The Blacklist ended Season 5 with another shocking twist: The bones Raymond “Red” Reddington (James Spader) had been seeking all season belonged to the real Raymond Reddington, and the criminal mastermind fans have come to know and love — the man Agent Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone) had come to believe was her biological father — was an impostor who assumed the identity of the late naval officer (and Liz’s real father) around 30 years ago.
But here’s the thing: In, like, a metaphysical sense, the impostor is the real Raymond Reddington. The dead Reddington was an average Joe compared to the man we know as Red. Red didn’t take over his life, he just used his access as a starting point to build his criminal empire. Probably. The audience still doesn’t know who the impostor was before he became Raymond Reddington, and we’ll talk about that shortly. But first we just have to make the point that Red is still Red.
“That’s something that I hope the audience understands,” says Blacklist creator Jon Bokenkamp, “is that Spader, this impostor, this person who has taken the identity of Reddington, has probably lived as Reddington longer than Reddington ever did, and was far more interesting, and far more dangerous, and far more funny, and is the guy that we want to watch.” Or as Spader himself puts it in the season’s sneak peek, “The Raymond Reddington that everybody’s become familiar with over the last five and a half years is considerably more Raymond Reddington than the Raymond Reddington was 30 years ago. They wouldn’t have made a TV show about that guy.”
Overall, the reveal means more for Liz than it does for Red. Liz thought she had his blood in her veins, and that belief allowed her to become more like him in terms of what she’s capable of. “She stewed somebody last season, you know?,” says Bokenkamp. And now she’s going to use the ruthlessness and deception she learned from Red against him as she tries to find out his true identity. “For the first time in the series, she knows something that he doesn’t know,” Bokenkamp says. “She knows that Reddington is an impostor, and he isn’t aware of that. And so we now get to have this new dynamic where Liz is working the case presenting to Reddington as if she is his daughter, and in fact she knows far more than she’s letting on. She’s using that sort of cover as a way to figure out who he really is.”
Liz wants to find out the truth about Reddington because it will help her understand who she really is and where she came from, but mostly she wants to find out, why her? Why has Reddington looked out for her for all these years? And besides that, she wants to solve the case. “Not only does Elizabeth Keen have a personal dog in the fight in terms of wanting to understand who she is, but she, as an FBI agent, has an incredible drive to unlock this criminal, to understand who he is and where he came from and what his endgame is,” Bokenkamp says. “So I think she’s juggling a couple of perspectives in terms of what’s important and why now more than ever it’s important to get inside this guy’s mind.”
Bokenkamp says that Liz’s undercover mission will create a power imbalance unprecedented on The Blacklist. “It really gives Megan and James some really interesting scenes to play and shifts the dynamic into territory that we haven’t been in before, and with her in the driver’s seat,” he says. “For fans who like the sort of proactive nature that she took at the end of last season, you’re going to see more of that. And I think it makes for a stronger, smarter, more interesting Elizabeth Keen and for a really unique dynamic between her and Reddington.”
The Blacklist‘s two-part premiere starts Thursday, Jan. 3 at 10/9c and continues at the show’s new regular timeslot Friday, Jan. 4 at 9/8c on NBC.