“The Blacklist” begins when Red Reddington (James Spader), a former government agent who went over to the dark side and has been on the FBI’s Most Wanted list for decades, walks into FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C. and surrenders. Of course, it can’t be that easy, or there would be no series.
Here is where it gets interesting: Red has a condition: He promises to help the feds catch a terrorist if and only if he is allowed to speak to Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone), a brand-new profiler, who has no clue as to why Red has asked for her on her first day on the job.
The new NBC thriller, which premieres Monday, Sept. 23, at 10/9c, promises not to be your normal cops-and-criminals-type series, but rather one with a twist. To qualify for the Blacklist, you not only have to be a criminal that the FBI doesn’t know about, but also have to be someone who would be of interest to Red. Whether his interest is to have the competition eliminated, or to save himself, it remains to be seen.
“We have spent a lot of time trying to figure out what sort of characters would be good to dramatize as ones that would qualify as being blacklist worthy,” executive producer/showrunner John Eisendrath says. “Hopefully, the audience will get a chance to enjoy the characters existing in our world, who have been smart enough, clever enough, and devious enough to have avoided detection by the FBI. I think we will offer the kinds of characters who do things that the audience might be familiar with, but do them in a way that believably allows them to avoid detection by the FBI.”
Intrigued? Here are five more things you will want to know before tuning in to “The Blacklist”:
1. How long will it be before we learn why Red specifically asked for Elizabeth to be his contact after he surrendered himself to the FBI?
In the first 12 episodes, Red will give Liz partial answers to the question, just not the entire reason why, but enough to keep her intent on keeping their working relationship intact.
“It is a series‑long question, but it’s not simple enough that it’s something we will answer right up front,” says executive producer Jon Bokenkamp. “Why this man has come back and introduced himself and inserted himself into her life … there are many reasons, so along the way we’re going to get into the various reasons behind why he’s come back. Ultimately, it may be a singular thing, but I sort of see it as a whole meal. There’s a lot of intricacies that we can dip into.”
2. Elizabeth Keen lost her father at a very young age. How has that affected her life and could Red be her father, or somehow connected to her father’s disappearance, which is why he is now in her life?
“My relationship with my father is the key to my interest in the criminal mind and in justice,” Boone says. “The whole course of my life was altered by my experience with my father at a young age. The question of the relationship with Red and how that could be drawn into my relationship with my father is, obviously, one that I can’t really expand upon right now.
“We’re exploring that and as the series progresses, there are obviously some paternal feelings that Red has towards me that will need to be explained, but in my experience in life, maternal and paternal dynamics happen in all kinds of relationships, not necessarily, between actual mother-and-child or father-and-child relationships.”
3. How bad of a “Most Wanted” guy is Red? How good of a profiler is Elizabeth?
Red Reddington didn’t make the FBI’s Most Wanted list by committing petty crimes. He is a master criminal, who is capable of almost anything, but he isn’t a thug. He has a moral compass. His crimes are not random crimes of passion, but well thought out and shrewd. In his own mind, his crimes can be justified as they are taking him to a goal.
“There’s a great deal of goodness in him,” Eisendrath says. “There’s a great desire to do good, mixed in with something that’s self-serving, but he has turned himself into the FBI and, while we don’t know ultimately what his plan is for Liz, or why he is actually doing the things he’s doing … one thing we do know is that a lot of bad guys are being caught with his help.”
Elizabeth Keen is on the first day of her job as a profiler, so it remains to be seen how good she will be. She had expected more time before being thrown into cases of the magnitude of those she gets involved with with Red. Despite being a novice, she’s brave and capable and doing her best.
“A lot of the times, the mistakes that she makes are the things that move the drama forward because there are just so many overwhelming circumstances that she has to face,” Boone says. “Ultimately, she falls short and makes mistakes, and people — like Diego Klattenhoff’s character, Donald Ressler, and Harry Lennix’s character Harry Cooper — come in and question her presence in their department. It’s almost as if she has both an incredible force of support around her and almost no one to turn to.”
4. The guest stars for the series will include those playing criminals on the Blacklist, but also other law enforcement officials, so just because someone guest stars, it doesn’t mean he or she is a bad guy.
For example, Isabella Rossellini will play someone who is perceived to be a really admirable, outstanding, and a great humanitarian. Whether that turns out to be who she really is, remains to be seen.
“Sometimes you ask the actors to do things that really tests their comfort level,” Eisendrath says. “We did that with her and she did an amazing job, just throwing herself into certain scenes that were about as far away from the days of her modeling career and graceful, elegant persona as one could possibly get. She did it with great enthusiasm.”
Other guest stars include Tom Noonan, who is definitely playing one of the guys on the Blacklist, Clifton Collins Jr., and Jane Alexander, who will play a member of the intelligence community outside of the FBI.
“The incredible thing about Jane being involved is that she was my teacher and has been my mentor for ten years, and [her casting] was completely independent of our relationship,” Boone says. “About ten years ago, I was ready to quit acting and she called me personally on the phone and encouraged me to keep going, so I really would not be here if it weren’t for her in my life.”
5. Tom Keen (Ryan Eggold) seems to love his wife Elizabeth, but he is keeping secrets. Since none of the people on this show are who they appear to be, that holds true for him, too. So, part of Elizabeth’s journey will be to decide whether or not her husband is who she thinks he is — and can she trust him?
“If you come at it from the point of view that they were an incredibly loving couple, in her mind, and now she has this incredibly dramatic, difficult fact set in front of her, what is she going to do?,” Eisendrath says. “Along the way, we will give her signposts that say she can trust him. We’ll give her signposts that say that she can’t. So she’s going to have to rely on her heart and her emotions to decide which direction to go.”
“As extreme as these circumstances are for her, I think many women can relate to being in an intimate relationship with someone and wanting to believe one thing, but then being shown another and clinging to that thing, living in denial and wanting to know the truth, but also wanting to believe what may be the lie,” Boone says.
“The Blacklist” premieres Monday, Sept. 23 at 10/9c on NBC.