WARNING: This story contains major spoilers from the season premiere of The Blacklist. Read at your own risk!
The Blacklist‘s light-hearted season premiere ended with a bang — literally.
After helping Red (James Spader) catch a bail jumper — and the star witness accountant in his case, both of whom would ultimately join Red’s new empire — Liz (Megan Boone) returned home to reunite with Tom (Ryan Eggold). But upon hearing the news that Red was indeed Liz’s father, Tom hesitated in revealing the contents of the mysterious suitcase. Viewers then saw what appeared to be a flash forward to Red and Dembe (Hisham Tawfiq) storming Liz’s apartment and shooting Tom Keen dead. What’s really going on in that scene? EW turned to executive producer Jon Bokenkamp to get the scoop on what’s next:
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Is Tom Keen really dead?
JON BOKENKAMP: That’s what you’ve got to tune in to find out. I’ll put it this way, Tom Keen has definitely kicked the hornet’s nest and he is definitely on a collision course, and it will involve Red, but to find out what really happens is something you’re going to have to tune in for in upcoming episodes.
How far ahead is that flash forward in those final few minutes?
It’s not very far ahead at all. What gets Tom into this whole hot mess and the situation that he’s going to be confronting very soon is a story that begins in episode 2, so what we saw was a little bit of a peek ahead, a little bit of a premonition almost, and that is a direct result of things that are going to start happening immediately in our second episode.
When might we catch up to that point this season? Are we waiting until midseason or might it happen sooner rather than later?
I don’t know how to answer that. I really don’t. I mean, I do know how to answer it, but I don’t want to give anything away. It’s definitely not something we’re going to drag out all season. It is a story line that is very present, it occupies a lot of air and real estate in the first half of the season, and I think it will become very apparent pretty quickly that Tom is getting himself in some hot water, and digging into secrets that should probably be left alone.
You don’t quite reveal his fate, but it seems safe to assume he’s not long for this world. What was that thought process like in the writers’ room of bringing Tom back after Redemption, but then immediately killing him?
He’s been part of the landscape of the show since the pilot. He, Liz, and Red had a very complex relationship. So it felt super natural to bring him back after the spin-off and come back and come home to his child and not really his wife at the moment, but to come back to Liz and Agnes. On one hand it felt completely natural to bring him back, but at the same time, what we wanted to do was to indicate to the audience up front that although this is a season where there’s a lot of fun, where Reddington is in a completely different headspace, he’s rebuilding, and as you can see in the first episode, it’s not nearly as dark as some of the seasons in the past. That said, it is still The Blacklist and there are still very dangerous story lines that are bubbling underneath the surface and we wanted to be clear, to let everyone know, that dramatic turns are coming. They may not be fully understood right now, they may not be exactly what they seem, or they may be exactly what they seem — I don’t know how they seem to people! But I do promise we’ll have some big turns coming that I think will be really compelling.
Would Liz ever be able to forgive Red for killing Tom? Red knows that’s a possibility if he were to do that, so what can you tease of what Tom might’ve done that would cause Red to cross that line?
That’s a great question. That is something that we have talked about, believe me, a lot in the writer’s room, not only this season but in season’s past. Would Liz be able to forgive Red if he did anything to Tom? Thus far, Liz has really been the kryptonite for Tom. She is why he has been untouchable. That said, it is feasible that Tom could get himself in enough trouble that Red himself could feel threatened and cross the line. But that’s a really important point that you bring up: Could she forgive him? And would she forgive him? What would it do to their relationship? It is super complex and it is something we’ve talked about a lot in the room.
Could Tom have actually done something to Liz that would warrant that response from Red?
He has certainly crossed lines in the past. Tom Keen, as a character, has certainly not been afraid to keep a secret or go on a rogue mission of his own. I do believe what he’s digging into and the itch that he’s scratching is one he thinks is helping Liz, and he believes he’s doing right by her. Everything that he’s doing is for the right reason. Yes, the dynamic between those three characters, it’s almost even more pronounced, even more on the surface now — there’s a young couple and the father. Family Thanksgivings have never been quite as uncomfortable as they are between this family.
Tom decided against telling Liz about the suitcase in the premiere. Can you talk about why and when we might get more information on whose bones those really are?
Because Liz has had this revelation about her father, and because she really is probably closer to him than she’s ever been, that worries Tom. He knows that Reddington is manipulative. He knows that he has his own agenda, regardless of her being an FBI agent or his daughter, he is a manipulative man. Tom feels that she would probably run to Red and may reveal what Tom knows and Tom worries that could get her into trouble, or Reddington will just simply work his way out of it, or tell some story that dismisses it, or manipulates the situation. From Tom’s point of view, it may be better to not say anything and figure out what Mr. Kaplan had intended. Remember, Mr. Kaplan unearthed these revelations in May. When she tasked Tom with the suitcase, she did not know about the paternity issues that were being resolved. Had she known that, she may have had a bit of a different plan, at least that’s where Tom’s head is.
Liz kind of puts her foot down in the premiere that she won’t become like Red, but will that continue to be a struggle for her?
That’s a huge struggle for her. She’s even aware of that, so much so that that’s why she’s bringing it up. But the idea of being an FBI agent and being the daughter of the world’s most notorious criminal, those things don’t sit well together. She’s smart enough to know that. She’s planting her flag right up front saying, “I’m a grown woman, I’m going to help you because we can take down criminals together,” but she is in tune enough with her own inner demons to know that it is not out of the realm of possibility that she could, quite easily, spiral into a darkness that would be not unlike Reddington. She’s aware of that, and terrified of that, and has every intention of remaining to be an above-board FBI agent. And yet, we’ve seen that she murdered the attorney general and went on the run, but our entire task force has been tainted by Reddington and the cloud that hovers over him. He’s a very persuasive and intoxicating type of man. Yes, she is definitely concerned about that.
Speaking of the task force, Ressler is now indebted to this blacklister. How is that going to come back to haunt him?
That’s another one of these story lines that is a great runner that we get to carry and live with for a little while. It’s not going to be resolved immediately. It’s not even a story that we might come back to every episode, but it is a condition of Ressler’s existence now and something that he is only going to find himself pulling into more and more dangerous territory for the foreseeable future.
What’s next for Aram and Samar after Aram revealed their relationship to Cooper?
That was the biggest thing in the world for Aram to come forward and admit to the principal that he had been dating one of the classmates. Cooper really could care less. Where are they going? They’re trying to just maintain a positive and loving relationship in a show where things tend to go incredibly wrong and dark. But at the moment, they feel like they’re on safe footing.
What will the fallout of the FBI finding out Red and Liz’s relationship look like?
The task force is in constant jeopardy of being exposed for what they’re doing. They’re always trying to balance the good with the bad and trying to justify what they’re doing. To be honest, there’s not a big arcing story line coming out about the FBI, but it is a condition of this task force’s existence that they remain above board, and Reddington is really not making that easy. He has his own agenda and has cases. They desperately need cases and to prove their worth and that they’re still above board, which is also in question. That is only going to become more and more difficult as Reddington is sometimes known to use blacklisters and cases to serve his own good, not necessarily that of the FBI. That is going to be an ongoing struggle.
Usually the episode title is the blacklister of the week, but in the premiere, it was not. Red was hunting someone to start rebuilding his empire. How much are these episodes going to be split between that and hunting actual blacklisters?
I think it’s a really nice balance. In this first episode, we went after a blacklister who was a criminal, who was on the run, that served a number of purposes. Red brought him into the fold. A criminal is off the street and working in another capacity, and it pushed Reddington’s agenda forward. We have more traditional blacklisters coming up where there’s absolutely nothing good or redeemable about them. In fact, there’s a case in our first run that there’s big questions around: “Why did you give us this case? What do you get out of it?” The explanation is as simple as it seems: The blacklister is unredeemable and Reddington thought this person needed to be taken off the map. I think it’s a really good balance of traditional bad guys, and bad guys who serve a purpose not only in being taken off the board but in helping Reddington rebuild his empire.
The Blacklist airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.