'The Blacklist' Creator on Super Bowl Episode's "Revelations," Red and Tom's Deal

Jon Bokenkamp tells THR that viewers will likely have strong feelings about where Tom and Liz's story is heading.
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A scene from Sunday's 'The Blacklist.'

There will be plenty of unnecessary roughness on TV this Sunday, and it has nothing to do with the football game.

The Blacklist returns from its winter hiatus in the coveted post-Super Bowl time slot with the first half of a two-parter. Series creator Jon Bokenkamp told The Hollywood Reporter that Sunday's installment resembles a "big, heightened event movie in a very contained way."

Bokenkamp also discussed Red (James Spader) and Tom's (Ryan Eggold) mysterious arrangement, the challenge of writing a Super Bowl episode that can be appreciated by first-time viewers and what's next for Liz (Megan Boone) and Tom's highly unorthodox romance.

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Congrats on nabbing the post-Super Bowl slot. What was your initial reaction to getting that — excitement, or pressure, or a mixture?

It was totally a mixture of that. It is both intimidating in the number of eyeballs that are potentially watching and yet a huge opportunity to tell a story and have a lot of people tune in. We embrace it. It's also fun to be able to do a big, juicy two-parter in the middle of the season. It's a huge opportunity, and we're certainly embracing it with gusto. 

The episode will potentially be seen by a lot of first-time viewers. Does that affect the way you wrote it, and will the episode be more of a stand-alone? 

It's certainly an episode designed for a new viewer to just dive right into. In watching it, I think they will very easily get a sense of what the show is, who Reddington is, what the show tastes and feels and smells like. It's an easy show to sort of dive right into at this point, but also I think we've designed some really fun revelations and some [surprising payoffs] for people who are ardent fans. People who've watched the show and have caught up will also find it to be a great episode. 

It has some cool guests, including Ron Perlman and David Strathairn. What characters are they playing? What was it like to have them on set?

I've been a fan of Ron Perlman for a long time. He just brings this great presence to the show. I think he's going to be a memorable Blacklister. As far as David Strathairn, he plays a mysterious figure from within the government who — we don't even know his real name; he's simply the director — he is the director of the National Clandestine Service. He's sort of a shadowy figure. And Ron Perlman plays this guy, Luther Braxton. He is a thief, but he is a thief who operates in a very unique way in that when he identifies what he wants, he makes sure to construct chaos around it to disguise the heist. It's going to be a really fun character.

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The promo for the Super Bowl episode shows Red chained up in a cell. What's going on there?

The setup of the show is that Red is arrested, captured and taken to a black site interrogation facility called the Factory, which is in the middle of the Bering Sea and on an oil platform. He's taken to this place specifically designed to extract information from assets around the world who have been trained to withstand interrogations. He's thrown into this very precarious situation where he really could expose the entire task force and everything that our team has done thus far. But once there, we find that perhaps his capture wasn't as unplanned as we might have expected. He certainly — as he almost always does — has an agenda. 

What kind of cliffhanger or shockers can viewers expect in Sunday's episode?

The first episode is definitely what I hope audiences feel is a great cliffhanger, sort of a Saturday morning serial in which you've got to come back for the second part. And I believe the second part has some great revelations for Liz — and for Red, really — about who she is and, in ways, how he ties into her past. We do go into that part of the mythology in the second part of the Super Bowl episode. 

The midseason finale introduced a lot of questions, as we learned that Tom and Red have been working together. How will that reverberate throughout the season?

I feel like, on one hand, [that revelation is] a big answer, that we now know that Red and Tom, after a season and a half, have known each other this whole time, and that there is some sort of relationship between the two of them that Liz knows nothing about. We don't dive immediately back into the Tom story, but it is something we're exploring in the back half of the season, and we will definitely be unraveling that relationship. It is certainly at the center of the stories that are to come in short order. [But Tom] is not in our two-parter Super Bowl episode. 

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The finale hinted at Liz's lingering feelings for Tom. Do you get the sense that fans want them to end up together?

It's funny. I love reading the comments on websites and recaps and seeing what the fans say about it. I think people are torn. I would hope that, like many relationships that went south, it's more complex than it may seem on the surface. I'm not quite sure what people are expecting, if they want them to be together or not. I do know that their story is not finished being told. He has caused enough chaos and messed her life up to the extent that to have him just disappear and be gone would be far too simple. 

It sounds like Red will be searching for the fulcrum. How soon will we learn what that is?

That is certainly a season-long story. Both the fulcrum and the warnings that Alan Fitch (Alan Alda) gave Red right before his death are things that are front and center in the storytelling that we're doing now and have become part of Red's search and his agenda. The time frame and everything is escalated; the noose is tightened around him. The fulcrum is definitely part of the conversation as early as the Super Bowl episode.

How long had Fitch's death been in the works? Was it tough writing out Alan Alda's character?

His death … was a surprise to us in the room. We have a story that we know we're telling and a destination we know we want to arrive at, but sometimes we hold the map up and let the story guide us, and that was certainly one of those. It wasn't like it happened at the last moment, but we realized, "Oh, my gosh. This is something that Red couldn't control." And so, because it felt unexpected, and it felt like a surprise — anytime it feels like a surprise to me, I try to embrace that. The bottom line is, it's a bummer to lose Alan Alda. I love him, and I thought he was fantastic on the show and has a great presence and really helped define the world of what the show is. That really was the hardest part.

The Blacklist airs Feb. 1 after the Super Bowl on NBC before moving to Thursdays at 9 p.m. Watch a promo for the episode, below. 

Email: Ryan.Gajewski@pgmedia.org
Twitter: @_RyanGajewski

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