'The Blacklist' Boss Explains Why Season 6 Is a Completely 'Unique' Adventure (Exclusive)
By Philiana Ng
The Blacklist returns for its sixth season with looming questions about who Raymond "Red" Reddington (James Spader) really is. With Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone) armed with the knowledge that Reddington isn't actually who he says he is (aka her real biological father) -- and him blissfully unaware of that fact -- the upcoming season puts Liz paces ahead of the impostor she's begun to consider family.
"Identity is a big [theme]. It really has been central to the show from the very beginning, but I think now, more than ever, with this reveal that Reddington is, in fact, an impostor and so much of what we've been led to believe has been undermined and eroded," The Blacklist creator Jon Bokenkamp tells ET. "The question at the forefront for the audience and certainly in Elizabeth Keen's mind is: Who is this guy? Why did he choose me? What is his ultimate agenda? Identity is tangled up in that in all kinds of strange, curious ways."
Up until this point, Reddington has always been 10 steps ahead of Liz in their never-ending cat-and-mouse game, but things will shift in Liz's favor for the first time in the show's six-season run.
"The thing that is fresh and unique about this season is that for the first time, somebody is way ahead of Red. Elizabeth Keen knows a truth about him that he doesn't know and she is forced to continue to play the role of his daughter," Bokenkamp hints. "In all of the scenes that they play together [this year], not only does he know he is not ultimately the original Raymond Reddington, she also knows that this man is not her father. It creates a really interesting power struggle and a mental chess game between these two characters who are carrying on presenting stories of who they are and yet, Elizabeth Keen is working in the shadows in trying to unlock the truth behind why he entered her life."
"That's a dynamic we haven't seen on the show before," he continues, reiterating that it's "something new" creatively for the show to explore. "Elements of it feel familiar but it has consequences that are incredibly significant."
One crucial development that will hinder Reddington's mysterious grand plan is his impending incarceration -- revealed in the trailer -- early on in the season, a move that may prove beneficial. Bokenkamp shared that Reddington will likely "thrive" in his new environment "because he has to," but that he will still attempt to maneuver his way out of his dire situation: "He is the character who, if anyone could find fun in prison, I'm sure it's Red."
"We are not used to seeing Reddington on his heels. We're not used to seeing him not be in charge, so all of a sudden -- a first [for the show], and it is hard to have firsts this far into the run of a series six seasons in -- here we are seeing Reddington in territory that he's never been before," he explains. "He's in prison and all of his superpowers are stripped away. His connections, his money means nothing. He's sort of starting over, in a way. That is going to test the relationships he has on the outside and will likely foster some new relationships on the inside. Nobody likes new experiences more than Raymond Reddington, so audiences should expect that he will embrace this new struggle with open arms. It is incredibly dangerous and there are high emotional stakes, but it's also going to be incredibly fun."
The Blacklist has been known for its unexpected twists and turns, some seemingly undoing or even contradicting previous game-changing revelations. Bokenkamp acknowledged the unique challenges that the show's mythology-reliant reveals have presented over the years.
"It's been, at times, incredibly difficult," Bokenkamp muses. "It is a balancing act and we have not only pages and bibles within the room with what our core mythology is but we have a lot of talented writers who have this story burned into their mind. We often do mental gymnastics to make sure we're staying true to the story and at times, it's hard to watch in comments or so forth online where we have a reveal that may seem like we're contradicting ourselves but in fact, we have not been."
"Liz said 'Are you my father' in episode eight and he said, after much hesitation, 'No.' Three or four seasons later, we did a DNA test that proves Raymond Reddington is Elizabeth Keen's father. 'Well, I thought you guys said he wasn't her father.' We did, but wait for the next reveal, where we said Raymond Reddington isn't Raymond Reddington. Raymond Reddington is her father but James Spader isn't.," he notes. "Those kinds of things that play out over two, three, four or five seasons are often very difficult to stay true to but I think we've done a very good job of it. I hope the audience can track that. You can almost go back and watch the show again and see it unfold in a different way."
Watch the first five minutes of the season six premiere below.
The Blacklist premieres Thursday at 10 p.m. ET/PT on NBC, followed by its regular time-slot debut Friday at 9 p.m. ET/PT.