By Natalie Abrams
January 18, 2017 at 02:28 PM EST
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Why will Tom Keen leave The Blacklist for Redemption? It’s the burning question fans have been wondering ever since it was announced that NBC will be spinning off Ryan Eggold’s character.

The Blacklist: Redemption finds the world’s most elusive criminals from Red’s (James Spader) infamous list coming together to form an elite mercenary team as they try to regain their self-worth after a lifetime of inflicting damage on the world. Blacklist undercover operative Tom Keen (Eggold) joins the team’s brilliant and cunning chief, Susan “Scottie” Hargrave (Famke Janssen) — who is apparently his mother while Terry O’Quinn is his father! — as well as lethal assassin and Tom nemesis Matias Solomon (Edi Gathegi).

In the wake of Liz Keen’s (Megan Boone) own struggle through finding her family — or her supposed family finding her, in the case of Alexander Kirk (Ulrich Thomsen) — Tom Keen’s want for answers when it comes to his own background is piqued. But where The Blacklist still holds the keys to the mystery behind who Red (James Spader) is to Liz, Redemption will answer that question relatively quickly.

“Right off the bat, we say she is his mother,” Eggold told reporters at the Television Critics Association’s press tour on Wednesday.

On the flip side, however, Scottie is in the dark about the truth. “We’re playing that I don’t know at the moment that he is my son,” Janssen said. “Also, the source, we have to consider where it came from, which is Red. We don’t really know, so there’s a lot of intrigue and suspense when it comes to this relationship.”

“That is very different from a story of ‘Who is Red?‘” executive producer John Eisendrath added. “Their relationship is a much more relatable one to viewers, one that people in their own lives will be able to relate to.”

The question remains whether Red’s far-reaching influence will find its way into Redemption — and the producers aim to answer that if the show is renewed for a second season. For now, Eisendrath said, “Redemption stands on its own. Redemption is a world that is independent of The Blacklist. We feel that it’s very important to establish that world and the dynamics of theses characters.”

The spin-off is particularly different when it comes to its genre. Where Blacklist is more of a cop drama, the spies of Redemption have to use unconventional means to achieve their goals. “It’s an espionage thriller,” Eisendrath said, though stressing that the DNA of Blacklist lies within. “It makes it a completely different animal. The stories we tell are different. The way they go about catching the bad guys and doing their jobs, they can’t arrest anyone. It is an entirely different way of telling the story. It’s a spinoff, yes, but it has its own very specific way of telling its stories.”

As for whether Tom is gone from the flagship series, Eisendrath said he will definitely be back. “The answer is he’s always going to be part of The Blacklist family,” Eisendrath said. “He’s not leaving The Blacklist with a period; it’s more of a comma.” In fact, figuring out how Tom Keen would move to the spin-off without disrupting the original was the most challenging for the writers to figure out. “There was a lot of time spent trying to figure out how to do it and how to address the fact that he has these three women in his life — his wife, his daughter and his mother — that he’s surrounded by,” Eisendrath added.

“We made the decision that we didn’t want to portray a dad who just went off and did his thing and ditched his kid,” Eisendeath continued, keeping mum on the particular reason he exits for Redemption. “It is very important to us that Tom Keen’s character, who is a young guy, fun, sexy, a great undercover operative, but also is someone who is vulnerable and accesses his emotions and is responsible for the things that matter in life, and that includes Agnes.”

It’s a surprising turnaround for the producers to spin off the character after having very different plans for him. In the initial conception of The Blacklist, Tom Keen was slated to die in the pilot, but an executive at TNT — where the producers also pitched the show before it landed at NBC — said the character should stick around. At the close of the first season, they also mulled killing off Tom. “We never did it in large part because Ryan became so undeniably significant in The Blacklist,” Eisendrath said. “Instead of writing him out and killing him, we just wrote more and more for him until it became clear it was a character we could build a show around.”

The Blacklist: Redemption will debut Thursday, Feb. 23 and air for eight weeks in the flagship’s timeslot at 10 p.m. ET before The Blacklist returns on Thursday, April 20 with a two-hour episode.

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