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Warning: This story contains major spoilers from Wednesday’s episode of The Blacklist. Read at your own risk!
Tom Keen has met his maker.
As The Blacklist had teased in that grim premiere flash forward, Tom (Ryan Eggold) did indeed die during the fall finale. Though that flash forward seemed to indicate that Red (James Spader) would be the one to pull the trigger, the criminal mastermind was actually firing upon Tom’s real attackers, the henchmen of new big bad Ian Garvey (Jonny Coyne) — Garvey sought to use the mysterious bones in the suitcase as leverage over Red.
After Tom discovered the truth about the DNA results, he planned to reveal the news to Liz, but the two were instead beaten and nearly killed by Garvey and his men. Red came to their rescue just a bit too late, with Liz waking up from a coma 10 months later to the terrible news that Tom had died. EW turned to executive producers Jon Bokenkamp and John Eisendrath to get the scoop on what’s next. (Read our postmortem with Ryan Eggold here.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Why decide to kill Tom now?
JON BOKENKAMP: Largely because of what it’s going to do to Elizabeth Keen. As you probably know, Tom died in the original pilot, and then died in episode 17, and in episode 22 probably. But Ryan just brought a special and different dimension to the show that we really liked. It did feel like it’s time to shift that. I think the big question of what his death will do to Liz is why to come back. How is she going to handle this? How does she resist the temptation that she might have within her own DNA to act and react like Reddington would? Does it rip her apart? That’s the why now: For the back half of the season to see what it does to Liz.
JOHN EISENDRATH: I remember we were at an early meeting with NBC, and we were pitching stories and the subject of Liz’s love life came up regarding Tom, and I remember Bob Greenblatt pointed to a poster that was in the room and the poster was of Red and Liz. He was like, “You know, that is the love story of the series.” I think he’s right. Ultimately, the love story is between Red and Liz, and Tom’s death will have the largest effect on that relationship pretty much since Red turned himself in.
How will Liz deal in the aftermath?
BOKENKAMP: That’s the big question. When we come back in episode 9 in January, it’s a very different and atypical episode. It’s not a Blacklister of the week. It’s a very quiet, interesting little movie. It’s almost like the episodes we’ve done with Mr. Kaplan or “Cape May” that are a little bit of a departure, they’re more reflective and very character-heavy story. It represents her walkabout of deciding what to do. That story, and her story beyond that, are filled with very big choices.
EISENDRATH: As you go on in the series, you don’t have many firsts left, which is so central to getting a series up and running in the beginning, but there are a lot of secrets that Tom took with him to the grave regarding the suitcase and the bones, and Liz doesn’t know any of that. She doesn’t know that Mr. Kaplan was involved. Unpacking those will be like a new series of firsts. This gives us an incredible series of firsts that will rock Liz’s world and deeply impact her relationship with Red.
How much has everything, particularly the Post Office and Red’s working relationship with them, changed in the wake of this big 10-month time jump?
EISENDRATH: When we come back, one of the things about the time jump that I hope the audience will enjoy is that we will unpack, over the course of the back half of the season, facts about what happened when we weren’t watching them all. One example that we’ll find out early on is that Red has typically given Liz the cases, but when we pick up, he might be giving those cases to somebody else, because he’s been doing it in her absence, so there is a little bit of a different rhythm.
Do you think Red would’ve killed Tom if Ian Garvey didn’t?
EISENDRATH: In the beginning, Spader was like, “I’ve got to kill Tom. Why am I not killing Tom? He’s just a pain in Red’s ass.” We were always like, “The woman you care about more than life itself loves him, that gives him a shield from you. He’s the one guy you can’t kill.” I think that was true to the bitter end.
BOKENKAMP: I think that was true to the end. That would’ve been unforgivable. He’s killed a lot of people. He killed her stepfather. But I can’t imagine him having actually pulled the trigger to keep the secret safe.
EISENDRATH: Originally, obviously you think of 1,000 different versions, so for a while there, we were like, “Maybe we should show him shooting Tom and then reveal it was just because Tom was about to die anyway.”
BOKENKAMP: “Put me out of my misery.”
EISENDRATH: It would totally cheapen the flash forward. But at the end of the day, Tom lived a very protected life from Red because he was — I love Harry Potter, I talk about Harry Potter way more than anybody would want to hear. Harry Potter was saved from Voldemort by one thing: his mother’s love; that was the most powerful spell of all. That was the same with Tom; he had Liz’s love and that was the most powerful spell of all that even Red couldn’t break.
Do you think Tom’s death will push Red to be honest with Liz for once? Or is he a little bit relieved that the secret has, for now, died with Tom?
BOKENKAMP: There are a lot of secrets that Liz is not aware of about Kaplan reaching out to Tom, about this suitcase. There are things that have been happening in the background that she has not been made aware of that Red is aware of. Those are conversations. They have a lot to talk about. There are a lot of secrets that are going to come out that Red is going to have to confront with Liz.
Ian Garvey wanted to use the suitcase to control Red. How will Ian loom large in the second half of the season? What are his plans?
EISENDRATH: He is clearly the big bad of the back half, and he is obviously the quest story for both Red and Liz. What we think is interesting is that they are in the quest together, but for very different reasons. Liz is in the quest to find the man who murdered Tom, Red is in the quest to find the man who has the suitcase. During that quest, they are super close and yet, along the way, Liz will realize some of these secrets that we’ve talked about and wonder. She goes in thinking Red is helping her and maybe she comes to realize that maybe he’s actually just helping himself. Just in terms of Garvey’s role in the Liz/Red story, it is all about getting him, and he does have something very powerful that he will use in the future to try and get something from Red.
Why did you have them get married only to bring such pain so soon after?
BOKENKAMP: They have been married before, and annulled, and tried to get married. Third time’s a charm. It just felt like it was time and it felt like something that was lingering out there, and it was unaddressed. It was such a simple moment that we felt like we didn’t want dresses, bands and throwing birdseed. The third time needs to be a little more subtle. But we felt like it was something they had earned. We felt like these two characters had been together for quite some time, they love each other and they had a child together. It was almost perfunctory in a way. They had been together, so why not cement that?
The Blacklist will return Wednesday, Jan. 3 at 8 p.m. ET on NBC. Read our postmortem with Ryan Eggold here.