[Warning: The following contains spoilers for the latest episode of Criminal Minds. Read at your own risk!]
The final season of Criminal Minds kicked off with a chase for Everett Lynch (Michael Mosley), aka Chameleon. Although the rollercoaster ordeal almost killed one our favorite agents, it also gave us a chance to see some familiar faces. In the end, the team made it through their latest brush with one of the BAU's greatest living foes, but the intense encounter left the entire team ready to pursue justice in the show's final season.
The Season 15 premiere, which picked up three months after the Season 14 finale, started off with Rossi (Joe Mantegna) obsessing over catching the killer that almost took his life last season and suggesting Lynch may be involved in a new BAU case. The other team members initially thought Rossi was letting his obsession get the better of him, but it turned out the experienced profiler was right and Lynch was using a family friend to plan his next attack on the BAU. And after breaking his daughter out of prison, Lynch came face to face with J.J. (A.J. Cook) in a parking garage and encouraged his daughter to shoot her, leaving J.J. to bleed out.
Reid (Matthew Gray Gubler) was the one to find J.J. and rushed her to the hospital. The near-death experience pushed the two old friends to talk about the awkwardness that had overcome their friendship since J.J.'s confession that she had always loved Reid. But it turned out that while J.J. was telling the truth about loving him, she didn't intend leave her husband to pursue something romantic with Reid.
However, it wasn't all heartbreak for our favorite genius. After J.J.'s explanation, Reid got a phone call that his mother, Diana (Jane Lynch), was having a shockingly lucid moment. He arrived at her group home to find Diana clearheaded, unlike we've ever ever seen her on the show before. This temporarily medical miracle allowed her to be there for her son during his time of emotional need and she encouraged Reid to start figuring out how to make himself happy without pining for J.J.
It was a bittersweet two-hour premiere that gave us some closure to the previous season's cliffhangers while setting up the final season's hunt for Lynch, who got away after J.J. was gunned down. TV Guide spoke with Criminal Minds showrunner Erica Messer about the big premiere and what to expect from the remaining episodes in the final season.
What is it going to look like for Reid to move on from J.J.?
Erica Messer: It's rare that we've ever opened him up to love, as you know. The few times we've done that, it's resulted in death, and then sort of this weird relationship that he had with Cat (Aubrey Plaza), which was ... they're two sides of the same coin, right? She's the bad and he's the good, but at the same time, there's something about her that fascinated him. So the idea of actually exploring what a normal relationship could be for Reid isn't something that we take lightly and we didn't want to end the series without exploring it.
In the episode titled, "Saturday," which will air sort of midseason, middle of the final 10 [episodes], it [asks], what does the team do on a day off? We discover that Reid has been in therapy and some of it is a mandate and some of it is he's been having this recurring nightmare. Some of it is J.J. related. The therapist sort of says, "You need to find out what makes you happy and go have a normal day." And he's like, "I don't know what that is." ... We all have a hard time imagining what is a normal day for Dr. Reid. Then he goes and has a normal day. And in this normal day at a park, he meets Rachel Leigh Cook's character, who sort of shows him what a normal day, a normal life, a normal everything could look like. It's just this little ray of sunshine that comes into Reid's world. Everybody who's been cheering on Reid all these years gets to see him smile in a way that they've never seen before. It's lovely and it's well deserved.
Jane Lynch was the one that was able to give Reid the advice to stop waiting for J.J. What inspired you to have her come back in that capacity, especially in the premiere?
Messer: We knew that we wanted to explore that relationship and the fact that normally Jane Lynch returning could be an entire B story to itself. We've done that before. The fact that it's like, oh my god, J.J. is recovering from a massive surgery and near death experience. They're having an emotional moment and then this is how life happens. It just pours on you sometimes. But then it's like, "Hey, now you got to go switch gears, walk away from J.J. and go find your mom."... We didn't want to give somebody a smile and then make them cry, but with Jane's character that's so easy to do because of her illness, and we didn't want to play the end of that. We didn't want to play any more heartache with that character. We wanted to play a hopefulness that we haven't had a chance to do in a long time and let her be a mother to him for the first time, maybe ever. We get to see her clearheaded and advice-giving, motherly moments that we know — the heartbreak in it is that we know it's not going to be like this forever.
Having J.J. be as close to death as she was, does that put everyone on the same level of obsession that Rossi was already at with Chameleon?
Messer: Yes, absolutely. He is just really ... I mean, I would argue he was already at war with the BAU, but now it's like [he] just attacked. While we ultimately are winning the battle because J.J. is alive and all of that, it definitely opened everything. It's game on now. It was game on before, but now no one's going to rest until he's caught.
How is J.J. feeling after all this? Will she experience any PTSD from getting shot?
Messer: It's interesting, because we played those things in the past and the reality is she should, and absolutely there's versions of that, but it's never going to be a story truly dedicated to it the way it would have been if it was a 22-episode season.
What are you most excited for fans to get to see in these final 10 episodes?
Messer: We're going to soak in every scene that we have on the jet, every round table, wondering when is this going to be the last time they say the word "unsub," right? It's all those first lasts that we're going to end up celebrating as the series wraps up. I think the audience will feel what we all felt like when we were shooting it, which was soaking in every moment of this team knowing there's not that many more left.
Criminal Minds continues Wednesdays at 9/8c on CBS.
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