'The Blacklist' EP Jon Bokenkamp on What's Ahead for Fake Reddington After Liz's Betrayal
[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for the Season 6 two-part premiere of The Blacklist.]
That is how you return from a cliffhanger!
The two-night Blacklist premiere really delivered after an extended eight-month hiatus. With a deep sense of betrayal that the man who has protected her and purports to be her father, Raymond "Red" Reddington (James Spader), is neither her bio dad nor Red, FBI agent Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone), along with half-sister Jennifer (Fiona Dourif), drop the dime on the imposter.
The great deceiver and manipulator and big-time FBI Task Force informant was arrested while buying a pretzel and is sitting in a jail cell like any old criminal. He made it clear that he “will do anything” to find out who betrayed him. We can’t wait to see what he’ll do when he finds out his daughters did it — particularly his beloved Liz.
The Blacklist executive producer Jon Bokenkamp let’s us know why he wrote this story, when he decided to do it, and what’s next.
Did you know from the beginning that James Spader’s character wasn’t really Reddington?
Jon Bokenkamp: Since day one. It’s almost impossible to not know the ending before you begin or at least a really strong sense of it. If you look back at the reveals that we’ve had along the seasons, I think it would be impossible to go back and do what we have done if we were just sort of saying, ‘Well I don’t know guys, Episode 22, let’s just make him not 'Red.'" My head would explode. It almost explodes just trying to keep track of the mythology, but it is something that we’ve been playing from the beginning, and James has been playing from the beginning that we’ve been working towards.
So we’re to assume that the imposter Red had plastic surgery to change his looks?
That’s a fair assumption. If you go back to the first season, he was talking to a doctor, played by Andrew Dice Clay, saying, ‘Who knows about the work I had done?’ That is something we’ve mentioned a couple times on the show.
Lots of fans were shocked that he wasn’t Liz’s father after all. So Elizabeth and her sister Jennifer tipped off the cops about "Red." That’s worrisome for various reasons.
They did. Only Jennifer and Liz know that and it’s a decision that will likely have great consequences. One of the things that’s fun about this season is that we’re entering new territory where Liz is ahead of Red really for the first time. People rarely get ahead of him. And she has a truth, she knows that Red’s not Red. Liz and Jennifer, are sort of using that capital to park Red, have him incarcerated, so they can catch up and make sure that he doesn’t slip away and get ahead of the story.
Is that Liz’s only motivation? She’s called him a very bad man capable of an incredibly amount of good, i.e. stopping the UN bombing. She certainly doesn’t want to take the chance he’ll be on Death Row waiting to be executed, does she?
Her ultimate motivation is to get the answers. Why her and who is he? As you point out, he does do great things; he loves her; he’s gone to great lengths to teach her and protect her. And yet he has let her believe what she thought to be the truth.
And now the great master of deceit in behind bars!
What we see at the end of Episode 2 isn’t just how is Red going to navigate incarceration, and what is this next chapter going to hold for him in terms of prison, but what does it mean to her, personally and emotionally, that these betrayals are happening, and why would he do this? She, rightfully so, is also aware of the fact that the bigger concern for Red is not necessarily getting out of prison, but as he says, finding out who turned him in. That is the thing that matters more to him, and I think she’s well aware of that and knows that she has entered a new chapter.
We assume he’ll stop at nothing to get revenge, but what can he do if he learns it’s Elizabeth?
She’s sort of his kryptonite, right? She’s the one thing that unravels him. But one of the promises of this season is a new dynamic between Liz and Red. He doesn’t know that she’s uncovered this truth. So, he doesn’t know that she knows that he’s not who he says he is.
When they’re playing scenes together – one of the things I think is great that Megan and James are doing this season – is that she’s still going ahead and presenting as his daughter, and he is presenting as her father. And so that sort of weird chess match that’s happening between the two of them is between everything they say this season. It’s not just, “Hey dad, thanks so much for the tip on that Blacklister." It’s all this great tension that they’re playing at as they’re trying to figure out what the other knows.
When Red finds out Liz betrayed him — and he will — can their relationship be saved?
Yes, Red usually gets to the bottom of everything, so what does he do in this case? How does that change their dynamic? Does he say anything? Again, it’s a new chess match; a really balanced story between two very smart people.
Will we ever find out why Red pretended to be Liz’s father and why he was so protective of her?
Absolutely. Will that happen immediately? Probably not. When you know ultimately why he chose her, and why he decided to give us these cases, I think the story is ultimately over. But we will answer that, and we will get there, and we do have an answer that we’re working towards.
Can we expect a trial for the man known as Reddington?
I hope so. The idea of Raymond Reddington not only being incarcerated, but navigating the legal system, is new territory. It is a first that Raymond Reddington not only goes to prison but has to stand trial for his crimes and they are expansive. Yet I think he probably embraces this situation like he does so many situations with his arms open and with a zest for the unknown. And if he has to stand on trial, there’s nobody I would rather watch in a courtroom than James Spader.
How will Liz’s boss Harold Cooper (Harry Lennix) react to the arrest?
It won’t be long before this becomes a federal case and the complications become much more dire. Part of the conflict, part of what Cooper is going to have to grapple with is that this relationship with the FBI is a secret. They cannot divulge that they’ve been working with Raymond Reddington. One of the things that is on the menu of things to come is likely disavowment, and that is going to leave Reddington dangling.
Hmm. How else does this new situation affect his work with the FBI?
His motivation behind those cases sort of shifts. We are still a case-of-the-week show, we still have what I believe are some of the strangest, most unusual, most dangerous bad guys on a week-to-week basis. These are the criminals that the FBI doesn’t know about. But the reason behind why Red is giving us these cases will shift and will likely fit into some sort of agenda he has.
Who are some particularly interesting Blackisters upcoming?
We have the Ethicist, who makes a determination about your value in life, depending on the good and bad that you’re done. He may weigh the life of a criminal who does very bad things against the life of a CEO, who does incredible things financially and monetarily for employees, but also pollutes rivers and escapes taxes. He looks at the scales of the value of your life and makes a determination on whether you or somebody else should live.
Any other storylines you want to bring up?
We have a great love story between Samar (Mozhan Marnò) and Aram (Amir Arison). It’s a Blacklist love story, so it won’t be without twists and turns. She is a tough cookie and he is a marshmallow on the inside. They are an odd couple but it makes for some funky scenes.
The Blacklist, Fridays, 9/8c, NBC