By Natalie Abrams
September 21, 2016 at 11:02 PM EDT
Peter Kramer/NBC
  • TV Show

Liz Keen is having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

After faking her death in a bid for normalcy last season on The Blacklist, Liz (Megan Boone) was kidnapped by a man purporting to be her father. “We should take him at his word,” executive producer Jon Bokenkamp says of Alexander Kirk (Ulrich Thomsen), whose introduction provides a wealth of info about Liz’s past, her mother (Lotte Verbeek), and her mysterious connection to Red (James Spader).

“What comes to light is that it’s not really Reddington bringing all of this upon her, it’s her own history and where she comes from,” Boone teases. It’s that same desire for answers that will eventually send Tom (Ryan Eggold) to midseason spin-off The Blacklist: Redemption, with his supposed mother Scottie Hargrave (Famke Janssen), slated to return on the flagship this fall. His-and-hers parental issues! Below, Bokenkamp teases what’s in store in season 4:

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Where does the new season pick up?

JON BOKENKAMP: Exactly where the last season left off. Real time. Moments after. The end of season 2 going into season 3, we felt like we had such a good driving story engine that we didn’t want to jump forward too much. We have plenty of things that we’re juggling right now. It’s like the immediate aftermath. Liz has met Kirk, and Tom and Liz and Agnus are in the wind, and Red is on the hunt. So, yeah, immediately after.

What’s Liz’s mindset when we pick up with her?

Well I think first and foremost her mindset, regardless of what Alexander Kirk has told her or what has happened to Tom or where Red is, the only thing she cares about is her child, who is M.I.A. That is going to be at the forefront of her mind, and of course the rest of the characters in the show. That is a big question mark out there. What’s happened with this child? What is Kirk doing? I think any new parent would be just like, “Oh my god?!” That’s the worst possible thing that you could possibly imagine, so that is the thing that is occupying all of her headspace.

What does Kirk want with Tom?

Tom is seen as a threat and somebody that Kirk wants to dispose of. At the end of season 3, we had said Kirk had ordered, “Get the kid. Kill the father.” Kirk has zero interest in Tom Keen, and in fact probably sees him as a threat. He is in the trunk of a car. I wouldn’t say more than that. He does not find himself in a good position when the season begins.

What lengths will he go to find Liz? Will he team up with Red?

That’s one of the interesting dynamics of the show now is that everyone’s fragmented. Despite the fact that they’re fragmented, because of this betrayal — because Liz had faked her death, and Tom, Liz and Mr. Kaplan had joined forces on that — everyone in some way is going to have to ask themselves if they can put their feelings aside and handle the case at hand, which is this child and Liz’s safety. It gives us a really complex, fun, emotional space to mine, because everyone has an incredibly different point of view. We feel like we can understand all their points of view, and Tom is just one of those, but again, as a father, he’s all about that kid and his wife. They didn’t quite make it [through the wedding]. They didn’t quite say, “I do.”

How is the team dealing with the truth that Liz is actually alive?

It’s crazy. We were looking at a scene [recently] that was dealing with just that. One of the things that’s been fun about the show in season 3, and will continue in season 4, is we have a little more space now to get to know some of our other characters. They all really developed strong and unique points of view. The audience might be a little surprised in how some of our characters feel about it and how they want to deal with it. I would just say it’s unexpected, but yes, it’s a very complex situation to be in. They’ve all been played whether they wanted to or not. This was never part of their job. It’s not something they signed up for. It has nothing to do with catching blacklisters. This is now about one of their own. They’re going to have to look inward and decide how far they want to go to bail out Liz.

Alexander Kirk is purporting to be Liz’s father. Should we actually believe he’s telling the truth?

I think so. I think he’s going to make an incredibly compelling [argument]. He certainly believes he is, and he is going to give Liz an incredibly, incredibly good argument, and he is going to open up windows into her past. He is going to show her things that Reddington has either skillfully avoided or not discussed. He has his own set of truths that I would certainly believe in. So, yes, I think we should believe him. I think we should take him at his word. It’s one of the biggest — I don’t want to say bombshells — but it’s one of the biggest windows into the truth about the core mythology of the show that we’ve had. It is certainly not a trick.

What does he want from Liz?

She is grappling with the fact that this a man who purports to have incredible truths and will prove to have them. He will be able to deliver in some incredibly specific ways, and yet he hired a company to go in and basically attack her wedding and drag her out, and he has her daughter. Her husband, Tom, he’s willing to murder. It’s a very precarious situation she’s in in terms of how much does she want to let him in? How much is she going to give to him and how much is she going to keep him at arm’s length? How much is she gaining in her ability to profile and play him and play into what he wants to believe? It’s a really complex relationship that has great stakes for both Liz and for Kirk, and for Reddington as well.

Will you finally explore who exactly Red is to Liz this season?

I don’t know how to answer that. I think the truth is that the whole mythology, we’re not going to really have a full understanding of it until the show’s done and we’re going to withhold that. I’m holding firm to that promise, and James would articulate that. You’re going to have to wait to the very end to really understand the depth of the relationship. But yes, we are going to answer, in ways that we have not answered to date, the questions about exactly who Reddington is to her, exactly who Kirk is to her. It opens up a question that was there in the very beginning of the first episode, which is why are you so interested in me? We’re really going back to that core, simple, emotional question.

Lotte Verbeek is returning as Liz’s mother this season. What might we learn from her return?

I think Lotte Verbeek was so good in the episode “Cape May” in the immediate aftermath of Liz’s death. In the same way that that gave us a window into Red and who he is, I’m hoping we’re going to be able to do that with Liz as well. She’s going to be able to access truths that are only available through Katarina Rostova, so we’re going to continue to fill that character out, and we’re going to continue to get a better understanding of who she is, was, and what role she may play for Liz. It’s a really interesting coloring for the show in filling out answers.

We believe her to be dead at this point, but could she be alive?

Yes, absolutely she could be alive. I mean Red has told us that the KGB and Anton Velov, who is a smart character from previous seasons, were on a hunt for her. She was on the run, and as the story goes, she walked into the ocean one night and disappeared. As far as the world knows, she is dead. It’s The Blacklist, so I suppose anything is possible.

How will the first half of the season set up Blacklist: Redemption?

Redemption, we don’t know exactly when it will air, but we know it won’t be until midseason. We also know that we have a lot of story to tell with Tom and Liz and how they’re going to handle the situation with Kirk. We’re going to feel our way through that. It’s something that we have some really good, fun, big ideas planned for where that show goes, but we’re going to have to organically get there. All I can really say about it is we have a lot of story to tell and story to unpack with our existing show before we can look ahead to that. Yes, Scottie is going to come back, and there’s a possibility that any of those characters [will, too]. What’s fun about it is, because the spin-off is not a blue print of The Blacklist — it’s not Blacklist: Chicago — we may coexist. They share DNA, and they share characters, and there is a possibility for characters to weave back and forth between those two worlds. We’ll see how that develops.

Right now we’re questioning whether she’s his mom. Will you skew away from that pretty quickly considering it’s such a similar question to what we’ve had since the very beginning of The Blacklist?

Yeah, I think we want to answer that incredibly quickly. I feel like that is canon in the embedded episode where we met Scottie; episode 22 last season. It’s a secret that Tom knows that she’s not aware of, and that’s a different dynamic. I don’t think the paternity issue is going to have nearly as much relevance in that show. It’s a bit of a different animal. It’s a little more of a spy show. It’s a little more fun, sexier. We think of The Blacklist as like a crime drama, whereas that’s a little bit more of a spy show. It shares specific DNA, but it really is its own animal and will be its own show. I think it needs to stand on its own. Somebody should be able to watch that show without having ever seen The Blacklist. And yet, die-hard fans of The Blacklist should be able to watch that show and find little Easter eggs that would be meaningful to The Blacklist and still fun for the Redemption audience.

There’s obviously a question of why Tom will leave Liz for Redemption. Is this a case of their quest for answers about family ultimately driving them apart?

It’s an incredibly tricky situation that we’ve written ourselves into. Some of the best stories that we’ve told so far have come from situations where we really thought, “Wow, what have we done?” I remember watching the last episode of season 2, where Liz murdered a man and went on the run, and I was kind of like, “Oh my god! We knew where we were going to go with it, but are we really doing this?” I feel a little bit the same way with Tom and Liz and this kid, because it’s this really complex situation. I have a kid. I wouldn’t walk away from my kid, yet Liz is a mother and she wouldn’t walk away from her child. We know that, in some way, those two characters are going to have to drift apart. If anything, I do think Liz understands, and, by the way, she knows nothing about the idea that Tom met a woman named Scottie Hargrave. That is story that is yet to be revealed to her. Just knowing her character, I think she would understand the dilemma that he’s faced with in knowing that there are truths about him out there that he wants answered. Just in the simplest, most emotional form, I think she might understand that. It’s going to be really interesting to see how we handle this situation. We’re still finding our way.

Are there any returning faces you can tease coming from the new season of Blacklist?

There’s an incredibly awkward and difficult story to tell of Mr. Kaplan. She betrayed Red in what some may consider to be unforgivable way. We’ve seen how he handles betrayals in the past. He has no tolerance for it, and yet she is as close to a friend or a confidant as he might have, so that is going to be a great story.

With Red focused on finding Liz, what does that mean for taking down people on the blacklist this season?

The show has a little bit of an ebb an flow where, at times, it’s a little more case-of-the-week specific and other times it’s a bit more serialized. Certainly at the end of last season it became a little more serialized, but we always have had a blacklister of the week and we will continue to do that. We’ve found some real unique ways to solve these cases, but I think the show is a case of the week show. It’s fun to diverge from that. That episode about Katarina and Red was something that we might try to do more of, because that character-driven story is super compelling to us. It’s always been a very fine line of serialized and stand-alone stories and it will continue to be that  — a little more heavily serialized in the first part of the season. The fans who love the case of the week stuff, they need to rest assured that’s not going anywhere.

What themes do you plan to explore this season?

Certainly betrayal. Betrayal is huge, and it plays on a number of different levels for a number of different characters. Maybe this is of no surprise, but secrets. Everyone continues to hold and protect certain secrets that they have within the show, but I really do think what’s immediately in front of us is how do you survive this incredible betrayal, and how do you move forward from it? And can you move forward from it?

What’s next for Ressler this season?

People may be surprised by the way that Ressler handles this betrayal. It’s interesting. It’s fun writing for Diego. It’s such a specific character, but I think what I d say about him is watch for the way he reacts to Liz’s betrayal.

How about with Cooper?

Well the guy’s the rock. He’s a father figure in another way. There are elements of these father figures — you could probably say that about Kirk, Red, and Cooper as well. Cooper is just this emotional rock for the team and he’s the foundation.

How about for Aram?

Aram, again, secrets. I think Aram might have a secret or two that we might not expect.

What about for Samar?

Betrayals and how does she handle what Liz has done? What does this do to the task force? Ressler, Samar, and Aram — this sort of core group, and Cooper to an extent, the task force, how do they specifically react having this person who they bent over backwards and saved before? Now they feel incredibly betrayed and how that core group of that task force reacts to this is going to be key.

The Blacklist returns Thursday at 10 p.m. ET on NBC.

Episode Recaps

James Spader returns as Raymond ‘Red’ Reddington, a mastermind criminal who teams up with the FBI.
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