Criminal Minds Series Finale: Showrunner Talks Surprise Cameos That Did And Didn't Happen

Warning! Major spoilers are below for Criminal Minds’ final two episodes, so tread carefully if you haven’t yet watched.

The relatively stereotypical nature of Criminal Minds’ third-to-last episode, “Family Tree,” might have led viewers to the false belief that the CBS drama wouldn’t be going outside the box for its final installments. Thankfully, though, both “Face Off” and the true finale, “And In the End,” were crafted in a way that both spoke to the show’s history and to its future. As it often does, the past allowed for some familiar faces to return, though perhaps not all the familiar faces fans might have expected from a series finale.

Criminal Minds’ showrunner Erica Messer spoke with CinemaBlend ahead of the finale’s airing, and our conversation touched upon some of the cameos that did and didn’t happen. So read on to see what she had to say.

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(Image credit: cbs press)

Jason Gideon (Ben Savage, Mandy Patinkin)

Expectedly, the penultimate episode put a punctuation mark on the show’s final villain, The Chameleon, and took him out once and for all. But as the team was still in the process of tracking down Everett Lynch (Michael Mosley), Rossi went down into his basement for some reflective thinking, which is where he crossed mental paths with the younger version of Jason Gideon, as portrayed by Ben Savage.

When I asked Erica Messer how great it was to bring Ben Savage back for a final appearance from Jason Gideon – Savage first took on the flashback role in the same season when the character was killed off-screen – here’s what she told me:

Oh yeah, so great. Just to acknowledge this is where it all started before the show even began. These characters were down in a basement, creating this world. That's honoring the real FBI agents who have also had our backs throughout this entire run, and just paying respect to what they do.

Ben Savage’s Gideon drew Rossi into a deeper look why Everett Lynch would have spared Rossi’s life in the first place, and where the weakest link in the information chain was. Fittingly, Gideon disappeared after Rossi realized what the missing piece of the puzzle was.

However, that wasn’t the only time that viewers got to see Jason Gideon on their screens. The final episode utilized footage from the Season 1 premiere, in which Mandy Patinkin’s Jason Gideon was seen and heard once more in the BAU offices.

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Maeve Donovan (Beth Riesgraf)

Not to be outdone by Rossi, Reid’s brain was also looking back to the past for some helpful advice and guidance during his unconscious time in the finale. After walking into a Season 1 flashback, Reid then came across his guilt personified in the form of Jayne Atkinson’s Erin Strauss, the former BAU section chief who got murdered in Season 8. Next up was C. Thomas Howell’s George “The Boston Reaper” Foyet, the Unsub in Seasons 4 and 5 who was beaten to death by Thomas Gibson’s Hotch.

But easily the most meaningful of these hallucinatory reunions was with Beth Riesgraf’s Maeve, Reid’s girlfriend who was tragically killed in Season 8 by Michelle Trachtenberg's Diane Turner. Criminal Minds’ showrunner Erica Messer was very happy to bring Riesgraf back to reprise the role, since it was what Reid needed. In her words:

Once we knew that was going to be the structure [for Reid’s finale arc], we were spoiled for choice, and there were so many ways we could go. But having Maeve be his guide through that felt like what his soul needed in a way, so even though he was in physical and mental turmoil, he had this bright light, this love of his life who was beside him.

As much as Reid did seem to be more at peace with himself and the rest of the world by the end of the episode, part of me did wish there was a way for the two characters to stay reunited, though I realize that would mean Reid probably needed to stay in a comatose state the entire time.

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(Image credit: cbs press)

Why Didn’t Shemar Moore Or Thomas Gibson Return?

Having those Season 1 flashbacks in the finale definitely helped Criminal Minds reach something resembling a full-circle resolution. That said, fans no doubt wondered why the producers didn’t lure back other long-absent regulars such as Shemar Moore and Thomas Gibson (even if the latter’s firing in Season 12 might have made his return slightly awkward).

As it happens, Erica Messer said bringing those actors back was a goal that she and the producers had, but due to outside circumstances, it never came together. In her words:

I mean, there were definitely efforts made for that to happen, and it was just wasn't going to be able to happen. So we did it how I think was as good as we could, which was showing them in that first season finale with everybody ready for a couple of weeks off. And again, showing how far we've come, and honoring and remembering those who were there at the very beginning. That, to me, was impactful, and if they all could have been at the party at the end, that would have been the best. But it wasn't, and we weren't able to do it.

Considering Mandy Patinkin exited the show in its early seasons over creative differences concerning violent content, so I don’t know that anyone expected him to return in the flesh. But Thomas Gibson seemed like a distinct possibility, considering how much fans have asked for his return to happen.

Shemar Moore, meanwhile, seemed like a guarantee, considering he left the show amicably with his character Derek Morgan still alive, and he'd also reappeared a couple of times after leaving. However, Moore is busy elsewhere at CBS with S.W.A.T., so it’s very possible that his schedule wasn’t free enough to allow for a final cameo.

Imagine if had Derek shown up in the finale by walking into the BAU just as his Baby Girl agreed to meet up with Alvez for a mini-date. Yikes, amirite?

After 322 episodes, Criminal Minds is finished, without any more new episodes on the way. There will be plenty of repeats, though, and fans can now start hoping for a spinoff to go into development at CBS at some point in the future.

Nick Venable
Assistant Managing Editor

Nick is a Cajun Country native and an Assistant Managing Editor with a focus on TV and features. His humble origin story with CinemaBlend began all the way back in the pre-streaming era, circa 2009, as a freelancing DVD reviewer and TV recapper.  Nick leapfrogged over to the small screen to cover more and more television news and interviews, eventually taking over the section for the current era and covering topics like Yellowstone, The Walking Dead and horror. Born in Louisiana and currently living in Texas — Who Dat Nation over America’s Team all day, all night — Nick spent several years in the hospitality industry, and also worked as a 911 operator. If you ever happened to hear his music or read his comics/short stories, you have his sympathy.