Following Thomas Gibson’s firing from Criminal Minds in August, fans finally have some closure on his character Aaron Hotchner. In Wednesday’s episode, the CBS police procedural revealed Hotch has not been on special assignment, but rather in Witness Protection.
Rossi (Joe Mantegna) broke the news to the team near the beginning of “Elliott’s Pond,” which was directed by series veteran Matthew Gray Gubler (Dr. Spencer Reid). “We need to talk,” Rossi began. As it turns out, Hotch decided to leave the Behavioral Analysis Unit and enter Witness Protection after Peter Lewis, a.k.a. Mr. Scratch, began stalking his son, Jack (Cade Owens), at a soccer game.
“He’s OK, but he has not been away on special assignment,” said Rossi. “That’s something we had to say as a cover for the investigation.”
Giving up on his chief post was a sacrifice Hotch made to protect his son, explained Rossi: “Peter Lewis is not going to stop, which is why Hotch and Jack have entered the program.”
Deciding that he “can’t put Jack in danger again,” Hotch submitted his resignation. Sure, he had been long gone by the time of Rossi’s speech, but Hotch’s final request was granted by the director: Emily Prentiss (Paget Brewster) became his successor as the head the BAU. Without missing a beat, Garcia (Kirsten Vangsness) summed up everyone’s thoughts: “Thank the universe for silver linings.”
Gibson was fired from the show following a two-week suspension for a physical altercation with writer-producer Virgil Williams. Shortly thereafter, CBS explained that Gibson would appear in the first two episodes of season 12 and that his departure would be addressed.
His final performance came in the Oct. 5 installment, “Sick Day.” The episode found Hotch working in a conference room and telling J.J. (A.J. Cook) to take a week off from work after she was traumatized by a case, leading to Gibson’s final line in the series: “It’s not a request.”
“My pride and reputation are hurt, but in the end I know the good work is what people will remember,” Gibson told PEOPLE in September. “I just need more opportunities to do good work and be a good guy.”