For once in the history of the dark, procedural drama that is “Criminal Minds,” Season 7 wrapped up with a happy event: JJ (A.J. Cook) and Will (Josh Stewart) got married in Rossi’s (Joe Mantegna) backyard. But it was also bittersweet because Prentiss (Paget Brewster) had come to the realization that it was time to move on, a result of Brewster’s decision to leave the show since her contract was up.
“Prentiss is not going to be there anymore for all the good things or the bad things,” executive producer Erica Messer tells XfinityTV.com in an exclusive interview. “She is going to move on. She doesn’t quite say where, or when, or how. So literally, the last 90 seconds of the show was a beautiful song called ‘As it Seems,’ written and sung by Lily Kershaw, an actress who has appeared on the show before in Season 4. The song fit perfectly with the melancholy theme we were after.”
That was the past. So what lies ahead? With Brewster not available to wrap up the Prentiss storyline, when we return for Season 8, there will not be a traditional goodbye scene, but rather the introduction of her replacement.
When do we return? It is several months after JJ and Will’s wedding. During the summer, the team split up for a variety of reasons, but Prentiss is gone and the team has a new member, Alex Blake, played by Jeanne Tripplehorn.
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“The whole summer has gone by,” Messer says. “Bad things have happened and good things have happened. We land on Morgan (Shemar Moore) and Garcia (Kirsten Vangsness) coming back from temporary duty in London, where they have been to the Olympics. They have been visiting Prentiss. Garcia returns in head-to-toe in British gear — a fantastic Union Jack dress that only she could pull off.”
What happened to Prentiss? As part of the last season finale, Prentiss reconnected with her old boss and he offered her a job in London. She hadn’t decided if she was going to take it or not, despite the fact that she knew that her time at the Behavioral Analysis Unit had come to an end.
“I didn’t want her to just say it at the end of the season, ‘I love you guys, but I a moving on,’” Messer says. “But now that the summer is passed … she is a friend. I wouldn’t want her to just leave everyone.”
As XfinityTV.com previously reported, Brewster has said she would be willing to guest-star in an episode this season to wrap up the Prentiss storyline, but she has been told it is “tricky.” She says, “What I was told was a lot of people have to sign off on that… I like everybody at ‘Criminal Minds.’ I would like to guest star but I don’t know if that is in the cards.”
New BAU team member Alex Blake: Alex Blake has been with the Bureau almost her entire career — since she was 24 — so she is known to both Hotch (Thomas Gibson) and Rossi. Alex is also a linguistics professor at Georgetown, so Reid (Matthew Gray Gubler), who has been a guest lecturer at the university, is aware of her, as well. When Morgan and Garcia return from London, they meet her for the first time — and it is not smooth sailing.
“Because they have been away for five weeks, Morgan and Garcia haven’t met the new team member yet. She has been with the team for a couple of cases. In the teaser, the BAU team arrives back in D.C., having been to Seattle on a case,” Messer says.
“Jeanne herself is very grounded so that comes through with her character. We wanted to skirt all the things that went wrong before and have someone who is capable.”
Messer, here, is referring to the casting of Rachel Nichols as a new member of the team, as well as a relatively new FBI agent in Season 6, when Cook was fired. The feeling was that Nichols’ character didn’t have enough experience so the audience didn’t feel she was a credible member of the team, which is why the character didn’t work out. So, in Season 7, both Brewster and Cook were reinstated as full-time cast members of “Criminal Minds.”
What will happen with Garcia and Kevin’s (Nicholas Brendon) romance? When Garcia discovered that Kevin was going to propose, she informed him that she was not ready to get married. She was surprised when he told her that he was and he left. She was even more shocked to discover that he was already dating someone else when he brought Agent Sharp (Gina Garcia) to a Sci-Fi convention — and then later to JJ and Will’s wedding.
“This season we are going to ride the ups and downs of that relationship,” Messing says. “We are going to have fun with that. Kevin is not in the premiere, but Garcia is talking like, ‘I was going to give him this trinket, but now we are not talking.’ Morgan is like, ‘But you were talking yesterday, so why?’ She is, ‘Nevermind.’ They have this love for each other, but we want to ride out the drama. By the end of this season, they will be together.”
Guest stars: In a bit of unusual casting, Mackenzie Phillips and Kim Wayans, who are both known for their work in comedy, will be playing two unsubs who team up to form a duo.
“They have these dark sides and it was amazing to watch them work,” Messer says. “Janine Sherman Barrois wrote the episode, and she had seen Kim Wayans in a movie out of Sundance this year called ‘Pariah.’ She saw this dramatic side to her and thought that would be really fun. McKenzie Phillips brings that dark side out and has really dug into this role.”
Will there be any residual effects to the crisis that JJ and Will went through in the Season 7 finale? The bank robbery that started the two-part “Criminal Minds” finale last May was just a small part of a much larger terrorist plot that put the lives of all of the LaMontagne family members — including their baby son — in jeopardy. Yes, the episode ended happily at JJ and Will’s wedding, but there have to be some ramifications.
“There is a little bit of PTSD,” Messer says. “JJ walks around with her phone in her hand now and it is a little bit of the shell shock from what happened in that two-hour finale. But she is going to go through some drama this year as a character that will be difficult to bounce back from. It will be a good journey for her.”
Season 8 of “Criminal Minds” premieres Wednesday, Sept. 26 at 9/8c on CBS.