‘Criminal Minds: Evolution’ Stars Tease Rossi’s Trauma, Garcia’s ‘New Energy’ & Manipulative UnSub

Aisha Tyler as Dr. Tara Lewis, A.J. Cook as Jennifer 'JJ' Jareau, Adam Rodriguez as Luke Alvez, Kristen Vangsness as Penelope Garcia, Paget Brewster as Emily Prentiss and Joe Mantegna as David Rossi in Criminal Minds Evolution
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Michael Yarish /Paramount+

Get ready for “David Rossi unleashed,” Joe Mantegna says of his character in Criminal Minds: Evolution, the next chapter (premiering November 24 with the first two episodes on Paramount+) of the procedural drama, which ran for 15 seasons from 2005 to 2020. That’s also how long the UnSub (Zach Gilford’s Elias Voit) was active before the pandemic in the 10-episode season, which will see the BAU hunting down him and his network of serial killers.

In the time since we’ve seen our favorite profilers, life has taken a turn for Rossi, who ended the original series on a high note (getting married). “I live by the motto everybody has a story and nobody gets a free ride, and this is one of those instances. Rossi’s had some trauma in his life and that’s where we pick it up,” Mantegna tells TV Insider. “But it’s OK because these things happen to everybody and the world has gone through a whole traumatic thing over the last few years and we incorporate that into the show as well. So I think it’s right to pick things up where not everybody is in tip-top shape for whatever reasons, but we still have to persevere and go on and get the job done and see where it takes us from there.”

As for what else to expect from his character, Mantegna says, “David Rossi was a little profane anyway, so the fact that we’re streaming now just gives him the capability and ability to say and do the things that he would’ve anyway if he’d have been allowed to.”

When we last saw tech genius Penelope Garcia (Kirsten Vangsness), she’d left the BAU — and her time away has been good for her. With the pandemic part of the world of Criminal Minds, “we’re acknowledging that during that time, all of us had our own very unique experience, some way more harrowing than others, that people changed,” Vangsness explains. “Some people armored themselves more and some people dropped armor that they had.”

And just like she “had to keep making my internal world better and better and better, Garcia was doing that, too,” she shares. “She was curating her life exactly the way she wanted. Now when you see her, her life is even better than it was before. I think people always look at her [as] ‘oh, she does her own thing. She does what she wants.’ But now she’s just doing it for her, not trying to please anybody. So you get to see her in this new energy and then how to be that new person in a place with people that, like all of us, when you got out into the world again after making these decisions about this new person, you watch yourself go in and out of integrity about it.”

So did Garcia and Luke Alvez (Adam Rodriguez) have that dinner they’d planned in the original series finale? They did. “We get acknowledgement of that dinner very quickly in the series,” Vangsness teases. “You’re going to be deeply maybe unsatisfied but then also satisfied. And then you’re gonna have these weird other feelings that you can’t come to terms with. But then once you come to terms with that, you’re gonna be really happy about it and then you’re gonna learn more stuff.”

She adds, “their relationship has changed, and it’s still adversarial, but not, but yes, but not,” and promises she and Rodriguez have “a lot of scenes together.”

Like Rossi, Dr. Tara Lewis is still with the FBI, and the team has been affected by the pandemic. “They didn’t have the resources, the support, the other elements that they were using to typically do these profiles. They lost the jet,” Aisha Tyler says. “And so she’s been just crisscrossing the country in rental cars, working out of the trunk of those cars, staying in roadside motels, eating at diners. When you meet her, she hasn’t cut her hair since the beginning of COVID. It’s really just been about the work for her. And so what you’re gonna see is a tougher, more battle-hardened, more devoted kind of field agent out of Tara.”

But what about taking time for herself? “I don’t think she does relax,” Tyler admits with a laugh. “One of the things I love about Lewis is that she’s a workaholic because I’m a workaholic. … I think she finds the work energizing. She is in a relationship, and I think that’s been a real surprise for her. I don’t think she was really looking for one. She’s been happy to be devoted to the work, but I don’t think that Lewis has any chill whatsoever. Work is how she relaxes, and I think you’re gonna see that that might have a problematic impact on her relationship going forward.”

It doesn’t look like this new UnSub is going to give the BAU any time for a break, but what is it about Voit that he can set up that network of serial killers? “He’s been doing this so long that he’s just a master manipulator and he’s also a profiler in his own way,” according to Gilford. “He also works in tech cybersecurity. But as we get more and more into his character and get to know him better, you see the way he’s manipulated everyone in his life and set up different worlds for himself and he can seamlessly go between one and the other. It starts getting really interesting and scary when his two worlds start colliding and he starts losing a little bit of that control. For someone who’s been this mastermind for so long of all the nefarious things, what happens when he starts losing grip of the reins and losing grip of himself?”

Zach Gilford in 'Criminal Minds: Evolution'

Monty Brinton /Paramount+

Gilford has said when it comes to the BAU vs. Voit, “my money is on qb1,” but why should we feel the same way? “I just always root for myself,” Gilford says, laughing, before also pointing to the fact that, as said in the trailer, the profilers have never had to look at the effects of a pandemic. “This guy’s been at it for 15, 20 years. If I’ve evaded them this long, I’m sure I can evade them a little bit longer.”

Tyler agrees that he’s “a much more tough UnSub to profile than [the BAU has] ever seen before. He’s better at keeping himself hidden. He’s incredibly sophisticated. He spent a lifetime developing a system that keeps him protected from detection. It’s really gonna take this entire team’s ability to tease this guy out and figure out what makes him tick and expose him, and it’s gonna be incredibly taxing for all of them emotionally, physically, intellectually. I think it’s probably the biggest, best UnSub we’ve ever met on the show.”

Past UnSubs have focused on one profiler, but will we see the same with Voit? “Eventually, kind of,” Gilford teases. “The first scene I read about it, I love, and it was like, oh, right, we planted these seeds earlier in the season and Voit is so ballsy. There’s gonna be a scene where you’re like, ‘wait, what is he doing?’ It’s like I have a mic drop. It’s awesome.”

And for Rossi, “knowing his temperament and personality, [Voit] is like the ultimate challenge,” Mantegna previews. “He’s like a dog with a bone in its mouth. He’s not gonna let it go until he’s torn this thing up and conquered it. So it’s either gonna kill him or somebody else.”

Criminal Minds: Evolution, Premiere, Thursday, November 24, Paramount+