Can Red Reddington Escape Execution? ‘Blacklist’ EP Jon Bokenkamp Weighs In

The Blacklist - Season 6
Spoiler Alert
Will Hart/NBC

[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for Season 6, Episode 10 of The Blacklist, “The Cryptobanker.”]

How the mighty has fallen.

In tonight’s shocking episode of The Blacklist, Red’s (James Spader) befuddlement when he was stopped by armed guards just as a helicopter piloted by his loyal friend Dembe (Hisham Tawfiq) was about to whisk him away from prison, says it all. Things only got worse for the international criminal turned FBI confidant from there.

Thinking he would escape, Red had pleaded guilty to many criminal counts at his trial. Despite strong testimony from surrogate daughter and FBI agent Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone) as she tried to save his life, Red got the death penalty for his past sins. We bet Liz is pretty upset that her tipoff to the police got him arrested — while ignominiously buying a pretzel on the street — and led him to Death Row!

TV Insider talked to The Blacklist executive producer Jon Bokenkamp about Red’s seemingly insurmountable predicament and where the story will go from there.

Red, a man who is confident he can outsmart everyone at all times, looked absolutely shocked when, despite help from his prison pals, false whiskers and the warden’s dog, his prison break failed at the last minute. Was he?

Jon Bokenkamp: Yeah, we’re definitely entering a chapter where we are seeing Reddington in a much more vulnerable headspace, uncharted waters, and in peril in ways that we really haven’t seen before. The escape was a last-ditch effort and he’s boxed in in. He had no intention of being in that courtroom [for the penalty phase]. He had every expectation that he would escape. The show is about secrets, especially this season. Liz was concerned for Red, which was why she came to the prison in the first place. If there was more communication between the two of them, she may not have shown up and he may have escaped. It was only because she showed up looking for him that this went awry. Where it goes from here is quite a rocky ride.

Hisham Tawfiq as Dembe Zuma (Will Hart/NBC)

Despite her often expressed anger at Red and his lies about being her father Raymond Reddington —she calls him “the Imposter”—Liz fought hard on the witness stand to save his life. Why?

Elizabeth Keen is torn. On the one hand, this man has not always told her the entire truth .He’s let her know pieces of a large puzzle but he’s never completely pulled back the curtain. Despite that, he shows incredible love for her and has her back in a deeply emotional way. What we saw her say on the stand in tonight’ episode is true. Only she could provide that sort of insight to the jury that there is good in this man.

How will that impact her going forward?

Well, I think she stays the course. When Red pled guilty and accepts the death penalty as his fate, it was done largely to protect Liz and the Task Force. If he doesn’t do that, everything that they’ve done over the past six years comes into light and they all are thrown under a microscope. So in a way, there’s a bit of self-sacrifice there. All of these characters, as much as they’re on opposite sides of the line so frequently, really have become a very strange, dysfunctional family. Red is the Grand Poobah of the family, so they’re all struggling with the inevitability of what is about to happen. It may have crossed their minds that he may be caught at some point, but we’re now confronted with it in a very real, intangible way that is pretty dark.

Megan Boone as Elizabeth Keen (Will Hart/NBC)

Are Liz and the FBI task force trying to somehow save them? What can they do?

Well yeah, what can they do? I think that’s what they’re scrambling for — answers. Next week is a unique and really deeply emotional episode where Red confronts the end. He is somebody who has always lived with such zest for life, knowing that he may die at any moment. He’s at peace with that, and we see that play out in the character in different moments, in dangerous moments, but this is as dire as it’s come. Oftentimes people talk about a town becoming a character in a movie or in an episode. In this next episode, the clock is really a character because they are in a race to save this man’s life and they’re grasping at straws. It’s a new place for us.

Won’t there be appeals?

Well, there may be a little TV timeline here because we don’t want to watch Reddington do 20 years of appeals, which would happen in real life. There are forces in motion behind the scenes that are expediting this, and Reddington himself embraced the notion of let’s get on with it when he said, “Without hope there’s not much to live for.” But yes, I will admit there is a little bit of an accelerated timeline there because we want to get to the juicy stuff.

Will Liz, while fighting for Red’s life, also press him to tell the truth about who he really is? Will he choose to go to his reward, so to speak, without giving her the information she so desperately wants?

I think that’s insightful. That is the promise of the next episode. One thing that Liz realizes is that this is the last opportunity that she may have to get to the truth. How badly does she want it? And is that something she wants to open up in one of the last hours of somebody who’s cared so deeply for her? That’s a real question that she is going to push and confront in next week’s episode.

So no more ingenious escape plans?

Yeah. this is the first time where like you said, Red’s not three steps ahead. He wasn’t at the beginning of the season when he was arrested; he’s not aware that Elizabeth Keen is the one who turned him in, and even Dembe is sharing this secret now with Liz that Red is unaware of. She is the one who turned him in, tipped off the police. We’ve seen his best laid plan. So yeah, these are uncharted waters for Reddington, who’s back on his heels.

James Spader as Raymond “Red” Reddington, Megan Boone as Elizabeth Keen (Will Hart/NBC)

Why did you decide to go this route this season? Was it because this could be the last season?

There are always signposts along the way where we know we want to go in our story. This just felt like a compelling, real story. We’re always looking for firsts and we’d never seen Reddington in prison.. The promise of seeing Reddington not in prison but James Spader in a courtroom was awfully delicious to sort of swim in.

Did the storyline have anything to do with a solid series ending in case you’re not renewed?

No, , I’m really proud of the writer’s room and the way that we’ve told our stories. Even last season and in season five, there was a very good chance that we would not come back. We decided last year to tell the story that we felt like was the right story to tell, which is Red is not Red. And if that was the end of the series, we would have to find another way to continue the story, whether it’s local community theater or a puppet show or a novel. We couldn’t end with that, but we wanted to be bold in the story telling. We’re not going to be a show that’s ever going to write toward—“Well, maybe this is the end of our season.” I’m proud of the room being bold in the choices we’ve made, and we’re going to continue to do that. Until we’re out of story.

Could the series actually end with us never knowing who Red was? I’d hate it, but it happens.

I don’t think so. I think it’s over when we know the truth. When we have the answers, it’s over.

It looks like Agent Donald Ressler (Diego Klattenhoff) and Liz are getting closer. He sure seems to have a thing for her. Could that go somewhere romantically?

Here’s what’s interesting about those two. Donald Ressler was the most suspicious person that Elizabeth Keen could have met in the pilot. He thought she was shady, had an agenda, didn’t trust her. Their relationship has evolved over six years. Are they falling into bed next week? No. But is it a relationship that is changing and sometimes feels a little warmer than it is cold? Perhaps.

The Blacklist, Fridays, 9/8c, NBC