In picking up the pieces of May’s calamitous, Scratch-orchestrated car crash, Criminal Minds‘ Season 13 premiere ultimately set in motion a chain of events that reached out and touched Aaron Hotchner, who has been tucked away in WITSEC.
Shortly after Scratch plowed an 18-wheeler into the BAU’s pair of SUVs, Luke was able to walk away from the scene of the assault unscathed, while Rossi (wobbly leg), JJ (glass shards in temple) and Tara (undisclosed injuries) were hospital-bound. Agent Stephen Walker was the lone fatality, while Prentiss was missing — having been spirited away by Scratch.
When Prentiss came to, she found herself in an ersatz hospital room, tended to by some sort of physician. Once the doc left, Scratch entered, revealing to his captive the horrifying extent of her injuries — including a broken arm and both legs in traction. He quickly made his wants known: arch-enemy Hotch’s WITSEC whereabouts, in trade for sanity-preserving morphine injections. As Scratch revealed, he had seen Prentiss’ text-message exchange with an Unknown Caller, whom she at one point referred to as “AH.”
When hospitalized Rossi cryptically cued Luke and reinstated Reid to go into a file cabinet of his to find “basketball tickets” (?), they first ran into Garcia and former IRT member Matt Simmons. After Garcia stuffed everyone’s Scratch-hacked cell phones into a cigar/Faraday box, it was explained that the stash of “SCRATCH” files inside Rossi’s file cabinet were hard copies of research compiled offline by Agent Walker, and that in the event of an emergency, Simmons had been entrusted with knowledge of the files’ existence. Rifling through the papers, Reid found a printout of that seemingly damning text message from Emily to “AH,” which they realized was actually a bit of subterfuge between her and Walker.
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Reid, who’s acting more than a bit “off” as he copes with his PTSS (fka PTSD), holed himself away as he set out to decipher a curious “B-CAP” reference in the text, which he eventually realized was shorthand for a key ingredient in Scratch’s proprietary hallucinogen. That led them to a mini “cult” of sorts, behind the scenes of which were Scratch’s wealth of computer servers. From there, Garcia was able to get a bead on his whereabouts.
Meanwhile, Prentiss’ brush with “death,” after Scratch stopped and refused to restart her heart, actually led her to realize that she knows what death feels like — and this ain’t it! That new clarity in turn revealed to her that her devastating injuries were nothing of the sort, and there was in fact no “doctor” tending to her. It was all an elaborate hallucination created when Scratch dosed her at the scene of the crash.
Just as Emily launched her escape, by chomping Scratch’s ear, the BAU stormed the warehouse site and chased after their nemesis. Luke pursued the maniac to the rooftop, where Scratch sought egress via the fire escape — only to find himself clutching onto the ledge after the structure was collapsed by gunfire. Scratch begged Luke to pull him to safety, but as the BAU agent considered his actions, Scratch lost his grip and plunged, fatally and with a big splat of his melon, to the pavement below.
In the wake of the showdown, the BAU assembled at Stephen’s funeral, where his widow relieved Prentiss of any responsibility she felt for his death, placing all blame on Peter Lewis. Reconvening at the BAU, Prentiss informed the team that with Scratch snuffed, Hotch and son Jack had left WITSEC. That said, Hotch will not be rejoining the team but continuing to enjoy the life of a full-time dad. After all, Prentiss notes, there will always be “another Scratch,” and the Hotchners have “lost enough.”
Prentiss then shares how a two-word mantra — “Wheels up” — empowered her to endure her ordeal, before sending her beleaguered BAU team, incoming addition Matt Simmons included, off on a bureau-dictated six-week respite.