‘Criminal Minds’ Team Says Goodbye to One of Their Own in Season Finale

"Hit" / "Run" -- Morgan (Shemar Moore), Hotch (Thomas Gibson) and Prentiss (Paget Brewster) try to restrain a distraught JJ (A.J. Cook) as the hostage situation inside a Washington, D.C. bank become more tense, on the two-hour season finale of Criminal Minds (CBS)

The season seven “Criminal Minds” two-part finale is a real explosive, shoot ’em up story about serial-killing bank robbers that is so violent it could have been directed by Sam Peckinpah — and it is also the final two episodes for Emily Prentiss, as Paget Brewster has decided to leave the series.

The episode opens on a quiet Saturday morning as the BAU team goes about their personal lives. Then quickly, all hell breaks loose when a bank robbery turns into a hostage situation with multiple shootings - and they are called into action.

DVR the Season Finale of “Criminal Minds”

“I think when we do real episodes like this, where you could be in a bank on a Saturday and somebody breaks in and shoots people, they are so real. Even though the idea of these bank robbers seems farfetched, it is grounded. It is a place you go to and the one person in authority — the security guard — is dead right away,” says Executive Producer Erica Messer. “You show somebody getting shot in a bank, you don’t even see blood and it feels so real that people get more squeamish about it than a serial killer on the loose.”

The stakes rise when one of their own is taken hostage - and another agent is shot and killed - as the robbers seem to murder without reason. But the pieces begin to come together when the team realizes that the bank is merely the beginning of an even bigger crime - and the chase is on to prevent a terrorism act that would result in large-scale deaths.

With all the action, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the finale ended with some kind of explosion, but in an unusual twist, this season of “Criminal Minds” goes out on a happy note — a wedding.

Messer swore us to secrecy as to who gets married, but she did talk to us about the changes that will take place with Brewster’s departure from the show and what she sees as the highlights of season seven.

Preview the Season Finale:

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Can you talk about what will happen now that Paget Brewster is leaving the show and we have to say goodbye to her Emily Prentiss character?
The heartbreak there for the whole team will be something we have to touch on in next season's premiere, as we do in the first few episodes after there is a big change like that. It was Paget's decision to leave, which we all have to support. We all have known and loved her for a very long time and she wants to go and try something new. We can't blame her at all. It is different than when Mandy Patinkin went, which was Mandy's choice. He quit on us without warning. This is Paget being her normal graceful self, telling us as early as she possibly could that she was not coming back. If we can bring her back for a few episodes next season, we would love that to tie up where she has gone and what adventures she is having. That is why in the finale, we left that bittersweet moment of the last time the team is with her. They have had a gigantic victory and they all sort of have a last dance with her. It's a goodbye without saying goodbye. I talked a lot with Page about all of that. We would like to think that whatever she is doing, she is still seeing that team, still having brunch with the girls … Prentiss may not go to London. She didn't say for sure. That was trying to be true to her character. She is seeing these signs [that it is time to leave the BAU], but we didn't want to say within one day that she decided, "I am going to quit this and go do that." That didn't seem true to her character. But that might be the thing we land on by the time the premiere rolls around. If she is in London and there is a case that overlaps with one of ours ours, that would be a fun way of bringing her back. I am keeping all those doors open.

Were you able to tell all the stories you wanted to for Emily this season?
No. I don't think we ever could and that was a disappointment. We found out in February that she was not coming back, and we were, "There is a lot more we want to do." At that point, we were all the way up to she was buying a house in DuPont Circle. That episode had filmed, so we had to look at, "Okay, what are we going to do with that?" Because that was something we had laid in, so we just used it. She is in escrow with it, and anybody who has been in escrow knows you can end up with a list of things that go wrong during inspection and that is what we will play with.

Are you going to add a new team member, or no?
There are talks of doing that. I can see this team going on as they are because, I think, one of the hardest things for all of us writing it and the fans [watching it] is to introduce a new person to that roundtable. It is such a family. It is unlike most shows in the sense that changing out characters can be a really difficult thing to do. We have learned that. Adding Joe Mantegna after Mandy left was certainly fine. I think everybody accepted Joe and Mandy was a huge part of the series. When Lola [Glaudini] left, it took a while for everyone to warm up to Paget, but then they did. We have a good history of it working. The most recent history didn't and that is what everybody is thinking about, but we have shown in seven years that we have been able to lose characters and add new ones and it has been okay. If we go that route and add a new female, it will be someone who is worthy of being on the BAU. I think that was a little tricky in the last introduction of a new character. She was so young. It is okay for that to be Reid, because he is super, specia,l genius boy, but it is hard to make excuses for that when we have said for so long it is an elite group.

Did you have any other ideas for how Prentiss would go off, or was it always to possibly run the London office of Interpol?
Because of the arc we played with her last year, introducing Clyde Easter [a former Interpol partner of Prentiss’ played by Sebastian Roché] and all the changes that happened in her story that affected others — when people died trying to protect her — those deaths opened up doors so she could run the London Interpol office. We didn’t have a long time to think about it. When I said she was being gracious, it was telling us in February. If we had done a finale and didn’t get to address it at all, that would have put us in the crummy position of having a premiere and she is just not in there. That would be awful. Even being told in February, we were writing the finale episodes in March, so it is not as if we had a whole lot of time to do a game plan. We wanted to have a plan, but I didn’t want her to leave for silly reasons. I wanted that truth where she says: “I have been thinking about it since I got back.” It is such a harsh thing to say, especially to Morgan [Shemar Moore], who was perplexed when she was a ghost in the room in the premiere. She came back because she had to. The child she loved was in jeopardy and the man who wanted her dead was now dead, so she could come back, but it wasn’t necessarily a choice. It was, “Okay, now I am here and I guess this is what I am going to do now.” Now she has a choice. A lot of us get in a position where we are, “This is where I am going. This is what I am doing.” If you ever get that moment to stop and think about it, you say, “What is that over there? Maybe I want to go over there?” That is what she is doing.

"Criminal Minds" is ending its season on a much happier note than normal. Why no cliffhanger episode?
We talked about that a lot. There was going to be a thing at the end, where there was a car crash and it was time to go on to another case, but the consensus with everyone - the writers and the actors - we had a rough go of it season six. Season seven was much better in front of and behind the camera, so we wanted the season finale to reflect that and to do something we never get to do, which is smile, laugh and be dressed up. The decision was unanimous to go out smiling - something this show never gets to do. Everybody was dressed up and there wasn't a coffin.

J.J. [A.J. Cook] has changed the most this season. She is much more kick-ass than she was before. Will that continue?
I feel like she really got to show off some hidden skills this season, especially in the finale with the fight. That was Glen Kershaw's magical directing. We even built that set based on the choreography for the fight. It was a battle about J.J. that we were having earlier on. She was the press liaison, picked the cases and talked to the family, but when that is your only role, your role becomes minimized week after week. A.J. wasn't feeling very challenged. When she came back, we made the decision that she had had this training now - not just the hands-on training - and she takes hand-to-hand combat - and Morgan [Moore] helps her with that. I think J.J. might be our tough girl. Especially in the finale, she is our tough girl.

Do you have a sense yet of where you will pick up next season?
I don't know yet, but it won't be the day after the wedding. It may be the day after Prentiss left. We gain more ground - and it opens more doors - if we start as if real time had passed.

Is there any hope for Kevin (Nicholas Brendon) and Garcia (Kirsten Vangsness) next season?
We are not just going to put them back together like nothing happened. She is a little jealous of Gina right now. We want to play with that. We are going to continue to play them for the funny. When we split them up, it broke everybody's heart.

Is Matthew Gray Gubler (Dr. Spencer Reid) coming back next year?
All signs point to yes, but actors' negotiations is something I don't get into. Everything is looking like it is going to happen. I am hoping no news is good news. That is what happened with Shemar last year. I was literally driving to the soundstage when I got a call, "Shemar's deal has closed." I was, "Thank God."

Can you talk about the highlights of the season?
All the moments with the team - finding out the personal beats. In nearly every episode, something was discovered. Finding out Rossi had a child die with his first wife was a touching little moment that we found in the writing. Joe had asked, "Can we please meet one of my wives?" He wasn't expecting where we went with it. It was something that he never played to in his character. I know it is controversial, but I like that Hotch [Thomas Gibson] is smiling and dating. It is just so sad to have a character seeming to be still in mourning. He is busy and distracted - and we have said this to Thomas - women are probably looking at Hotch but he hasn't looked up. Then he did, and someone was looking. I think it was a nice thing for him to get to play this season. I was happy we were able to bring back the story from last season - episode 23 - for Shemar. The lie he told his family to put them out of their misery came back and bit him in the butt. It was my favorite thing about that episode last year. Our heroes can't be very flawed but that is a good one. - that it came back and it was something he had to deal with. Also, it bookended nicely with the anger he had toward Hotch for keeping a secret, for lying and saying Emily was dead.
I also really like the wedding. I feel it was earned and I like the proposal scene.

Was there something you didn’t get to do that you wanted to do?
I think just now that I know we don't have Paget anymore, I wish we had done more with her. That is always the way, I guess, when you run out of time with somebody. I don't even know what. But she is so great. I think if I had known going into this year that it was her last, it would have been more Prentiss heavy.

The seventh season “Criminal Minds” finale airs back-to-back on Wednesday, May 16, beginning with the “Hit” episode at 9/8c and the “Run” episode at 10/9c on CBS.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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