The Blacklist, Ep. 1.04: “The Stewmaker” improves with a more interesting villain

The Blacklist - Season 1

The Blacklist - Season 1

The Blacklist, Season 1, Episode 4: “The Stewmaker”
Written by Patrick Massett and John Zinman
Directed by Vince Misiano
Airs Mondays at 10pm ET on NBC

“The Stewmaker” opens with a very Silence of the Lambs-esque sequence that is simultaneously creepy, captivating, and tonally out of place with other aspects of the episode. Most of the episode does work; anything actually involving The Stewmaker himself (which isn’t nearly enough of the episode) is extremely compelling television. The problem isn’t The Stewmaker. The problem is the peripheral junk happening to the side of this interesting character.

This week’s episode has Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone) set to testify at the trial of low-life drug dealer Hector Lorca (Clifton Collins Jr.) for the accused kidnapping and murder of hundreds of missing Mexican and American officials. After a juror and a key witness in the trial are killed, Red (James Spader) directs Keen’s attention to a mysterious Blacklister known only as The Stewmaker, an individual that can dissolve a person so perfectly, with the help of his own concoctions of chemicals, that he can make a body effectively disappear, though not before he takes a couple souvenirs for his own twisted enjoyment.

The main problem that exists with “The Stewmaker” is its decision to focus too much time on Lorca and not on the titular character. Thankfully, that’s the only issue it has, but it’s still a big one. The entire episode should be centered on The Stewmaker, but it takes far too long for Keen and the rest of the FBI to even be aware of his existence. Instead, a ridiculous amount of time is spent dealing with Lorca and his nefarious business dealings with Red. That’s all fine and good, but it has no place in this episode. There would be nothing wrong with the show going full Silence of the Lambs and centering on the search for a demented serial killer. In fact, that route would be an extremely cool one. One can’t complain too much about the Lorca scenes however, given that one involving him, Red, and Agent Ressler (Diego Klattenhoff) finally gives Ressler one of his only good moments of the show so far. Still, the potential for the alternative is just so great that it all feels like a wasted opportunity.

If the Blacklisters going forward are as strong as The Stewmaker, The Blacklist should be in fine shape. A far more engaging bad guy than Wujing or The Freelancer, every word out of his mouth (which is mostly just a monologue or two towards the end) is entrancing, almost making the audience forget that this guy is stark raving mad. His motivations (or what he claims are his motivations) are so intensely fascinating that it takes a moment to realize what kind of person we’re dealing with. Even if “transferring energy” is the rationalization of a deeply troubled mind, it’s nonetheless compelling. The Stewmaker is doubly intriguing when contrasted against Red, a man just as much a monster as our villain, although perhaps in different ways and for different reasons. The interaction between Red and The Stewmaker at the end of the episode might be an examination of The Stewmaker, but could just as easily be a closer look at Red’s past, adding nuance to Spader’s performance in that scene and complementing the subtext that lies in his character at all times.

Speaking of Spader, how good is that guy, seriously? He has a magnetic quality to him that overpowers all of the other actors he shares scenes with. It’s not that someone like Megan Boone is a bad actress, she just simply can’t compete with an acting powerhouse like Spader. Beyond just his natural talent, he seems like he’s actually having fun in every scene. He adds much-needed energy to the show, bouying even otherwise-dead Klattenhoff-inhabited scenes. Incidentally, this is the first episode of the series in which Klattenhoff isn’t downright terrible. As mentioned earlier, the scene between him, Lorca, and Red shows that Klattenhoff just might possess an acting bone and that maybe there’s some hope for his character, even if he is rigid as a corpse. Boone is also surprisingly good, although she should probably work on her terrified face- right now, it just makes her look a little silly.

All in all, this is a fairly solid episode of The Blacklist that should genuinely have audiences looking forward to the series going forward and interested in answers to some of the ongoing questions, such as who’s the picture of that Red took from The Stewmaker’s book and what the situation is with Keen’s husband Tom (Ryan Eggold). Here’s to The Blacklist keeping up the good work from here on out.

– Drew Koenig

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