With Raymond “Red” Reddington (James Spader) in prison and a relentless drive to discover who betrayed him, Season 6 of the NBC series The Blacklist is sure to be a roller coaster ride of deception. And while secretly searching for the answers that will uncover the secrets that Reddington has gone to great lengths to keep buried, Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone) needs to keep him in the dark, as they continue to hunt for some of the strangest and most dangerous criminals yet.
During this spoiler-filled 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, executive producer/writer Jon Bokenkamp talked about what life in prison will look like for Raymond Reddington, embracing his newfound situation, how complicated things will get between Red and Liz, whether Red suspects the truth, always being aware of where they are in the timeline of their storytelling, as they get closer to the endgame, and how they’re not trying to trick the audience.
Collider: What can you say about what life in prison will look like for Raymond Reddington?
JON BOKENKAMP: Oh, dear god, it’s not anything that we’ve seen before. To begin with, Reddington is cut off from his resources. He’s cut off from the various people who are his allies, and he’s forced to navigate a world that even he has never experienced before. And yet, the one thing that I think is important to point out is that, if there was anybody who could look at being incarcerated as a challenge and find the joy in it, it would be Raymond Reddington. He lives life to the fullest, in every experience, no matter how dire, and he embraces it. I don’t want to give the impression that it’s going to be a dark, gloomy season, although we certainly are capable of going dark and gloomy. The way in which he embraces this newfound situation that he finds himself in is going to be compelling, to say the least. I’ve talked to James about it, and I remember him telling me, “Red’s a guy who might die, at any moment.” He’s in incredible situations, and he never knows what day might be his last, and that really influences the way in which he lives. It gives him this incredible freedom to embrace every new situation, as if it might be the last, and this season is certainly no different.
The audience knows that it was Liz that turned him in, but he doesn’t know that. How complicated will things get between them, as she gets deeper into her own secrets?
BOKENKAMP: What’s really interesting is that, at the end of our two-parter, Red is less worried about being incarcerated and being in prison, and more worried about finding out who betrayed him. He knows it wasn’t as simple as a cop recognizing him. His Spidey-sense is telling him that he was betrayed, and Liz knows that is very dangerous territory. Megan played that beautifully, and James was fantastic in that scene. The promise of this chess match between Raymond Reddington and this young FBI profiler, who is no longer so innocent, is going to be a great chess match. Remember, Liz had come to believe that she is the daughter of Raymond Reddington. She thought that she had his blood pumping through her veins. To that end, she’s going through incredibly dark things. Last season, she stewed a guy. We had the stew maker in Season 1, and she actually stewed a guy in a bathtub in Season 5. So, make no mistake, Liz can match Red in his darkness, every step of the way. It’s going to be a great footrace to watch unfold.
Liz has already wondered, this season, about whether Reddington could be onto her awareness of his secret. Does he actually suspect anything from her, at this point, or does he always suspect everyone of everything?
BOKENKAMP: Truthfully, he has no idea. I don’t think he could fathom that Liz would betray him, in such a way. He has such far-reaching enemies and allies, and people who have many reasons to cross him, that Liz is the last on the list that he would suspect. I’m not saying that he might not get there in time or in short order, but when and if he does, he would be blindsided. Where we leave Episode 2, at the end of the two-parter, he has no idea. And remember, he doesn’t even know that Liz and her half sister, Jennifer, are speaking. He thinks Jennifer has left his life and never wants to see him again. The idea that Liz is working the puzzle of this mystery on her own time, in the shadows and in the evening hours, between the hours of when she’s working as an FBI agent, is something that only the audience knows. It will be interesting to see how this unfolds and others find out. Remember, nobody on the task force knows that Red is not really Red. Nobody on the task force knows that Liz is in contact with Jennifer, or that they’re working this mystery. So, we have a lot of reveals and character turns that are going to make for some very compelling, small, interpersonal stories, that are going to be really emotional and great to watch for the audience.
When we spoke prior to the launch of Season 5, you said that you didn’t have plans for the show’s endgame yet, but that it’s always part of a constant conversation that you have. Where are you at, in that conversation? Have you had to start to really think about how long you can continue to keep telling this story for?
BOKENKAMP: What I would say to that is that it’s always something where, as we’re writing the story, we do have an ultimate endgame in mind, every season, we’re very conscious about where we are in the timeline of our storytelling. The truth is that we are likely closer to the end than the beginning, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have some great stories to tell.
It’s very exciting to see a season like this, where six seasons in, it feels like it’s new again.
BOKENKAMP: That’s so great to hear. I hope people also understand that it’s so unusual to find out this twist that Red is not Red, and that he’s an imposter. I hope it’s evident to audiences, in the first two episodes and all season, that this character that we’ve come to love, this very bon vivant, funny, dangerous man is still the same character that we’ve been watching, each week. This man who has taken on the identity of Raymond Reddington has lived a far more interesting life than the real Raymond Reddington ever did. I hope audiences know that, when they come back to the show, they’re still going to see James Spader play this delicious, strange, very funny and dangerous character, but they’ll just have a little bit more insight into what’s motivating him.
It’s cool because, as you learn these new things about him and what he’s done, it changes your perspective on how you see him, and you start thinking back to things that he’s done before.
BOKENKAMP: I’m glad to hear that. I hope we can demonstrate to the audience that we’ve been playing fair with them. As you look back over the seasons, you can watch the whole series again with this in mind and see different moments in which we’re letting the audience in on the truth. I’ve had some people say, “How does this not feel like a trick? Liz had a DNA test that proved she is the daughter of Raymond Reddington.” And she did, but the blood didn’t come from James Spader’s character. The blood came from a 30-year-old shirt that was her father’s shirt, so yes, the DNA test proved that Raymond Reddington is her father. It’s just that James Spader’s character is not the original Raymond Reddington. So, there are little tricks and secrets like that, woven through the past five seasons, that have made it, at times, very difficult to write. I’m glad to hear you feel like it lets you see the character through a whole new window.
The Blacklist Season 6 airs on NBC on Fridays.