Criminal Minds: How Matthew Gray Gubler Directed 'An Exceptional Send-off' for Prentiss

Criminal Minds uncorks one of its biggest episodes this Wednesday at 9/8c, when the private, deadly drama that Prentiss labored to keep to herself draws in the entire BAU team. Directed by Matthew Gray Gubler, the hour represents Paget Brewster‘s final appearance as a series regular, as well as brings A.J. Cook back into the fold as the previously departed JJ Jareau.

No stranger to directing, Gubler shared with TVLine how he approached the intense assignment – grenades and all.

TVLINE | Not to intimidate you after the fact, but Criminal Minds gave you one big-ass episode to direct.
I know! Actually I sort of requested it, and [Paget] sort of demanded that I direct it, too. I was very much looking forward to the challenge.

TVLINE | You had to orchestrate a return, a major exit, showdowns….
Yeah, and the return was sort of a surprise, too, a last-minute wild card that got thrown in there.

Pilot Casting News: Paget Brewster Gets Experimental

TVLINE | Which of your previous directing gigs best prepared you for this?
None of them, that’s what’s funny. The nature of the episode is this action world that isn’t necessarily what I gravitate towards. I prefer the creepy, scary, bizarre and surreal, and this was so rooted in gunplay and grenades, things I’ve only thought about when I was, like, 8 years old and playing in the park. I tried to watch a lot of action movies to prepare for it.

TVLINE | Obviously the big hook is that Prentiss has sneaked off to do her own thing, with regards to Ian Doyle. What’s harder for the team, catching up to her or helping her once they do?
We have Garcia, so we can catch up to anybody. Saving them, though, sometimes is the thing in question.

TVLINE | How was it having A.J. Cook back on the set?
She’d only been gone for about 10 episodes, but the minute she came back everybody was rejoicing. We work with a bunch of cool guys on the crew, and they were very excited to have a very beautiful member of the team back. They get sick of looking at me, Thomas [Gibson] and Joe [Mantegna] all the time.

TVLINE | And how do the characters welcome back JJ?
It felt great to have our girl back. The intention for this episode, as the writers pitched it to me, was, “This one is absolutely for the fans.” They weren’t concerned about whether it’s going to track well with this or that demo; all we cared about was giving one character an exceptional send-off, and to help do that we brought back JJ.

TVLINE | That was my next question: Does Paget get as fulfilling a send-off as a longtime cast member could hope for?
Obviously I’m biased [Laughs], but I think it’s the best thing we could have done for Prentiss. I’m happy I got to direct it.

TVLINE | Looking ahead, who do you think will be hit hardest by Prentiss’ absence?
As director, I wanted each of the BAU members to exhibit a different form of loss, and Reid to me was the little brother losing his sister. If you ask any actor, they’d say [their character was] hit hardest. As the director, I’m not sure. Probably Garcia.

TVLINE | Prentiss is the only one Reid confided in about his headaches. What’s going on with that mystery ailment anyway?
That’s a good question. The episode after this deals with it a bit, but I kind of leave it all to the writers in that regard. I like knowing a little bit less.

TVLINE | But when you see that first script with the headaches…. You know what they say about “bringing out a gun in the first act”….
Yeah, exactly. Again, maybe in a bad way I’m too laissez faire in that regard. I also know about Hollywood that if I were dying, nobody would tell me. [Laughs] It’s all a lot of smiles and then all of a sudden you’re checking out new job options.

TVLINE | Before we go, what can you tell me about this next project of yours, Magic Valley?
I’m in that great period of life where everybody that I went to film school with is now making their first film, so I’m going to be in, like, 5,000 independent films in the next couple years. But this one is going to the Tribeca Film Festival in April, and it’s a really super-unique, strange and intriguing movie. It’s a day in the life of six or seven people in Idaho, and I play a heavy metal musician/fish farmer.

TVLINE |Really? Another heavy metal musician/fish farmer movie?
I know, just when you thought you had seen the last one.