What to Expect in The Blacklist Super Bowl Episode

Damian Holbrook
David Giesbrecht/NBC

The Blacklist

For a guy who plays the most plugged-in criminal on television, The Blacklist’s James Spader is a bit in the dark about what it means to have an episode air right after sports’ biggest game. “I’m fairly ignorant of such things,” says the erudite three-time Emmy winner with a laugh. “People have talked a lot about it being a very fortunate time slot, but I don’t have any real understanding of the relevance.”

He’ll no doubt be more clued-in once the overnight ratings arrive (2014’s post–Super Bowl airing of New Girl netted the comedy 26.3 million total viewers, a series high). But the real win will be if the show can convert even a percentage of those new viewers into diehard fans. “I hope we can do that,” says executive producer Jon Bokenkamp. “There will be a lot of people watching who have never seen the show before.”

To hook them, the NBC action thriller, concerning Spader’s master criminal and his murky alliance with FBI agent Liz Keen (Megan Boone), is staging a splashy return from winter hiatus with the first half of a two-parter designed, in Bokenkamp’s words, to be “a repiloting of the concept” to quickly indoctrinate new viewers. And the hour’s cliffhanger is meant to serve as the perfect bait. “By the end of the episode, people will have a lot of answers about what the show is and who our characters are, but they will still be left with just as many lingering questions,” says Bokenkamp, who promises an equally steady dose of addictive mystery when The Blacklist moves to Thursdays at 9/8c beginning February 5. “It’s a big story in scale and emotion.”

The Blacklist
David Giesbrecht/NBC

Fast-paced and, by Spader’s admission, “brutal as well,” the postgame episode opens immediately with a shocker: Spader’s elusive Raymond “Red” Reddington—No. 4 on the FBI’s most wanted list and an invaluable informant to a black-ops federal task force—is intercepted by Feds who have no idea that their precious catch has secretly been in cahoots with their colleagues for the past two years. Once in custody, Reddington is sent to the Factory, a gritty interrogation facility on an old oil rig in the middle of a remote sea, leaving Liz and her team—partner Donald Ressler (Diego Klattenhoff), ex-Mossad operative Samar Navabi (Mozhan Marnò), and their boss, Harold Cooper (Harry Lennix)—scrambling to make sure their star asset keeps quiet. “If the people on the Factory get him to spill the beans, he could expose the task force and jeopardize all of the work they have done,” explains Bokenkamp, adding that Red’s capture “makes for a precarious situation because our team is the Feds, but most Feds don’t know about our task force! How do they politely tell their colleagues, ‘Hey, this guy is helping us’?”

The task force scrambles to get Red back, but they are also left to wonder if their always-calculating main asset has actually gone rogue. “If Red has taken his own initiative to do something outside of the tactical unit, that confuses Liz since he runs everything by her,” Boone says. “So you’ll find the two of them separated for the first time.” Not that he’ll be all by his lonesome out on the Factory. Befitting a super (bowl)–size story, the producers tapped Sons of Anarchy’s Ron Perlman for a two-part reign of terror as Luther Braxton, an imprisoned thief who goes back a long way with our antihero. (Suffice it to say they aren’t old chums.) And even though Bokenkamp describes Perlman’s physically imposing baddie as “a blunt-force instrument,” Spader gives his on-screen foe high marks for bringing brawn and brains to the party.

The Blacklist
David Giesbrecht/NBC

“[Luther] is not that brutish type,” he explains. “Ron’s performance is very understated. He has an absolutely fantastic voice and he’s physically very formidable, but he plays against that, which suits Luther very well.” Still, don’t expect these two to simply exchange pleasantries. After all, this is prison, and Bokenkamp says that Luther isn’t the type to settle a beef with conversation. “Red has to find his inner tough guy to go up against [Luther].”

So, too, did Boone. When asked about the episode’s amped-up action sequences and explosive stunts, the actress can barely contain her excitement about Liz’s role in the attempt to extract Reddington. “Liz really gets in there when the action gets going,” she says. “I was there when bombs went off and missiles hit the building…and I am pretty sure Ron Perlman hit me in the face!”

Details about Part II are being kept as top-secret as Red’s reasons for allowing himself to be arrested, but the gears will definitely shift a bit. “You know how the episodes all mirror different [movies]?” Boone says. “That is the thing about The Blacklist. If you name a genre, we can pretty much give you a little taste of that in any given episode. This one is like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind in reverse.”

Does that mean the installment will offer up any more clues as to why Red chose Liz as his FBI liaison in the first place? “You’re going to get a peek into not only what Red has been hiding but some of the situations that may have connected Red to Liz that she may not even know about,” Bokenkamp confirms. “It goes back to the question of “Why her?”

The Blacklist, Sunday, Feb. 1, 10:30/9:30c (approx.), NBC

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