Why The Blacklist Finale Was the Perfect Ending for Raymond Reddington

Who was Raymond Reddington really in the end? The Blacklist finale has answers for those paying close attention.

James Spader as Raymond Reddington in NBC's The Blacklist
Photo: NBC

This article contains spoilers for all of The Blacklist.

All good things must end. Whether all good things must end well is another matter entirely. The series finale of The Blacklist was rated poorly on IMDb and fans united in assessing it as one of the worst endings to ever close out a series’ run, especially a run as unique and longstanding as The Blacklist’s: 10 years and 218 episodes, an achievement largely unmatched in today’s TV landscape.

The Blacklist not only earned a decade-long place in fan’s hearts, it’s also been a cash cow. In 2014, Netflix secured The Blacklist in a $2 million per episode deal that was, at that time, the largest ever in the platform’s history, even surpassing Netflix’s acquisition of AMC’s The Walking Dead. The Netflix premiere of season 10 of The Blacklist hit the platform on Feb. 11, 2024, and spent some time on the streamer’s Top Ten feature..

It’s not only the raging bull in the series finale that sees “Red” and charges. What fans and critics see as a lack of subtlety and a disappointing sunset for the enigmatic character, Raymond “Red” Reddington (James Spader), is a symptom of looking only at the forest and missing out on the trees. For example, remember the pilot episode and little Beth who had a chemical weapon strapped to her body at the zoo? She gave Agent Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone) a plastic, animal charm bracelet and said, “The bull is pokey. Be careful.”   

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Here is why The Blacklist finale is the perfect ending for Raymond Reddington.

The Blacklist Was Inspired by The Real-Life Whitey Bulger

The character of Raymond Reddington is modeled on the notorious Boston mob boss Whitey Bulger who, in 1999, was on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list behind only Osama bin Laden. Back in 2013, showrunner/executive producer John Eisendrath said this to Collider about the influence Whitey Bulger had on the creation of The Blacklist:

“There have been many police procedural or crime shows that center around the heroes who are trying to catch the criminals. And the idea was kicked around to center a show that is about catching bad guys, but with a bad guy at the center of it […] So, there was a real world influence that affected the shaping of the show that was already being thought about. How can you put someone that you don’t trust in the center of a show about trying to find criminals? And here was an example in the real world of just such a person.”

What if you take an infamous criminal and make him loveable? This is one of the greatest successes of The Blacklist. By all standards, Raymond Reddington is evil. Yet, his story and James Spader’s masterful embodiment breathing life into such a character creates a criminal that we can’t help but root for.

A fugitive for 20 years, Whitey Bulger was eventually found living quietly in a Santa Monica apartment with his girlfriend. Fans hoped that Red might continue his fugitive life for the foreseeable future with his girlfriend, Weecha (Diany Rodriguez), sequestered on their mountaintop. We know that he intended to meet her there by the “rainy season” as he promised her when they parted company in the penultimate episode. But the far worse Whitey Bulger-like fate is the one where Red is captured and sent to a jail filled with criminals he betrayed to the FBI. Bulger was in poor health and wheelchair-bound when he was transferred to a high-security prison, but he only lasted hours before he was brutally murdered by his enemies behind bars. 

Raymond Reddington may parallel Whitey Bulger in life but, in death, Red dies free from the violence of bad men and is nobody’s victim.        

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Red Was Always The Walking Dead 

Red walks the razor’s edge of death in nearly every episode of The Blacklist. His willingness to risk it all at every moment is one of the traits that fans love most about this brash character. A series finale photo release even highlights Red’s similarity to the famous opening sequence of The Walking Dead.

Such a visual made it clear that Red’s fate in the finale wouldn’t be a gentle fade into the sunset. But he wasn’t done walking the fine line between life and death, especially when the life of someone he loves is on the line. Red’s closest friend and former right-hand, Dembe Zuma (Hisham Tawfiq), plays a key part in Red’s demise. In order for Dembe to live after getting his jugular nicked by the congressman’s (Toby Leonard Moore) bullet, Red performs the greatest sacrifice: laying down his own life for a friend (or nearly).

It’s Dembe who characterizes Raymond Reddington best in a powerfully emotional monologue that serves as Red’s eulogy. Dembe reminds us that Red has always been comfortable with the inevitability of death, but it’s when adventures reign that define the life led by Raymond Reddington. Red has “raged against the dying of the light.” All of this is spoken by Dembe from a nursing home bed and highlights that Red is not meant to dwindle in a long-term care facility, which is likely his fate if he lives much longer since a mysterious illness continues to plague Red and is only exacerbated by the blood transfusion that saves Dembe’s life.

Red’s fate is ultimately sealed by Agent Siya Malik (Anya Banerjee), the newest member of the Task Force who likes him a lot but has the best reasons to see him caught. In season 1, Siya’s mother, Agent Meera Malik (Parminder Nagra), was killed while serving as part of Red’s government-sanctioned security detail. When Siya and Assistant FBI Director Harold Cooper (Harry Lennix) visit Red’s last hidey-hole, the abandoned New York City Bathhouse, it’s her observation that the one item missing from his personal belongings is the skull of Islero, the bull who killed the famous matador, Manolete.

Red admired Manolete as a man who preferred to live a life full of risk rather than the dull, safe alternative. When Agent Siya Malik realizes that the skull is gone and remembers that Red wanted to return it to the Miura Ranch in Spain, she sets in motion a pursuit that will leave Red with few choices. To her credit though, if she had kept this information to herself, the consequences would’ve been dire for the Task Force and their future careers and reputations. By giving up Red’s possible location in Spain, she saves the Task Force from the condemnation that they continue to be in cahoots with Red to the very end. In one fell swoop, she avenges her mother who died working with Red, and she restores some faith that the Task Force is on the right side of the law.

Who is Red in the End?   

One of The Blacklist directors, Christina Gee, used an Instagram comment (that has since been deleted) to let fans know that the mystery of Red’s identity would be revealed indirectly through an exchange in the final episode. Ever since the early days of the show, the “Redarina” theory has been hotly debated by fans and heavily teased by the show itself. From season 3 episode 19 “Cape May” to season 8’s episodes “Nachalos” and “Konets,” the possibility that Raymond Reddington is actually Elizabeth Keen’s mother and former KGB intelligence officer, Katerina Rostova (Lotte Verbeek) has drawn closer to fact. The series finale, coupled with Gee’s comment, firms up the Redarina theory.   

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In a tongue-in-cheek conversation with Agnes (Sami Bray), Agent Keen’s daughter, she tells Red that he is acting like a “mom,” and he replies, “I guess I just can’t help it.” But this is not the only hint that Red has female roots. As Agnes bemoans working alone on a group science fair project, he tells her, “All the greatest flights were solo.” In fact, some of the most celebrated and well known around-the-world flights have been done by female pilots. Also, early in the finale, Agent Cooper states that Red is Agnes’ grandparent. This is the first time in the series that anyone with the truth has directly acknowledged a biological connection between Red, Elizabeth, and Agnes. It’s important to recognize that Harold didn’t say grandfather–he said grandparent.

Finally, Red knows that Agent Donald Ressler (Diego Klattenhoff) is hot on his heels and so he goes walking through the Andalusian countryside. There is no escape, only postponement of the inevitable. His only chance is a face-off with Ressler where two possibilities remain: arrest and imprisonment or force Ressler to kill him by drawing his own weapon. But would our loveable Red want to put that on Ressler? They may not be friends, but Red knows that to force Ressler into violence would put the weight of killing Agnes’ grandparent on his shoulders. Red is wise and empathetic and he understands that this is no position to put another man in, especially a man who loves Agnes’ departed mother.

The “pokey” bull is a miracle then. Now Red can surrender to an act-of-God death that will help him evade three outcomes: capture and execution by Ressler, slow death by the mystery illness, or brutal murder by enemies in prison. The bull wants to kill Red because the beast is alone and territorial, it’s simply doing what its blood and breeding require. In Spain, horned cattle are also somewhat gender-ambiguous unless close inspection is possible. Cows and bulls bred for bullfighting are both horned and trained for attack regardless of gender.

Red planned on meeting up with Weecha, and he clearly had every intention to talk with Dembe and Agnes again as evidenced by his final phone calls with them both. Agent Siya Malik unlocked the small detail that led to Red’s whereabouts and Ressler was relieved of confrontation and allowed to mourn over Red’s broken body in the field while placing that trusty hat on Red’s bloodied head one last time. While Red is not saved from pain or death, he avoids all the worst-scenario options and leaves those he cares about free from the consequences of his crimes and his capture.

All 10 seasons of The Blacklist are now streaming on Netflix