Before we talk about the season 7 premiere, I offer my advance apologies. The headline you see above is a tease until 1 a.m. ET. That is when I will post my full chat with Criminal Minds executive producer and showrunner Erica Messer. (We have to give EW’s west coast readers a chance to watch!)
In the meantime, however, I wanted to give you a place to chat about the season premiere, which found Emily Prentiss (Paget Brewster) returning to work with the team — and baddie Ian Doyle (Timothy V. Murphy)! — on a case involving Doyle’s son, who’d been kidnapped.
Star Thomas Gibson, who held a premiere party last night for the cast and crew, says of the episode and season, “It felt like a big family reunion. We’re really counting our lucky stars,” he said. “To quote Kirsten [Vangsness], ‘Erica wrote the s–t out of it, and Glenn [Kershaw] directed the s–t out of it.’ It’s really a new beginning to the show.”
In our chat with Messer, conducted while she was attending said bash at Gibson’s house (pause here to recognize how incredibly adorable that is), she breaks down the very special episode and chats about what’s to come.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So, to start off, we saw the effects of Emily’s (Brewster) return in both emotional and tangible ways in the premiere. I especially loved how you used the hearing as a storytelling device. Are we going to see more of the tangible lasting effects of the Doyle case/Emily’s special situation this season or will they be mostly emotional?
ERICA MESSER: That’s a great question, actually, because that was the struggle with that episode when we were all in the writer’s room breaking it. I like to base things in reality as much as possible and it certainly felt like that was the way to do it. The stakes couldn’t have been higher. So the tangible [effects] of it are pretty much wrapped up in the premiere, but the emotional aftermath of it is what will linger with the team a lot in episode two and some more in three and throughout the season. Basically, having Prentiss’ death be faked and J.J. (A.J. Cook) and Hotch having to keep that a secret, it changes everyone. It changes those who had to keep the secret, and it changes those who feel betrayed by that secret. And I want to play to that for the rest of the series, to be honest. It’s another layer to every character. I feel like it would be false not to recognize that. So the real-world, Senate Committee of it all is done, but the team hasn’t forgotten, they haven’t forgiven, and they haven’t completely moved on.
How much of Emily’s time away are we going to see this season, if at all?
Right now we’re talking about it a lot, but we’re not seeing it. It was really difficult for her to do as well. She will definitely be talking about the struggles she had while she was separated from the team. She understands it was hard on them, but it was also hard on her. And I feel like diving into what happened to her in the last seven months will be an episode, certainly, down the line.
This was, clearly, a very special episode. What’s episode two look like?
A lot of it is just having our team back together again. [They] solve the crimes, catch the bad guys and do all the things they’re so good at doing. They get back in the saddle in episode two. They just do it — but not without the fallout. The plan is you’ll get to see a personal side to each character throughout this season and there will be some things you didn’t know about people and some things that will haunt them again. And I think that is a goal we all have on the writing staff — to dive into what makes our heroes behave the way they behave.
What do you mean “things we didn’t know about people”? Does that apply to a specific character or are there many?
Hotch, for example, has been going through the motions of raising a child as a single working parent and mourning the loss of a great love. And even though he and Haley were divorced, she was his first love, his only life and all that. We’d really like him to smile again and let go of that. It’s going to be new and exciting for all of us and the audience.
So is he the one who’s getting the new romance you teased on Twitter today? You can tell me.
[Laughs] I can’t say! If someone had asked [during the chat], I could have been more specific.
They missed their chance!
There’s gotta be some mystery and fun stuff you all have to wait for.
One thing that was also exciting was seeing Reid (Matthew Gray Gubler) more into the action. I think they even mentioned on the show he had been going to the shooting range more. Are we going to see him more in the action this season?
One thing we’re trying to do is have everyone get their hands a little dirty this year. In the premiere, we set it up with the mention that Reid had been going to the gun range more since Emily died and then having him be the one who put the bullet in Chloe in the end. It was certainly by design. He’s not afraid to use that gun. So is there a specific episode that’s action-packed for Reid? No. But we’re certainly not afraid to get him out in the field. I think it works best when we get our team out there together, like we saw at the end of the premiere.
Also, how great was that scene where Reid was front of the senator and gave him attitude — when he said, “It’s ‘Dr.'”? I was, like, “You go, Reid!”
[Laughs] I know! I loved that the character you’d expect to be a little bit meek was pissed off the whole time. He had this edge about him. There was actually a longer speech written for him when Kramer says, “You’re the only one who hasn’t asked for reinstatement.” And [in the initial draft] he said, “I don’t believe I should have to ask for something that I already have,” or something like that. And Matthew said, “I actually just want to say, ‘That’s right.'” And it made sense. Given how that character was in the moment, it really worked. Less was more in that scene. And we did a similar thing with Morgan when he hugs Prentiss. There were words there. And when we rehearsed it, Shemar [Moore] said, he didn’t think Morgan should say, “As long as you’re back I’m ok.” And the more we talked about it, we said, “Let’s just take all the words out of your mouth. You can sell it in looks.” And I think he really, really did.
Last, let’s talk baddies. Are there any new Doyle-type mega villains in store?
You know, it’s hard to top Ian Doyle. It was hard to top The Reaper, so we never really tried. But Ian Doyle, thanks to Timothy Murphy was probably the best bad guy we’ve ever had. So much so, we were all sad to see him go, but we knew the only way to have Prentiss return was to have Doyle dead. He was brilliant. We were even joking, “Maybe Doyle has this evil twin brother and you can come back!” So we haven’t thought about unsub arcs. We’re really concentrating on our hero arcs right now.