The Blacklist exclusive: Jon Bokenkamp previews season 5, Reddington’s new start

The Blacklist logo any seasonOn Wednesday, September 27 (in its new timeslot at 8:00 p.m. Eastern time), The Blacklist season 5 will air new episodes on NBC! We know that there’s a lot of exciting storylines coming up with the new season, and that includes getting a chance to see Reddington rebuild his criminal operation and see Liz come to terms with the new relationship she has with him. There’s going to be a lighter tone to the opening episodes, and there will be many moments that take us back to the early days of the show.

In setting up what lies ahead on this new season of The Blacklist, we were thrilled to speak with a man who knows this material better than anyone: Showrunner Jon Bokenkamp! In this exclusive interview with us, he discusses where the show will be headed after the death of Mr. Kaplan, his reaction to the wide array of fan theories out there, and also whether or not he foresees the upcoming season as the show’s last. (Here’s a tease: You better start preparing your season 6 renewal campaigns now…)

CarterMatt – Hi, Jon! I’ve got about 300 different theories for you.

Jon Bokenkamp – Well, I’m ready to deny all of them (laughs).

On a serious note, do you like the fact that your show lends itself to so many different ideas and so much speculation?

Yeah, I think that’s one of the most fun parts of the show. As an audience member you can pick [the story] apart and look at it from a number of different perspectives. There are many different theories that could probably work. It’s a fun thing to watch week to week — I’ll go on different comment threads and see different theories. I love that, and it makes it fun to write as we weave our way through a season.

Do you tend to write with a larger theme in mind for a season, or is that something that you have some flexibility on as you’re breaking scripts and seeing the story progress?

It’s a little of both. We map out a season arc, as far as where we would like to end. For example last season, very early in the season, we landed on Mr. Kaplan as the Big Bad, and we knew that it would not end well. Then, there are a number of things across the season that we know we’d like to hit; you try to find your way in between [those events] and try to connect the dots. There is always a big, long-arcing plan for the season.

One of the big revelations coming out of the finale is that Liz now believes that Reddington is her father. How will that impact her?

I think the biggest change that comes about is her self-awareness of who Elizabeth Keen is, where she comes from, and what’s in her DNA. I think there is a looming concern that she is more like this man than she wants to be. She’s probably always struggled with that in the back of her mind, but this season we really want to confront her with that question in a direct way. We want to see what she can withstand, as though she hasn’t been through enough already. I think that’s really the biggest change, since there is this thing that was subtext for so long. Can she stay above the fray and be this great FBI agent, or will she have that impulse like the one the led her to murder the attorney general?

This has also left Reddington in a really interesting spot right now. Mr. Kaplan devastated so much of his empire and what he knows. Where are we now with him when we come back?

Season 4 got a little dark at times, as our show can. What is really fun to watch this season is Red rebuilding because he is starting with nothing. That could be a real downer — like his resources are gone and his friends have jumped ship. But, he loves it! He loves the idea of being presented with the challenge of trying to rebuild an empire, and he finds a great joy in the idea that he can reboot. He can build a Reddington 2.0. We meet him at the local motel, and he’s having a great time hanging out at the pool. By the way, who doesn’t love taking a day off every now and then?

This is a part of the conflict for the team — ‘shouldn’t you be more engaged in finding bad guys and taking down Blacklisters?’. Well, he’s just having a delightful time meeting locals and taking some time for himself. That’s really his big thing. The paternal thing is of no real consequence or news to him. It’s this new situation that he finds himself in with really only Dembe and the Task Force around.

The Mr. Kaplan arc is one of the best arcs we’ve seen on the show, and trying to follow that up is going to be difficult. Do you look at the new season with this sort of pressure, or do you just try something completely different and see what happens?

Again, it’s a little both. There is nobody who loved Mr. Kaplan more than myself. Susan [Blommaert] is a fantastic actor and loved playing the role. Her jumping off that bridge and killing herself was as painful as killing Alan Alda in the first season. The man’s a TV legend and we killed him! Sometimes, the twists that the show has to take are difficult to stomach.

It’s hard losing her, but I think we find ourselves in a position where we want to have fun and re-imagine things. We want to lose a little bit of the super-darkness — even though it’s still an incredibly violent and dark show. We want to find Red a little more like he was in season 1, where he was a little more joyful. As a writer, this is a lot of fun! 22 episodes a season is daunting, but I think we have a really nice ebb and flow this season and just as big turns, if not bigger, that are driving us forward. I feel really great about the story, and ultimately our big hook for the story is incredibly satisfying.

I think I’d be more terrified if we weren’t so far into the season (laughs), but I feel really great about the direction we’re going.

With Terry O’Quinn, is there any plan to revisit [Howard Hargrave] or what happened with him [at the end of The Blacklist: Redemption]?

We are going to address Tom and his family and what happened there, because I do think the two shows, while they were different, occupy the same landscape. They were in the same universe, so we do want to address that, but we won’t have Terry or Famke [Janssen] coming back — though we were really lucky to have that whole crew and everyone [who appeared] on that show.

This is one of the great things about The Blacklist — we often have great, wild, and crazy scenarios where people who we thought might be gone can find their way back into the show. It’s not out of the realm of possibility, but for now we don’t have plans to bring them back.

On a happy note, Aram and Samar seem to be in a good spot now. What are you looking to explore there?

There’s Aram’s neurosis, and then them trying to figure out what it means to be a workplace romance. That’s a really fun relationship. It’s been a long time coming, and I think a lot of our characters find themselves in a new state of mind.

Finally, is there any thinking ahead for season 6 already? Are you looking for there to be another season?

100% yes. My feeling is that the end of season 5 will be a really dramatic turn. We’re just going to find a way to tell that season 6 story. There’s not enough real estate in season 5 to tell everything.

One way or another, we’re going to find our way to deal with that. For the time being, I think season 5 is going to be a really engaging, fun, and unexpected ride. There’s no better guide than Reddington.


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We want to give a very special thanks to Jon for his time and for talking to us about the new season of The Blacklist.

(Photo: NBC.)

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