The Blacklist bosses and star Megan Boone look back at Elizabeth Keen's most defining moments
It's time to get Liz's side of the story.
This season on The Blacklist, Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone) put down her FBI badge and has been waging war against Reddington (James Spader) for killing her mother. Viewers haven't seen the former Agent Keen for several episodes, but she's back in Friday's installment, "Misère," which fills in the gaps by showing what she's been up to behind the scenes.
"The promise of this episode is to see things from Liz's perspective and step into her shoes," executive producer Jon Bokenkamp tells EW. "It's a unique episode that plays with time and perspective a little bit, but we get to see what she's been up to while she's been away."
Keen has changed a lot since Reddington walked into her life, so we took a trip down memory lane with Bokenkamp, fellow executive producer John Eisendrath, and Boone to reflect on Liz's defining moments throughout the series.
1. Meeting Raymond Reddington
"Reddington walking into her life didn't only blow up what Liz thought her life was, it began to reveal truths about herself that she didn't know," Bokenkamp says. In the pilot episode, Reddington asks Liz about the scar on her hand, which is revealed to be from a traumatic childhood event, and that's a tangible example of the pieces of Liz's life that she doesn't have.
Their first meeting was shot in an abandoned post office, where more of the pilot was filmed, and that's where the task force headquarters' name, the Post Office, comes from. "That abandoned post office was my introduction to how I experience New York through the show," Boone says. "It takes us on locations that are behind the curtain of the city, in places people have no business being — much like the underground criminal world we are exposed to through Reddington. It's all the underbelly."
"Red coming into her life in the pilot isn't so much strangers meeting," Bokenkamp says. "It's the beginning of her journey of self-discovery."
2. The truth about Tom Keen
Liz's image of her life, specifically her personal life, was shattered when she learned that her husband, Tom Keen (Ryan Eggold), was placed in her life. "There is probably nothing more devastating than to learn that your husband, your life partner, is not who you think he is," Eisendrath says.
Tom was a massive part of Liz's journey, but initially his story was very different. The EPs reveal that in the original pilot, Tom died. During a meeting with a network that didn't buy the show, an executive suggested there would be more story in Tom being alive. Clearly, it was good advice. Tom Keen became one of The Blacklist's complex characters, and even had a short-lived spin-off.
3. Discovery of the warrior gene
Agent Keen discovering she might have the warrior gene was an early acknowledgment of her potential darkness. Bokenkamp recalls how the details of the show "echoed things that resonated with Liz in a very disturbing way." While she may have repressed or denied the existence of darker instincts, the season 2 episode was a moment she started to see herself through the lens of the case.
4. Liz learns some of her memories were erased
Learning about her memories being altered or erased through the team's encounter with Luther Braxton (Ron Perlman) was a seminal moment for Liz because it predated meeting Reddington. She remembers that night when her home was on fire, and she shot her father to protect her mom. To discover that pieces of her childhood were missing rocked Liz, who was learning just how much she didn't know about herself.
"The memory-extraction plotline really pushed the boundary, in my mind, of how far we could take it with sci-fi," Boone says, "using a machine to extract memories from Liz in a fugue state, and I was honestly really surprised when it worked. This was when I think I realized our show could really lean into and utilize most genres seamlessly."
5. The murder of Tom Connolly
The murder of Attorney General Tom Connolly (Reed Birney) was more about Liz than it was about her executing him. "It reflected to the audience about how far Liz is willing to go," Bokenkamp says. "That murder is very telling of who she was, and perhaps even who she was in the process of becoming." It gets at the core of a debate the writers have had for years, which is whether she's destined to embrace her darkness or it's free will that she chooses to do these things. Liz's desperate action was not just a considerable character turn, but it sent her on the road with Reddington. Spending time with him meant seeing that she was more like him than she wanted to admit.
Looking back on the moment, Boone remembers what Birney gave to the show. Calling him "wonderful" on and off screen, she recalls how the crew gave him a huge standing ovation, which was the only time that's happened in eight years. "It was particularly dramatic, because we were playing the scene in this dome-shaped building, Gotham Hall, and the applause was coming from all sides and the balcony above," she says. "It just surrounded us."
Boone adds, "The look on his face at that moment was so wonderful to watch. He gave something that is so essential to the show, a great villain."
6. Liz fakes her death
Liz faking her death was not only a defining moment, but it was a direct response to Reddington having come into her life. She was pregnant and wanting to start a new life with her family, and even though it didn't work, it was an attempt to escape Reddington's orbit for a normal life.
The arc came from Boone's own pregnancy, which they chose to write into the show. "We decided that in a show that is at its core a parent-child story," Eisendrath says. With the mention of the warrior gene and Liz wrestling with who she is, bringing Agnes on the show would raise questions for Liz about motherhood and having a child, and whether or not she'll pass on the warrior gene or her darkness. "Since then, that has been a vital part of who Liz is and who she's become," Eisendrath adds. He also notes that when The Blacklist began, Liz and Tom were looking to adopt, so the groundwork for the arc was there from the beginning.
The Blacklist will continue to explore the parent-child relationship deeply when Liz returns. Part of Liz's time away has been having time with Agnes as she makes her moves. "Even if Liz is aware that people are hunting her down, she has her daughter's interest foremost in her mind, and that becomes part of the drama in episode 14 and beyond," Eisendrath teases.
7. Three Key losses In Liz's Life
Liz lost Sam Milhoan (William Sadler), Mr. Kaplan (Susan Blommaert), and Tom because of Reddington. "They all died because either they knew the secret Red didn't want Liz to find out or they were investigating the secret," Bokenkamp says. When Liz puts it together and sees how many important people he's taken from her, all because he doesn't want to reveal the truth, it's a harrowing realization.
Each of those deaths has a significant impact on Liz. Red killing Sam, Liz's foster father, shows how far Reddington is willing to go to achieve his aims and manipulate her in the process. Losing Tom was tragic on a human level for Liz, especially after reconciling with Tom after his secrets broke their marriage. His death also meant she lost one of the few people who would stand with her against Red at the time. Kaplan and Liz were connected through the mother Liz didn't know, and they bonded over Reddington. The arc that ends with her death starts because Kaplan made an enemy of Reddington to save Liz.
Kaplan's place in Liz's life will play a part in her return. "Liz is carrying the same torch that Kaplan was carrying in a way," Bokenkamp explains. "They are linked emotionally in this effort to protect Liz and try to get answers to Red's ultimate truth." As she embarks on a journey against Red, Kaplan will return as a type of guide for Liz. "That character is very important to Liz, and there was a very specific reason why we revisit Kaplan now," Bokenkamp adds.
8. Liz mourns Tom and fights
Compared to when Liz faked her death, "Ruin" is an episode where she decides to walk away. She isn't trying to escape or hide from Red, just to leave the task force and Blacklisters behind. Liz stumbles across some trouble and decides to fight to survive, all while grieving losing Tom. "'Ruin' was a story about her wanting to come back and realizing that she had no choice but to walk back into the lion's den to fight, and, again, embrace inner darkness," Bokenkamp says.
"This is my favorite episode of the series for Liz, because I got to play something wildly different," Boone says. "Ruin" had quiet moments in which Liz got to run with her dog and just be, which she was happy to see in the script. "I very rarely got to sit in quiet moments as Liz for any extended period of time, because the show is so plot-driven and paced-up, and this was an opportunity to do that," Boone says.
9. Dom gives Liz a glimpse into Katarina's past
A major tentpole of Liz's life is the mystery surrounding her mother, superspy Katarina Rostova (Laila Robins). Liz was framed for a crime tied to her past before she even fully understood where she came from, and by the time she went to Dom (Brian Dennehy) for answers, she was determined to get to the truth. "That is the first real confirmation that she is the daughter of a notorious Russian spy," Bokenkamp says. "When she goes to see Dom, it fills in lots of blanks — not necessarily who Reddington is, but who Liz is."
"My God, to have gotten to work with Brian Dennehy on this," Boone says. "How lucky I've been. I remember sitting with him in between takes completely glued to his stories, asking him questions and hanging on every answer. There was something about our interactions off camera that seamlessly transitioned into the scenes we did together, which were all about familial legacy and Dom sharing stories from the past that helped complete Liz's understanding of her life now." (Dennehy died last year.)
10. Watching Reddington kill Katarina
Katarina's entry into Liz's life changed her and The Blacklist. Her methods aside (like pretending to be Liz's neighbor), the mother and daughter formed a bond and decided to work together to uncover the truth. Not only was watching Red kill Katarina devastating, but it was also a defining moment in terms of Liz's assessment of Red, according to the EPs. Liz has tried to figure out if there's good in Red or what his being in her life means, but this one event moved her past it. "It's a complete break, and it shattered any illusions [Liz] might have harbored about where Reddington's allegiance lies," Eisendrath says.
Looking at the beginning of season 8, Boone remembers shooting her first scenes back from lockdown with Robins: "I used that to hook into the idea that this woman was becoming part of my work family, too."
She adds, "I knew the show was going in this direction where Liz was going to branch out and start to trust Katarina as much as she might Harold or Ressler, the characters that have populated her family for over seven years. It was whiplash-inducing, but I think everyone was experiencing that during this time."
This was the moment the show was working toward, which would ultimately drive a wedge between Red and Liz. The Blacklist has mentioned Liz's inner darkness often, and we've seen glimpses of it when she killed Connolly and used the Stewmaker's methods to get rid of a body, but her journey was slow because she begins the series as an eager young FBI agent. Whether it's through Liz's on doing or nudging by Red, whatever inner darkness she has is pointed directly at Red after he kills Katarina.
11. Reddington becomes Liz's target
Embracing her inner darkness to go after Red is the trajectory Liz has been on for some time. "The death of Katarina really is the final straw for Liz," Bokenkamp says. Boone admits to struggling with the major shift in Liz's story, and says she was very happy to have director Andrew McCarthy to help her through it. "[Liz] was hurting Ressler and lying to Aram, and these are people I've grown to love and had a hard time reconciling that they got thrown in with Red in her retaliation," Boone says.
Seeing Liz's side of the events since she last appeared will allow viewers to see how her actions impact her and how she feels about the difficult choices she has made. "She has to go toe to toe with Red, and it's very complicated territory for Liz, and that's partly what we're going to exploring in the next episode," Bokenkamp says.
12. Liz is No. 1 on the Blacklist
Liz's landing on the top of the Blacklist is an exciting change for the show. All that time spent by Red's side means Agent Keen has watched how he operates. "You get to see what she has learned from Reddington about how to be a bad guy and how to operate in the criminal world," Eisendrath says. "So part of the fun is to see the pupil mimicking the master trying to become someone who can compete with him."
"I was definitely hoping it would be Liz at No. 1, but I didn't want to presume," Boone says. "I have to say… it's an honor."
The evolution of Liz has allowed The Blacklist to stay fresh eight seasons in. Viewers have watched her go from FBI agent to criminal, which is a dramatic change even if it has been gradual. "These are firsts for Red and Liz, and new dynamics for Liz and her former task force," Bokenkamp says. "The journey we're on is what lets [The Blacklist] continue to feel fun, intriguing, and mysterious, because it's always been a bit of a moving target, and it's always changing."
The Blacklist airs Fridays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.
(Video courtesy of NBC)
James Spader is Raymond "Red" Reddington, a mastermind criminal who teams up with the FBI.
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