Thinking back to June/July, Criminal Minds boss Erica Messer says the challenge facing her back then with regards to Season 12 indeed was mighty quaint, compared to the flurry of cast changes she would end up having to accommodate.
“That’s exactly right. We’re shooting the serialized arc [for the back half of the season] right now, and I was like, ‘Remember when this was the big thing we were doing this year?’ That was all we were sort of worried about.”
At that point in the summer, all Messer had on her plate was writing in Luke Alvez, the agent who would wind up filling Derek Morgan’s vacancy on the BAU team. “Adam [Rodriguez] has been such an amazing addition, from jump,” the CBS drama’s showrunner notes. “From the minute the audience met him, the minute the team started working with him, he just fit right in, and I’m so thankful for that.
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“Obviously there is no replacing Shemar [Moore],” she adds, “but Adam had no intention of doing that. He brought his own thing to the character. He fits in on-screen and off-screen.”
Two months after Rodriguez was cast for Season 12, however, an on-set, physical altercation between Thomas Gibson and writer/producer Virgil Williams would eventually lead to Gibson, an original cast member, being fired from the series. As a result, the Criminal Minds writers needed to find a way to write in Hotch’s forever absence, without his portrayer available to appear on camera. Ultimately, it was revealed that after one too many at-home scares from Mr. Scratch, Hotch had entered himself and son Jack into Witness Protection.
Asked to comment on the Gibson situation, Messer hedged, “I don’t know how much I can say,” because of legal reasons. “But personally, I was really sad writing the episode where I had to say goodbye [to the character], because I knew that no matter what you do, it’s never going to be perfect. You’re not going to please everyone, especially when you don’t have the face there to say goodbye to.”
That said, “Given what was in front of us — I wrote that and Matthew [Gray Gubler, who plays Reid] directed it — it was done with such love and care for the history of the show and that character and the hero that he is and will continue to be, in the eyes of the team and most importantly the eyes of his son. He gave up being an American hero to be a hero to Jack, and I do feel proud of that.”
(As for the criticism that Hotch would have been wary of WITSEC, given Scratch’s proven ability to hack that database, Messer maintains, “It’s the safest possible route, because what wasn’t safe was trying to live a normal life, having Scratch show up at Jack’s school. The second that happened, Hotch is like, ‘I’m out.’ That felt real to us.”)
In addition to adding Rodriguez and cutting Gibson, Criminal Minds this season promoted Aisha Tyler to series regular and extended Paget Brewster’s short-term encore as Prentiss into a full-time gig. But the recent addition of Damon Gupton as Agent Stephen Walker actually was not Messer’s doing.
“That was really a decision that the network made,” she shares. “They are part of our ‘village’ — the leaders of our village, in fact — so I embraced it after hearing their reasoning.” Still, adding another new face amid so much existing cast churn was no easy feat.
“For us, it’s always a challenge to bring somebody new into a group that has functioned together as long as they have. It’s like, ‘OK, what role needs to be filled?'” the EP says. “So we brought him in with a specialty in the espionage world. The idea being that he had a skill set that could help us find Scratch made a lot of sense to us.”