Matthew Gray Gubler
Criminal Minds executive producer Erica Messer knows how ominous the promo for Wednesday's season finale looks.
Though Reid (Matthew Gray Gubler) — spoiler alert! — survives the shot in the neck he sustained at the end of last week's episode (watch it here), he will wake up to stare down the barrel of a gun. And then there are those nine foreboding words: "You won't believe which profiler will say goodbye forever."
Get the scoop on 39 must-watch season-enders
"It is a little dramatic," Messer tells TVGuide.com with a laugh. "I was a little surprised they showed Reid awake ... but that doesn't necessarily mean anything."
Messer is remaining discreet about whether Reid gets shot (again) and the teased exit, acknowledging that it could be a red herring or apply to recurring characters as well (watch out, Cruz!), as Strauss was the one who bit the dust on last season's finale. "No one is safe," she says. "This [episode] has that urgency to it and that you can really trust no one, and you feel that."
The finale (Wednesday, 9/8c, CBS) will pick up immediately after last week's episode, when The Preacher (guest star Bret Cullen), framed by the actual unsub who's been murdering prostitutes in Texas, shot Reid and Morgan (Shemar Moore), the latter in the vest in a standoff. But the BAU will soon learn that the crimes extend far beyond the unsub.
"Things aren't as they seem in this small town. There's a bigger conspiracy at play and they don't know what that is at first," Messer says. "They're aware somebody is framing The Preacher for this crime. Our path at the end of [Episode] 23 lets us know that The Preacher isn't behind it, so in 24 it's, 'Well, who is it?' There's a big cover-up. There's a constant threat to our team because what they will uncover is a pretty big deal and their lives are in serious jeopardy."
At the same time, though, each team member will get some "really heroic moments" as a result of the escalating danger, most notably Garcia (Kirsten Vangsness), who comes to Reid's side after his injury. "Garcia will do something we've never seen her do in the field before," Messer says, adding that Rossi (Joe Mantegna) and Blake (Jeanne Tripplehorn) will bond "over something in their pasts." "It's something personal that might make people look at them differently. ... It's really a team-heavy episode between that and the case and coming together for Reid."
Fall Preview: Get your first look at all the new shows
But why put another team member in jeopardy yet again? (At least The Beek isn't torturing Reid this time, right?) "It's unrealistic if they're never in danger with their jobs. When you hit the big episodes, the milestones like 200 or 100 or sweeps, we sort of set the bar there, and finales, those are the times we try to reserve that for them," Messer says. "That doesn't mean throughout the season we don't deal with the characters in emotional jeopardy and things. We try not to do it throughout the season so that when we do it at the end of the year, it has a greater impact."
Though Messer had initially planned to do a classic Criminal Minds cliff-hanger finale, which she was unable to do last year due to down-to-the-wire contract negotiations, she opted to eschew one again after arc-ing out the two-parter.
"It's not a cliff-hanger in that traditional sense," she says. "I would say the biggest cliff-hanger is the end of 23 into the finale. This year, it felt like, we don't have something in Rossi's backyard, but after this journey they've been on these two episodes, we need to watch them breathe and know that they're going to get a lot of rest. That's how we decided to end it."
Criminal Minds airs Wednesdays at 9/8c on CBS.
(Full disclosure: TVGuide.com is owned by CBS.)