The Blacklist boss teases lighter season 5 after major Red reveal
Will Liz Keen turn bad?
Now that The Blacklist has revealed Liz Keen (Megan Boone) to be the daughter of Red (James Spader), the FBI agent will be not-so-secretly terrified about what this instinctively means for her. Does she have the capability to go evil? Well, yes, she even had to go on the run for murder a few seasons back, which is exactly why this new turn of events will really shake Liz to her core this season.
At the same time, Liz finally has the family she has always craved. And now that there’s no longer this secret between them, the show is able to lean into lighter elements this year. Take Red, for example: He’s really relishing his unemployment, knowing full well the Task Force will have no choice but to help him rebuild his empire. However, that void won’t be empty for long.
“[There’s] a Rogue’s Gallery of desperate, dark people who see an opportunity in Reddington being wounded,” executive producer Jon Bokenkamp says, cautioning that the mysterious suitcase now in the possession of Tom (Ryan Eggold) will swiftly lead to chaos. “Red feels that it represents a real danger, not only to him, but perhaps to Liz,” Bokenkamp says. “He is still withholding his real agenda from her.” Read our full interview with Bokenkamp below to get the scoop, and read our interview with Megan Boone here.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Where are we picking the new season back up?
JON BOKENKAMP: It’s pretty immediate. We pick up immediately after because we have a number of stories that felt like they were too pressing to jump past. So, you’ve got Ressler who has hired a blacklister, Tom who’s got a secret from Kaplan, Red with the revelations that Liz is his daughter. And so, there’s all of this stuff that’s happening that it felt like, “Well, how can we miss any time?” So, we come back in the immediate aftermath.
How is Liz dealing with the truth that Red is her father?
It’s going to be interesting to watch it play out, because I think she’s secretly terrified, or maybe not so secretly terrified, that the devil is her father and that she may have some of those instincts. He told her in the pilot, “Think like a criminal. It may come easier to you than you think,” and we’ve seen aspects of that. She murdered the Attorney General and has been on the run in the past. And so, I think she’s going to plant her flag early on that she’s a cop first and that is probably going to be a season-long struggle for her.
How do you think she’s a different character now knowing this?
I think she’s telling herself she’s not. I think she’s telling herself that she’s even more of who she was. I mean, she’s had a number of these revelations whether it’s her husband’s a spy or her father is a most wanted criminal. Yet, through that, she’s kind of trying to maintain her morality. In fact, I think all of the characters are trying to stay above the fray and not have Reddington’s involvement in their lives tear them apart, and I think she is carrying the weight of that more than anybody. She’s really trying desperately to walk a very thin line and be a good cop and yet she has some instincts and intuitions that are a lot darker.
How do you think this particular news affects her dynamic with those around her? How will the team react to this news?
Cooper first and foremost is going to be saddled with what to do with that. He, if you remember, is the one who instigated the truth coming out by collecting this 30-year-old DNA sample. He is now faced with, “What do I tell the higher ups and what happens to the task force?” And Cooper’s a pretty above the board guy and so it is, yes, going to be something that all of them are going to have to deal with. But at the same time, Liz is a 30-something-year-old woman and it’s not like she’s 8 and just found out that this man is her father. So, a lot of her ideas about who she is are formed, and, yes, they’re undermined by this news, but I think she’s trying desperately to not have it be as important to her as it really may be.
Tom and Liz will quickly reunite. What is that like for them emotionally?
That’s interesting. It’s a relief that Tom is back for them and that they can be a family again, and they can physically be together. I think it’s also an incredible source of conflict in their relationship because Reddington has really no love for Tom Keen. Elizabeth Keen is kryptonite to Tom. She is the thing that keeps him alive. In fact, Reddington probably would’ve killed Tom a long time ago had Liz not cared for him so much. And so, in terms of them as a couple, I think it’s great news that Tom is back. In terms of the dynamic of that threesome, that now very literal familial threesome, it is a powder keg.
Tom is obviously in possession of this mysterious suitcase. What can you tease in regards to that and how quickly that will unfurl?
It comes into play fairly soon within the first two or three episodes. And in terms of what he’s got, Kaplan had a contingency plan and wanted a much larger truth to be revealed to Liz. We revealed this paternity issue and in a way, it’s ultimately not why Reddington is there. It’s not his big secret. He is still withholding his real agenda from her and that is a little bit of a new dynamic. This suitcase is out there with Tom and floating around, and Reddington doesn’t know where it is. And he feels that it represents a real danger, not only to him but perhaps to Liz. And so it speaks to the idea that the show is about more than just, “Is Red her father or not?” There is a bigger agenda out there that she’s still completely unaware of and that he’s quite concerned about.
Would you say she’s even more loyal to Red now following the news?
Totally, 100 percent. That’s part of the baggage that she’s dealing with, with Tom. She has reason to trust him and give him more latitude, to give Reddington more space, because he has been there by her side. And most of the time, if not all of the time, it appears that he’s there with her best interest in mind and yet she doesn’t always get the entire truth from him — she gets pieces of the truth. I think she trusts him more. I don’t know that Red trusts her more. I think that he’s always mistrustful of her simply because she’s an FBI agent. And so, there’s a certain amount of distance there that he keeps. But yeah, I definitely think that she is really trying in earnest to make this work.
Will Liz learn more or at least want to know more about her background now that she knows the truth?
Yes, but this season really is about pushing forward. And in a number of ways, oftentimes the show looked back at the mythology and at a deeper mythology. This season, rather than being about her looking back at secrets and the uber truth to the center of the show, in fact, they both are more interested in looking forward and rebuilding. That really is the headline of what’s happening is that Reddington is decimated in trying to save Liz from Mr. Kaplan. His entire empire has been destroyed; he has nothing. So when we meet him in season 5, he’s the same character, but in a completely different headspace. He’s rebuilding and that is a monumental undertaking and one that he really relishes, one that he’s having a great time doing. You would think that perhaps things would be darker or perhaps he would be upset by this, but in a way, it’s really a breath of fresh air. He’s having a blast doing it and quite frankly enjoying the time off and hanging out at the pool, and not needing to be on the jet to go to some far-flung land to do an arms deal. He’s just in a chill moment and having a real blast.
Because his organization was totally blown apart, how does that change the cases this year? And does that make Cooper ever more nervous knowing that now, in a way, they really are truly helping Red rebuild an organization rather than keeping an organization alive?
Yeah. I think one of the things I’m most excited about is there’s a great conflict at the center of it where our task force is helping rebuild a criminal mastermind and they don’t want to do that. And yet, they realize there’s potentially a greater good in it and so they’re having to go along with it. You have this dynamic where, once again, Reddington feels completely in charge by virtue of the fact that he’s almost more whimsical and more carefree, which makes him more dangerous and more unexpected. And yet, there’s not this emotional baggage that casts a darker shadow over the season. Nobody’s stolen a baby, nobody’s hunting Liz, and that allows Reddington to open up. And we get to see, I don’t want to say a lighter side, but a much more vibrant, fun side like we had maybe in season 1, where we knew less about him and he just seemed like this odd character who was really enjoying every moment. That’s the thing that is so difficult for Cooper and Ressler and the rest of our task force, is that the guy’s actually enjoying the fact that he’s somewhat unemployed and having to rebuild an empire, and he knows that they have no choice but to help him.
What new threats will the team be facing this year, especially in the wake of hearing that we’re not actually going to be seeing Gale (Enrique Murciano) back next season? So who replaces him in that sense?
I don’t know that there’s a replacement so much as the ongoing threat that Reddington and the task force are connected. In terms of the threat, the threat is really more a present one in terms of what other forces and entities move in to try to take over the void that’s left by the Reddington. What are the obstacles that he’s encountering in trying to rebuild? What creditors are after him? What people see him as weakened and want to take a shot at him and actually take him out? It’s a really interesting and different conflict that both Reddington and the task force are dealing with because it’s one of survival, but it’s also one of rebuilding. They’re fighting the forces that come in to take over the void left by Reddington’s absence.
Is there one particular big bad this year or is it more like every other criminal is trying to get a piece of the pie now that Red is no longer the top dog?
Yeah, it’s the latter. It’s not really one big bad, it’s more Rogue’s Gallery of desperate people who see an opportunity in Reddington being wounded, and Reddington having to juggle that with the task force rebuilding with Liz, and it makes for a really interesting stew.
We know that Reddington is Liz’s father, but is there still a twist to come in that regard?
I don’t know. I don’t think so. I mean, I think we still don’t have the whole truth. I would say that. Again, the whole reason behind him entering her life, why he showed up that day — yes, he cares desperately about her, but there is more to the story in terms of his agenda and ultimately what he’s after.
As you finally reveal something that we’ve all suspected from the beginning, are you looking to what the end game is for your show?
We know the end game, but we’re not looking toward it. I certainly hope there’s a long life in the show. But yes, since day 1 we’ve been plotting our way toward an end. I think it would be impossible to write the show without that.
The Blacklist returns Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.
James Spader is Raymond "Red" Reddington, a mastermind criminal who teams up with the FBI.