‘The Blacklist’ EP Jon Bokenkamp Explains That Finale Shocker About [Spoiler’s] Identity

The Blacklist - Season 5
Spoiler Alert
Will Hart/NBC

[The following contains MAJOR spoilers for the Blacklist Season 5 finale, “Sutton Ross.”]

WHOA — you really got us this time, The Blacklist!

Show star Megan Boone wasn’t exaggerating when she told us the May 16 finale would bring the “biggest reveal” of the NBC drama’s five seasons. Not only did we finally found out what Raymond Reddington’s (James Spader) been hiding in that bag, we learned that he’s not actually Raymond Reddington — and thus, not Elizabeth Keen’s (Boone) father!

Plus, Liz revealed in the final moments that she knew about the DNA test confirming the bones were the real Raymond Reddington, and she’d been manipulating ‘Red’ to reveal his secret. It didn’t work yet — he was interrupted by the FBI’s entrance — but expect to see Agent Keen on a real takedown mission next season.

TV Insider spoke with showrunner Jon Bokenkamp about this game-changing bombshell, if Red really isn’t Liz’s father, what’s in store for Season 6.

What a twist in those final seconds! How long have plans been in the works to reveal that ‘Red’ isn’t actually Raymond Reddington? Was this plotted from the beginning?

Jon Bokenkamp: Yeah, it really was. Red told Liz in the ninth or tenth episode that he was not her father. She asked him very clearly, ‘Are you my father?’ and he said ‘No.’ There are other clues that have been woven through but it’s a truth that we’ve been working toward for five years now. It’s an underlying part of the mythology that is a great relief to let everyone in on.

So it’s safe to say that he is not Raymond Reddington and this isn’t a misdirect?

I think it’s safe to say that, yes.

What about the paternity issue — is there any chance that he could still be Liz Keen’s father?

I think that’s hard to coexist with that we’ve laid out. Harold Cooper did a blood test. So the idea that this is a misdirect, that he’s really her father, I think that’s sort of hard to align with what we’ve laid out.

So now that we know he isn’t her dad, will we find out more about why he’s so emotionally attached to her?

I think his emotional attachment to her is one of the more disturbing and strange and surreal things that Liz is trying to wrap her head around. I think that’s a real betrayal, in a way. And I think it’s one of the many questions that is worth coming back for in Season 6: Who is this man? Why did he enter her life?

I remember talking to James [Spader] when we had just finished shooting the pilot and we sort of landed on the idea that what’s fun about this character is that he’s a real enigma. Once you think you understand him, you find out you know nothing about him at all. And I think that’s one of the things that’s been true to the show for the past five years. We get little pieces of the truth, they’re not always the whole truth, but that we’re constantly moving forward. And yet today, we know as little about Raymond Reddington as we did in the first episode.

He’s been living in this identity for 30 years. Is there anyone who knows Red’s true identity?

There certainly were. There were people who figured it out, as we saw tonight — Tom, Mr. Kaplan — most of those people have died but is there somebody out there who might know? That’s probably fair to say yes. Or even if they’re not aware of who he is or what his motivations are, that they might be able to pull the thread of the truth that would be threatening to him in away that he would not like.

Dembe seemed to have some issues with Red’s behavior in tonight’s episode. Could he be one of those people who knows the truth about him?

Dembe and Reddington have an incredibly close relationship — Dembe may be the closest person to him. What he knows, I don’t know that I want to speak to that. But I think that Dembe has a very specific moral compass that’s not always in line with Reddington’s. He has told Reddington a number of times that Elizabeth deserves to know the truth, that he shouldn’t continue in the way that he’s misleading her. So I think Dembe is a really interesting storyline to explore.

Liz made it clear at the end that she’s not alone in her mission to take down Red. Does that mean we’ll be getting a lot of Jennifer next season?

I hope so! I think we’re in a really interesting place with the show, Liz is in a really interesting place. She’s made an incredible transformation this year. For the first time, she has a secret from Reddington that she’s holding on to. She’s not at all the person that we met in the pilot, she has learned a lot from her husband — who was incredibly good at misleading people and playing on their emotions. She’s learned a lot from Reddington.

So I think she’s an incredibly different and potentially dangerous person. She is sufficiently motivated to pose a real threat to Reddington and she’s ultimately not in a healthy place right now, which is a great launching pad for our next season.

How will this new mission affect Liz’s role in the FBI? Will she still be working with Red?

My instinct — it’s too early for me to really know — my instinct is that, if I was Elizabeth Keen, I wouldn’t tell Reddington anything. I would keep this a secret. My instinct says that she should keep up the ruse that everything’s OK now, and that they’ll move forward. She’ll probably be doing a bit of investigating on her own and try to chip away at this very enigmatic character.

On a brighter note, Samar woke up and accepted Aram’s proposal! Does that mean we’ll get a wedding next season?

Well, weddings never really turn out the way we hoped on The Blacklist. I would suggest that perhaps they elope. But yes, certainly do look brighter. There’s a glimmer of hope for those two, which is great. I really enjoyed that storyline, and it’s a refreshing ray of hope which I’m excited about.

It was great to see Ryan Eggold back as Tom — even if it was just in Liz’s imagination. Will we see him back next season guiding her?

I think with any of the characters on the show that are beloved that we always want to keep it open that maybe there’s some way, like what we did tonight, to sort of bring them back — even if it’s just for a moment.

I think the bigger thing now is that Ryan’s now the star of his own show [New Amsterdam] on NBC, which may make it a little more difficult for Tom Keen to slip on the glasses and creep over to The Blacklist. But he’s a friend of the show and I was thrilled that he came back for that ghostly, emotional reunion between him and Liz.

Will we now see Liz move on romantically?

I think that’s definitely a possibility. That’s very interesting, that’s something I’d like to see. I don’t know yet but I think that definitely would be a great story.

And finally, we loved the John Waters cameo! How did that come about?

We in the writers room have loved John Waters for a long time. We have tried to find, a number of times, ways to work him into the show. We’ve had a number of characters that we thought might be right but ultimately didn’t work, for whatever reason. And I actually saw part of his show in Omaha this past December and he was so wonderful and strange and nostalgic. I walked out of there thinking, ‘We just have to have him on the show.’

So it ended being a cameo, which I think is great. I love that Red’s a fan and I love that they can trade fashion advice. They seem like two peas in a pod. I’d love to go to dinner with the two of them. I’d just be a fly on the wall, I’d hang out and listen.