Why Criminal Minds Went With That Huge Cliffhanger Twist In The Finale

Major spoilers for the Criminal Minds finale are below.

For eleven seasons now, Criminal Minds has given viewers a seemingly endless supply of dastardly unsubs, and tonight’s season finale gave audiences a jaw-dropping prison break cliffhanger that could put us right back in front of some of the craziest bastards the BAU has ever put behind bars.  After we watched the team successfully take apart both a bombing plot and prison escape, all was well for Rossi & Co. until it was revealed several other unthwarted prison breaks occurred elsewhere, putting 13 highly dangerous serial killers back on the streets. Here’s why the show decided to go with such a bold choice, according to showrunner Erica Messer.

We had such a good time with Tara Lewis this year and the idea that she gets to do something that we don't get to show very often ... interviewing the killers after we've caught them…We were thinking, is there another way to sort of explore that? Given all the Shemar real estate this year, it wouldn't have done it justice if we had squeezed it into this year, given everything else we had to do. We thought, if we end the season with this prison break, wouldn't it be cool for the team to have a victory -- but since the team couldn't be everywhere at once, we learn this happened elsewhere? So it really got conceived as we were breaking the finale more than anything.

That’s as good an example as any that the creative spark can come at any time and under any circumstances. Had someone asked Messer at the end of Season 10 where she thought Season 12 would go, none of this would have been on her mind at all. But because Aisha Tyler’s Tara Lewis was such a great new character, her material sparked the idea of bringing back familiar bad guys as well as giving audiences a rare look at a twisty Criminal Minds finale cliffhanger, which we haven’t gotten in many seasons.

Plus, this ending allows viewers to theorize all summer long just what past criminals we might be seeing in Season 12 (always assuming, of course, that CBS is going to put that renewal in soon). We know that Mr. Scratch is out there, but there are a ton of others that could also show up. Messer says that part of those decisions will involve actors’ availability, but that she will indeed be making an initial list of favorites with the writers. She also explained to TV Guide the other choices she and her creative team will be mulling over.

This will be a different road for us. It might not be the top 12 unsubs of all time. We don't know if we're going to dedicate an episode to each one that escaped. We often start our premieres having had the summer go by, so I would like to believe that if we do that that over the summer the team would've caught a couple of them. It does feel like a great challenge for the team. How have [the unsubs] adapted in prison and how does that relate to their survival on the outside? They might lay low for a while, but eventually they will act on their urges. ... I think someone who escaped at the end of [Season] 11, we would capture [them] by the end of 12. That's probably a safe bet. It won't be like we won't catch anyone all season. It would just be maybe picking a nemesis to focus on.

Season 11 already gave us the departure of Derek Morgan and the brief return of Emily Prentiss, and this finale was a great way to expand the story without killing off a major character or making us worry that something like that might have happened. And it definitely makes me excited to see how the manhunts play out next season. So get to renewing Criminal Minds, CBS, so that my excitement isn’t for naught.

Nick Venable
Assistant Managing Editor

Nick is a Cajun Country native, and is often asked why he doesn't sound like that's the case. His love for his wife and daughters is almost equaled by his love of gasp-for-breath laughter and gasp-for-breath horror. A lifetime spent in the vicinity of a television screen led to his current dream job, as well as his knowledge of too many TV themes and ad jingles.