Of all the changes that television saw in 2016, from new shows to cancellations to everything in between, one of the biggest (and most heavily decried) was the firing of star Thomas Gibson from the CBS drama Criminal Minds following an on-set altercation with a writer. Since that controversial decision was made, showrunner Erica Messer has basically kept mum regarding the subject, but she has now opened up a bit. Saying no discussions about his return have happened, Messer answered if she would like to have Gibson's Hotch return to the show in the future. Her guarded response:

It's hard to do those kinds of things. I think you saw that with Mandy [Patinkin] and we were never able to see him again. If the show goes on 10 more years, who the heck knows? But there's nothing I can think about right now because it's not in the immediate future.

Let's be real here. While a potential return on the horizon is a nice thought, almost everybody who wants Thomas Gibson to return to Criminal Minds wants it to happen as quickly as possible, and there's not much optimism to be found in Erica Messer's words. If it's not happening in the immediate future, it's not happening this season.

hotch criminal minds

The comparison to Mandy Patinkin is understandable, since they're two cast members that left on disagreeable terms, but it similarly inspires zilch for hope in catching up with Hotch on Criminal Minds. Patinkin memorably left the show in its early seasons, having a major problem with the violent subject matter. That actor clearly didn't want to return, continuing to lambast his own involvement with it, and Criminal Minds eventually killed his character Jason Gideon last year.

But that's not to say Erica Messer and the Criminal Minds creative team will give former Agent Hotch the same treatment. Speaking with TVGuide, her answers concerning Thomas Gibson and his character were genial and profession, seemingly lacking the edge of someone with a major grudge. And she talked at length about how important it was to write the character off in a way that respected him and the fans' love of him. Here, she explains why he wasn't killed off outright on his temporary mission.

I mean, the dramatic storytelling component of writing a version of real life would be death because it happened so quickly. That happens in life all the time -- I don't know if you've ever experienced it but I certainly have -- where a family member's died in a car crash and you can't really process that because it was an accident and you were just going to see that person, and what do you mean they're going forever? There's something so real in that that I can't say it wasn't talked about because of the reality of tragedies like that. It is what it is and allowed us to say goodbye to him, knowing he's off being a dad to Jack, and that seemed to feel good for everybody.

So as long as Aaron Hotchner is still alive, under whatever assumed name he's going by, then there's a chance that he could still come back, even if it means having to wait until his son Jack is old enough to drink. But that probably won't stop the #NoHotchNoWatch movement from reneging on their protests.

With new cast members to spare, Criminal Minds airs Wednesday nights on CBS. To see everything else that's starting up soon, check out our midseason finale schedule.

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