The Blacklist ended Season 6 by wrapping up the presidential conspiracy (President Diaz [Benito Martinez] tried to have his wife assassinated to keep the fact that he'd killed people in a drunk driving accident a secret) while introducing another two-fold mystery: Raymond Reddington's (James Spader) old identity might not be a Russian childhood friend of Katarina Rustova after all, and not only is Rustova still alive and living in Paris (she's played in the present by Laila Robins), when Red found her, she kissed him, then stabbed him in the belly and had her goons scoop him up and put him in a van headed to parts unknown.
TV Guide caught up with executive producers Jon Bokenkamp and John Eisendrath to break down the Season 6 finale, with the exception of what happened to Red, because you know Red's not dead and we need some surprises in Season 7!
So a White House conspiracy with payments from Russians, is this ripped from the headlines a little bit?
John Eisendrath: I would say no for one reason: We introduced the character who played President Diaz in Season 3, which was 2015, and he was Senator Diaz. And as Senator Diaz, in order to become president he took $30 million of Russian money long before anyone ever knew Donald Trump was going to be president, long before there was any discussion of Russian involvement in our election. So we feel somewhat prescient in our storytelling. We didn't really rip it from the headlines. In fact, we were a little nervous that it was too — some of The Blacklist stories we tell are stories we get out of the headlines, but these bigger stories we don't like to overlap too closely. Obviously this does feel that way, but we were telling that story long before it became a real story in the world.
How about a crooked president getting brought down? Is that a little bit of a fantasy element?
Eisendrath: I would genuinely say that we really are not a political show. The idea that the president is part of a storyline involving the Blacklist, I would be reluctant to say we were trying to make a point about should or shouldn't go on in Washington... The times where we are making any sort of point or have a point of view about something that goes on in the real world is more true certain [Blacklist] cases that we dramatize. We had a case this year about the bug man, and that spoke to environmental destruction brought on by pesticides. We've had episodes like those that, I think, to be honest, are more reflective of statements, if there are any statements that we want to make, about things that are going on in the world then the outcome of President Diaz.
What can you say about Ilya Koslov's childhood friend? Will we be seeing more of him in Season 7?
Jon Bokenkamp: Yeah, the stranger (Brett Cullen) is somebody who I would suspect we may see again. It's somebody who certainly is important to Reddington, somebody who is in his inner circle, and I think Red has a very small trusted inner circle of people that are close to him, you know? Dembe (Hisham Tawfiq) is one of them, Mr. Kaplan (Susan Blommaert) was one of them and this character who is yet to be named is one of them, and they go back to a very young age. So yeah, I think it is probably safe to say that, that character may pop up again.
It seemed like there was maybe a little wrench thrown in, that Dom's story he told Liz about Red's history was not true. So more will be revealed about that?
Bokenkamp: Oftentimes, truths on our show can be looked at and interpreted in different ways, and I think it's one of the things that is most satisfying about writing it — and I hope it's one of the things that is satisfying about watching it — is that you get a truth, you take it for canon, maybe it seems like it's not true, maybe it's half of a truth. What Dom (Brian Dennehy) told Liz I think should stand as the truth until we hear otherwise, and we do hear otherwise. But, you're right that the way that they spoke about it on the waterfront there could probably be interpreted in different ways.
I'm curious about your writing process. Do you know what kind of the big events in Season 7 will be already, or will you figure that out as you go? Like, do you know what the next thing that will happen with Katarina Rustova will be?
Bokenkamp: Each season we sort of have a good sense of where we're gonna end. When we walk into the room we know two or three probably big moves.
And again, part of the joy of it is getting lost and surprising ourselves and deviating from the plan a little bit. But, that's not only per season. At this point, now that we're six seasons in, going into seven, in a serialized story like this, we for a long time have been looking ahead at the story, the various signposts that we want to hit and trying to calibrate how quickly we get there, how slowly we get there. We don't want to stretch things out. But we do know, for example, [that at the] end of Season 5 we find the bones of Raymond Reddington. That's an example of a big story point that we knew we would land on. It moved around within the series a couple of times but that's an example of one of those turns.
Introducing Katarina in present day is another one of those turns and so yes, we have a good sense of those, but we would be lying if we said we had it all figured out before we walked into the room. There's still plenty to do.
So after six solid seasons, how do you feel about your chances of this show going on for as long as you want it to?
Bokenkamp: Here's what I'd say about the ultimate endgame. Just right now, standing at the cliff of Season 6 and looking into the abyss of 7, we have a lot of story to tell. So nobody's racing to the finish line. We have some big turns yet to make. I think we're kind of focused on those at the minute, and who knows what the future holds?
The Blacklist will return for Season 7 in the fall on NBC. It's available to stream on Netflix.