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Why Red's Task Force Was Shut Down for Good on The Blacklist

Congressman Arthur Hudson had his sights set on the Task Force's demise — and he saw it through. 

By Jessica White
Red's Top Mic-Drop Moments of All Time | The Blacklist | NBC

The Blacklist's final season has been an emotional journeyRaymond Reddington's (James Spader) criminal empire is crumbling, and as he tries to regain control of his life, Task Force leader Harold Cooper (Harry Lennix) has been desperately clinging to any form of control over the Task Force. 

Is the Task Force getting shut down on The Blacklist?

Political wolves are at the Task Force's doorsteps, and Cooper must prevent their entire operation from getting the axe. This has proved to be virtually impossible for Cooper until Season 10, Episode 15 ("The Hat Trick").

After laying low from killing Wujing and deleting any records of his FBI involvement, Red has been avoiding Cooper and the Task Force. Meanwhile, a nefariously curious Congressman, Arthur Hudson, has flagged a suspicious-looking "Task Force #836" for its off-the-books, high-cost demands, and his snooping has Cooper sweating. 

At the top of "The Hat Trick," Cooper tells Red that Hudson has teamed up with the powerful Senator Clayton Dorf to help investigate the Task Force's activities, which could jeopardize the lives of everyone in it. Red, knowing that something's got to give, provides Cooper with intel on not one but three insidious Blacklisters. Cooper briefs the hungry Task Force agents on their menu for the week: a cyber hacker that targeted the backup generators of an infertility clinic during a power outage, an "angel of mercy" doctor who  has been killing patients, and a crooked personal injury attorney who has been skimming funds from her client's earnings. 

Having been starved for action recently, the Task Force makes quick work of unraveling Red's latest cases. The hacker ends up being someone targeting their father for having another child, and the lawyer is simply a selfish and materialistic monster who isn't channeling funds anywhere other than herself. The hospital deaths are revealed to be related to an IV bag manufacturer cover-up, not an intentional string of murders. The question the Task Force has at the end of the day is what's the bigger picture? What connects all of these Blacklisters?

Red on The Blacklist

The answer is less than savory for them as they learn they are all board members of an esteemed charity Red has donated to. Donald Ressler (Diego Klattenhoff) puts it perfectly when he says that Red was only using the Task Force "to clean house" before he made a massive financial decision. It's not the first time Red has killed two birds with one stone using the Task Force, but at least this time he helped Cooper's upcoming case. 

The Task Force's uptick in traffic ends up helping Cooper's defense, which gets the spotlight in Episode 16's "Blair Foster." While Cooper and Panabaker go toe to toe with Hudson and Dorf, the Task Force goes after the latest Blacklister on their radar, a corrupt lawyer named Blair Foster. From the get-go, we learn Foster is an incredibly competent yet intimidating attorney linked to a string of corporate cover-ups. Foster is desperately tracking down papers related to numerous deaths caused by carcinogens found in Motor & Son's products. Foster wants those papers so much that she orchestrates the car accident of a mid-level employee named Whittaker with the only piece of damning evidence.

Red gives Cooper the low-down on Foster, explaining that her off-the-books private services are the gas behind her lucrative legal empire. Red says that Foster has the remarkable ability to "bury scandals before corpses are cold" and despite the many attempts people have made to prosecute her, she has never faced any legal consequences for her actions. 

Raymond "Red" Reddington on The Blacklist

Knowing that Congress is on the Task Force's doorstep, Red decides to give them a taste of what true corruption looks like by exposing Foster for her insidious misdealings. Meanwhile, Hudson and Dorf detail the $282.7 million tab the Task Force has accrued in the past decade. Cooper insists that all their confidential work is for the greater good, while Dorf and Hudson insist there needs to be some level of oversight.

Ressler and Siya Malik (Anya Banerjee) visit Whittaker in the hospital, who confirms that the company was attempting to hide the discovery of carcinogen materials in consumer products. The employee reveals that Foster subtly bribed and threatened him against going to the authorities with the information up until his accident. He also tells them he printed out a report proving Motor & Son's actions, which was in his car when the accident happened. 

Cue Foster's henchman visiting the towing company to grab those exact papers from Whittaker's car. Ressler and Siya arrive just a moment too late, as Foster gets a visit from Motor & Son's CEO who is furious about the FBI investigation. Foster tells her client not to worry; she has a way to make the investigation go away altogether. 

Foster tells Ressler that Motor & Sons will cooperate with the investigation, but that it's not much to worry about. Foster also tells Ressler that there is a seat in Congress that she thinks Ressler would be perfect for as an obvious ploy to get in his good graces. Ressler tells Foster that he doesn't plan on dropping anything for an attractive Congress gig, nor does he plan on closing the case against Motor & Sons. 

Speaking of Congress, Dorf and Hudson hit a wall with their investigation after the Judge rules in the Task Force's favor. But any celebrations are quickly cut short when Dorf tells Panabaker that he is hosting a press conference later to announce the launch of a formal investigation against the Task Force, where he intends to provide names for those involved. It's a quick yay to nay moment. 

Red on The Blacklist

The Task Force gains a lead when they track down the Motor & Sons researcher named Feinberg, who wrote the original incriminating report. But just when they pop in to have a chat with the researcher, Foster is revealed to have already arrived. Feinberg signed an NDA back when he wrote the report, so Foster is there to verify he doesn't spill any beans. 

Just when the Task Force is at their wit's end against Foster, Red gives them a call with good news: He has Foster's henchman, and he's willing to talk. The Task Force arrests Foster and brings her in for questioning, who is still cool as a cucumber. Foster bristles once she realizes her henchman has confessed to stalking, trespassing, larceny, and identity theft, among other transgressions under Foster's command.

Foster tells them she isn't going to prison any time soon, so let's cut to the deal-making. Ressler says that they want all of the files on her many nefarious clients, including Motor & Sons, but Foster doesn't budge. Foster just might be one of the most formidable foes of The Blacklist's final season

Foster tells them that the only way she has even ended up in the interrogation room is through the intel of someone much higher than them (Red). Foster says that there is plenty she is willing to share, but she wants to know who is in charge and what they specifically want from her. 

Cooper contacts Red to say that Foster is willing to cut a deal but only if it's a specific case, not her entire arsenal. Cooper wants to do the maximum good here because Dorf's press conference is later that day, and he tells Red that this could be their last case as Task Force. 

Red on The Blacklist

Red tells Cooper that if Foster is focused on specifics, Cooper should ask her about December 31st, 2013, to see what she has to say. Cooper visits Foster and requests all of the information surrounding Motor & Sons, as well as the events of that specific date. Foster, happy to be chatting with people on the same playing field, provides all the scrumptious details. 

Later, Cooper visits Dorf, who is preparing for the press conference. Cooper tells Dorf that Foster has sent him, causing all of the blood in Dorf's body to leave instantly. The next moment, we see Dorf announce his early retirement at the press conference, much to Hudson's confusion and dismay.

What's the reason for the sudden 180? The date in question is the night Dorf's son was in a DUI accident that led a teenager to become paralyzed, which Foster helped to cover up. We love when Cooper plays a harmless game of blackmail, especially against Dorf, who agrees to do what he can to prevent Hudson from moving forward with the investigation as long as Cooper keeps quiet. 

Hudson visits Dorf, who tells him no good can come from him tracking down the Task Force. What about Foster? She's a free woman, who did everything she needed to avoid legal consequences. But just as we think Hudson has lost all of the wind in his investigation's sails, he gets a call from Foster, who would love to meet with him soon. 

"How did you even get this number?" Hudson asks. 

"I know today's little press conference didn't go the way you'd hoped," Foster guesses. "And that you were counting on the support of Senator Dorf. I have some information I'd like to share with you. I think it could be the start of a mutually beneficial relationship."

On set of The Blacklist, Season 3 Episode 1 The Troll Farmer.

"I'm not sure," Hudson says. "I don't think we really play the game the same way."

"I get that. I do," Foster confirms. "In my experience, though, it never hurts to take the meeting. So what's it gonna be?"

Cooper may have managed to protect the Task Force this time, but with a capable mind like Foster's in Hudson's corner, the stakes have never been higher. The odds are against the Task Force, and who knows what will happen if Hudson manages to blow the lid off Red's labor of love. Blacklist fans will have to wait to see if Red can get Hudson off their tail once and for all.

Hudson knows all roads lead to Raymond Reddington

In Season 10, Episode 17 ("The Morgana Logistics Corporation"), Hudson recruits a prolific FBI agent, Jordan Nixon, to look into a confidential sector of the bureau. He reports that the Task Force has put over 200 criminals behind bars, which implies there must be some higher power in play providing intel. 

They also gain a lead once they realize Cooper and three other FBI directors were in a hearing a few years ago, so Hudson follows that trail to see what that hearing covered. After catching one of the FBI directors off guard, Hudson accidentally hears a name: "Zuma." Dembe Zuma's (Hisham Tawfiq) name is everything Hudson needs to go down an incredibly fruitful rabbit hole. In fact, you could argue Hudson successfully cracked the decades-long case.  

Red Talks to a Stranger on a Bench | The Blacklist | NBC

Let's review the evidence Hudson gathered from Dembe's name and Foster's intel:

1. Hudson's research shows Dembe is a former associate of FBI's Most Wanted Raymond Reddington.

2. Foster tells Hudson that in the early 2000s, Ressler was in charge of arresting Red to no avail.

3. Hudson notes that Cooper adopted the daughter of an agent that went on the run with Red about a decade ago, making national news.

With these factors in play, Hudson can paint a crystal clear image: the Task Force is associated with a world-famous criminal. 

"They're all connected to him," Hudson explained. "All these years, we've never been able to catch him; this is why. Raymond Reddington has corrupted a Task Force within the FBI. And I'm going to tear it apart at the joints."

Hudson has everything he needs to end the Task Force

We have watched Red strengthen his criminal empire on The Blacklist for over 200 episodes, but in Season 10, Episode 19 ("Room 416"), we witnessed several moments that confirm one sad truth: The end is near. But could that be a good thing?

If you'd ask Congressman Hudson that question, he'd agree. The episode kicks off with Red calling everyone in the Task Force to tell them to get to the HQ quickly, as he has a tip on a nefarious robbery that will take place. Red briefs them on the Freedman Report, a highly-confidential record of the country's entire nuclear arsenal. If the report lands in the wrong hands, the nation could face a total nuclear catastrophe. 

Red Risks His Life for Ballet | The Blacklist | NBC

Just as Red sends his birds off to begin their investigation, he is halted by the sight of an FBI pen in the office. Come to think of it, he also has never noticed the exact shade of gray used for the paint on the room's walls. Red cryptically gazes around the post office, the Task Force's longtime safe haven, and asks to take the pen for himself. Cooper tells him to take as many as he likes before Red mysteriously leaves them to do their thing. 

Red's perplexed state only confirms more that something is off. As we watch Hudson's investigation pick up momentum, it's natural to wonder if maybe Red understands the level of danger to the Task Force more than Cooper or the agents do.

Speaking of Hudson, we received more bad news for the Task Force: Hudson got a digital warrant on Ressler's phone. Even worse, Hudson has managed to manipulate Ressler's sponsee from Alcoholics Anonymous into implanting a listening device in Ressler's phone. Once the phone was bugged, Hudson only needed to wait until he stumbled upon the evidence he'd been seeking. 

The Blacklist 1009

While searching for the thieves of the Freedman report, the Task Force unveils something far more concerning: Room 416, a hidden area containing dozens of cameras monitoring political transgressions happening live in D.C's Capitol building and beyond. The agents fearfully listen to confidential discussions and high-security deliberations taking place, meaning someone has been watching and recording these interactions for quite some time. 

The Task Force deduces whoever set up this secret surveillance station is also the one who stole the report. Just as the team starts to wonder if Red is screwing with them, he starts conveniently dodging calls, and Dembe has an a-ha moment about who is bugging the Capitol. 

Once the details pile up, it becomes obvious: Red is responsible for Room 416. Dembe recalls a moment from years prior when Red showed him his network of outposts, all designed to gather intelligence about world leaders, massive corporations, and criminal infrastructures. Simply put, the source for Red's Blacklist. Room 416 fits the exact description of one of these outposts. 

Cooper realizes that Red is using the Task Force to dismantle his criminal empire. As a longtime informant, this is downright befuddling for Cooper to wrap his head around. Tragically for him and the Task Force, Hudson's own bugging operation comes to fruition at the worst possible moment. 

"Reddington's been our C.I. for nearly 12 years," Cooper says, much to the eavesdropping Hudson's delight. "We've stood by and offered him protection while he built out and strengthened a vast criminal network. We've protected him while he hardwired the Capitol and intercepted a decade's worth of state secrets. In a way, we've been his partners in treason."

The Blacklist

"My god," Hudson gasps. "It's so much worse than I thought."

"We told ourselves it was worth it because he was the most valuable C.I. the FBI ever had," Cooper sighs. "But now he's eliminated the bulk of his capacity to collect intel."

The moment Blacklist fans have been dreading has finally happened: Hudson has everything he needs to obliterate their entire organization. Cooper has been non-stop dancing around the legal ramifications of the Task Force's recent actions, but the jig is confidently up. The worst part? Cooper and the agents don't even have a clue. 

After a day of dodging calls from the Task Force, Cooper arrives home to find Red leisurely pouring a drink at his dinner table. Cooper wants answers and wants them now, and Red, knowing that this conversation was bound to happen eventually, finally provides them. 

Cooper criticizes Red for tricking the Task Force into destroying his criminal network, as it has provided a symbiotic benefit to the FBI for over a decade. Without Red's access to intelligence, how are they going to continue as a Task Force? How will they learn about emerging Blacklisters? Red doesn't provide the answer Cooper is looking for, more a classic Red soliloquy, but clarity finally comes. 

Red and Dembe on The Blacklist

Red explains that he wanted to peacefully retire his operations so that his employees wouldn't be blindsided by a takedown. Knowing how criminals operate, Red didn't want his employees to just jump from one criminal network to another; he wanted to set them up for a life outside of crime. Red's actions have compromised his immunity agreement, but he's looking at a different big picture nowadays than the Task Force might be. 

"Things end," Red tells Cooper. Red muses that despite our efforts to stop the end, and sometimes because of those efforts, things always end. Red concludes that things end so that something new can start, which Cooper can't help but agree with. 

The end is near, and with only three episodes of The Blacklist remaining, it's gearing up to be an intense series finale. 

The Task Force is shut down, but Red is still on top

In Season 10, Episode 20 ("Arthur Hudson"), we saw everything come to a head after Red took matters into his own hands. 

With the evidence he needs to obliterate the Task Force, Hudson was pretty confident going into his big meeting with Cooper and the FBI Attorney General Stromberg. However, just as he believed he dealt the killing blow, Red shocked everyone by wiretapping the meeting so he could give his thoughts on the matter. Hudson was furious over the interruption, especially once it was clear Red was (predictably) two steps ahead all along. 

(l-r) Toby Leonard Moore as Congressman Arthur Hudson, Derrick Williams as Agent Jordan Nixon

You see, Red has known the jig is up for a while. That's why we've watched him utilize the Task Force to dismantle his shipping and intelligence networks and has been systematically gifting away all his most prized possessions. It's time for Red to build something new from the ashes of his criminal empire, and sadly, that means severing ties with the Task Force created by his namesake. Cooper's had an inkling this day would come, but in the FBI Director's office? That was a delightful surprise to everyone. 

Knowing someone will have to take the fall for the various misdeeds the Task Force has done with Red throughout the years, Red shoulders the blame for whatever complaints the government might have. Red explains that the Task Force has only dedicated their lives to arresting criminals, and yet they are the ones punished for working with a world-renowned criminal. Red gets a tad carried away and tells them that if anyone is to blame, it's the FBI itself. 

Between Red's rousing monologue and hacking a government office to do so, the meeting with Hudson goes poorly for everyone involved. The Task Force is safely dead in the water, and Hudson has more reason than ever to send hellfire down on Red's entire criminal operation. Cooper solemnly visited the Task Force agents to give the grim update. 

"As of this moment, Task Force 836 has been shut down. It no longer exists." Cooper says. "We always wondered when this day might come. When we would be held to account for everything we've done with Reddington. That day is today. From this moment on, I encourage all of you to be candid and forthright in your answers."

Hisham Tawfiq as Dembe Zuma

The Reddington Task Force as we know it is gone, and the fallout of Red's interruption leads him out of the country and on the run from the authorities. Cooper and the agents were dumbfounded by the development and whiplashed from the sudden expectation to turn on their informant-turned-friend. The awkwardness becomes downright unbearable after Cooper learns the only way he or the agents will avoid prosecution is by finally arresting the concierge of crime. 

It's either all of the agents or Reddington himself going down by the end of this wild ride. Reddington visits Cooper before jetting away to a mysterious locale, encouraging him to try to have a little fun on the way out. Red is back where he was at the start of The Blacklist; he's an internationally-wanted fugitive on the run from the FBI. The last objective the Reddington Task Force faces is bringing down their longtime C.I. once and for all. But will they be able to catch him?

This article was first published on June 9, 2023. It was updated on July 7, 2023.