'Criminal Minds' Boss on the Finale Sacrifice, Garcia's Note, Reid's Journey & More
[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for the series finale of Criminal Minds, "And in the End."]
After 15 years, Criminal Minds has said goodbye, but just because the BAU stopped the latest Big Bad doesn't mean their work is done.
In the two-part finale, the team hunted down the Chameleon (Michael Mosley), and in the process, Reid (Matthew Gray Gubler) suffered a head injury, one that allowed us to go into his mind where he spoke with Strauss (Jayne Atkinson), Foyet (C. Thomas Howell), and Maeve (Beth Riesgraf).
"We actually had a running list of our favorite storylines or villains and there was just not going to be enough episodes to get everything in we wanted. We had to get down to the nitty-gritty and choose as wisely as we could," showrunner Erica Messer told TV Insider. "But having the Reaper be such a presence in that last hour of the show, kicking off that last hour, it just made so much sense to us because he's the ultimate bad guy for our team."
Though Everett Lynch did kidnap Krystall (Gail O'Grady), Rossi (Joe Mantegna) and the team were able to rescue her and stop him — by blowing up their jet as he tried to escape. And in the end, they were ready to get back to work, except for Garcia (Kirsten Vangsness), who moved on to a job at a nonprofit nearby.
Here, Messer breaks down the finale and reveals what could come next for the team.
That ending, with the party in Rossi's backyard and then the team going off to work a case, was quite fitting. When did you know how you wanted it to end?
Erica Messer: One of my favorite ways to end a season is in Rossi's backyard. I've done it a lot, and so the question was how do I do that again? We've had weddings. We've had funerals. It felt like a retirement party for Rossi — or the mislead for that — was certainly the way to go. Obviously it wasn't Rossi's sendoff, it's Garcia's, and then the party itself has a little bit more of a Garcia flair, down to the music of dancing to David Bowie's "Heroes." If you notice, Kirsten has glitter on her face, a little Ziggy Stardust acknowledgement there.
But I always knew I wanted to end on happy tears, if that makes sense. I wanted to end this series the way we were all feeling about the series ending, which was so thankful we've been here this whole time, so thankful it existed, that we got to work with our friends, who became family over the years, and pretty much everything that was happening to the characters was happening behind-the-scenes as well, just a lot of respect and love and any way we could show that as the parting images for this series felt like it was the right way to go.
Because we blew up the jet, we wanted to acknowledge there is another one, but the audience will never get to know what that looks like. They'll never know what this next case is. But they'll feel good knowing the BAU is still intact — Garcia's not going to be there every day, but she's still going to be in their lives — and the good guys have to keep chasing the bad guys, and that part won't stop. It might look and feel a little different, but the work will continue.
And then Garcia leaving an empty high-tech room just felt like our version of showing we would never shut down the BAU. But shutting down the heart of the show and showing it's going to look radically different for whoever's in there next felt like as big an impact as we could make visually. There was a lot of tears when we shot that.
What did her note say?
We're never going to say. We want that to be whatever you want it to be. I had a different idea for what it would be than what Kirsten had and what other people think it is, and I think that's the point of it. This show and these characters meant different things to different people. Kirsten and I both agree she was leaving a note for the next person to find one day.
After spending years watching Reid's brain work, it was great to go on this journey with him in his mind and get Strauss, Foyet and Maeve's returns and the flashback with Morgan, Elle, Hotch, and Gideon. How did you go about deciding who would play what role, other than availability?
We knew we weren't going to be able to get everyone back. There was a part of me that felt like it's hard to pick favorites. But if we did this flashback, kicking off that last hour, where Reid walks into the bullpen like he's done hundreds of times, only this time, why is he hearing these voices he hasn't heard in a long time? And why is he seeing Hotch and Gideon? In chasing Hotch and Gideon, he sees Garcia down the hall, but then it's not Garcia, it's Strauss, and then you can't have the good without having the bad, so then Foyet's there. It's all supposed to feel like all of these things that have made up who Reid is and now we're going to take those things and take him on a journey that we've never seen before.
For Reid, even though he's open to finding love, Maeve was the one. Because she was taken from him, it just seemed like however you want to look at it, if it was he's in the in between or his body isn't fighting anymore and if he just lets go, does he get to be with Maeve? Is that who he would choose to be with? For her to take him on this journey of exploration, of "where am I happy, what am I good at, am I done here or do I still have something to give," the heartache, all of it, was the natural choice.
If Shemar Moore had been available, what was the plan? Would Morgan have been part of the hunt for Lynch or there for the party ... ?
It was really hard to ever get him once he was on his own show, so it would've been very unlikely to have him part of any kind of takedown. My hope was that a lot of people would've been able to be at that party. It felt like a very natural place to have everybody join and dance with Garcia. But we weren't able to pull that off.
You were building up Rossi and the Chameleon's confrontation for the past year, both for those two characters and fans. What was your approach to shaping the phone call, which reminded me of Haley with Foyet, and the jet scenes?
Yeah, exactly! We wanted a little bit of that mislead, to think, "oh my God, please don't have the Chameleon do what the Reaper did. Please don't let them take our hero's wife." That would be so cruel, but because we've done it before and it made such a huge impact, maybe we'd go there again. But we also knew we didn't want to go there, but the mislead of it was still impactful.
I didn't want anyone — our main characters or their loved ones — to die, but it felt like we needed some big finale-worthy bang, and so we kicked it around the room and were like, "oh my gosh, it's been in front of us all along. It's finally time for the jet to blow up." Blow up or crash are things we had talked about with the jet for a long time. It had never felt like the right time to do it, but this felt like we had to do it. It was somebody good, our jet, having to be sacrificed to take out the bad, and once we made that call, it felt right.
We've watched Garcia go from disliking Luke to their relationship developing over the years, especially this season, in such a way that him asking her out and her accepting didn't seem to come out of nowhere. Why did you decide to have them take that step the way they did?
We've never had team members date in any way, and not to say that's the path that Alvez and Garcia are definitely going to take, but we never did anything out of the friend zone or the best friend zone, and Kirsten and I just loved how Garcia was determined not to like Alvez just because he was there and Morgan wasn't, and that flirting, angry, whatever she was doing with him, was a defense. Then when those defenses were down, and they really got to know one another better, and she felt like he would have her back and was truly a friend to her, then it felt like, why not finally do something we've never been able to do and have a team member ask another one out?
Where do you see the team members a year or five years down the road? Will Prentiss be director?
One of the reasons we wanted to sprinkle in all those things is because it is really unusual for anyone to stay in one position in the FBI in the BAU for that long without trying out running a field office in another city or maybe just being in a different division. We've heard that from our FBI consultants. Obviously people have come and gone from the team, but it's unusual to have just one group of people together for such a long period, but they're such valuable assets, why shake up the team? Or if they did shake up the team, it would have to be for some real great opportunity for these characters.
So Prentiss possibly being nominated as the first female director of the FBI, that's something I'd like to see happen in the next five years. I feel like that would be amazing. If this show was still on, that's maybe how we would've gone with Prentiss. For JJ — certainly capable of running her own field office somewhere, but so much is tied to her family — it would only make sense for her to do that if it made sense for her family to make that move. Rossi's still going to be consulting. [He's] never going to give it up, and they'll be lucky to have him and have his brains still working on cases. Reid clearly wants to be a valuable asset to catching bad guys, but he's also very aware he's a huge asset to teaching as well, so he'll continue having that balance.
It's fun to imagine, and that's why we wanted to leave it open-ended and let you know Garcia's moving on but she's not far away and the rest of the team will still be catching the bad guys every week.