(Warning: This post contains spoilers for the Season 9 premiere of “The Blacklist.”)
“The Blacklist” began its ninth season Thursday with an episode that flashed two years into the future following the death of Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone). The NBC drama wasted no time in revealing to viewers what’s become of the Task Force since Keen’s tragic passing, but it did take a while to get to the whereabouts of Raymond “Red” Reddington (James Spader) — and it definitely didn’t answer the questions that Liz died asking: Who is Red, really? And how exactly is he connected to her mother?
During “The Blacklist” Season 9 premiere, we learned that the Task Force has split up, with Aram Mojtabai ( Amir Arison) trying to get a tech startup going, Alina Park ( Laura Sohn) moving out of the field at the FBI and into a training role and getting married to Peter, Donald Ressler ( Diego Klattenhoff) becoming an auto-mechanic in Detroit, and Harold Cooper ( Harry Lennix) retiring as head of the FBI and focusing on raising Liz’s young daughter, Agnes, whom Liz made him the guardian of before she died.
Actually, the only one working as a hands-on FBI agent now is Red’s former righthand man, Dembe Zuma ( Hisham Tawfiq), who has joined the bureau during the time jump and is attacked in the field at the top of the hour. Dembe’s injury, and the death of his partner in the same incident, is what prompts Cooper to go looking for Red to get his help in finding the criminal mastermind responsible for the attack: The Skinner.
But finding Red isn’t easy, as the head of the Blacklist has gone into hiding in the past couple of years in order to mourn the loss of Liz and try to heal from watching her die in his arms. Cooper eventually locates Red in Cuba after passing through a few people who vet Cooper in some unusual ways, like cracking an egg and asking him what he sees in the yolk, before getting to Red. He begs Red for his help, telling him what has happened to Dembe in order to try to bring him back. Red is reluctant to agree, saying he doesn’t believe he could come back and not start to go down a path of revenge to take out all the people he believes are responsible in some way for Liz’s death.
Cooper is able to convince Red to support him and the reunited Task Force (minus Ressler, who is still super bitter and blames Red for Liz’s death) from the shadows in their hunt for The Skinner. But while back in Washington, D.C., he makes some time to watch Agnes from a safe distance, though Cooper has asked him to stay far away.
“She means everything to me,” Red tells one of his new employees of Agnes, without telling her — or the audience — specifically why Liz’s daughter matters so much.
When push comes to shove, Ressler does agree to join the Task Force as they are closing in on The Skinner, though he warns Red better stay far away from the situation. However, when Red decides to leave after the team hits a dead end, Ressler comes directly to his private plane, telling him that if he loved Liz, he needs to stay and help them continue. Ressler says Liz died for the Blacklist, and they need to honor her by continuing to check off names on it.
The Season 9 premiere ends with Ressler leaving the choice up to him, and walking away before we find out if Red will stay or go.
“The Blacklist” launched in 2013, with Boone starring as FBI agent Elizabeth “Liz” Keen alongside Spader as criminal mastermind Raymond “Red” Reddington. The initial premise of the series was that the pair would team up to hunt down the names on Red’s “blacklist” of dangerous criminals, with the exact nature of Red’s connection to Liz and their shared backstory serving as one of the driving mysteries throughout the eight seasons.
Heading into its June finale, with Boone’s exit having been planned well in advance, all signs pointed to the show finally delivering answers. The recap-heavy penultimate episode had already tied up a number of loose threads, leaving just one question unanswered: Who is Raymond Reddington?
But the finale, which aired on NBC on June 23, didn’t answer that one either — not really. Boone’s character was killed off at the end of the episode without getting the answers that she was promised. Both episodes seemed to hint at a popular fan theory about Red being Liz’s birth mother, but no outright confirmation was provided before Boone’s character died on screen.
We were left with some big clues as to who assumed the Red persona and became the character played by James Spader, but we got no outright answer, because villain Neville Townsend (Reg Rogers) stormed the epicenter and shot Liz before she could get the conclusion to the story. The penultimate episode concluded with Red pressing a button that put the entire epicenter of his intelligence up in flames, both killing Townsend and destroying his decades of collected intelligence.
“The Blacklist” Season 8 finale episode, titled “Konets,” saw Red hatch a plan to have Liz kill him and take over his operation. Red is convinced that his mysterious illness is terminal and the only way to keep the criminal underworld at bay in the wake of Townsend’s death is for Liz to rise up as a formidable enough threat herself. He shows her a letter from her mother, promising that it will answer all her questions once the plan is complete.
Unfortunately for Liz and for viewers hoping for concrete answers, she never gets a chance to read the letter and find out the full truth. As she’s about to go through with the plan and kill Red, Liz is shot through the chest by Townsend’s right-hand man Vandyke (Lukas Hassel).
Following the Season 8 finale, series creator Jon Bokenkamp revealed he was exiting “The Blacklist,” saying in a statement announcing his departure that he “genuinely believe[s] the series remains full of life, creatively strong, and that bright days lie ahead.” His co-showrunner, John Eisendrath, remains aboard.
“The Blacklist” airs Thursdays at 8/7c on NBC.