How Criminal Minds’ Cast Can Return For Season 16 (Where They Left Off)
The rebooted Criminal Minds is returning for season 16, and here’s how each confirmed cast member and character can pick up right where they left off. 2021 marked the first year Criminal Minds was not on the air since September 2005, with the series finale arriving in 2020 and marking the end of a stellar 15-year run. However, per Deadline, this hiatus proved to be very short-lived indeed, with a ten-episode revival of the series confirmed as in development by Paramount+ in February 2021. The BAU has had many members come and go during its initial 15-year run, so who is coming back for Criminal Minds season 16?
Six original Criminal Minds cast members are poised to enter negotiations with the series’ new streaming home Paramount+. Returning Criminal Minds characters include Rossi (Joe Mantegna), Garcia (Kirsten Vangsness), Alvez (Adam Rodriguez), JJ (A.J. Cook), Lewis (Aisha Tyler), and Prentiss (Paget Brewster). Two fan-favorite characters currently not in the frame to return at this stage of development are Criminal Minds mainstay Dr. Spencer Reid (Matthew Gray Gubler), and Simmons (Daniel Henney), who migrated from spinoff series Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders in season 13. Henney is currently tied to Amazon Prime Video’s highly-successful fantasy series The Wheel of Time, while Gubler’s reasons for not returning to the Criminal Minds setup remain unknown to date.
That’s who is returning for Criminal Minds season 16, but names and faces aren’t the only consideration. Season 15 was intended to be the last time audiences would join the BAU as they analyzed UnSubs and foiled the plans of serial killers, professional hitmen, domestic terrorists, and everything in between. The question of how each of the confirmed characters can return during Criminal Minds season 16 boils down to where each character’s respective story arcs left off. Faces such as Jennifer Jareau (A.J. Cook) will slip back easily into the reboot’s setting given their continued association with the BAU, while other characters such as Penelope Garcia (Kirsten Vangsness) may require a more detailed explanation of their journey back to Quantico. Here’s how each of the six confirmed Criminal Minds characters can return for season 16, as well as where each character’s storyline ended in the season 15 finale.
Joe Mantegna’s David Rossi has been a main cast member of the Criminal Minds franchise since 2007 when he made his first appearance in season 3, episode 6, “About Face.” The Criminal Minds finale sees Rossi still wrestling with whether or not to re-retire from the BAU after being shot by an UnSub and reminded of his own mortality at the end of season 15. Ultimately, Rossi reneges on his oft-planned retirement due to how much the department means to him, instead using his prearranged retirement party as a fitting send-off for Penelope Garcia. Rossi’s return to the fray is perhaps the easiest of all to orchestrate in Criminal Minds season 16, given he canonically still leads the BAU team and remains as fierce a special agent as he was in 2007 when Agent Hotchner (Thomas Gibson) coaxed him out of his early retirement plans.
Among everyone who is coming back for Criminal Minds season 16, one character returns after leaving the BAU following a historic 15-year stint. This is, of course, fan-favorite and mainstay since season 1 Penelope Garcia. At the end of season 15, Penelope decides to move on from the BAU, taking a job at a non-profit (conveniently located near Rossi’s house), and also breaks her character’s cycle of (often self-enforced) loneliness by accepting love-interest Luke Alvez’s (Adam Rodriguez) date proposal at the end of the season. Bringing Penelope back for Criminal Minds season 16 is a smart move from the reboot, particularly given her importance to the series as the emotional, human core of the BAU. However, the incredibly quotable Penelope‘s return is the most difficult to envision since she left the BAU to protect her mental health at the end of season 15. A likely option for Criminal Minds is to have Penelope return through her emotional attachment to the BAU. It’s unlikely she’ll feel the same connection to her non-profit job as the BAU. Since Alvez is also back there’s a chance that her new flame could be in trouble himself, as it wouldn’t be the first time a member of the BAU has found themselves becoming an UnSub’s target.
Adam Rodriguez’s Luke Alvez represents the new, youthful core of the BAU after his character was introduced to fill the void left by Derek Morgan’s (Shemar Moore) departure at the end of season 11. Alvez goes through his own trials and tribulations across a three-season character arc, with his greatest challenge arriving after he and Matt Simmons (The Wheel of Time‘s Daniel Henney) are kidnapped in season 15, episode 5, “Ghost.” Like Rossi before him, Alvez ends the Criminal Minds finale still working for the BAU, making his re-integration into the series a seamless proposition for season 16.
Jennifer Jareau’s arc is one of Criminal Minds‘ most extensive examples of character development, with JJ undergoing three title changes and several harrowing undercover assignments in addition to starting a family with her eventual husband, Will LaMontagne, Jr. (Josh Stewart). Jareau’s story in Criminal Minds season 15 consists of resolving her unrequited love for Spencer Reid, recovering from being shot in the season opener, and wrestling with taking a new job in New Orleans that would be more suitable for her young family. Ultimately, the finale’s final scene as the BAU team toasts Garcia confirms Jareau is staying at Quantico, setting up her easy return as part of Criminal Minds’ season 16 core agent team.
Another returning Criminal Minds reboot character is Dr. Tara Lewis (Aisha Tyler), who joined the BAU permanently from season 12 onwards after her heroics apprehending several vicious offenders. Given her dismay at temporarily leaving the BAU in season 11, Lewis ends Criminal Minds season 15 exactly where she deserves to be – surrounded by Rossi and the rest of her colleagues at Garcia’s farewell party. Lewis’ frequent trips away from the BAU to interview serial killers for research purposes not only allow her character’s inclusion in the storyline to be flexible as Criminal Minds season 16 begins, but can also be a strong source of narrative options for the Criminal Minds showrunners should they wish to explore more of the psychological cat-and-mouse games that characterized Lewis’ early seasons in the series.
The final returning core character for Criminal Minds season 16 is Emily Prentiss (Community‘s Paget Brewster), who is canonically the current BAU Unit Chief. Prentiss’ season 15 ending carries shades of her abrupt season 7 departure following JJ’s wedding (also in Rossi’s backyard), after which she did not return to the team until season 12 some five years later. This time around, however, Prentiss’ season 15 story ends on a more positive note, with the Unit Chief able to keep her job despite her failings in the series’ penultimate Everett Lynch (Michael Mosley) case, as well shown house-hunting with her new partner Andrew Mendoza (Stephen Bishop) after famously struggling to cultivate meaningful outside of work relationships. Like many of her colleagues listed above, Prentiss’ deep roots at Quantico means she will likely feature heavily in the Criminal Minds season 16 reboot in her Unit Chief role.
The Criminal Minds Cast Who Aren’t Confirmed For Season 16
Several cast members haven’t been confirmed for Season 16 of Criminal Minds. Daniel Henney, who plays Matt Simmons from season 13 onwards, is currently involved in Amazon Prime Video’s Wheel Of Time. It could be that scheduling or contract issues prevent him from returning to Criminal Minds, or he could be taking the opportunity to not return and push his career beyond the world of the BAU and Criminal Minds’ various spinoff series. The most notable absence is Matthew Gray Gubler. Matthew Gray Gubler is one of the only cast members to have been in all 15 seasons of Criminal Minds so far. His character, genius analyst Dr. Spencer Reid, is only rivaled by Garcia in popularity. His absence is notable, so much so that many fans are questioning how successful a Criminal Minds revival can be without Reid. Gubler also directed many episodes of Criminal Minds, so his previous involvement with the franchise was heavy, to say the least. Many fans have their fingers crossed that the lack of Matthew Gray Gubler Criminal Minds season 16 news so far isn’t an indication that Spencer Reid has parted ways with the BAU forever.
Other previous cast members unlikely to return include Shemar Moore as Derek Morgan and Thomas Gibson’s Aaron Hotchner. Morgan is still alive in Criminal Minds, returning for several cameo episodes after his BAU departure at the end of season 11. While the show could bring Morgan back there’s nothing that indicates it will happen, especially since Shemar Moore is pursuing movie appearances after his role in Sonic 2, and has been the star of S.W.A.T. on CBS since 2017. As for Thomas Gibson, he was famously dropped from Criminal Minds after an onset altercation and problematic behavior throughout filming led to his dismissal. Unlike other BAU Alumni, Hotchner is barely mentioned by the remaining BAU. He and his son enter witness protection, and that’s pretty much the end of that. For many viewers, this wasn’t a huge loss. The stern and stoic Hotchner was hardly a fan favorite, and subsequent leaders like Rossi, JJ, and Prentiss feel like much better fits for taking the BAU’s helm. Since there’s no fan demand for Hotchner, the current cast probably won’t work with Gibson, and the narrative would have to tie itself in knots to bring him back, it’s pretty much a guarantee Hotch won’t return for season 16 of Criminal Minds.
Does Emily Prentiss Come Back In Season 16 Of Criminal Minds?
As mentioned, Emily Prentiss is coming back for Criminal Minds season 16. Prentiss first joined the BAU in season 2. However, like many of the other characters, she took hiatuses in various seasons (although she was never far from the show, being mentioned and appearing in cameos throughout). In Season 15 Prentiss was the BAU’s unit chief, leading the team throughout various cases including the two-season long hunt for Everett Lynch, AKA The Chameleon. Since Prentiss has been an on-again, off-again member of the BAU, some fans wondered if Pagit Brewster would return for season 16, or if the unexpected continuation of Criminal Minds would see her written out to pursue a life with Mendoza in D.C. However, an update from Paget Brewster in June 2022 assured fans that she and the rest of the aforementioned confirmed BAU alumni would be back for season 16 when Criminal Minds returns on Paramount+, whenever the release date ends up being.
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