February 05, 2014 9:15am PT by Philiana Ng
'Criminal Minds' EP on Hitting 200 Episodes and 'Bigger' Paget Brewster Presence
CBS' long-running procedural Criminal Minds is reaching a milestone: 200 episodes.
"All of us who have been here for all 200 of them are shaking our heads: 'How has it been nine years since we started here?'" showrunner/executive producer Erica Messer tells The Hollywood Reporter. "The fact that we've had 200 stories to tell, and hopefully at least 200 more, it's a series unlike others where human behavior has endless possibilities. Because our show studies the behavior of people, you can take what you'd think are the same ingredients and put them together, but have a completely different outcome because there is no easy math equation for what the spectrum of human behavior is."
In the 200th episode, airing Wednesday, when J.J. (A.J. Cook) is abducted, the BAU takes a look into her time at the State Department to find clues to her disappearance and uncover a secret mission that puts her life in danger.
"One of the things we really wanted to do with the 200th was have a story about one of our heroes. That's what we did in the 100th, and that was a pretty amazing journey for Hodge. We went back to a time when [J.J.] was not in the BAU. What happened in that missing year? How did she change?" Messer says. "It was something that happened in the past that affected their present."
It was important that the events of the episode mirror the significance of the 200th. "It's a big episode. We wanted to tell a big story and we definitely did," Messer says. In the team's efforts to locate J.J., they recruit former member Prentiss (Paget Brewster) in their time-sensitive mission.
"When we were breaking the story in the writers' room, our dream team was Strauss (Jayne Atkinson) could come back in flashbacks and Paget could come back in the flashbacks but also we'd love her in the present-day story. When it all worked and [Paget] came back, we made her role a little bit bigger than what we had initially intended. We thought, 'We got her, let's use her more than we had planned,'" Messer said. "It just seemed only right that if we were going to have her on the screen, we should use her as much as possible." In fact, some of Brewster's scenes will show her on a plane flying in from London to the East Coast.
As far as the actual mission goes, the team slowly uncovers as the episode goes on the truth about J.J.'s year away. Though there may have been speculation on their part as to what their colleague was up to, all of that comes out in the 200th.
"They never knew what J.J. did when she left the BAU. They presumed that her cover story was what she was doing and what they uncover is that it was just a backstop -- basically a cover story and she had a much more important role in a part of history than they ever knew," Messer says. "The stakes are that much higher because it's personal this time."
The reason for J.J.'s shift in character during her off-screen stint in season six is addressed in the milestone episode, Messer promises.
"She did come back stronger and different, and we made her a profiler after that. I felt that story about how she became this J.J. was worth telling and I felt like the audience maybe wasn't asking, but it's certainly an interesting story for them to know," she says. "In the writers' room, we were thinking about what sort of bad-ass stuff she was up to while she wasn't with the team. This way, we were able to show everybody."
Though the revelations may not be mind-blowing, Messer likened them to being a part of one's life journey. "There's highs and lows in all of it and the events that happened in her past shaped who she is right now," she says. "Both personally and professionally she went through a lot of challenges that made her tougher."
Following the 200th episode, Messer hints that the next new episode, after an Olympics break, will pick up several weeks later -- though J.J. will be forever altered from her experience. "We're back to business as usual," she says. "The heroes do not rest. There are plenty of bad guys to arrest. We're back to that pretty quickly."
Watch a preview of the 200th episode below.
Criminal Minds airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on CBS.