‘The Blacklist’ Bosses on Delivering the ‘Really Intense Family Drama That We’ve Been Promising for Seven Years’

SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched “Katarina Rostova,” the midseason seventh season finale of “The Blacklist.”

Since “The Blacklist” began it has been building towards a confrontation between Agent Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone) and her biological mother, Katarina Rostova (Laila Robbins). That promised confrontation was front-and-center in the seventh season premiere when Katarina moved in next door to Liz and befriended her, and it took a dramatic turn in Friday night’s midseason finale, “Katarina Rostova.”

The episode opened with Liz tied up and Katarina interrogating Red Reddington’s “friend,” (Brett Cullen). Katarina then revealed the man to be the real Ilya Koslov, aka the man Reddington and Dom (Brian Dennehy) convinced Liz was actually Red. (The story was that he had been surgically altered to look like Red years ago.) Liz and Katarina then went on to bond over the lie and the need for truth. And so Liz helped her to escape, before Katarina was gunned down by bounty hunters of the Townsend Directive in front of Red’s eyes.

Except those bounty hunters were actually hired goons, and Katarina had staged the whole thing to make Reddington believe she was dead, a secret she clued Liz into with a phone call at the end of the episode. When the series returns in March, executive producers John Eisendrath and Jon Bokenkamp promise that Katarina remains a central figure.

“There is an ebb and a flow in terms of when she’s present and when she’s off-camera, but what she’s doing off-camera will ultimately factor into Liz’s life,” Eisendrath tells Variety. “And then when she comes back, we have a really intense family drama that we’ve been promising for seven years now with Liz caught between Katarina and Red, and trying to navigate between those two and having to ultimately watch as they have a huge confrontation towards the end of the year.”

Here, Variety catches up with the producers to break down the episode and the various reveals, as well as to preview what viewers can expect when the show returns for the back half of Season 7.

Was Keen a little quick to trust Katarina or has this been a long time coming?

Eisendrath: You’re not the first person who’s asked that. So I’m beginning to think maybe that is something that a lot of people might imagine. I feel like it’s not. The way I would look at it is that she is aligning herself with Katarina out of selfishness and self-interest as much as out of trust because she is told and learned a big truth through Katarina in the fall finale, which is that Red is not Ilya. So she is presented with that fact and so she knows that Red has not been fully forthcoming with her about things that she’s desperate to know the answers to. In that context it’s reasonable for her to go with her mother, who is desperate to get those very same answers. She has a better chance of obtaining those truths by aligning herself with Katarina, even though she’s probably still livid with her over the fact that she lied about living next door or the fact that she put her daughter in harm’s way. But she’s with her because it’s the lesser of two evils.

How does that affect Liz’s relationship with Red and what keeps her aligned with him moving forward?

Eisendrath: Red has been, despite everything, a guiding force in her life — someone who has looked out for her. He’s flawed, he’s messed up. He’s obviously unhealthy in his interpersonal relationships. But he has been devoted to her. So, despite his unwillingness to come forward with information that Liz truly wants, it’s not all or nothing. It’s nuanced. She knows that he’s been a parent to her in many ways. So she’s frustrated with him and she’s annoyed with him and she’s disappointed in him. But she’s been around him long enough that she has come to a point where she accepts a certain amount of that behavior.

Bokenkamp: As we look ahead, one of the things that she’s going to have to grapple with is the fact that as she navigates any relationship with Katarina, it’s happening behind Red’s back and in the shadows. That’s dangerous and in a way will probably test her relationship with Red. But he has rubbed off on her in a lot of ways. She has changed dramatically and she learned a lot from him. So it’s a little bit of his own medicine that, as they move ahead, she is deceiving him or withholding information.

Liz revealed the truth about her newly forged relationship with Katarina to Dom, in his comatose state. People in a coma are sometimes able to hear and remember things happening around them. Could that come back to bite Liz?

Eisendrath: The short answer is no, but along those lines Dom will have a huge part to play in the resolution of the family drama going forward between Red and Liz and Katarina.

Without a body, is the Townsend Directive still in effect, or has that been called off?

Bokenkamp: The Townsend Directive is fulfilled at least for now as Red is concerned. As far as Red is concerned, he just witnessed her death. Katarina Rostova is dead and he can go back to business as usual. You do bring up an interesting point, which is does the Townsend Directive believe it has been fulfilled? The hunt for Katarina Rostova is something that is obviously not over and it’s looming over her as a threat. Is it fulfilled? I think we have to tune in to see how that plays out.

What does Red want for Katarina? He made a motion to help her before she was gunned down, so does he want her dead?

Bokenkamp: Both those characters are far more complex than just the bad guys. We’ve seen from her, this incredibly emotional side. She’s obviously been betrayed and wronged and she is working for some form of justice. It’s the same for Red: When we’ve seen them this season, even at the end of last season, there is an intimacy. There’s a deep history there and so I don’t know that he wants her dead. Yet it might’ve helped him dramatically if she were dead. Does he want to go out and pull the trigger? I don’t know that it’s that easy for him.

Eisendrath: He wants to protect certain things from everyone and to the extent that she’s looking for those things, she is a threat. At the same time he knows that anything he does to harm Katarina would put him in a terrible position with Liz. It’s just like in the old days when the same was true for Tom [Ryan Eggold]. Red had a lot of reasons to detest Tom and to want to kill Tom. But he knew that if he did that, Liz would never forgive him. It’s sort of the same situation here. So what he wants and what he knows he’s capable of doing are two different things.

Katarina’s words at the end of the episode were, “We will end this.” When the truth finally emerges is that the end of the series, or is there a show beyond this mystery you’ve been building towards for seven seasons?

Eisendrath: We started the show seven years ago with one story that we knew we wanted to tell and we’re very happy about the fact that we’ve been given the chance to tell it over all these years, which is extraordinarily rare. When we end it, certainly whatever the show has always been, we’ll end with that. Right? That’s the end of the show as it’s always been constructed, so after that it would certainly be a different show.

The first half of the season was about family drama, does the second half continue with that theme?

Eisendrath: Katarina is the singular antagonist for the entire season. She’s been a ghost for six years and now here in the seventh year with her, she’s finally present and accounted for. So she is the sort of central character around whom a lot of the big moves of the mythology are based in the first and second half. So it is a continuation of the family drama, but now in a way where, you know, everybody knows who everybody is.

“The Blacklist” returns in March to NBC.

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