After the shocking revelation that Raymond “Red” Reddington (James Spader) isn’t who he says he is, Season 6 of the NBC series The Blacklist shakes things up in a way that leads to all new twists and turns, as Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone) starts her own investigation into the events that took place the night the real Reddington died. While searching for the answers that will uncover the secrets that Reddington has gone to great lengths to keep buried, at the same time, Liz and the FBI are still on the hunt for some of the most strange and dangerous criminals yet.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview, executive producer/writer Jon Bokenkamp spoke to Collider to preview the new season and talked about what he’s most excited about, balancing a case-of-the-week show with sending Reddington to prison, how long they’ve known what Raymond Reddington’s true identity is, why now is the right time to explore this storyline, and what it will be like for Liz to get to know her half-sister (Fiona Dourif).
Collider: We spoke before the launch of Season 5, which definitely felt like a new chapter for the series, but here we again and Season 6 really feels like things are getting shaken up quite dramatically. What are you most excited about, with what you’re doing, this season?
JON BOKENKAMP: Well, I’m most excited that I feel like we’re still, even after five seasons and going into a sixth, finding new territory for the show. It continues to evolve and shift. We’re still a case-of-the-week show and we still have what I hope are great, fun bad guys, but we’re entering new territory with Raymond Reddington, the most wanted man in America, arrested. It shifts our whole season in prison. It’s something that we’ve never done before. We haven’t dramatized that, and yet it makes perfect sense that he might be captured in a completely benign way. What’s that going to be like, to watch him navigate the prison system and the court system, having all of his resources stripped away? It gives us a really fresh, unique window into this world that we love writing about.
I also love how, in Season 6, you can say, “You know that Raymond Reddington that you’ve been following all of this time, well he’s not actually Raymond Reddington.” That’s cool and risky.
BOKENKAMP: That’s exactly right. That’s another big turn, this season. One of the promises of Season 6 is exploring who this imposter is. This is somebody who we’ve gotten to know so well and who we think we know so much about, but every time we get closer to the truth and every time we get another answer, we find that we know less than we knew before, which is part of the joy of the character. Liz has her hands full, this year, being a step ahead of Reddington and knowing some secrets that she has not revealed to him. It’s going to be a really interesting cat-and-mouse game.
We’ve known all along that this is a guy who has secrets. When did you know that he was not really Raymond Reddington?
BOKENKAMP: We, the writers, have known from the beginning, and James [Spader] has known from the beginning. It’s something that he’s had in the back of his mind, as far as the ultimate identity of this person that he’s playing. So often, Reddington is two, three, or six steps ahead. He has resources and strings that he can pull, to stay ahead of the FBI. In a really fresh way, this feels like a new chapter, in that Liz is a step ahead. She knows that this man is an imposter. She had come to believe that he is her father, so in every scene that she’s playing with him, not only is she working a mystery, but she’s also role-playing because she’s still keeping up the ruse that she’s his daughter, even though she knows that’s not the case. So, it creates a really unique dynamic, not only now, but if and when Reddington eventually finds out that she knows. He may not let her know that he knows. There’s this fun chess match that’s going on between those two characters while everything appears to be business as usual. We, the audience and Liz, know that it’s anything but.
You said that James Spader was aware of this secret, but at what point did you let Megan Boone know what was going on?
BOKENKAMP: All of the actors on the show will tell you that they don’t really know what’s coming until the next script comes out, and it’s often a work in progress. I’m not exactly sure when we told Megan, but part of what’s interesting is that she’s finding out the truth along with the character. She’s doing a fantastic job at walking a very fine balance.
You talked about knowing that this was going to happen, at some point, but when you have a big reveal like this in your back pocket and you don’t know exactly how long you’ll have with a TV series, in order to tell the story that you want to tell, how do you decide when to finally explore that storyline? Why was now the right time to get into this aspect of the story?
BOKENKAMP: That’s a great question. It’s always very difficult to figure out how quickly or slowly to push the story forward. My instinct is to race through it, and be as quick and compelling and surprising as we can be. At the same time, we don’t know how long we’ll be on. We want to tell the story in a way that is both surprising and doesn’t feel like we’re stretching it. In this case, you’re right, we didn’t know if we were going to come back. When we wrote the season finale of Season 5, we had not yet been picked up for Season 6. One of the things that I’m most proud of, in terms of what our writers do and the way in which we tell the story, is that we decided that we were not going to write a “what if we’re canceled” episode. We were not going to write a half-way version of the show that could have been the resolution of our series because it wasn’t. If we were canceled, we would have had to find some other way to tell the story, or I would have had to go do a community theater puppet show version of the ending, but we couldn’t do a half-way ending that might be the resolution. The truth is that, once we know who Reddington is, and we know why he entered Liz’s life, then the story is over. Only then, is the story told.
I’m definitely glad that you have another season because this is a really exciting direction to go with the story, and I’m excited to see how it plays out.
BOKENKAMP: Yeah. It was a little spooky. It felt like a bold decision. It felt like a bit of a nail-biter. Can you imagine, if that was our ending of the series? But we had faith in it, and we also had faith in our partners at the studio and the network. I do feel like our stories are as good as when we began, and I’m really excited about the stories that we have coming up in Season 6. They’re really unique and different, and just as fresh as we’ve ever been.
It seems like Liz and Jennifer (Fiona Dourif) are still really getting to know each other and feel each other out. How different from each other are they, and how similar are they?
BOKENKAMP: It’s interesting, remember Elizabeth Keen and Jennifer are half-sisters. They have different mothers. Elizabeth Keen’s mother is Katarina Rostova and Jennifer’s mother is Naomi Hyland, so they have different mothers, but they share a father. They are both the daughter of Raymond Reddington. They both realize that this man who they’ve come to know as Raymond Reddington is not Raymond Reddington. Liz being the FBI agent who has come up through the law, approaches things out of instinct, which is very different from Jennifer who came up in the witness protection program, hiding from the most wanted man in America. Her mother died because of some incidents that went down because of Reddington. They come at this story from very different perspectives, and yet they are united and bound together, in the most fundamental way. That makes for a very unexpected and emotional story.
The Blacklist Season 6 two-part premiere airs on NBC on January 3rd and 4th.