The following post contains spoilers for The Blacklist‘s Season 8 premiere.
That faint scent of smoke you’re smelling after watching The Blacklist‘s return? It’s all those bridges Liz Keen burned in the very first Season 8 episode.
After an abbreviated seventh season, half-animated finale and extra-long hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic, The Blacklist returned to NBC on Friday, bringing with it Liz’s renewed determination to get real answers from Reddington. In the process, Liz not only doubled down on the new alliance with her mother, Katarina Rostova, but she betrayed both Red and the FBI task force, perhaps worse than she has in the past.
Early on in Friday’s premiere, Katarina informed Liz that she’s seeking answers about the Sikorsky Archive and a KGB mole under the alias N13; Katarina was previously (and wrongly) accused of being N13, but she suspects it could be Dom, Red or even both of them, somehow. But in order to get the answers she wants, Katarina needed to get Dom alone, and she concocted a plan to abduct Dom — now awake from his coma — while he was being relocated to a new facility. (Dom, previously played by the late Brian Dennehy, has been recast with Guiding Light alum Ron Raines.)
Despite some initial hesitation, Liz ultimately helped facilitate Dom’s abduction, completely blindsiding both Red and the task force as she did so. Dembe reminded a forlorn Red that Liz’s betrayal has always been a possibility — “Yeah, I know,” Red replied. “And I let it happen anyway.” — while the task force was obligated to launch a manhunt for Liz, who’s now on the run. She did, however, have a brief rendezvous with Ressler before she took off, and the two shared their first kiss (!) before Liz made her sudden escape, pointing Ressler’s own gun at him as she walked away.
TVLine spoke with executive producers Jon Bokenkamp and John Eisendrath about the premiere, including that long-awaited smooch, the decision to recast Dom and where the task force goes from here, now that Liz is in the wind.
TVLINE | I’ll admit, after Brian Dennehy’s passing, I assumed Dom wouldn’t survive his coma, and the character would no longer be on the show. But now, after watching this episode, it seems Dom is more integral than ever. Was recasting the only logical option?
EISENDRATH | It’s always difficult to make that kind of decision. It is incredibly sad that people we’ve come to know and work with and admire have passed away. In this case, while on the one hand [Dennehy] is irreplaceable, on the other hand, the story was at a place where [Dom] was absolutely instrumental in it. He’s the central point of the story. He knows a truth that everyone is trying to figure out. So while it was a difficult decision to do, we felt it was necessary, and we hope people understand that.
TVLINE | We knew, ever since last season’s finale, that Liz was going to betray Red after siding with her mother — but her betrayal of the entire task force was more unexpected. Why have her blow up all of her relationships so thoroughly?
BOKENKAMP | The members of the task force are her friends. We don’t go into the personal lives of these characters a lot, so they do start to feel like a family, and it is a betrayal. It’s a hard decision for her to make, but it’s a binary one. I don’t think she has the ability to turn against Reddington with the task force. She feels that push is too hard, that they are aligned with him, and Katarina would argue they’re being lied to in the same way that Liz is being deceived. As difficult as this choice is, she really has no choice but to push back in the hardest way possible. The fallout from that, with all of the members — everyone has a perspective on this. It’s going to be interesting to watch how everyone reacts, how they feel about it, and what that betrayal does to the task force — how they hold together, or don’t, with this decision that she’s made.
TVLINE | And this isn’t the first time she’s gone rogue, either. She shot Tom Connolly, she faked her own death, and on multiple occasions, the task force has given her the benefit of the doubt and brought her back into the fold. Will any of the task force members have a hard time forgiving Liz after this?
EISENDRATH | Most of the people on the task force blame Reddington for what has happened to Liz. Before he came into her life, she had a perfect life. She had a life where she was innocent and kind and enthusiastic and loved everything about her life, and then this mystery man comes in. And these people who have been suspicious of her — who is she, what is her connection to Reddington, what isn’t she telling us — they started very cautiously embracing her. They’ve watched over these years as someone who’s just trying to learn the truth has been denied the truth all these years, and has suffered for it and has been subjected to incredible hardship. The people who know her best are willing to give her not just the benefit of the doubt, but empathy and support.
That said, it is an incredibly hard position for them to be in. They have an immunity agreement with the very person that [Liz] is dedicated to doing whatever she has to do to get the truth from, and they’re law enforcement officers, and she’s breaking the law. It feels like a situation where, rather than say, “Enough, we’re done with you,” they are caught up in this very human tragedy.
TVLINE | How do you interpret the kiss Liz and Ressler shared? It’s hard to get a read on Liz’s motivations in that scene. Is the kiss genuine? A con? A little of both?
EISENDRATH | Ressler, among everyone, was the most suspicious of Liz in the beginning. He was the most certain that she had an agenda that she was keeping from them, and over the years, he has been the one who has been closest with her in watching the pain that she has gone through — with Tom, who he initially disliked intensely but came around on, and obviously with Red. I do think there is some genuineness to it. The genuineness comes from all the years they’ve been together. It comes from their mutual understanding that they are at the end of a long journey — because this desire on Liz’s part to get the truth may lead to places that will bring them to the end of their journey — and whenever two people have this unspoken feeling for each other [and] realize that this is where they are, that latent feeling comes out. I do think it’s fine if the audience wants to read in that there is a lot of pent-up affection and emotion that is coming out in the moment.
BOKENKAMP | I agree that it is real, but I also think it’s a betrayal, right? Which is what makes the betrayal so awful.
EISENDRATH | Oh, yes, in that moment.
BOKENKAMP | In that moment, she takes his gun, it’s her way to escape and make sure he doesn’t take her in. I think it’s real, but it’s also a betrayal. That’s what’s so complex about it and potentially difficult to navigate, going forward.
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