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The Ending Of Blue Bloods Season 11 Explained

When "Blue Bloods" first premiered in 2010, it's immediately clear that while the Reagans are a large family, there is a sizable hole left after the death of one of their own, Joseph Reagan. Only 15 months before the start of the series, the third child of New York City Police Commissioner Frank Reagan (Tom Selleck) is killed in the line of duty. At the end of Season 10, the Reagan family is shocked to discover that Joseph unknowingly fathered a son before his death. 

From then on, his son, Joe Hill (Will Hochman), becomes an important part of "Blue Bloods" and the Reagan family's story. Joe is named after his father and has also followed in the Reagan family tradition of law enforcement. Like his father, Joe joins the New York City Police Department where he excels at police work, reaching the rank of detective at the young age of 25. In Season 11, Joe begins an undercover operation offscreen with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), leaving New York City at the end of the third episode, a fact unknown to all but Frank and Jamie Reagan (Will Estes). 

While Joe is only in a handful of episodes in Season 11, the character has a huge impact on the emotional ending of the season. In the two-part Season 11 finale, Joe's undercover operation evokes memories of the past for the Reagan family and affects each of them in a different manner. Here is the ending of "Blue Bloods" Season 11 explained. 

Joe aims to prove himself

In a multitude of ways, Joe's arc in the "Blue Bloods" Season 11 finale resembles the story that has been told about his own father time and time again. Joseph Reagan is killed prior to the events of the series while undercover with a group of dirty cops called the Blue Templar. Despite advance knowledge that his cover has likely been blown, he continues to work on the mission until he is murdered by a fellow officer. Little more than a decade after his father's untimely death, Joe faces an undeniably similar situation.

Throughout the finale, Joe focuses on taking down the criminal organization that he is placed undercover to investigate in the first place.  At the end of Episode 15, the first of the two-part finale, it is revealed that a mole has been working inside the ATF, leading the NYPD to conclude that Joe must be pulled from the field. However, Joe is steadfast in his determination to remain undercover so long as his mission remains incomplete. 

This leads the entire Reagan family to set out to bring Joe home safely by any means necessary, a mission which they ultimately succeed in. After Joe returns home, Frank offers Joe a compliment unlike any he has likely ever received before, saying, "Joe is truly his father's son." Joe's journey is largely an effort to prove himself, not only to the rest of the NYPD, but also to the Reagan family as his father's successor.

One Reagan struggles with being left out

When NYPD Detectives Danny Reagan (Donnie Wahlberg) and Maria Baez (Marisa Ramirez) stumble onto a small arms deal in the opening minutes of the finale, Danny is shocked to find himself face to face with his deceased brother's recently discovered son, Joe Hill. Realizing that his nephew has been working undercover since he first disappeared months prior and their rendezvous could blow his cover, Danny allows Joe to flee. 

Danny is furious when Frank admits that he not only knows Joe is working undercover, but that Jamie is working as his handler. Though he and Jamie eventually manage to rescue Joe and all sins are ultimately forgiven, Danny's initial response to being left in the dark is just one more example of his temper getting the best of him. Danny has long been looked at by his siblings and coworkers as a bit of a hothead, as Danny routinely finds himself in arguments. Since adulthood, these have primarily been with his sister Erin (Bridget Moynahan), for specific employment reasons. 

While Danny shows signs of maturing throughout the last 12 seasons of the series, his emotional responses still sometimes get him in trouble, both at work and at home. His instinctive response in this case is made worse by the fact that he feels a sense of betrayal at being left out of something that not only matters to him professionally, but also personally, as he cares deeply about his nephew.

Superstitions reveal the man leading the NYPD

Towards the end of the first part of the two-part finale, Frank receives a call from Joe in which Joe assures him that he is doing well. Frank is relieved to hear from Joe, but remains concerned about him after their call ends with a sudden "I love you, Grandpa." The intense worrying about his grandson's safety reminds him of his son's death all over again. 

In the second episode of the finale, the official final episode of Season 11, Frank's team of advisers attempt to convince him to eat, but he insists that he has no appetite as a result of his worry. Frank further notes his fear that if he allows himself to be distracted, "the fates might take it the wrong way" and "throw the worst possible outcome at you." He admits his superstition is "kind of stupid," but feels strongly about it anyway. While the legitimacy of Frank's superstition remains an open question, he is relieved to welcome Joe home for a Sunday dinner at the end of the episode.

Though Frank is known by his family as a loving father and grandfather, he is known on the job for approaching difficult situations from an exceptionally logical point of view. However, he also struggles sometime with enforcing the job's call for cold, hard logic when especially dangerous events involve his own family members. Frank's invocation of this particular superstition is surely meant to tell audiences just how dire he believes Joe's position to be.

Erin exhibits a change of character

Though Erin is sometimes seen as less central to "Blue Bloods" as a result of her position in the Manhattan District Attorney's office rather than at the NYPD, she plays a big role in the Season 11 finale. Always one to be mindful about the constitutional rights of even the most depraved criminals, Erin asks a judge for a search warrant that could provide information to help locate Joe and return him to safety. 

Though Erin acknowledges that such action is probably unjustified by the available evidence, she is desperate to help her nephew. When the judge denies her request, she instead opts for extrajudicial means to accomplish her goals. With the help of Anthony Abetemarco (Steven R. Schirripa), Erin manages to discreetly search the apartment and finds information that helps the family locate Joe. When Frank asks Erin which judge unexpectedly granted the search warrant, she responds defiantly, "The ghost of my brother, Joe." 

Much like with her father's sudden superstitions, nearly all of Erin's actions in the finale are wildly out of character for someone who is normally so unbendingly loyal to the exact letter of the law. Erin is shown to be uncomfortable with her own actions, but ultimately concludes that they are justified. Like all members of the incredibly close-knit Reagan family, Erin has a soft spot for her relatives, especially considering what happened to her nephew's father.

The Reagan family comes together

Of course, it wouldn't be a "Blue Bloods" finale without another Sunday family dinner. This episode features the first family dinner to include Joe Hill since Season 11, Episode 2, as he returns to the Reagan household after being saved from his undercover operation. As they gather around the table, the family playfully chides Joe for "leaving [them] hanging" in Season 11, Episode 3. Once everyone is seated, Frank instructs Joe to look under his plate where Joe finds the necklace that he was previously forced to abandon in a burning vehicle. Luckily for him, his uncles manage to save it from the wreckage, immediately recognizing it as coming from their brother's first Holy Communion.

To the rest of the family, the appearance of their deceased brother's necklace is just one more item tying the events of the Season 11 finale to the events that led to Joseph Reagan's murder. When first found, the necklace appears as a bad omen, suggesting that Joe has suffered the same fate as his father. However, when the necklace returns in the final scene of the finale, it signifies to Joe that he is truly accepted among his newly discovered family as his father's son. Season 12 of "Blue Bloods" began airing on October 1, 2021. Joe has yet to appear in the most recent season, but he is expected to recur again at some point in the future (via TVInsider).