Can Raymond Reddington hold his own alongside the Super Bowl?
Or immediately after the Super Bowl, to be exact, as The Blacklist has nabbed the most coveted time slot on television this evening.
According to executive producer/creator Jon Bokenkamp, the special episode has been crafted so that new viewers can climb onboard, though long-time fans can look forward to the usual thrill ride as well.
I talked to Bokenkamp last week about shaping this installment, which includes a turn by Ron Perlman as a new villain who has a connection to a Reddington past and, yes, we also touched on Elizabeth and Tom...
TV Fanatic: So, you hear you’re going to do a Super Bowl episode, how do you plan for that?
Jon Bokenkamp: I think more than anything, when we learned that we have that spot, we recognized that it was an incredible opportunity to introduce the show to people who perhaps have not seen it before and so I don’t really think we changed anything up. I think we just sort of focused on making it be a really fun, big, simple-to-access entry point for a new audience, you know?
And I think fans of the show who follow it will find lots of Easter eggs and find good answers in the serialized mythology that we’ve been telling, but at the same time, I think a new audience member can jump right in.
TVF: Tell me a little bit about Ron Perlman being on the show as Luther Braxton. I know him very well, of course, from Sons of Anarchy and he’s quite a force.
JB: Ron is great. He has such an incredible presence. I’ve been a fan of him for a long time, and when we sit around in the writers’ room and kick around ideas and start to shape a character, you start putting faces to it and dream lists of casts and he was at the top of it. Luckily, he connected with the material and jumped on board and the other thing is you kind of want to think who would be good for going up against Spader? Who would have fun going toe-to-toe with him, and they’re so different in so many ways that it really heightens the difference in the characters that we drew for those two actors. So I think people are going to have a great time watching these guys.
TVF: Braxton and Reddington have a past already. They know each other, right?
JB: Yeah, they have a past in which Braxton had vested Red. Braxton, this guy, is a thief and he goes about stealing goods by creating chaos, by creating these massive diversions, whether it’s some sort of political uprising that’s happening somewhere but he finds opportunity amid chaos, and that is the case in this episode, certainly. He does have a history with Red and they are certainly not starting off on a good foot. And so when they reconnect, it’s like old times all over again, unfortunately, which makes for some great scenes between the two of them. They’ve got some good stuff they're doing both in this episode and in the second part. This first one’s a bit of a cliffhanger, and I think Ron was absolutely fantastic.
TVF: How you would describe the Liz and Reddington relationship moving forward? Is this kind of the start of a new chapter in their unconventional relationship?
JB: Yeah, I think their story is certainly continuing to progress. I think this season, to me, really has been about watching how Liz rebounds and reacts from everything that happened with her husband. The moment Reddington walked into her life in the pilot, everything changed. She had the house, and the dog, and the first day on the job, and she had this sort of perfect, idyllic existence, and that was blown up.
And so when we catch up with her in season two, it’s a bit of a more cynical, more careful, more guarded character, and seeing how she reacts to that, how Red helps her or guides her is key, but also how dark she goes and how much of Reddington she recognizes in herself in terms of the way she handles things and the way he’s coaching her.
I think, in terms of looking forward in where she’s going, their relationship is moving and that’s certainly something that’s at the forefront. How do you handle such a colossal betrayal and what does that do to you as a person? And I think it’s either a great thing or an incredibly dangerous thing to have Reddington being in that mix.
TVF: Have we seen the last of Tom either in these episodes or moving forward into the second season?
JB: Well, happy news is that we have not seen the last of Tom. He is not immediately in the Super Bowl episode. The Super Bowl episode is sort of our version of somewhere in that movie, you know? It’s big, and it’s fast, and it’s almost real time, and so we don’t dip into the Tom story but Tom’s definitely still out there and comes back. Absolutely. His story with Reddington and this relationship that he has that Liz knows nothing about, that is the story that we’re just beginning to unpack.
TVF: I was going to just give you guys a hard time for killing off Hawkeye because Alan Alda got killed in the last episode.
JB: Oh my God, that was so hard. Alan Alda is so good in whatever he does. It’s so hard to not let your feeling about the performer influence the story. I mean, that was something where we did a big gut check, and it was like, this feels like this would be the most surprising, most dangerous thing to have happen, but he won’t be around and do we really want to go through with this? And I think for the story and for the show, it’s the right move, but it is certainly gut wrenching to watch.
TVF: No, it was good stuff but let me ask you, right before he died, he did give Reddington some information about this safe and its whereabouts as well the combination. Is that play in these Super Bowl episodes, or is that something you guys are holding for later?
JB: A little of both. The information that Alan Fitch was trying desperately to get out in his last moment is something that Red is definitely going to be chasing and a bit of a puzzle that he’s still trying to put together. So Red is left with trying to piece together what the last half of that sentence could've been and what is in that safe. That is definitely something that we’re going to continue to explore, and it does come to the forefront of the show, not in the immediate run of episodes, but in the near future.
TVF: You guys have had a good Ressler runner this season as far as his drug addiction and that sort of thing. Does he have anything I guess apart from everything moving forward, or is he just in the mix with everything else?
JB: It’s interesting. We kicked around a lot of things, and one of the things that I think is interesting to see just in the show and how we’re trying to grow it out and see what it becomes is who these other people are. In the first season, we were so tethered to that Liz-Tom story it felt like any time we went off in another direction, we were sort of betraying the most important story. And now, in the second season, there is a little more room.
But Ressler, yes, we have some stories we’re kicking around with him that could be pretty wild. Nothing that is cemented yet. Cooper, we do have a little more of a story that is actually bubbling. In the beginning of the second season, he got a diagnosis. Red told Cooper he knew about the diagnosis and so Cooper has definitely been holding onto a secret and I think he’s sort of holding on by his fingernails at the moment to keep that secret from coming out.
The Blacklist Season 2 Episode 9 airs Sunday immediately following the Super Bowl on NBC.
Jim Halterman is the West Coast Editor of TV Fanatic and the owner of JimHalterman.com. Follow him on Twitter.