This Wednesday at 9/8c, CBS’ Criminal Minds closes Season 8 with a pair of episodes, the first of which tests one family – the brothers Hotchner – and then the finale proper, which will put the BAU bunch in jeopardy as they close in on their aforementioned season-long stalker.
Showrunner Erica Messer spoke with TVLine about delivering this dire denouement, ruling out one “suspect” while teasing grave consequences for at least two characters.
TVLINE | As we come to this climax in this storyline, I am reminded that when you first told me about it back in July, you said “The Replicator” was just a nickname you’d be using in the writers room….
Yeah, that’s what we thought — and here he is! [Laughs] Internally, the BAU usually doesn’t name the offenders — it’s the media that does that — but in this case the media doesn’t know about him, thankfully, so it just became this nickname. But yeah, that was not the initial intention.
TVLINE | Are these final two episodes quasi-continuous or is there a seam?
We [didn't know] that they would air the same night, so they were broken as separate episodes and there’s no clever name like [Season 7's] “Hit” and “Run”….
TVLINE | But is there connective tissue, regardless?
There is. We always knew that we didn’t want to jam [the first episode] “Brothers Hotchner” too much with anything other than the drama between these two brothers and the case that brings them together, but we always knew the end of that episode would be the tease for the finale. Ideally, you’ll see, we would have had a week in between — then the hype could have been, “Oh my gosh, The Replicator is after one of the characters! Holy crap, what’s going to happen?! We have to wait a whole week!” — but now, you just have to wait for a commercial break, and then we’re right into it.
TVLINE | What sort of drama is Hotch’s brother Sean (Rookie Blue‘s Eric Johnson) caught up in?
It’s been fun to bring back a character we haven’t seen since Season 1 and decide what path this guy has followed, and what turns along that path he has taken. He’s living in New York and working at a bar. When trouble ensues at the bar, he ends up calling Hotch for help, and as the case unravels, we realize that Sean is a bit more involved than we’d like him to be. That causes a lot of drama for the brothers.
TVLINE | And as far as the second hour, has the team caught a lead on The Replicator…?
He actually throws the first punch. At the end of Episode 23, the team finds out The Replicator is back, and then it’s all hands on deck. It’s 100 percent team, 100 percent of the time.
TVLINE | Are we going to learn his identity and or his reasons for what he’s been doing?
TVLINE | Does he have compelling reasons?
He does, actually. What will be fun for those who have followed all season is that we’ve given clues along the way. I’ll just say that the premiere introduced a hero, in Alex Blake (Jeanne Tripplehorn), and introduced a villain, in The Replicator. And that was no accident. So when the team in [the finale] does what they do best, studying behavior and asking questions that need to be asked and doing the math, they realize that it all ties back to his introduction to the audience.
TVLINE | You told me last summer the plan was for a head-to-head face-off in the Season 8 finale. Were there any detours along the way, as you started actually breaking this season?
We never altered the plan, but Episode 16 [in which The Replicator sends JJ flowers from Philadelphia] was an interesting case in itself and was so well done that by the end of it you felt like next week we had to solve it. And that was never our plan! We also had a couple weeks off in between, so that added to the intrigue — “Oh my gosh, The Replicator is taunting them and now they’re off for three weeks, and then they’ll come back and go head-to-head with The Replicator.” And I was like, “Ooh, that was never the intention.” We didn’t anticipate it feeling like part one of a two-parter. That is the only “detour” we had.
TVLINE | Of course you have Mark Hamill (Star Wars) guest-starring in the finale, and people will assume he’s The Replicator — the same way many figured that Michelle Trachtenberg was Maeve’s stalker. What do you say to those assuming Mark is your guy?
I will say that it’s always fun to guess, and what we wanted to give the fans this year was what they’ve been asking for for a while now, which was an UnSub where you don’t know right off the bat who it is. And we’ve been able to give them that not for just one episode but for the entire season. They can speculate all they want, and then get a great reveal when they see who it is.
TVLINE | Now, Beth is back [in "Brothers Hotchner"], and you told me back in January 2012 “Hotch’s girlfriend will not turn out to be an UnSub.”
[Laughs] I stick to that promise. Hotch and Jack are merely visiting Beth in New York, where she lives, when they get a call from Sean.
TVLINE | Will we get any illumination on Zugzwang?
Oh yeah. Zugzwang comes back — big time.
TVLINE | The official synopsis for the finale says The Replicator “targets one of the team as the next victim.” How are you defining “victim”? Or is the person merely a target?
Um…. There’s actually one of each. We have a target, and we also have a victim.
TVLINE | So for the purpose of TVLine’s May Sweeps Scorecard, do we put Criminal Minds down for a fatality or a possible fatality?
You could say both — a fatality and a possible fatality.
TVLINE | And are either of those characters played by a series regular…?
Criminal Minds fans, what are your latest predictions for the Season 8 finale?