This Wednesday at 9/8c, CBS’ Criminal Minds uncorks a memorable 150th episode – no easy feat, given the vast array of sorid subject matter already served up in the years gone by. TVLine invited showrunner Erica Messer to reveal how she found a new twist to mark the landmark occasion, weigh in on some fans’ most fervent wish and share a taste of the Season 7 finale.
TVLINE | Our readers have been very much looking forward to Episode 150. What opportunity did you see here, with this landmark outing?
It’s interesting because with our 100th episode, Hotch went head-to-head with the Reaper, and we didn’t have a story like that for the 150th. One, because you’re not really going to get any better than Hotch versus his nemesis, and two, because the Prentiss version of that happened last season and culminated in the premiere this year. So by the time we get to the 150th we didn’t want to manufacture something, so we looked at what we do every week, which is use our wits to save a victim who’s been in captivity since at least the end of Act 1. We took that and put it on its head and said, “What if this time around a victim actually has an unsub [in captivity], and the victory will be if the team can get her to not kill somebody?” And whether or not that happens remains to be seen.
TVLINE | And the unsub in question, he’s been re-attacking his previous victims?
Yes, we picked an unsub that we’ve never dared to do before, and it seemed like a perfect way to have this woman (played by Birds of Prey‘s Dina Meyer) who believes she been victimized by this man (The Shield‘s Jay Karnes) turn the tables on him.
TVLINE | Beyond the case at hand, would you call this an almost a Prentiss-centric episode, if only because the B-story has her meeting with a therapist?
We have the story with the therapist where she is sort of dealing with the fact that she had a guy [Ian Doyle] who re-victimized her. So she definitely has those beats in it, as far as our bookends go.
TVLINE | What comes out of those therapy sessions? How might she change?
It remains to be seen, because we know what she’s really good at is doing what she needs to do to survive, and right now she needs to be in the BAU. That gives her all the solace she needs, so she will say and do anything to make that happen.
TVLINE | Regarding that new beat in the Prentiss story, do you almost feel like the transitions the show had to go through last season actually ended up reinvigorating it?
It’s such a tricky thing, because I believe it did – and yet that’s something that I would never wish any other show to have to go through. But yes, I think it allowed us to start fresh in Season 7, and it’s rare that you ever get to do that.
TVLINE | Have you been making a concerted effort this season to give us more “family” and personal moments, by capping episodes with a team dinner or drinks…?
We have now become such a family after six, seven years of solving crimes and saving lives together, it makes sense that we “go have pizza.” I feel like we’ve been able to earn that. I think at this point everybody knows what everybody’s favorite food is, and anytime we can show that, I think, is really good.
TVLINE | But you’d probably stop short of ever having an episode with no case at all.
I don’t think that anybody would ever let us go there, but when I watch shows on cable, they can do that. On The Killing, there was that episode where [Linden's] son is missing, and I was like, “Oh my god, that’s so great! The whole episode is about that and not the case at all.” I don’t want to say “never” here, but… maybe!
TVLINE | Turning to Hotch and his new romance: Whenever I’ve run by Thomas Gibson or Paget Brewster some fans’ desire for a Hotch-Prentiss hook-up, the recurring line has been, “He’s not ready.” And here he is finally dipping his toe back into the dating pool. Why now?
Partly because it feels like it’s been a respectable amount of time, not only since he’s been divorced but since [ex-wife] Haley’s death. I think that for Hotch, there might have been many times he went for a run and women smiled at him and he didn’t notice, and this time he did. That says to me it’s because he’s ready to see it. We didn’t go the Prentiss route right now because she’s not ready; she has a lot of healing to do. I know a lot of people out there want those two together, and it’s not to say it will never happen, because in many ways trusting one another and being there for each other in the field when it counts speaks volumes about relationships. But for right now, they’re not ready for each other.
TVLINE | Not that you’re producing The Bachelor here, but if the day comes for a workplace romance, would you say it’s more organic for Hotch to go with Prentiss versus JJ [were she to become single]?
TVLINE | Should we worry at all that Beth, when Hotch first met her, came off a bit stalker-y? Could she be a future unsub?
No. [Laughs] No. Don’t worry.
TVLINE | Any early thoughts on what your season finale is going to be?
We’ll see, because it will be cast-dependent on a guest role. Episode 20 will be written by Breen Frazier, and he’s introducing a character that may come back and be the problem for us in Episode 24.
TVLINE | Will the finale be typically cliffhangery? Explosive, even?
We’re still sort of playing around with that, because I think people are used to that with us. The SUV blow-up ended Season 3 and it turned out to be none of us that got hurt, so…. We’re still sort of tossing ideas around.
TVLINE | And speaking of the finale, this rumor pops up now and again, but it seems to have a bit more weight now given the success of Homeland on CBS-owned Showtime: Is Mandy Patinkin guest-starring as Gideon in the finale?
Again, I never want to say never, but that’s not in the cards for right now. It’s just a rumor.