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The Blacklist Creator on [SPOILER]'s Transition to a "Pretty Badass Villain"

"It's absolutely going to be a showdown"

Liz Raftery

On Thursday's episode of The Blacklist, Red Reddington (James Spader) realized that he's up against his most formidable foe yet: Mr. Kaplan (Susan Blommaert).

But this time, the danger posed to Red is not so much physical as it is the knowledge that Mr. Kaplan has about Red's seemingly infinite misdeeds over the years.

"She's so inside Reddington's world," Blacklist creator Jon Bokenkamp tells TVGuide.com. "She literally knows where the bodies are buried. She knows him incredibly intimately, and has a great motivation in terms of why she believes he needs to be stopped."

TVGuide.com chatted with Bokenkamp about how Red's plight will also affect the Task Force, why Mr. Kaplan is "the best big bad yet," and where the hell Tom (Ryan Eggold) is in all of this.

The Blacklist reveals Mr. Kaplan's shocking connection to Red and Liz

There's so much to unpack in this premiere, but let's start with Red's realization that Mr. Kaplan is still alive. He's normally so careful, but he neglected to make sure she was dead after shooting her.
Bokenkamp: That was a big moment, and I think something that Red has really been struggling with, in terms of killing Kaplan. I think it was almost less of a mistake [and more] that he couldn't quite do it, that he turned away, couldn't see his way to killing her, because he loves her. And that has obviously come back to bite him in a bad way. I talked to James about this, the idea that every time Reddington kills somebody - and he does it a lot - that it sort of takes a little piece of him. He hates it. He doesn't like violence. He doesn't like doing it. He's a violent man, but it does sort of chew away at him and eat away at him, especially Kaplan and what happened there. That was incredibly difficult for him to stomach.

What is Mr. Kaplan's mindset at this point? Is she purely out for revenge?
Her mindset is very simple. She's out for blood. She believes that Liz needs to be taken away from Reddington, that Red needs to be out of her life. I don't think you've seen a force like this yet. Kaplan betrayed him at the end of Season 3 by trying to take Liz away. She believed that what she was doing was right, and it didn't turn out very well, but she still thinks that she was justified in what she did. And I think the stakes are sort of upped now, because she's just digging in her heels, and she is not going to back away. She's not probably the person you would think would be a formidable bad guy, but she's pretty badass. She's a pretty badass villain.

What is Red thinking after that phone conversation with her?
I think Reddington's terrified. Some of the people who are closest to Red are the people who feel comfortable pushing back against him. He has a very small group, whether it's Dembe or Mr. Kaplan or Glen or Brimley. There's a very small group of people who really push back and feel free to talk openly to Reddington, and Kaplan was one of those people. And I think he is absolutely horrified at the secrets that she holds. She is one of his oldest confidantes. She's somebody who has a deep knowledge of why he surrendered himself, who Elizabeth Keen is to Reddington - that in addition to the information she has about all the numerous crimes that he has committed and his resources. So, she really has the keys to the closet, and if she wants to start digging up skeletons, which she literally does in Episode 17, it's going to be incredibly, incredibly problematic for Reddington in a way that we haven't seen before.

Joanna P. Adler, The Blacklist
NBC, Will Hart/NBC

So it's fair to say that he's worried about more than being killed.
I think that's right. I think he's worried about secrets getting out. He's worried about being compromised by somebody who he held so close. Also, he's somebody who is always thinking ahead, and I think Reddington, in perhaps a small way, is even worried about how the back blow from any of this might come back on Liz or the Task Force, how it might expose them. The stakes are really high for him -- and not just him, but for the other people who he cares about, most significantly being Liz. So, again, I really do think this is a bad guy, and a formidable bad guy, in a way that we have not yet done on the show.

By the end of the season, will only one of them be left standing?
This gets really gritty. It's incredibly personal, and it's a fight that becomes about ideas. Kaplan is somebody who believes that Reddington can't be in Liz's life, period. Kaplan tried to extract Elizabeth Keen from Reddington's purview. She tried to risk her way to Cuba, and thought she could maybe give her a new life. But she is now seeing that that is not going to work, and that Reddington's grasp is simply too strong. And Kaplan really is going to re-focus her fight in a really dangerous way, in that she feels like the only thing that can be done is that Reddington has to be taken off the board. The only way that she can really free Elizabeth Keen from Reddington's grasp is by eliminating Raymond Reddington. And so, it really is one of these character turns that is fun to watch unfold because she's so much of a ideologue and so dead-set on what must happen. It's even difficult for Reddington to even have a conversation with her, she's so hell-bent on destroying him. So, yes, it's absolutely going to be a showdown, and it's going to be a really fun showdown at that.

What impact does that showdown have on the task force?
I do think that one of the unintended consequences of Kaplan targeting Reddington is potentially our task force. Everyone involved, everyone who has been part of the crimes. What the task force members start to consider as they become a little more introspective and realize that they have the potential of being brought down with Reddington is, how complicit are they in what Reddington has been doing? He's been committing crimes, and they've been allowing this because there's a greater good and because he's also taking down criminals, but they as FBI agents all of a sudden are really going to be forced with confronting the fallout of what they've allowed to happen with this international criminal. And they really do find themselves potentially caught in a web that is very difficult to extract from.

The Blacklist: Redemption puts the pieces in place for Season 2

The Blacklist: Redemption ended on a rather inconclusive note last week as far as Tom returning to Liz and Agnes, and these Blacklist episodes were filmed while Ryan Eggold was shooting the spin-off. So... where's Tom in all this?
Practically, truthfully, that is the thing that's the hardest of it, is juggling the schedules between the two shows and Ryan and the shooting schedules. We honestly are still trying to figure that out. I'm not trying to dodge that. How Tom Keen would handle the news that his father is bad, how Liz would cope with that, what he would do in terms of coming back into her life, we're kind of waiting to see what happens with that show. I do feel like there are big open stories that are yet to be resolved there. I'm just not quite sure yet exactly how we're going to tell them, or when we're going to tell them.

Will we be seeing him at all in the back half of the season?
Bokenkamp: Not at the moment, no.

What can you tease about what's ahead?
We introduce a new character, Julian Gale, who adds a whole new wrinkle, and is a very interesting and sort of complex character. ... He comes in and really does sort of set the stakes for not only Reddington, but for the entire task force. They all of a sudden feel the bullseye on their back, and he is at the head of that investigation.

The Blacklist airs Thursdays at 10/9c on NBC.