[WARNING: The following story contains spoilers about Wednesday's Season 10 finale of Criminal Minds. Read at your own risk.]
For the second year in a row, Criminal Minds quietly bid adieu to another BAU member.
After the team rescued her niece Meg and her friend Markayla from a human trafficking ring on Wednesday's Season 10 finale, Kate (Jennifer Love Hewitt) tearfully handed in her resignation to Hotch (Thomas Gibson), explaining that she took a year off to raise Meg after her sister and brother-in-law died in 9/11 and now wants to do the same for her unborn child.
"You'll always have a place here," Hotch tells her.
So, will Kate return to the BAU in a year? How did her departure come about? Executive producer Erica Messer answers our burning questions about the finale and what's in store for Season 11.
How early did you discuss Jennifer leaving? When we talked earlier this season, you said she asked you if you would ever write in her pregnancy should she get pregnant again when you met with her about joining the show.
Erica Messer: We definitely wanted to write in the pregnancy. It wasn't until March that we had a discussion. It's similar like last year [with Jeanne Tripplehorn, whose contract was up]. [Hewitt] had thought a lot about it and she really wanted to give this baby No. 2 everything she did for her firstborn. That would mean not going to work every day. I want to say it was nearly nine months of her not working before she came back on Criminal Minds. It's hard to pull off a full-time gig and be a full-time mom. It's something I certainly understand, being a mom as well, and if that option is given to you and you actually can consider that in every facet of your life, it's something I have to support and be really happy for her.
Is it safe to say Kate would've stayed had Jennifer not been pregnant?
Messer: Yeah, definitely. She'd still be here.
You're like the anti-Game of Thrones. You always leave the door open for a return. Messer: [Laughs] You know how we are here. We like people to come back and play whenever they can, so we don't kill them off. Like you said, if she hadn't been pregnant and due right when we would start production on Season 11 — that's the other thing, she's due in July and we start production right in July — then she would've come back. It was really something that was organic and surprising in a good way. None of us thought at the beginning of the season we'd end the year with two pregnant actresses! And right now, it's too soon to say what would happen in two years if we're lucky enough to have [a Season 12]. We would love to have her back.
Even if you didn't plan it from the beginning, it was fitting how her arc came full circle. We found out about her and Meg at the start of the season and you had a season-long unsub story line with Meg, and now that's over and she's leaving onscreen and off to focus on her family.
Messer: Yeah, I think it's always interesting how those things come together. We always knew the finale was about Meg being in trouble. That's one of the reasons we set up Kate raising a teenage daughter and what are the challenges of raising a teen as an FBI agent. That's something we haven't seen Hotch or JJ deal with yet. Rossi, we didn't know he had a daughter until this season. We wanted to play it over the season and with the dangers of social media and the anonymity of the Internet. We've all been passionate about it. Jim Clemente is our FBI consultant and co-wrote the episode and has taught plenty seminars across the country about e-acquaintances and the danger in that. Kate has all of this knowledge and she has shared a lot of it with Meg.
How important was it to show how much Kate has taught her? I like that Meg wasn't a helpless victim.
Messer: That was something we definitely wanted to do. Meg has a tragic story. She already knows that life isn't what it's you think it's gonna be or how you think it'll turn out to be. There's always been an open and honest relationship between Kate and Meg ... and you saw that she really took everything Kate taught her to heart. We wanted to show Meg was smart as well. She was keeping her cool. It was a reflection of Kate and her strengths as a mom and an FBI agent.
I know it's too early to say, but are you planning to replace Kate or do you want to keep the position open for the time being? You've had a lot of cast turnover in the last few years and A.J. [Cook] will be going on maternity leave again next year.
Messer: Yeah, exactly, you're pretty much hitting it right on the head. As usual, it's a discussion with lots of people. Right now, we're leaning towards keeping that position open but maybe having fun with some guest stars, things like that, especially with A.J. having maternity leave early in the season.
Jordan Todd! Bring her back.
Messer: Yeah! That would be cool. A lot of people liked her. That's definitely a possibility. I feel like when you look at 10 years of people we could bring back, it would be fun to be able to do that. We know the BAU is a lot bigger than just our heroes.
Everyone's gonna want Prentiss back.
Messer: [Laughs] I know! That would be fun. We haven't seen her since "200," so it might be time to check in with her again.
Obviously it wasn't planned from the beginning, but did you like showing Kate's and JJ's different options of being a working mom?
Messer: Definitely. A.J. told me [she was pregnant] right after Jennifer did, and we all couldn't believe it. Battle of the baby bumps! But I think with the way we played it, it's such a reflection of what happens in the real world. Any time we can write things like that, I think it's great because it's real.
Have you decided if JJ will have a boy or girl? And Reid [Matthew Gray Gubler] obviously is the godfather, right?
Messer: Of course! Who else would it be? [Laughs] We've always decided we'd do whatever A.J. has. She's having a boy, so Henry will have a little brother. Hopefully we'll meet him and be able to watch him grow up like Mekhai [Cook's first son, who plays JJ's son Henry].
And he'll dress like Reid like Henry.
Messer: Oh, totally! How cute was that? We'll have two mini Reids.
I loved "Mr. Scratch," especially the evocative close-up on Hotch at the end. Do you plan on touching upon that again or do you think it's more haunting to leave it alone
Messer: Wasn't that such a great episode? I remember telling you, "People are gonna freak out!" Is Hotch hallucinating? You don't for sure know. My guess is that will be a story line we can revisit. I would defer to our writers' meetings that will start up in a couple weeks. It was such a great creepy bad guy and unexpected. ... And the sound that that monster made — so creepy.
And Gubler made it.
Messer: Yeah. Only Matthew could do that! And he played it and we were like, "We want to see it!" I can't wait to see what he comes up with next year [when he directs again].
Do you have any other general ideas percolating for Season 11?
Messer: Because it's Season 11, we want to focus on them a little bit more. That's why I think it might also be a good idea to leave [the position] open so we don't have to spend time introducing a new character for fans, but really dive into these people we've known and loved for 10 years. I think there are also conversations to be had about people who have come and gone in the past 10 years and bringing people back. It's just the acknowledgment of this is what happens after 10 years of working somewhere and people do come and go. It's like what we did with Gideon — in that case and writing to the reality of that. I think we'll be seeing more familiar faces next year.
What did you think of Kate's exit?
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Baby girl and beyond: Watch a supercut of Morgan and Garcia's nicknames: