“Criminal Minds” celebrates its 150th episode with a special storyline about a serial rapist in Houston, TX. Series star A.J. Cook, who plays Jennifer “JJ” Jareau, says she can’t wait to see it because they have pulled out all the stops.
“The best way to describe this episode is to expect the unexpected,” says the Canadian actress. “He is a serial rapist and you think you know which way it is going and then there is a twist and a turn, another twist and a freefall.”
In the episode, titled “Unknown Subject,” the Behavioral Analysis Unit [BAU] team searches for a serial rapist in Houston known as “The Piano Man” who has resurfaced and is revisiting and assaulting his previous victims.
“We are not sure if it is [the original] or a copycat,” Cook continues. “It is definitely a puzzle and a good puzzle to piece together.”
Preview the 150th Episode, “Unknown Suspect”:
What is special about the 150th episode?
The writing is once again impeccable and, I think, there is a really great marriage of the serial killer, finding the bad guy and trying to put that whole riddle together meshed with the personal life of Prentiss (Paget Brewster) — her coming to terms with the trauma she experienced last year. She thinks she is over it but is she really? So, I think it is a really good marriage of our characters and trying to solve the crime du jour and the guest cast is incredible. There is some great music in it. It is just one of those special episodes.
Can you remember back to the beginning? Did you ever imagine the show running this long?
I wasn’t in the pilot, but everyone jokes that they were up shooting this pilot in rainy Vancouver and they were like, “This thing ain’t makin’ it past the pilot.” Next thing you know, we are doing our 150th, so you never know what the audience is going to take to and the chemistry — how that is going to work. For some reason, we just figured out the right measurements and the recipe has worked. I thank my lucky stars every day: “Wow! I am going to work with people that I love.”
I think viewers like to hear that the cast gets along in real life as well. They see that the team gets along, so they want it to be true for the actors, as well.
I think it translates. You really can’t fake that. We genuinely really love each other. We are a dysfunctional family. We love each other but we don’t have to like each other all the time. But love trumps all.
Your character’s job has changed slightly since your return. Garcia (Kirsten Vangsness) has taken over selecting the cases that the BAU handles. Can you talk about the changes and how you deal with that?
I am loving that. With all the changes, there was a new breath of life to the show and it sort of recharged. It has given us the creative license to play around and try new things with our characters. It has been a lot of fun. I feel like I am on a different show, sort of playing a different character. She is still J.J. She is still that nurturer and that mother, so that is great to have. That is her core. That is who she is. We are learning some things about her that we didn’t know. There is a great episode coming up in a couple of weeks called “Closing Time,” where we learn a little bit about what she was doing during that year she was away. We learn that she has this unique relationship with one of the other characters in the BAU and that is so sweet. Then you see another side to her that we have never seen before, where she gets into a pretty ugly fight with the unsub and you see a physical side to her, so it is interesting. I am never bored. It is always exciting. There is something new for my character all the time.
You are a mother in real life and JJ is a mom on the show. Do you think it is accurately portrayed? There was that one episode where her son was ill and she was out of town and couldn’t get home.
There are definitely things that are very accurate. Shooting that scene at the end of that episode was the easiest thing I have shot in my life, because I am a working mom. I get it. There are times you can’t be there and it is heartbreaking. But also, it is TV land, too, so it is like, “Really? Does she ever see her son?” I joke about that quite a bit. Like, “Where’s Henry? When is the last time J.J. saw Henry?” But I think that is why women appreciate that character so much because there are so many working moms out there. We try to be as honest about it as possible. I think it is important to see those moments where you feel like a failure. You can’t be there and it is tough. It is tough juggling career, family and relationships. All of that is exhausting and hard and we are not afraid to show that.
You deal with some really creepy storylines. Are there certain types of cases that bother you more than others? How do you not take that home with you?
Any time there are kids involved, I just can’t do it. Those are really hard. The ones with women, too, like the serial rapist we are dealing with on tomorrow night’s episode. Those are hard to swallow. I have no choice but to not bring it home. We like to laugh a lot on the set. In a way, I think it is our defense mechanism to not bring it home and keep things as light as possible. It is a tricky one. Ignorance is bliss. I just keep telling myself that it is all fake. This is a TV show.
Has working on “Criminal Minds” taught you anything that you use in your everyday life? Did you increase security? Do you always check your backseat before getting in your car?
Oh, yeah. I know things in this little brain that I never, ever wanted to know and they are there forever. There are some things I wish I never knew, but I am grateful for things that I have learned, too. I am obviously a little more paranoid in life now, especially with being a mom. There are times that I think I am being followed. I am, “I’m crazy. I just need to calm down.” It is so easy to get paranoid and look at people differently. I hate it because I am a trusting, nice Canadian girl and now I have all these things going on in my head.
The “Unknown Subject” episode airs Wednesday, January 25 at 9/8c on CBS.