Jon Bokenkamp

All posts tagged Jon Bokenkamp

Photo Courtesy Of NBC

WARNING SPOILER ALERT:

This will now be my tenth attempt at writing this column, which has changed in tone and format throughout this past week. This writer became hooked on the NBC veteran series “The Blacklist,” the moment James Spader, doffed his fedora and dropped to his knees in the Hoover Building in September, 2013. Beginning in September, 2014, we have faithfully recapped the last four seasons of the series.

Returning readers to these pages are well aware that we are not afraid to share both bold opinion, as well as speculation. There have been times when these pages expressed disagreement with series creator Jon Bokenkamp, and his staff of writers. Despite those disagreements, this viewer kept faith that the writing staff knew exactly where they wanted to take this epic tale. After watching the two-hour-premiere of Season Six, this viewer now doubts that premise.

It’s been almost nineteen-months, since Tom Keen picked up a battered old suitcase containing a skeleton, per the last request of Kate Kaplan. The contents of that valise would lead to the demise of two beloved characters, and stood the show on its ear in the process. The man who said “criminals are notorious liars,” shortly after meeting FBI profiler Elizabeth Keen, turned out to be living an existence built upon a foundation of falsehoods. Although the man we know as Raymond Reddington IS the “Concierge Of Crime,” he’s not the former United States Naval Officer, who decades before had a torrid affair with Katarina Rostova.

After surviving a near-apocalyptic battle against his former “better-half,” in the series fourth season, season five started out on a lighter note. Nearly penniless, Raymond was reduced to living in the seedy Terra Vista Motor Lodge, wearing borrowed clothes. Rather than being crushed by the loss of his empire and many long time associates, the situation seemed to energize Reddington. He knew that it was just a matter of time before he’d be back amongst the criminal elite, as they had left him with his greatest asset. He still possessed the mind of a chess player, who had deduced the next ten moves he’d make on the board.

Despite the lighter tone throughout the first episode of season five, our evening concluded with what proved to be a flash-forward, giving us a brief glimpse of a horrific event that took place later in the season. After a surprisingly brief period, Raymond’s financial coffers filled quickly and the comedic tone of the first few episodes receded into the background.

When the series went into it’s Fall hiatus, the show-runners’ ended the romance of the star-crossed-lovers Tom and Elizabeth Keen, killing off Tom, for getting too close to the truth. We also met the “BIG BAD” of the season, Ian Garvey, a corrupt Federal Marshall who had personal reasons for going after Reddington. Garvey took possession of the bones, after he and his goons invaded the Keen’s home, and then beat up the couple so severely that Tom died and Lizzie lapsed into an eight-month coma.

We fast forward to May, 2018. We’re introduced to a woman claiming to be Jennifer Reddington, Red’s long lost daughter, living under an assumed name thanks to the witness protection program, and the aid of Garvey. A showdown takes place in a Baltimore bar, concluding with Garvey shooting Reddington, and Keen killing Garvey. However the location of the knapsack containing the bones remained a mystery.

Season five concluded with Raymond and Elizabeth receiving what they wanted. Reddington reclaimed possession of the skeleton, and then burned the remains with Dembe, and Dom, by his side. However Elizabeth attained the knowledge she’d been seeking for months, the secret that Red refused to share with her. The man that Garvey sent the bones to Sutton Ross, revealed to Keen, and her half-sister Jennifer, that the bones were the last remains of their biological father, the actual Raymond Reddington. Sutton would not live long enough to share that information with the authorities, as Reddington snuffed out his life, while Sutton was being arrested.

Renewing “The Blacklist,” became an eleventh-hour decision for NBC, and it came with a caveat. Although season six would run a complete 22-episode schedule, the network wouldn’t air the episodes until January, 2019. So began the interminable wait, replete with rabid fan speculation, including a faction that refused to believe that James Spader’s character wasn’t a man who had taken on a new identity decades earlier.

Reading that the series would kick-off the season with a two-hour premiere, I hoped that the fan’s patience would be rewarded by transporting us back to the 20th Century, revealing the true story. Although we’ve seen that era through the perspective of four-year-old Masha Rostova, as well as Kathryn Nemec, that gave us only glimpses colored by perception. The origin story of the man we’ve come to know as Raymond Reddington, would have made for a powerful premiere, and set the tone for the season.

Instead of providing answers Bokenkamp and company, decided to venture down a new path. In the midst of a rather convoluted mish-mash, that had it’s share of highlights, every thing suddenly ground to a halt. While stopping to pick up three pretzels from a street vendor, a uniformed officer walks over to Reddington and asks for identification, and notices Raymond’s packing. The cop’s soon informed by some other uniforms, that he’s captured the man atop the FBI’S Most Wanted List. Welcome to our new adventure “Raymond Reddington Goes To Prison.”

In a nod to our current political atmosphere, Harold Cooper’s informed in no uncertain terms by Cynthia Pannabaker, that the Justice Department will deny any agreement the Task-Force has with Reddington. Cooper arranges a meeting with the prosecutor from the Southern District of New York, hoping to persuade her to kick Reddington loose. The woman who has political ambitions and her eyes on the Governor’s mansion, scoffs at the suggestion. Upon returning to New York City, she holds a press conference announcing to the planet that she’s got Raymond Reddington in custody, and intends to prosecute him to the fullest extent of the law.

While Keen and Donald Ressler attempt to track down the Blacklist member of the week, The Corsican, they receive a call from Aram Mojtabai, informing them of Reddington’s arrest. Keen’s overcome by emotion and rushes to the holding cell Raymond’s in. He tells her not to worry about his imprisonment, however he wants her to find out who tipped off the cops. He tells her he believes that it’s somebody close. She asks if he wants the person’s identity in order to kill them, and he responds, that depends.

Keen returns to her apartment, where Jennifer informs her that she’s the one that tipped off the police. After an earlier conversation, when Keen expressed second thoughts about going after Raymond, Jennifer decided to take matters into her own hands making certain Liz couldn’t back out. Despite the betrayal by her half-sister, Keen takes responsibility for Reddington’s arrest, and fears the results of Raymond finding out she’s to blame.

Although the premise of Raymond, running a maximum security prison’s somewhat intriguing, if they introduced this story-arc during the series’ fourth season, I’d likely be far more receptive to it. If the speculation’s correct that this could be the final season for this show I’m so emotionally invested in, I don’t want episodes wasted going down this rabbit hole.

Once again James Spader proved that despite the lack of recognition, he’s turned Raymond Reddington into one of the medium’s most iconic characters. The “cold-open” for Dr. Hans Koehler, may have been the best the show’s ever produced. While Reddington and Dembe case a bank they plan to rob the following week, a masked gang break into the facility carrying heavy artillery. Raymond then precedes to dress down the would-be robbers, and offers to help them escape for the lion’s share of their take. The group escape in a dump truck Reddington’s arranged for, and when the police start pursuing the vehicle, Raymond dumps the crooks, their weapons, and their money onto the street and into the officer’s arms.

Spader used his added girth to his advantage in these two episodes. The weight that he’s gained the series’ run, makes him look far older than the svelte man we were introduced to in 2013. The image accompanying this piece, evoked the aging Don Corleone, brilliantly portrayed by Marlon Brando, in my mind.

His journey to the maximum security prison was wordless, but there was no need for dialogue, as Spader’s face told us exactly what he was feeling. Despite his bravado, a primal fear gripped him, a fear that he’ll keep to himself in order to survive this ordeal. It’s just a matter of time before all the gangs within the facility, start reporting to him on a daily basis.

This won’t be Raymond’s last stand, switching from the chess analogy to poker, Reddington’s got at least two or three Aces hidden up his sleeve. It would not surprise me in the least if the POTUS from the Blacklist Universe, Robert Diaz, who of course has a history with Reddington, enters the mix. Let’s keep in mind that it’s sometime in October, 2019, in Raymond’s world, making it that much closer to Diaz entering a reelection campaign.

Raymond’s address to the empty chamber of the General Assembly at the United Nations, ranks with some of the best soliloquies Raymond’s ever performed. A long and rambling speech starting off with depreciating remarks, including tales of Cary Grant and LSD, making it sound that “Our Raymond’s” found solace through use of the chemical. We know of his taste for opium, it’s not that far a leap to surmise that Raymond’s had his share of acid-trips.

That scene lead to Elizabeth’s revelation about the man we know as Raymond Reddington. Yes, the man who assumed the identity of her biological father 30-years-earlier; is a cold-blooded killer, capable of committing heinous, unspeakable, inexcusable, acts.

However, he’s not soulless, and is indeed just as capable of showing kindness. Whether that be to a young boy born with birth-defects he buys three ice-cream sundaes for, or saving the lives of those in the United Nations Building. Reddington got nothing in return by getting Max to disarm the bomb, nor will he ever receive credit for it.

There was another nice exchange between longtime partners Keen, and Ressler, as Donald told Lizzie that she wasn’t fooling him that she was “fine” still working with Reddington, after Raymond killed Sutton Ross, and walked away with the skeleton. He told her he was willing to accept her explanation, but he wasn’t buying it. She thanked him for backing off.

There’s no doubt in this viewer’s mind that Raymond realizes Keen knows the truth. The fact that she’s yet to question him about his actions, wouldn’t get by a grade-schooler. That knowledge lead to a script hammering the viewers over the head with puns. There were variations throughout the two-hours, on I’ll show you mine, if you show me yours. The episodes also contained several versions of Raymond stating that he felt like a different person.

I’d also venture a guess that we shall soon encounter Bastien Moreau, and the shadowy organization that hired him to plant the bomb inside the United Nations building. The series has utilized the art of stunt-casting, quite successfully since the first season. Christopher Lambert, whom this writer hasn’t seen since Highlander, portrayed the assassin with a nationalist agenda. What purpose did the organization have for the man known as the Corsican to plant the explosive device inside the UN?


The Blacklist,” has bounced back before from less than stellar episodes, and story-arcs. I’m willing to give Bokenkamp and company time to improve from a rather disappointing sixth season premiere.

The Story Continues Friday Night, at 9:00 pm, on NBC.

Photo Courtesy of Virginia Sherwood/NBC

WARNING SPOILER ALERT:

“Look what they done to my song ma
Look what they done to my song
Well it’s the only thing
That I could do half right
And it’s turning out all wrong ma
Look what they done to my song

Look what they done to my song ma
Look what they done to my song ma
Well they tied it up in a plastic bag
And turned it upside down ma
Look what they done to my song” 

Melanie Safka

With one episode remaining in season five, and the show’s fate still unknown, social media’s been abuzz with chatter about the NBC series “The Blacklist,” after the season’s penultimate episode aired. Although to a person the show’s fans want to see their longtime favorite renewed, the grumbling among the fan-base’s has increased in volume. There are even those who have dared to pose the question, that’s known to make show-runner’s blood run cold, and remove any remnants of a tan. “Has The Blacklist Jumped The Shark?”

You likely weren’t born when the ABC series “Happy Days,” first broadcast the episode in 1977, that thrust the phrase into the American lexicon. In the show’s fifth-season opener, the gang from Milwaukee found themselves in Hollywood. In Fonzie’s quest to become the next James Dean/Elvis Presley of the silver screen, he put on water-skis, and literally pulled a stunt Evil Knievel, might have thought twice about.

The phrase eventually took on the connotation, signifying that a television series had peaked and was on the downward trend. Some series recover from that perception, another ABC series “Lost,” hit a rough patch until the show-runners and the network agreed on how long the series would run. There’s no definitive time period that a series exists after receiving that diagnosis. Some shows wither and die quickly, while others hang on for years, they are those series you stumble across while channel surfing, and you think, “is that still on?”

Let me state upfront that I’m not in the Jumped The Shark category, (a phrase from here on out that will be referred to as “JTS.”) However, I’ve got problems with the shows last two episodes in particular, and of season five in general. In season’s passed, we’ve experienced excitement and anticipation as each season’s finale approached. This year’s conversation’s morphed into, they better give me a reason to come back!

Season number five has progressed in fits and starts, beginning with a greatly needed light tone after all the loss in the previous campaign. However even in the season premiere, moments after watching Raymond dancing with Lizzie, we witnessed what we’d come to find was a flash-forward to the fall season finale. A scene that showed us a bloody and beaten Tom Keen, lying on the floor as Reddington and Dembe, burst through a door brandishing pistols.

The perceived reboot didn’t last for long. Reddington’s fortunes turned around quickly, ditching hand-me-downs and the Terra Vista Motor Lodge, and back to a manner he had grown far more accustomed to, Soon he lived in a luxurious suite complete with private elevator, and a personal chef named Paris. The episodes took on a darker tone, as Tom and Nik Korpal undertook a mission that would ultimately cost them. trying to identify the bones in the suitcase Kate dug up from Tansi Farms. The tone of the show would be altered irrevocably, to the cheers of some and the tears of others.

We’ll have time during the Summer to debate whether killing off Ryan Eggold’s character turned out to be a good move for the series. (I recently read Jon Bokenkamp, respond to a question if Tom would return, saying that the show’s had other character’s seemingly return from the dead. Any move like that would destroy the series’ credibility, no matter how popularly it could be received. You made your move Jon, now you live with the ramifications of that decision.)

File this if you like under pet peeves, but the series took a ten month jump in time when Elizabeth emerged from her coma. Given the extent of her injuries, it’s likely it took her at least eighteen months, for her to get into the shape she was in when she journeyed to Alaska. Agnes was a baby in a high-chair, unable to talk when Tom confessed to her about his role in identifying the bones. However she appeared to be about four, or five, when Keen left her with Scottie Hargrave. How could the date of the paper reporting Maybelle being found have been May, 2018? The Blacklist Universe should be somewhere in the midst of the year 2020, not in-sync with our reality. Continuity’s vital to maintaining a story, something the writer’s seem to have forgotten.

Since the show returned to the airwaves in January, we’ve watched a young woman who felt such remorse over the harbor-master’s death, that she sold her condo and anonymously gave the money to his widow and daughter, turn into a heartless killer. While Elizabeth Keen was hardly a babe in the woods when we met her, she’s evolved into “DIRTY LIZZIE,” a cross between Clint Eastwood’s Harry Callahan, and Charles Bronson’s “Death Wish,” character.

We could understand her going all vigilante, and taking out all four of the hitmen that she encountered in Alaska, and she accidentally killed Bobby Navarro, in self-defense. However she went way over the top when she utilized the “Stew-Maker’s” methods, to dispose of Navarro’s corpse. We’ve watched Donald and Harold wrestle with their dark-sides, Ressler even employing Henry Prescott, but when push came to shove, they reverted back to form. Keen can never come back from that decision.

The show writer’s seem to have lost the consistency which among other qualities, made this series’ beloved by its fans, especially during the first three seasons. Season four’s scorched earth battle between Mr. Kaplan and Reddington, didn’t sit well with many fans, and this season’s sometimes glacial pace has turned many longtime viewers off. After revealing Ian Garvey’s a dirty cop in February, what have we learned other than Garvey’s declaration to Jennifer Reddington, that she spent a lifetime hiding for no reason?

We head into the fifth season finale, essentially trying to fit a ten-pound sausage into a five-pound casing. Suddenly after months of stagnation Season Five Episode 22, has become “Cliff-Hanger Central.” Who is Sutton Ross, and what’s his connection to Garvey and Reddington? Will Samar Navabi emerge from her coma and get her “Happily Ever After,” with Aram? Will Aram face charges in the death of Nicholas T. Moore, or will Harold look the other way? Is Naomi Hyland actually dead, and if so why didn’t Reddington know about it? Is Lillian Roth, indeed Jennifer Reddington, and if not, what was her connection to Garvey?

Why’s Keen whose only objective was to avenge Tom’s death by killing Garvey, now interested in the contents of the duffel bag? Will Raleigh Sinclair and Anthony Pagliaro serve time for the death of Zarak Mosadek?  Will we encounter Dominic Wilkinson in the episode, and will he reveal to Keen he’s her grandfather? We haven’t even mentioned the identity of the bones that Ross now apparently has.

Has this confluence of events, been Jon Bokenkamp’s master plan all along? Has the basis of this series always come down to what’s going on between Lizzie and Raymond? Will The Blacklist members turn out to be as anti-climactic, as the numbers on “Lost“?  Was the concept of this series always just about whom Raymond Reddington actually is, and the role he’s played throughout Keen’s life? Jon’s often times mentioned his BIBLE, the framework a show-runner puts together, before they begin writing an initial script. I often wonder just how much he’s adhering to it?

It’s likely foolish to expect all the questions I posed here, in one episode. However at the very least, fans deserve to know Raymond’s secret before the series, goes on Summer hiatus. I’ve anticipated that they’d hold off revealing that the Real Reddington’s bones are in the duffel bag, and that we’ll finally find out “OUR RAYMOND’S,” real identity, as Etta James would say “AT LAST.

Season Five Concludes Wednesday May 16, at 8:00pm on NBC.