'The Blacklist' Season 5: Creator teases Red's dangerous, but fun new quest to rebuild his empire

James Spader as Raymond “Red” Reddington, Megan Boone as Elizabeth Keen in ‘The Blacklist’ (Photo: Will Hart/NBC)

When The Blacklist returns for its fifth season Wednesday, it’s a new Raymond Reddington (James Spader) we’ll see. The events of Season 4 left him broke, with his criminal empire dismantled. And he’s also a new daddy, sort of, the proud papa of a thirtysomething FBI agent who has complicated feelings about him.

But Red’s misfortune with losing his money and his contacts at the hands of Mr. Kaplan (R.I.P.) will spark his journey to rebuild, and The Blacklist creator Jon Bokenkamp promises that’s going to be as fun to watch as it sounds. Especially since the FBI task force led by Harold Cooper (Harry Lennix) needs Reddington and his connections at its disposal, Red is going to need access to the FBI’s goodies to re-establish himself; enter daughter Liz (Megan Boone) as the person who’s going to directly help the “Concierge of Crime” rise back up to the top of his game — unless, of course, the big secrets Red is still hiding from her topple his plans.

Bokenkamp previewed the season — which kicks off with the introduction of new Reddington associates played by The Sopranos alum Aida Turturro and Tony winner Michael Aronov (The Americans) — for Yahoo Entertainment.

(Photo: Will Hart/NBC)

The official description of the new season mentions “Raymond is feeling surprisingly unencumbered,” that he’s rebuilding his criminal empire, that his lust for life is ever present, and that he’s laying a foundation for a new enterprise that he’ll design with Liz by his side. That sounds like the makings for potentially the most fun version of Raymond Reddington we’ve seen so far.
I definitely think it is. The guy’s broke, which for most people would be a desperate place to be. But for him, somehow, he is never really afraid. He may be uncomfortable, but he’s sort of not afraid of death — he’s certainly not afraid of being broke, and he’s not afraid of rebuilding. And I think he finds himself feeling completely free and able to reimagine who he is, and do it with Liz by his side. And he just thinks it’s a delicious proposition to not have to be on the jet on the way to do an arms deal, or be dispatching of some ne’er-do-well because he’s double-crossed him. Instead, he’s able to hang out by the pool and have a mai tai. It’s a much better way to spend an afternoon, he finds. And also, it adds to the frustration of the task force and everyone involved in trying to hunt down criminals, and that’s also what’s fun about it.

Is this sort of a way to look at the backstory of Reddington, and how we imagine he first built his empire?
Well, in ways we’re going to see him, yes, beginning again. But it’s less about looking back at him and more about how he wants to look ahead at who he’s going to become; how he’s going to redefine his empire with Liz by his side and doing it in very unexpected ways and with very few resources. And embracing the idea… He’s sort of riding the horse in the direction it’s going. He doesn’t have a lot of resources, but what resources he does have, he’s going to have to be quite crafty in terms of building up again. While he’s doing that, it is reflective — why he’s here, why he entered Liz’s life, and a secret or two that he may still be keeping. But that sort of takes the backseat to this larger goal of clawing his way back to the top.

There’s nothing more fun than watching someone who is so resourceful be without resources and need to find new ones.
Yeah, and Red tends to be a step or two ahead of everyone else, so it is a situation he finds himself in where he does need to be crafty, he does need to do a lot with a little, and sometimes with resources that belong to the FBI, which is not at all what Harold Cooper is in favor of, or really anybody else on the task force, but you’ve got to get by somehow.

Are there things he’s going to want to do differently now? With this forced opportunity to rebuild, will he approach it with the same philosophy? Or is it really just about rebuilding by whatever means necessary?
I think the different philosophy would probably be that with Liz by his side now — this is maybe more something that Liz is more concerned with, but it’s certainly something that’s on his mind. This revelation of paternity and that she is the daughter of this notorious criminal, that certainly factors into everything Liz is doing. Liz is finding herself in a place where there are lines to be crossed or not, and she’s having to make some incredibly difficult choices. And I think if there’s anything that’s uncomfortable for them, and certainly for Liz, it is trying to hold onto a moral compass. And I think that is something that, in rebuilding, and again, having Liz assist in the rebuilding, it is a very fine line to walk and something that Raymond is keeping a very careful eye on. That, I think, is the biggest thing, a shift perhaps.

Does he at least get to, finally, unapologetically, embrace her as his daughter, and spend time with his granddaughter?
Yeah, absolutely. In some ways, it doesn’t change their relationship. I mean, Elizabeth’s a grown woman, and she has her own life. It sort of shifts the paradigm slightly, but it doesn’t really redefine either of them. It just sort of colors their relationship and their frustrations and the things that work in the relationship. So yes, it’s a bit of a different dynamic, but it doesn’t upend anything in a way that bigger secrets might.

Ryan Eggold as Tom Keen (Photo: Will Hart/NBC)

As you were hinting at, a lot of this is great for Red, but Liz, she’s juggling a lot of different things. She has this newly-found, confirmed father, but there’s also her child and her job and her friends at her job, and Tom (Ryan Eggold), of course. So how is she feeling about things?
As you say, she is juggling a couple of things. I mean, her husband is returning from his own sort of expedition, his own family drama. And so she has him back, and that’s different. Reddington is proven to be her father. So there is almost a strange family triangle there. Tom has never been Red’s favorite person. Tom is sort of kryptonite, but in fact, he would probably have dispatched Tom long ago if it weren’t for Liz caring for him. So there is a bit of an awkward family drama there that’s probably always been at the core of how they feel about each other. But not only is she juggling Tom, she is juggling the rebuilding of Red’s empire. And also sort of making a declaration to herself that she’s not going to let this change who she is — that she’s a cop, that she’s an FBI agent, and she has a job to do. And standing by that declaration and seeing that through may prove to be harder than she thinks. That is one of the big shadows looming over her that she’s going to be wrestling with this season.

She pledges to help him rebuild his empire, but even aside from making a decision to be that proactive about it, unless she completely cut him out of her life, there is always going to be conflict for her.
Yeah, I think the deal with the devil that the FBI has made, part of her life is that she does agree to do it, she does agree to help him rebuild his empire, because she needs him and the FBI needs him, and they feel that there’s a greater good in what they do together. So you do have a bit of an uncomfortable dynamic, where the FBI finds themselves in a place where they’re agreeing to assist and rebuild the “Concierge of Crime,” who was on their Most Wanted list, and probably isn’t as          dangerous as he was. But now they’re finding themselves in a place where they’re having to fly him around the world and assist him in rebuilding his empire because they need him to be a good guy. And yet, he’s a bad guy, which makes for a very, very complicated stew.

Will that make for some lighter moments, with Raymond appreciating the position he finds himself in with the FBI now?
One thing that’s different — though I don’t think should be confused for it making a lighter show, because it certainly isn’t, it gets as odd and dark and bloody as any of our seasons have, yet in a more fun way, I guess — is that it’s less emotionally heavy. In past seasons, Liz has been in grave danger or her child has. This is more about empire building. So yes, we’ve made a conscious effort to sort of go back to some of the more fun situations that Red finds himself in, the situations where he’s able to tell a great story, where he’s able to relish a fun situation. We’ve got some of the weirdest stuff going on, which is where not only is James fantastic, but where the character just shines. And getting into odd, unpredictable situations with screwy and dangerous people is, we have found, a real recipe for what works on the show. And so we’re really trying to embrace that and letting Red enjoy this next chapter.

We talked about Tom and Red having more secrets, like the suitcase, certainly. We know there are human remains inside the suitcase Mr. Kaplan left for Tom. We don’t specifically know what it will mean, but obviously it’s a very pivotal thing. What can you say about that?
The suitcase is a big question. It is something that Reddington is desperate to bury. It represents a much larger story, something that’s sort of been bubbling under the surface of the show for a number of years. And while the question of paternity and who is Reddington has been answered, this suitcase represents a bigger problem for him and one that’s going to be a real challenge for him to maintain his grasp on.

Some great news for fans: Aram (Amir Arison) and Samar (Mozhan Marnò) are going to be in a relationship this season, yes?
Right. They’re trying to make the office romance work. It’s been long brewing, and it’s totally well past time. They’re such an odd couple — it’s an unexpected, strange relationship that I think is one that’s fun to root for. He’s such an underdog. He’s such a misplaced, goodhearted person who’s dropped into this very dangerous workplace. And she’s a badass Mossad agent, and this is probably the last guy that she thought she would find herself with. And yet, it really is a fun relationship to explore, and they have a great chemistry. So, yeah, the show has not been known for romances, romances are not our go-to, but this is one that is certainly fun to explore.

Could there be a Blacklist wedding on the horizon?
Well, there could be. Every time we’ve tried a Blacklist wedding, it ended up pretty bloody. There just tends to be guns — not only rice flying, but bullets, and so it doesn’t tend to work out very well. So if it does happen, it should probably be something very understated and off the grid. But possibly. We’re a little ways from that, I think.

Diego Klattenhoff as Donald Ressler (Photo: Virginia Sherwood/NBC)

On to poor Ressler (Diego Klattenhoff). He has constantly been battered physically and emotionally and morally, in private and his professional life. Is there any chance for happiness or even peace for him, but given where we left him in the Season 4 finale, that would seem unlikely, at least in the immediate sense.
I think in the immediate sense, and perhaps even beyond that, it is very unlikely. We’ve got a great story for Ressler. He [accidentally] killed [National Security Advisor] Hitchen and has enlisted the services of a Blacklister, which puts him on a collision course with nothing good. This story is going to kind of continue to simmer. He’s a little like the lobster in the pot that doesn’t know it’s getting hot. Or maybe he does know it’s getting hotter, there’s just not much he can do about it. He has his hands full. And that is a story that has a bit of a longer arc to it, that is going to be a lot of fun to see play out and see how he handles this, because he really is our Boy Scout on the show. He fancies himself, he prides himself on being an FBI agent, being the guy who hunted down Reddington. And the idea that in some way Reddington may smell that he’s in trouble or that Ressler may need assistance from somebody like Reddington — that idea is one that is certainly not something that he relishes, but I think it could make for a really great story.

The Blacklist Season 5 premieres Sept 27 at 8 p.m. on NBC.

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