After shaking things up just the teensiest bit, The Blacklist is settling back into its cozy rut as a geek-of-the-week show, with the main plot augmented by some ongoing mystery designed to serve the series’ dumbass mythology. (The current mystery, which Red has a team of nerds hard at work on: Who is the mole!?) Tonight’s guest villain is the Alchemist (Ryan O’Nan), “a man who protects the guilty by preying on the innocent.” Whoo, that sounds scary. Tell me more! Well, as Red explains, “They call him the Alchemist because he relies upon science to transform one person into another.” Red, being a goddamn tease, does not explain who “they” are, or how they got the job of handing out flashy nicknames when they don’t even know what an alchemist is. I mean, alchemy is a branch of magical pseudoscience devoted to the idea that it’s possible to transform base metals into gold and silver. Someone who relies upon science to transform one person into another is a plastic surgeon.
Ah, but the Alchemist is no mere nip and tuck specialist. He is “a forensic virtuoso,” and “an artist who paints in blood and saliva samples. Human tissue is his canvass.” He’s currently arranging a life swap for Pytor Madrczyk, the “ex-Serbian mob informant” who welched on his deal with the authorities and is now running around loose, with his bad Scrabble hand of a name and his wife Catherine. The forensic virtuoso turns an innocent woman into an exact duplicate of Catherine by the fiendish method of rendering her unconscious and then sticking a wig on her head and doing her nails. We know this because, when the woman is seen regaining consciousness on a plane that’s in flight, she stares at her hand as if it had grown a mouth and was singing pirate chanteys.
Then she grabs a hand mirror and reacts to the discovery that her long blonde hair is now short and brown with an expression of shock and wonderment that would be overdone if she were seeing the dead baby from Trainspotting crawling on the ceiling. It’s a wonder she has anything left in the tank when, a few seconds later, she realizes that the men in the pilot’s cabin are either dead or unconscious, and that the great metal bird is about to go spiraling down to Earth with herself and the similarly confused man who now looks like Pytor Madrczyk on board. This is how the Alchemist operates, selecting gormless victims to turn into duplicates of some turd on the run, so that the real bad guys, who are his clients, can remake their lives without fear that the police will still be looking for them. (“This isn’t just evidence tampering,” Lizzie exclaims when she suddenly gets it. “It’s genetic manipulation!” Crash of thunder, flash of lightning, cut to Bela Lugosi sitting in a chair, ranting, “Pull the string! Pull the string! The story must be told!”)
If there’s a single, gaping hole in his modus operandi, it is that he doesn’t go that extra mile of transforming his clients into totally different-looking people. They’re still walking around in the great wide open still looking just like themselves, so when the cops discover that the smoking pile of ashes in the wreckage of the plane isn’t really Pytor Madrczyk, they go looking for the real guy, and have no trouble finding and bringing him in. So the Alchemist puts on his best suit, ambles down to the building where Pytor is being kept, presents himself as Pytor’s lawyer, is allowed to consult with him in private, slips him some poisoned gum, and then casually leaves the building; he’s long gone by the time anyone checks to find Pytor dead on the floor.
Like some of the previous villains on this show, the Alchemist’s Achilles heel is his feeling for the family—an estranged wife, a daughter—that barely knows he exists. When Lizzie deduces that the Alchemist is on the run and is wiping out anyone who might be able to help the authorities find him, she remembers the wife and kid, gasp, and leads the cops to their house. There, naturally, they find a pair of corpses that look like the wife and daughter. Characteristically, it’s only after the commercial break that it occurs to Lizzie that the guy whose specialty is helping people disappear and leaving dead lookalikes in their place has run off with his family instead or murdering them.
Athough the Alchemist himself is far from a million laughs, he doesn’t seem to be suffering from severe depression, and he’s quick in action and betrays a capacity for sadistic glee when he’s preparing to parachute out of that plane and leaving his victims behind. (“Buckle up!”) That’s enough to make him a cut above most of the previous members of the Blacklist. But for the viewer who’d appreciate a reason to root for Lizzie and her fellow crime-busters, the plotting is pretty embarrassing; the Alchemist (and the audience) is one step ahead of the heroes all the way to the end, when an FBI sniper announces that he has a bead on his target and then, just before he can pull the trigger, the Alchemist’s wife is the one who gets to blow him away. Meanwhile, Lizzie and her husband have domestic tensions because she’s too busy saving the world to make it home in time for dinner, causing her pout and look more like Monica Lewinsky than ever; Ressler has gotten rid of the crutches he was hobbling around on last week, which is a shame, since they almost made it seem as if he had a personality; and Red confronts the mole and also gets to deliver the last line that a James Spader character has any business saying: “I hate sarcasm.”
- Of the supporting cast, the secret star of the show is turning out to be Amir Arison as the techie Aram. He’s emerged from the shadows slowly over the course of the last few episodes, and he hasn’t been given much to do, but he has a streak of humor and knows how to sit in front of a computer reeling off factoids in a way that makes you feel that, even if you can’t follow everything he’s saying, it must be important.