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The Blacklist

The Blacklist: Who's the mastermind dismantling Red's organization?

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Virginia Sherwood/NBC

Who actually betrayed Red on The Blacklist?

While Tom’s family issues have played out on Redemption, Red’s (James Spader) been desperately tracking Dembe, believing him to be the mysterious mastermind dismantling his organization. Hence, the formerly loyal henchman takes center stage in the show’s return.

“It felt like a great opportunity to feature somebody who knows Raymond’s past and his ultimate agenda, someone who has really questioned Red murdering Mr. Kaplan,” executive producer Jon Bokenkamp says, teasing that Thursday’s two-parter “pulls the scab off this wound and ultimately pivots us into a deeper story that goes into the mythology of the show, who these people are, and sends us back in time to get a full understanding of what’s really going on here.” Finally! Read on for more from Bokenkamp.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Where does The Blacklist pick up when the show returns?
JON BOKENKAMP: Well, it’s almost as if it’s happening in real time. As The Blacklist had its winter finale and Redemption came on, the task force went dormant. There have been no cases. Red has been out hunting for Dembe and a big lead basically ignites this episode and is the why now? of why we come back. It has been happening, sort of, in real time, and there’s this manhunt that’s been happening that is the springboard for this episode featuring Dembe.

What are we going to be learning about one of the quietest characters on the show?
Yeah, quietest. [Laughs] We thought it would be great to do an episode on Dembe simply because he’s so incredibly close to Reddington. We’re going to learn a lot about that in this episode, and it just felt like a great opportunity to feature somebody who knows such intimate secrets, who knows Raymond’s past, who knows his ultimate agenda, who has really questioned the way Reddington has handled certain things, including, most specifically, murdering Mr. Kaplan, and he has strong feelings about that, which is why there’s been a rift between these two, and I think it’s a great story about an incredibly unfortunate situation where Reddington is forced to hunt down somebody who he has trusted for a very, very long time.

Is there anything you can tease of who may ultimately be responsible for trying to rip Red’s empire apart?
Well, I think one thing to point out is that the whole organization, in a way, feels like it’s imploding. Reddington has these incredibly specific moral codes about loyalty and betrayal, and he was forced to confront that with Kaplan. When we come back, it is a two-parter, and obviously Dembe is the blacklister and that is the manhunt, but it is only part of the story. It is this betrayal that he’s exploring, and it will open up a much larger story that will really drive us into the back half of the season, which I think is going to be really compelling and super emotional. Super emotional. This story and this manhunt for Dembe is not so specific that it’s only about Dembe. It pulls the scab off this very deep wound and ultimately has to pivot us into a deeper story that goes into the mythology of the show and who these people are, and sends us, in a way, back in time to get a full understanding of what’s really going on here.

RELATED: The Blacklist first look: Mr. Kaplan’s ties to Red revealed — first look

Tom’s been gone all this time. Will we see how Liz is handling that?
Well, it’s funny. We’ve done little crossovers between the episodes. Liz has made some appearances on Redemption and obviously Tom is and will be spoken about. This is a character that is still existing in her world, but in terms of how and if he comes back, we’re quite honestly still trying to figure that out. I can’t really say that he is. He’s still out there, and he still has a woman that he loves and a child, and so I think that story is not over yet, but in terms of how we handle that on The Blacklist, I think that’s something we’re still trying to figure out.

What’s next for some of the team members of the Post Office?
Yeah. Well, Aram finds himself, when we come back, in a very desperate and dangerous place that I think will be incredibly unexpected, and we’re going to learn a lot about Aram from frame one. It’s a super exciting story. The guy has secrets that he has been keeping, and those are going to bubble to the surface, literally in the teaser. And Samar is still trying to figure out exactly how she feels about Aram and may not be approaching it in the most healthy way possible.

How about for Liz?
Liz is always in this awkward spot because Reddington is this guy who is right so many times and has the ace up his sleeve, but yet he’s this weird enigma that she’s forced to go on the journey with, and it’s easy to forget that he’s a bad guy who murders people. Liz is really struggling with the way that Reddington is handling this rift that is within his empire. Red has been taking hits and he’s lost key allies in his empire, and as he handles it, we see things flare up, and oddly bring Liz and Red closer in a way through how he handles these problems that he’s being faced with. So their weird tethered-together dynamic is something that’s still in flux, but she is definitely struggling with the way that Red is choosing to fight, really, this war.

Is he becoming unhinged?
Well, yeah, there was an episode, a scene I really liked in the last couple episodes where Reddington said he felt like he could feel death in the corners slouching toward him, and he can feel this ominous shadow that’s lingering over, not only he but the people he cares about and his empire. He’s having a real crisis of conscience about how to handle not only his operations but his relationship with Liz, his operation with the task force. Looking ahead, in the back part of the season, one of the big things that they’re all confronted with is what have they become. They have worked with this guy now for the better part of four years and he’s a criminal, and there are certain costs that come with that, and it has shaped who they are as people, and I think it has shaped who Reddington is, and he’s at a real crossroads in terms of how he’s going to move forward and if he can move forward.

The Blacklist returns Thursday at 9 p.m. ET on NBC.