SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched “The Cryptobanker,” the 10th episode of “The Blacklist” Season 6.
Following Coy Stewart’s introduction as the innocent inmate Vontae Jones on the sixth season of NBC’s “The Blacklist,” fans have likened his relationship with Red Reddington (James Spader) to that of Batman and Robin. Had the big jailhouse escape plan featured in the 10th episode, “The Cryptobanker,” actually worked out, it would have been an astute connection.
As it stands those comparisons will have to wait.
In “The Cryptobanker,” Reddington’s trial took an unexpected and speedy turn when the prosecution (led by guest star Ken Leung) pushed to reveal Red’s deal with the task force, endangering his life with the criminals he’s helped to capture, while also putting Liz Keen (Megan Boone) and the rest of the task force at risk. So Red pleaded guilty and pushed for the full death penalty instead, which the judge and jury were only too happy to grant him.
The reckless move was a result of an intricate escape plan (involving Vontae and another inmate), but Keen’s remorseful visit following the trial alerted guards to Red’s plan earlier than expected and he was recaptured in a lockdown just as Dembe (Hisham Tawfiq) was about to whisk him away in a helicopter.
“It’s a dire situation for him,” says series creator Jon Bokenkamp. “The easy answer was that he would just get out. We wanted to take the show into new territory with the stakes and odds that are stacked against him. Red is always two or three steps ahead and he hasn’t been at all this season. He has at times, but in the moments that matter — whether it’s who turned him in, his identity, or some secrets that he has always held close to the vest that are now out there — he’s not. There are pieces of the story in motion that he is unaware of, which is new territory for us.”
When the show returns it enters new physical territory, as well. Red’s setting will shift from his current prison situation to death row at Terra Haute, Ind., where the show will focus on the upcoming execution rather than a pile of appeals and stays. Bokenkamp reveals Red wouldn’t spend time filing such frivolities, given how much of the character’s enthusiasm for life comes from the fact he knows he could die at any moment.
“James has always said that Red is completely comfortable with that,” Bokenkamp says. “This is as close to the needle in the arm that we’ve ever seen, and watching how he handles that, how at peace he is with it, are some of the finest moments of the series. What we are going to see is an incredibly powerful man and a revered criminal who is now in this incredibly horrible place, not only physically but emotionally.”
The locale shift also means the end of Stewart’s role as audiences know it, but he and Bokenkamp reveal this isn’t the last of Vontae. At 20 years old Stewart has graduated from kid roles on shows like TBS’s “Are We There Yet” and Nickelodeon’s “Bella and the Bulldogs” into more serious gigs on shows like ABC’s “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D.” and as primary in the topical suicide prevention music video short, “Logic: 1-800-273-8255,” which has garnered more than 320 million views. This year he’ll also appear on the Netflix series “Mr. Iglesias” and lends his voice talents as a main on the streaming service’s “KIPO.”
The actor notes that working with Spader pushed his career to new heights and made him more confident in his own creative choices, something he’s not sure he would have experienced with any other actor in that situation.
“It was definitely the most intense work I’ve ever done. He gives me notes and tips, just to help with the direction of my character and know what my intentions are,” Stewart says. “I can really see a difference in myself actually, because I had never been in a situation where I was really was on my toes like that. Working with James and working on ‘The Blacklist,’ or even ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,’ has been incredible because it puts me in that room. It puts me in that world where I can a longer be a kid — I have to step up to the plate and I have to bring it.”
In terms of “The Blacklist” universe, Bokenkamp likens Stewart and what he brought as Vontae to previous characters like Mr. Kaplan (Susan Blommaert), tracker Glen Carter (Clark Middleton), or Smokey Putnum (Michael Aronov).
“Vontae was originally just a character who appeared in one episode. We had fun with him, we liked the dynamic and since Red was still in prison it felt like, why not explore this relationship a little bit more?” he says. “As you get to know the actor and that character it’s always fun to find little moments, especially in Red‘s world, where they might come back. So there is a good chance that we will see Vontae again.”
Stewart is in for that, as well as any future Batman and Robin comparisons fans want to make.
“There’s nobody better to be a Batman to than Raymond Reddington — the guy is completely bada– and almost untouchable,” he says. “Vontae has become his partner in crime, but I will say that this episode is not the last you will see of him. I can’t give anything else away, but the Batman and Robin comparisons will not stop.”
“The Blacklist” airs Fridays at 9 p.m. on NBC.