'The Blacklist' Creator Breaks Down the Bone-Chilling Finale Twist (Exclusive)


Executive producer Jon Bokenkamp talks to ET about Wednesday's season five closer and why they were keen to bring back a dearly departed character for that emotional heart to heart.

Warning: Spoiler alert! Do not proceed if you have not watched Wednesday's season finale of The Blacklist.

Talk about a bombshell.

On Wednesday's finale of The Blacklist, Liz Keen (Megan Boone) discovered the devastating truth about the bag of bones Raymond Reddington (James Spader) has been desperately trying to hide from her all season long. The bag of bones in the duffle bag isn't just from a random blacklister or an old friend, they're of the real Raymond Reddington, Liz's biological father. So, who is the man with whom Liz has had a roller-coaster relationship these past five seasons? That's a question creator Jon Bokenkamp wants fans to ponder over the long hiatus.

"This turn goes all the way back. It is something that we've talked about since the show was picked up [in 2013]," Bokenkamp tells ET of the game-changing revelation. "Obviously, we side-step and we improvise at times, but the deep core of the mythology of the show and who Reddington is, and all those big questions, are rooted in the inception of the show. It's not something where we thought, 'Let's try this now. This seems like a good time to come up with a big twist.' I hope the most ardent viewers of the show can go back and see little clues that would be pointing us to this reveal."

Following the season five closer, Bokenkamp spoke to ET to break down the episode-ending twist, the return of Ryan Eggold (star of NBC's upcoming medical drama, New Amsterdam) and season six plans. 

ET: What hints from the early seasons can you call out as clues that the Raymond Reddington we've gotten to know the past several years was an impostor?

Jon Bokenkamp: There are a number of them. In season one, Liz flat out asked Reddington over the payphone, "Are you my father?" and after a long pause, he said, "No." That is true and true since the beginning of the show. Now, Raymond Reddington is her father but this man is not the original Raymond Reddington. That's an example of how we have feathered storylines to point us toward this reveal. There are moments like that in each of the five seasons.

This reveal opens up endless possibilities for where the story can go in the new season. How much will season six be about Liz, and to a lesser extent Jennifer, figuring out who this man is?

I think it opens us up to some really interesting stories. Megan has been fantastic this year. The growth of her character -- watching her grow over the five seasons, but more specifically this season; I don't know if she's embracing the darkness, but she's certainly changing. That is going to strongly influence how she handles this new piece of evidence that, remember, she knows but that Raymond Reddington doesn't know that she knows. It's going to be really interesting and compelling to see how she plays this, how she works with Jennifer to embrace the inner double agent within her to work the system and work Reddington to get to the ultimate truth.


After the events of the finale, Liz seems to hold most of the cards in her cat-and-mouse game against Fake Red, I guess we'll call him, since she now knows the truth about who he isn't. How does that shake up their dynamic moving forward?

What it does is it snaps into focus. What this reveal does and what's exciting about season six is it snaps into focus so many of the tools that Elizabeth Keen has been acquiring over the past five years, not only from Reddington, who she certainly has been influenced by and learned from, but also from Tom Keen, her husband who was also not only an impostor but a spy. What she's learned from both of these men in her life will influence how she handles this truth and what she does to move forward. I wouldn't expect it to be super squeaky clean. She has some skills that are a little bit on the dark side. That excites me. That's a very interesting character to explore and to follow into the next season.

How does Liz's end goal change now that she has this piece of intel on Fake Red?

I don't think she knows yet. I don't think she knows enough to have a well-informed agenda just yet. That's part of the promise of season six -- taking this bombshell, stepping back, looking at every possible angle and trying to figure out the best, most clever way forward. To the extent that that involves Jennifer, to the extent that that involves the task force and what they might know and how much uses and bends the law to get what she needs, she's in a position to become a strong and formidable character. That's something Reddington should be concerned about. And if I can just mention, you had said Fake Red before. It's worth pointing out, this is the same guy we met in the pilot, the same character, the same charisma, the same strange sense of humor. In a way, nothing changes and yet, it all changes. I think that's important for the audience to know. I don't think James Spader is going anywhere. It's only going to get more interesting.

Alright, can you help confirm the micro details of the twist? The bones in the duffle bag belonged to the real Raymond Reddington.

Yes, those are the bones of the real Raymond Reddington -- naval officer, the father of Elizabeth Keen, yes.

And the man played by James Spader assumed that identity at some time in the very distant past.

Yes, somewhere in the distant past. Liz said at the end of season two, "I was there that night. I shot my father. I killed my father," and that is true. These are little bits and pieces of the truth coming together to complete this puzzle. Whoever it is who stepped into this personality -- whoever this impostor is who took on this identity and created this incredible myth and became a world-renowned criminal, that is yet to be seen. But yes, those were the bones of Raymond Reddington who were burned and destroyed in tonight's episode. 

And the true identity of James Spader's character is a season six mystery, I imagine?


Do you have the whole backstory and true identity set for him? How are you planning on parsing out that information?

We do have that ultimate answer and hopefully, it takes us a long time to get there. (Laughs.) But slowly is how we're going to get there.


We also saw the return of Ryan Eggold as Liz's husband, Tom, in the cemetery scene. Why did you want to resurrect Tom for that moment?

We thought it was important to have Tom there to embody and represent just how far Liz Keen has come and just how much she's lost. It gave us context and helps us remember that he was murdered this season because of this bag of bones. I thought it was a very nice way to bring them back together, which I think is sweet, and yet to give it some real weight to see what she's lost. Megan did a fantastic job portraying that, seeing how broken and angry she felt standing there talking to the ghost of her husband and realizing that everything she's gone through and what a betrayal she feels. I thought it was nice to have Tom there and Ryan back for that moment, which is really a moment of power for her. It felt like the right thing to do.

It's tragic that one of the only people Liz can talk to is Tom.

It is. She's learned a lot from him and she's been through a lot, good and bad, that influenced who she's become. So it was important that he was there.

How key is Jennifer's involvement moving forward?

The possibilities are what are really interesting. I'm not really sure. We don't know yet. We're just now coming through season five and we just got our season six renewal. That's going to be what's going to be fun going to work and figuring out how she fits into the equation. But I love [Fiona Dourif] as an actress and think she's fantastic. It's a really fresh and different dynamic on the show. Those two ladies walking off together in what is essentially a beginning, not an ending, is the promise of something that's really unique.

What themes are you looking to explore in season six?

Identity is probably going to be a part of that. What we want to do is surprise ourselves -- that's when the show is its best, the moments when we feel good about that surprise us. It's always been a story about identity, from the moment Raymond Reddington walked in and surrendered himself to the FBI and that question is more at the forefront of Elizabeth Keen's mind than ever before.

How relieved are you to not have to answer questions about the bag of bones?

(Laughs.) Ah, that damn bag of bones! We did promise that we would have an answer and I hope it's as fun as I think it was. It certainly was something that shifts the paradigm of what the show is. But truthfully, it's like watching someone opening a Christmas present. It's been hidden in the closet under the stairs for five years now. The real joy is watching and experiencing that come out and everyone else catching up. That is a real relief and a treat.

The Blacklist returns midseason on NBC.