Warning: This story contains major spoilers from the season 5 finale of The Blacklist. Read at your own risk!
Red’s dead — no, seriously.
The Blacklist ended its fifth season with a shocking twist: The fedora-wearing criminal mastermind (James Spader) we’ve been following for the past five seasons has only been posing as Raymond Reddington. The real one is dead, and has been for years — and Liz (Megan Boone) now knows the truth. If Spader’s not playing Red, who is he portraying? EW turned to executive producer Jon Bokenkamp to get the scoop.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Did you know from the beginning that James Spader was not playing Raymond Reddington?
JON BOKENKAMP: Yeah, this is something that we’ve talked about from the inception of the show. It is part of the underlying mythology that we’ve slowly been unraveling. I think there are a number of episodes that we can go back and sort of map and chart how we got here. Hopefully that is proof of concept to the audience that this is not something we’re just winging, and that we’re on a very specific path, and this is a well-earned reveal.
Did Spader know? Did the cast?
Yes, James has known and it’s something we’ve talked extensively about. The cast did not know, as far as I know. I’m always the last to know, so I have really no idea who else knew. But the thing I want to point out is that it doesn’t change tuning in to watch Spader be Raymond Reddington. He’s lived as Raymond Reddington long enough to be this person, right? He has told great stories, he has had great experiences, he’s become a world-class criminal and probably become a far more interesting person than the real Raymond Reddington ever dreamed of becoming.
I remember talking with James, it was probably right after we shot the pilot, and we were talking about what the show would be, how it would look and feel, and who this character was. The thing that has always stuck with me is that when James read the pilot, he had said that he felt like, at the end of the episode, it’s almost like he knew less about the character than he knew when he started reading the episode. We wanted to somehow hold on to that concept, that Reddington should be somebody who, once you think you understand who he is, you realize you know nothing about him. I think tonight is an example obviously of how we have tried to stay true to that, that he’s a very enigmatic figure that is a bit of a shape-shifter.
If he’s not Red, is there anything you can say as to who he is?
Well, I do think that is primarily the reason to come back in season 6, but you can go online and find all kinds of theories, imposter theories of who he is. There are a great number of them, by the way, many of which could make sense. But one of the things I love best about the show is that I can read some of these and I’d be like, “Well, that actually tracks.” What’s going to be the most fun about next season is watching Liz peel back this onion and get to the truth of why this man entered her life five years ago.
Does this speak to my long-held theory that Spader is not playing her dad, but her mom?
[Laughs] You’re holding on to that, aren’t you? Well, yeah it’s one of the possibilities. That is one of the theories, one of many theories. There’s an uncle theory, there’s a theory that he is an absolute nobody, there is the — and I’m not making this up — alien theory, there is a robot theory. There are many more-grounded theories. Honestly, that’s what’s cool about it is that you can go through, you can pick your camp and map a way in which it makes sense. A number of these really add up. It’s something that we spend a lot of time in the room talking about, making sure that we’re staying true to the mythology and playing fair with the audience.
Liz has vowed to destroy Red. She went pretty dark in this episode. How far will she go?
Yeah, well remember that she knows this truth about Reddington, but he does not know that she knows. I think that piece of information is really compelling. Not only has she learned a great deal from this man that she believed was her father, Raymond Reddington, she’s also learned a great deal from her now-deceased husband, who was a spy. So this is not the first-day-on-the-job FBI agent in the pilot who has just had a bombshell dropped in her lap. This is somebody who is struggling with who she is at the very core, and has not only killed people, has stewed people, has lied to people she’s worked with, so the potential darkness and the way in which she may approach handling this bombshell I think has real possibilities.
Watching Megan perform this year, I think she’s been fantastic. The character has always been fundamentally changing since the day we met her, but I think specifically in season 5, we’ve seen her take some pretty big steps. It’s some of the best stuff that character has had to do this season, because of the inner strength and the anger and everything she’s gone through to really put her in the corner. When she’s in the corner, she becomes a very interesting character.
Can you tease her team-up with Jennifer (Fiona Dourif) next season?
Liz should probably compare stories with her sister Jennifer, who has information. The dynamic of the two of them walking off the episode, when I saw it again in playback, I thought it was super-fun. I think it’s, again, something different that we haven’t done on the show and it gives us a real thrust forward.
Can Liz and Jennifer trust each other?
I have no idea. Probably not. But that’s a great question.
Red doesn’t know that Liz knows. How does the power dynamic shift in that regard next season?
When I say this blows up everything we’ve been doing, that is the example to point to. Very rarely does anyone know something that Reddington doesn’t know, right? He’s always ahead of the curve. He’s a very cunning and smart, brilliant mastermind criminal, and yet he didn’t see this one coming. So I think that is a real power shift and something that we haven’t explored in past seasons.
The show has touched on this idea that Liz had some of her memories surgically repressed. Will you revisit that concept next season?
I think it’s certainly on the table. Everything that Reddington has told her is up for re-examination. What’s fun about it is so much of it is true. He told her in season 1, when she said, “Are you my father?” he said, “No.” When Liz said at the end of season 2, “I shot my father that night. I killed my father.” He said, “Yes.” We’ve very clearly been laying out the mythology. She now is in a place where she needs to re-examine all of that, and not only re-examine the truths that have been laid out before her, but his agenda and why he came into her life, why he’s doing this blacklist at all, why he’s going after these criminals, what does it add up to, what does it mean to him? I think all of that is something that she needs to become very suspect of.
The Blacklist will return in 2019.