get enough of Reddington. Especially his sass. Oh, the pure, unadulterated sass. It makes me feel good in my jangles. Yes, sir! I think it’s fair to say that he’s miles ahead of what a show like this deserves. He’s a charismatic leading man who’s fun to watch and not even imprisoned in a hypercube anymore. So good on him. And huge bonus points for using the phrase a pile of Christmas.
It’s interesting to see just how protective of Liz he’s proven to be. When she was in a real pickle, he comes to her rescue with a real vengeance. He doesn’t really break that slick demeanor of his, but it’s a cold fury and it’s all in the eyes. Well, the eyes, plus the whole shoving her kidnapper into a tub of acid. I’m really very curious to find out what his connection to Liz might be, since it’s abundantly clear he’s willing to cross all kinds of lines to help her out.
There’s some interesting arc progress in this episode as well. Liz and Tom are still doing their little Mr and Mrs Smith song-and-dance. She’s relieved to find that Tom was with her in Boston on holiday when the Mysterious Classified Murder took place, and then crestfallen to find that it probably had something to do with where they were staying anyway. Reddington also steals himself a photo of a young girl from the Stewmaker’s trophy album. Very interesting.
Something I’ve been wondering about is when Reddington is going to become a target himself. I mean, surely some supervillain out there is going to clue in to the fact that all of a sudden all of Reddington’s contacts seem to be getting arrested or killed. I’d be a little disappointed if the show didn’t address this at some point.
Unfortunately for us, The Blacklist‘s other lead, Megan Boone was a little not-so-good this week. Her performance was just…off, in places. “The Stewmaker” puts Liz into some seriously life-threatening predicaments when she’s kidnapped by Joel Stewmaker, as anyone would. But for some reason, Boone has seen fit to channel Jake Lloyd in her performance. I’m a person! she wails. Yeah, and your name is Anakin, and is he an angel? I’m not sure what her issue was, exactly, given that the pilot also put her in dangerous situations that hit close to home and Megan Boone handled herself just fine. I don’t think it’s the script, because despite plot issues, the dialogue is better than usual. Mostly. Maybe she and the director just didn’t click.
“The Stewmaker” places our characters in one of the most stressful situations yet, but logic holes and spotty acting bring down the production. There’s a conscious effort here to be tense and creepy, but it’s never quite pulled off as well as it could be. While not the best outing thus far, it’s a decent episode with some primo Reddington snark, some fun sleuthing, and even a few jump scares.