We did not, as feared, witness the series finale of Criminal Minds last week, when Season 11 ended with a reminder that the work of the BAU (and possibly this show?) will never end. Now that Season 12 has been locked down, I feel safe in imagining/predicting what we might find come September.
In the season finale, after a lovely gathering which included sweeping shots of the team laughing and being happy together for 10 minutes, Hotch got a phone call informing him that during various prison breaks, many serial killers had escaped. While several were apprehended, there are 13 still at large, including Peter Lewis (a.k.a Mr. Scratch), a Season 10 unsub who used mind control to commit murder and played a significant role in the most recent season finale. We don't know who those other 12 killers are, if we've seen them before, or if they'll be new to even the most loyal Criminal Minds viewer. Escaped murderers could easily fill a season or at least provide some insane cliff-hangers. We've seen what unsubs on the loose can do, especially when they're intent on stalking BAU members (see Seasons 2, 5, 6, 10, etc.), so this plot could result in some serious carnage for the team.
There's also the matter of BAU team members tending to come and go, and the Criminal Minds showrunners love to replace them with people who then go on to leave after one or two season (they're usually women): Rachel Nichols as Ashley Seaver in Season 6, Jeanne Tripplehorn as Dr. Alex Blake in Season 8 and 9, Jennifer Love Hewitt as Kate Callahan in Season 10. In Season 11, the addition of Dr. Tara Lewis has actually been pretty graceful — she's been in a few episodes here and there, she has a role outside of the BAU that takes up time and she hasn't been marketed aggressively as a substitute for any other team member; she's just herself. Let's hope the writers decide to maximize what they already have and that there isn't another character awaiting us at the beginning of a new season.
Speaking of other characters, if you've been watching this show for more than one season, you've probably noticed that Reid is the only character whose story line involves perpetual misery. Even Hotch, who got held at gunpoint in front of his kid, and Morgan, who was the latest team member to get kidnapped and almost murdered twice over the course of two episodes, have had romantic relationships and can at least pretend they aren't tormented by their pasts, whereas Reid just cannot seem to catch a break. I wouldn't be surprised if something about Reid's romantic life gets conjured this season, but I also wouldn't be surprised if the writers shirk it in exchange for continuing to remind us that his mother is sick, he's super emotionally vulnerable, and he is never going to be allowed to experience joy in any long-term context.
Of course, there are one million other directions Criminal Minds could take next season, and even though we've already been set up for a certain angle, the writers are known for leading viewers in one direction and then totally subverting that direction, and that subversion tends to happen mid-season. Also, though, there's a whole summer between us and the new season, so let's spend that time considering more of the possibilities for the Criminal Minds future.
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