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Warning: This story contains major spoilers from the season finale of The Blacklist. Read at your own risk.
After four seasons of wondering, The Blacklist season finale confirmed what — let’s be honest — most fans have suspected from the beginning about Raymond Reddington’s (James Spader) relation to Liz Keen (Megan Boone): He’s her father!
During the finale, Cooper (Harry Lennix) decided to settle the debate once and for all by using a blood sample locked up in evidence from a mission decades prior that Red worked before turning into a criminal mastermind. The blood test confirmed that Raymond Reddington is, in fact, Liz’s father, but is the man we’ve come to know over the last four seasons actually Raymond Reddington?
“Liz has learned that Red is her father, and yet there is a much bigger secret that is out there that presents a real problem,” EP Jon Bokenkamp tells EW, referring to the bones Mr. Kaplan (Susan Blommaert) unearthed that are now en route to Liz, much to Red’s chagrin.
Odds are the bones belong to Liz’s presumed dead mother Katarina (Lotte Verbeek), but Bokenkamp doesn’t balk at the suggestion they could belong to, say, the real Red, and that this Red is someone else entirely. “This imposter theory is one that’s alive among our fan base,” Bokenkamp says. After all, the DNA results proving Red’s parentage come from a decades-old sample that is not necessarily from the man we know now. What’s really going on here? Bokenkamp teases what’s in store for season 5. (Read our postmortem with Megan Boone here.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Red has been revealed as Liz’s father. Has this been the plan from the beginning?
JON BOKENKAMP: Yes, it has been. Exactly where that would fall, we weren’t always certain, but it became clear this season as we were arcing out the stories that this point in the mythology of the timeline was the right moment.
How hard was it keeping this reveal a secret all these years?
This show is full of secrets, so it’s always difficult to talk about the story lines without giving away answers. We unpacked another big one tonight — this suitcase and its contents — it’s all connected and it’s all difficult to talk about. I always feel it’s probably best to let the episodes speak best for themselves.
Isn’t this the obvious answer the fans have been expecting from the beginning? Why confirm what everyone has basically said since season 1?
Because it is part of the truth, but not the entire [thing]. There is a larger reason for him entering her life, a bigger secret that is also revealed in this episode, so while it is part of the story, it is not the entire story.
Talk about that bigger secret.
That bigger secret involves, in part, some bones that were dug up by Mr. Kaplan, and that Elizabeth Keen is unaware of, and that Red is desperate to keep Liz from finding. That bag of bones represents a much larger story that is the ultimate hook of the show. So yes, the paternal issue is something that perhaps one might have expected, but in hindsight, when we look back on the entire series, it will make sense in a way that perhaps it doesn’t now. All I can really say is, it is a piece of a much larger puzzle.
Tom has the suitcase. Can you talk about whether he’ll struggle with the decision to give Liz the suitcase?
Oh, yeah, I’m confident Tom will struggle. He has no idea what he’s gotten into. That suitcase is packed full of nothing but problems for Reddington.
Given that the tree is marked with the letter K, are we to believe they are Katarina’s bones?
That’s a good road to go down. That seems like a logical explanation. Katarina was never seen again, so yes, that’s a good theory probably.
Another theory: Could they be Raymond Reddington’s bones?
That could also be a good theory. I love the way you look at this. Look, they could be anyone, right? But they’re going to be a problem, a real problem, if Liz finds out about them. These bones are a key to unlocking everything, and Red is not ready for that yet.
Can these DNA results actually be trusted given where they came from?
I think so. That’s why we anchored that so far in the past that the DNA of Raymond Reddington from this bloody shirt all these years ago gives us that answer. So yes, I think we should trust that.
Ultimately you are saying Red is her father, so will Liz be operating under the news that she is Red’s daughter next season?
Yes, Liz learned that Raymond Reddington is her father and yet there’s a much bigger secret that is out there that presents a real problem.
How does knowing that these bones are out there affect Red?
He’s incredibly conflicted, because there’s this enormous emotional bombshell, and yet, at the same time, he has always withheld partial truths. He’s withholding the biggest secret from Liz, so not only is there a lot of conflicted emotional things happening between he and Elizabeth Keen, there’s always this much larger secret that has him entirely on his heels, terrified and presents a problem in a way that he’s never dealt with before. Kaplan was his most trusted confidante, knew deep truths. Even now, her death presents a catastrophic problem. I think he’s terrified. By the way, the other thing that’s interesting is, he has been reduced to rubble. His empire has been ripped apart, he’s left with nothing. We’ve seen him destroy all of his aliases, he’s living in a dumpy motel, so he won the war, but it has really shifted who he is in a way that is going to be fun looking ahead at how he handles this, and what he does in terms of moving forward.
How will this change Liz going into next season now knowing who Red is to her?
I don’t entirely know, but I would expect to see her explore that. She’s recognized that the devil is her father, and she’s had incredible windows into that in the past, including murdering the attorney general and going on the run and being a criminal. So I would expect her to explore that darker side that is in her blood.
How will the team react to this news?
The team doesn’t know anything about it yet. Cooper knows about it, but as far as the rest of the team, it hasn’t been revealed. I think they’d all react in very different ways. They’ve also all got their own problems — or good situations. Aram and Samar have acknowledged something between them with the kiss, Ressler is left a blacklister to basically clean up the mess of Laurel Hitchin’s death, so he’s not in a good place, and Cooper is the one who knows the secret. I think they’ll all react in different ways and it’ll be incredibly complex. It’ll be a great pull for our people to try to rally together. Remember, Julian Gale is still out there with his investigation of the task force. He was thwarted by Reddington and the investigation was stopped, but he’s still out there and he’s still a loose end. That’s going to be a good story.
There’s been a theory that the person we see as Red is not actually her father, but Liz’s mother. Is this still a possibility considering the twist that you have in store for us?
That makes me smile. Look, it is one of the theories that I’ve obviously heard. There is a big camp that [believes the] Raymond Reddington imposter theory, that Red is not who he says he is. I mean, I can’t deny that that all still adds up and is one of the theories that makes sense. It’s out there, it’s cool, I’d love to have you walk me through the whole thing. But this imposter theory is one that’s alive among our fan base. This season, we have really motored ahead. Each season, we’ve given real concrete pieces of this puzzle, and this season is no exception. Some episodes were heavy in that mythology than others. The Mr. Kaplan episode was certainly an episode that had a lot of big moves in it. This last episode has some big moves. Again, they’re all pieces of this puzzle that is slowly coming together to paint one large picture. But it’s a blast seeing it come together, and it’s also a lot of fun to read comments and threads and tweets and see the theories, because there’s a lot of them, and they’re really a blast to read.
Will Dom play a bigger role next season?
I love Brian Dennehy, so it’s hard to resist bringing him in. He’s a great actor and we’re lucky to have him on the show. He definitely is part of the landscape and occupies an important space. You see that play out on screen. All these answers, what ends up airing is far better than answering these questions than I am because that’s what’s really canon for the show. He is somebody who obviously does not like Reddington. They have a fraught relationship. He’s hurt. He was told that Elizabeth Keen was dead, and found out she faked her death — Red didn’t even tell Dom until this season that Liz is actually alive, so this guy is living with all kinds of baggage. He’s an important character in the mythology.
Is Mr. Kaplan actually dead? And can you talk about the reason why she went over the bridge?
I love how far she’s willing to go for Liz, that she was willing to die for what she believed in and that was part of her plan, that her death would effectively trigger a death switch that would unravel Reddington. Even with her dead, her plan is marching forward. That was the most compelling thing, that she was willing to die to carry out the promise that she had made all these years ago to keep Liz safe. And so is she really dead? I think so. It would be hard to bring her back, but with that said, I love Susan Blommaert so much. It’s like when Alan Alda died, it broke my heart. We blew up Alan Alda, who is a TV legend. Sometimes you have to listen to the show and where it wants to go. That was a really hard death in the show, and this one as well. If we were smart enough to find a way to bring her back that felt real, fantastic, but I think her tombstone has been written.
Circling back to the task force, Laurel Hitchin dies right after closing the investigation. Will that raise some red flags?
That depends on how her death is handled. We’ll see how well Mr. Prescott gets rid of her body. Reven Wright just disappeared; nobody else knows she’s actually dead, so we’ll have to see how well her disappearance/death is swept under the rug. But I’m sure there will be questions raised. Even Julian Gale would probably be very curious to know what happened to the woman who just shut him down.
Even with the investigation closed, with the news out there, will the task force be disbanded?
The news is out there in a closed grand jury investigation, which is containable. I don’t think it was out there as in, Liz murdered the attorney general and is a fugitive. It’s not that out there to the public. It’s contained within the intelligence community that was confusing this investigation. The bigger problem is that Reddington has really no resources. Baz was killed, Mr. Kaplan is gone. It’s basically he and Dembe, and he’s starting over, in a way. That’s the bigger problem for the task force is, the man that it’s built around is reduced to rubble.
What kind of danger does this put Liz in as Red’s organization is all but non-existent now? Will we see Red rebuilding next year?
That’s the thing I’m most excited about really, looking ahead, is the show has always been dark in its own odd way and dangerous and high-staked, but we’re spring-boarding forward in the fifth season in a way where Red is stripped down to nothing and is forced to rebuild. Does Liz join him in that rebuilding? What does that look like? The only thing I know for sure about it is it’s going to be a hell of a lot of fun because he has nothing left to lose. We almost want to step back in terms of who the character was and how much joy he takes in his life and how he moves and operates. He built a criminal empire once and I think watching him go out and try to scratch and put back together some sort of criminal business is going to be a really fun ride that we’ve never gone on. He’s got to rebuild his team, which means populating it with new people. He’s not just taking down blacklisters because they stand in his way. I would imagine that he might go after people that could help him reboot his empire. It’s been one of the things that we talk about in the room is just having a lot of fun with the character and it almost feels like an opportunity for us to reboot the tone in a way that can be a lot of fun.
Red has an escape plan with that island. Will that come back into play next season?
Well, I hadn’t thought about it until now, but yeah, that’s a great idea! Red in a crisp white suit. Drinks in coconuts with umbrellas. Bottle episode on the island!
The Blacklist will return to NBC Wednesdays this fall.