Criminal Minds is back Wednesday — and so is Reid (Matthew Gray Gubler).

"Even my mom texted me, "'Where's Matthew?!'" executive producer Erica Messer tells TVGuide.com of Reid's three-episode absence. "It was very funny. There are contractual things that happen that we don't control as storytellers. By the 11th season of a series, actors make their own contracts and deals, and we're left creatively to make sense of why a character is missing for a few episodes. ... I was like, 'Don't worry! He'll be back soon and there'll be lots of him!'"

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Reid fans will be happy to know that he is back in a very big and pivotal way after tending to his schizophrenic mother Diana. In the last episode before the show's winter hiatus, Hotch (Thomas Gibson) told Garcia (Kirsten Vangness) he found a breakthrough in the case to take down the Dirty Dozen hitmen ring that's after her. That manifests in an elaborate ruse on Wednesday's bottle episode-like hour (9/8c, CBS) involving Reid and his date Cat Adams (guest star Aubrey Plaza), who spices things up with a cat-and-mouse (no pun intended) interrogation by holding him hostage at gunpoint in a restaurant.

"Aubrey's [character] is a huge part of that plan," Messer says. "There are a lot of twists to it and it feels like old-school Criminal Minds. It's an amazing episode written by Breen Frazier and Matthew is really at the center of it, which is nice because Dr. Reid has been away with his mom. We wanted to be able to come back and kick-start the new year by acknowledging our arc that got established in the premiere and having it dovetail with Matthew's return to the BAU. That was the goal and Aubrey Plaza was the dream, and it happened. She and Matthew are friends and did a movie together [Life After Beth]. They are fantastic in it. It's an edge-of-your-seat psychological thriller almost, and Dr. Reid is forced to share some things he never has before."

That's because Cat will go for Reid's Achilles' heel: pressing him about his mother. There is a flashback to a young Reid and Diana, which was written in after conflicts with Angel From Hell prevented Jane Lynch from reprising her role as Diana for the first time in more than six years. "Jane Lynch once again is super-busy on another show!" Messer says with a laugh. "We were hoping to get her this year so that it's not happening off-screen, but because we couldn't, Breen crafted some flashbacks, so you see the younger Reid and his mom, who does look surprisingly like Jane. It was our way of acknowledging that this is a man who has a very strong connection with his mom, and the memories of him as a child are part of his core. If we had had Jane, we would've done something different, but we couldn't. I thought the way Breen added those layers in was lovely. It's really beautiful and a reflective case and story, and certainly for Dr. Reid."

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But when all is said and done, is the Dirty Dozen arc over for good after Reid's high-risk efforts? Reid will — spoiler alert — save that day in, as Messer describes, a "heroic" and "bad-ass way." (Don't worry, there are no uncharacteristic fights, just classic Reid kill-you-with-words chess moves.) And Garcia will be out of Witness Protection, but that will be the only good news for now.

"It ends to a degree, but I won't say it's totally put to bed in this episode because we still have our 250th coming up, so I will leave it at that," Messer says. "It might not be as easy as they had hoped it would be. But there's a satisfying end of [Episode] 11 after what Dr. Reid does. It's everything we love about him — what he does. You kind of breathe a sigh of relief and then by the time our 250th airs in March, there will be a new baddie in town. It's sort of the aftermath of something like this. ... I often equate it to my Alias days of you take down SD6 and there's still another head to that monster."

Criminal Minds airs Wednesdays at 9/8c on CBS.

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