Less than a year after the team’s reunion on Criminal Minds, fans were told months ago that one of the show’s staple players, Paget Brewster, who plays Emily Prentiss, would be leaving the show at the end of the current season — her second exit from the show in so many years.
While fans were certainly shocked by the announcement, no one was more crushed than executive producer Erica Messer. “I was devastated, and I begged her not to go,” Messer says with a slight laugh. “It’s such a different feeling, though, knowing that this is Paget’s decision. And I think all of us — the fans, the cast and crew who know and love her —[feel] like if that’s what she needs to do, we have her back and support her.”
The same could be said for the rest of the team’s reaction to Prentiss’s exit, Messer adds. When penning the season finale, airing as a two-hour event on May 16, Messer says she wanted to write an exit for the character that somewhat reflected Brewster’s situation. “[Emily’s] listening to her gut in the last episodes,” she says. “The conversations that Prentiss is having with the team were the ones I had with Paget, basically.”
But how do you write a character after you’ve already killed them? (In season 6, Emily faked her death, leaving the team to contend with her demise.) For Messer, killing Prentiss again was never an option. “I didn’t want those left behind to have to deal with the fact that she really died this time. The sadness they played at the end of season 6, especially 6.20 when Hotch had the therapy sessions with them all, it was real for every single one of them. And it was real for Hotch because he had this burden [of the lie]. To think that would be real for them, that seemed like a cruel thing to do to that team,” she said. So instead, she opted for “a proper exit” — one that, as explained in EW’s Spoiler Room, leave viewers feeling like “it was believable that she can still have breakfast with them when she’s in town.”
“You work with people for years and years, and then they’re gone. And you adapt to what this world is without them,” she says. “They’re going to have that same feel and learning curve. ‘This is what it looks like and feels like without Emily Prentiss here.'”
Criminal Minds airs a new episode tonight, directed by co-star Matthew Gray Gubler.