Warning: This story contains major spoilers from the season finale of Criminal Minds. Read at your own risk!
Another Criminal Minds season finale, another BAU teammember turning in their badge.
After the team raced to rescue Kate’s (Jennifer Love Hewitt) kidnapped daughter and her friend, the newest addition to the BAU thought it was time to take a step back so she can focus on her family—especially with another child on the way. In a case of life imitating art, Hewitt is expecting her second child when Criminal Minds is slated to go into production on season 11, so the actress will not be returning next year. EW has the exclusive scoop from showrunner Erica Messer:
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What can you tell us about Jennifer’s decision not to return?
ERICA MESSER: I didn’t know she was pregnant until really the end of the calendar year, which was still early, although we had already broken the finale at that point. There was definitely some going back and having more finality to her character. We had already set up that the episode would be about Kate and her family and the horrific thing that happens with her daughter Meg being abducted. That was already in play, but what wasn’t in play was writing her out by any means. We went back into the writers’ room and discussed options of how to do that.
It felt like we had every opportunity to write to the truth of it: She’s having another baby. Although on the show she hasn’t had, physically, two babies, she does have two kids: She has Meg, who she’s been raising since she was an infant, and we wrote in that the character is going to have another baby. There was an opportunity there to write towards the truth. Jennifer wanted to be able to give this second baby everything she gave her first, and that’s taking time off to be a full-time mom. Because she’s due in July, when we would start shooting season 11, timing-wise there was no way for her to do both, to be able to give that baby everything she wanted to give that baby and still be on our show. We wrote to that, and that’s how season 10 ends. It’s a bittersweet idea of “life is full of choices and they define who you are.” She makes the decision to leave the team for a while. It’s really lovely and real, not only because it was happening off-screen, but because I know those things happen in real life too.
Are you leaving the door open for her to return for a potential 12th season?
Yeah, we left it open creatively. Hotch says, “You always have a place here,” and we believe that wholeheartedly off-screen as well. It was a great season and we had a lot of fun with her. One of the great things about our show is you can leave those doors open. We rarely kill anyone. That opportunity for paths to cross again is definitely open. Everybody is on board with that. Of course, no one has a crystal ball, so it’s hard to predict two years from now what’s going on—or a year from now. But it’s something we’d definitely creatively keep open.
Have you spoken with Jennifer about making a cameo next season, or are you moving on and thinking about what new characters you can introduce?
We’re moving on, and thinking about new ideas and characters and what we can play on with our mythology after 10 years. I really want to honor her wishes of being able to go home and concentrate on being a mama to two babies. I’ve been there; it’s a lot of work. I haven’t even approached that with her yet. But because we’ve left the door open, if there’s a massive case and we need to call Kate back, that’s something I’d love to be able to do.
What are you looking for in a new character for next season?
It’s such a big discussion with so many cooks in the kitchen. We haven’t really concentrated on that yet. Our season in the writers’ room will begin June 1, so that’s our work for the beginning of season 11. We have had a revolving door, and sometimes there might be fun in [bringing back someone] who’s come in that door and say, “Hey, do you want to come back and play for a little bit?” Which would be amazing because it’s always a fun thing when shows get to bring people back. It takes a lot of us getting together and talking about what we’ve seen and what we need. It feels like there’s nothing missing on our team. We’ve got such a great group. Our core group that everyone’s known and loved for so many years cover all of our bases, so anything on top of it is like a bonus. This might be a good opportunity to bring in a fun guest star for a while and maybe shake it up a little bit.
Both A.J. Cook and Jennifer Love Hewitt are pregnant in real life and on the show. Their characters are making very different decisions in that J.J. is sticking around. Is that something that’s going to be touched upon when the show returns?
It definitely will. That’s something that if I had written that, everybody would’ve said that’s over the top. “Both women are pregnant? Really?” But it actually happened. One day I found out Love was going to move on and be a mama full time, and the very next day A.J. told me she was pregnant, too. So it was like, “Oh my gosh! That’s amazing.” It’s exciting for them. I’m separating myself from co-worker to friend, and as a friend, I’m so excited for both of them. Both are having their second kids and both are making very different choices as working moms. I love that, too. I just love that these two really strong women get to make their own choices of what they want to do moving forward, and that’s so empowering and so great. I’m honored to be able to share that with everybody else when we get to tell those stories as well.
How do you think another changeover will affect the team?
It’s part of the job. It’s way more realistic for, after 10 years, people to have moved on or moved into a different division or something like that. It’s such a rare thing to be in the same FBI unit for all those years. Often, people go to different cities. But also offscreen, it’s so rare for all of us. We’re going into season 11, which is remarkable. We’re all looking at each other like, “Oh my gosh, have you ever been on anything this long?” Not just a single show, but just working for the same company. It’s pretty amazing. We are creatively going to be finding ways to keep that fresh and also acknowledge the realistic nature of moving in and on.
There are a number of other cast members who need to sign new deals for the potential 11th season. Should we be worried about any other exits?
I would not be worried about it. I really wouldn’t. We have such a strong group together for so many years. I think season 11 is going to be a continuation of that.