'Criminal Minds' Boss on Reid's Heartbreak After JJ's Confession: He Will 'Move On'

Under the Skin
Q&A
Cliff Lipson/CBS

[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for the first two episodes of Criminal Minds Season 15, "Under the Skin" and "Awakenings."]

It's not often that an UnSub gets away, but by the end of the two-hour Criminal Minds final season premiere, Everett Lynch, a.k.a. The Chameleon, is still on the loose — with his daughter's face in the passenger's seat.

"He's going out with a bang," showrunner Erica Messer told TV Insider of the show's final Big Bad.

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Exec producer Erica Messer and star Joe Mantegna tease what's to come in the final 10 episodes.

But before Lynch kills Grace, he helps her break out of prison, and in the process, she shoots JJ (A.J. Cook). The agent's time in the hospital leads to two important conversations with two very important men in her life: Reid (Matthew Gray Gubler) and Will (Josh Stewart), to provide resolution to her finale confession.

"It was very important [that we respected JJ and Will's relationship]," showrunner Erica Messer said. "We didn't want JJ to feel like she was betraying that very real relationship that she's in." And it doesn't look like that relationship will be coming to an end anytime soon, as both she and Reid will be moving on.

Here, Messer breaks down some of the major moments of the premiere.

(CBS)

You only had 10 episodes to wrap up the series, and you also had to balance UnSubs of the week with the hunt for Lynch. How did you decide to go about doing that? Was that at least partially how Dr. Hurst's connection to Lynch came into play?

Erica Messer: Yes. ... Because we rarely let anyone get away and in that case, we did, and he had had such an impact on Rossi's character, we thought, "Well, we can't not chase him in the final 10 episodes." We always knew we wanted to be able to show that time had passed since you last saw the team, and in that time, Rossi's been incredibly obsessed with catching the Chameleon. Maybe he's trying to make connections that just aren't there or his old school ways of tracking killers who go dormant for a while are coming back into play for him. It's a combination of those things.

Rossi has been so obsessed and stuck in this space of trying to find the Chameleon. If we showed Rossi every week pining to find the Chameleon, we would've gotten tired of that. But if we say this is what's been happening offscreen for six months, then that feels really interesting to me. What does that look like for Rossi? Is he having sleepless nights? He's newly married. Is that affecting that?

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The members of the BAU and their loved ones have been targeted over the years.

Rossi was also able to acknowledge his obsession in his conversations with Reid and Prentiss. Will he be able to maintain that sense of perspective as the season progresses?

He will. It remains incredibly personal to him all the way until the end of the series. We didn't want to show the Chameleon every single week because the team not finding him for 10 episodes in a row felt unbelievable. These are the best of the best. But as we've said throughout the series, you get your next clue when they strike again and if they're not doing any new crimes, then you're not getting any new clues. So, he goes dormant — or so we think — until the end of the series.

We see how different Lynch and Grace are — for example, her refusal to part ways while he didn't seem to struggle with killing her. Will we see killing Grace have any sort of impact on Lynch going forward, perhaps in a way that even surprises him?

Yes. When he does it, it seems like he has no remorse, but he does and that will come into play later when we are examining his psychopathy.

(CBS)

Seeing what Lynch did to Grace has completely opened Roberta's eyes, right? What role will she play in the team's hunt for her son?

Yes. Oh, she'll come back into play towards the end of the series as well because everything she wanted to do right in the world was through Grace, and the fact that [Lynch] has now taken her away from the world is like the straw that broke the camel's back for Roberta.

JJ's confession drove a wedge between her and Reid. Now that they've talked, is that firmly in the "what if?" and will we see their relationship return to what it's been?

We really didn't want to leave our series with them being awkward together. That just felt false for all of us, and so while things weren't great offscreen for them for the past six months, we don't want to play "what if?" At the end of that second episode, when JJ's able to say, "I'm sorry I did that to you and to us and I love my life and I love my husband, I love my kids," Reid, although heartbroken, always knew that about her. He didn't really want to give it much thought that there's a parallel universe where they're together.

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Their future could be bleak, but we can't forget about these amazing moments from their past.

But we'll see that play out for Reid a little bit more when, in "Saturday," he is in therapy. They deal a little bit with the dangerous job that he has and friends get shot and hurt all the time and this just happened to JJ and how upsetting that was. Then he confesses a little bit, he doesn't want any other life with her, he loves the life that he has, but he also feels like he hasn't really advanced much in his personal life because he's been a caregiver for his mom for so long, which he wouldn't change for the world.

The assignment from the therapist is to go have a normal day, and he doesn't really know what that looks like because he's just been fighting bad guys for so long. In that normal day, he meets someone who makes him smile and makes him happy and JJ sees that in him and tells him to go chase it. By the time we get to that episode, it really feels like he's going to move on, she's moved on. Everything's okay, and they are back to normal by the time the series ends.

(CBS)

The interesting thing about that confession is half the people — behind the scenes, cast, crew, writers, everybody — think she was just saying that to get out of that terrible situation, and half of the people think she really meant it. Even when you ask the actors, they're split. It's almost like it doesn't matter because it was said. This was never going to be a will they or won't they.

Reid's trying to be hopeful when it comes to Diana's diagnosis, but she's being more realistic, that they should just enjoy the time they have and he'll have to lose her again soon.

Yeah. We all love [that relationship]. If you look at the Diana Reid character, she's either in the condition she's always been or worse or she's not here anymore, and we just didn't want to do that. We didn't want to play we're losing that character.

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Only three members of the team have been around since Season 1.

One thing we haven't done and so much of the research about degenerative diseases really shows that there are some tests that allow you to have these incredible moments of clarity where you're completely your old self and then you don't know how long that's going to last, and then the downside could be the condition worsens after that.

We thought, well, that feels like a story that would be good to tell, especially when Reid needs a little guidance. He needs his mom right now, and she's there as her best self, and he almost gets a little break from being the caregiver in that moment and is able to be cared for by his mom and we thought that was really sweet.

Criminal Minds, Wednesdays, 9/8c, CBS