The big question of Criminal Minds season 12 was how Hotch would be written out, since originally, his absence was supposed to be brief. It was also the reasion Prentiss came back in a multi-episode guest arc; he was just supposed to be on “temporary assignment.” However, following an on-set altercation, Thomas Gibson was fired and Paget Brewster‘s return in a recurring capacity turned into a series regular promotion. That means that however they had him leave the BAU had to, for the most part, take place off-screen.

It did, with the explanation for his now-permanent absence coming at the beginning of episode 6, “Elliott’s Pond,” as Rossi revealed that Hotch’s “temporary assignment” was really a cover for an investigation, one that involved Peter Lewis, a.k.a. Mr. Scratch, and the danger he posed to his son.

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How Hotch Was Written Out

Back when it was first announced that Criminal Minds would be writing Hotch out following the on-set altercation, I had speculated about how they’d do it. Two of my theories had been that he’d choose to leave the FBI, realizing it was too dangerous, before it cost Jack both his parents, and that, with Mr. Scratch free, he’d enter into witness protection to protect his family.

It turns out those theories were right. Rossi revealed to the team that Mr. Scratch had been at one of Jack’s soccer games and later at his school, even after Hotch put 24/7 surveillance on his son. Knowing Lewis wouldn’t stop, Hotch decided it was best for him and Jack to enter witness protection. Initially, he had believed he could come back after they caught Mr. Scratch, but he decided he couldn’t put himself and his son in danger again and resigned from the FBI.

Hotch even thought about the future of the team, requesting that Prentiss take over as Unit Chief. In other words, they wrapped up Hotch’s storyline and who’d replace him in one scene with a nice bow.

It’s What’s Best for Hotch’s Family

As Garcia mentioned, there had been enough tragedy in Hotch’s life already. With Mr. Scratch watching Jack now, showing he can get to him, even with 24/7 surveillance on him, this was the best move for him to make to protect his son. And obviously Hotch was going to go with Jack into witness protection (instead of, say, sending him with Haley’s sister) because he’s his only parent left and Foyet proved that he could get to people in witness protection before. For all they know, Mr. Scratch can as well, so the best bet is to have father and son together. (And hey, here’s something that Criminal Minds can do in the future if they decide they want to bring Hotch back or revisit him for any reason.)

And even when Mr. Scratch is captured again, there’s always the possibility of another threat. If nothing else, Peter Lewis showed that; they got past Foyet after he killed Haley, but another UnSub popped up to target Hotch (and his family).  

Now with Hotch no longer part of the FBI and in witness protection, he can get a job with regular hours that doesn’t put his life (or Jack’s life) in danger and be home with his son.

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It May Be the Easiest Way to Move on from Hotch

As pointed out, with Hotch in witness protection, they can’t even talk to him. (Though I’m sure this team could find a way to do so, say, after they take down Peter Lewis, if they really wanted to.) I expect that any mentions of him down the line will come from conversations similar to what we saw between JJ and Reid and Rossi and Garcia in “Elliott’s Pond” or related to any investigations that concern Mr. Scratch.

With Prentiss taking over as team leader, there isn’t an unknown to deal with there. (Yes, they’re getting another new team member, but a new teammate is different than a new teammate and Unit Chief.) Everyone on the team likes Prentiss and they’re happy she’s taking the job.

And with the team understanding that they have to support Hotch’s decision, to do what’s best for his family, there’s no reason to show any resentment or anger for him leaving. There’s sadness, sure. They’ll miss him. But they know what he’s been through with this job because most of them lived through it with him.

How the Team Reacted

Since they had to work a case moments after finding out the news about Hotch (and one involving missing children, meaning they had to put most of their focus on that, apart from a couple of conversations), there wasn’t much time to address how the others felt in “Elliott’s Pond.” But the moments we did get were befitting these characters, with the focus put on those who knew Hotch the longest — Reid, JJ, Rossi and Garcia — with Prentiss focused on him choosing her to be the new Unit Chief.

We saw how Reid reacted to Morgan’s departure at the end of last season, and I think that that helped him see that they’d get past Hotch leaving as well, like they have with other changes to the team. As he told JJ, he wasn’t surprised that their former boss didn’t clue them in about Mr. Scratch because he always kept things to himself.

With JJ the only other parent of young children on the team, of course she looked at it from that stance. She knew she’d do anything to keep her boys safe, so she saw why Hotch would do what he had to in order to protect his son.

Since Rossi’s history with the BAU goes back to 1978, he more than anyone else understands agents moving on, as he said in his toast at the end of the episode. “Most of this team has been together for over a decade, but I promise you, that doesn’t happen often,” he reminded them. (Plus, he had a bit more time to process the information than the others.)

It’s also because of his experience and understanding that Rossi is the right person to check in on Garcia to see how she’s holding up. He knows how she reacts to change. (We’ve seen that this season with new agent Luke Alvez.) And it’s because she spends most of an episode connecting with the team via phone calls and video chats that it makes sense that she’d think of that when it comes to the last thing she said to Hotch. It was probably something boring, she realized, leading to her making sure that her call with Rossi ends with her telling him, “I love you.” “I love you, too, Penelope,” he replied. I’m also not surprised to see her focusing on the “good” of the present situation, putting together a quick celebration for Prentiss after she decides to stay.

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What It Means for Hotch’s Future

This exit has him leaving on good terms with the team. They know he’s doing what’s best for his family, and so if at some point down the line, they actually decide they want to bring him back, even just for one episode like the series finale, they can have everyone happy to see him.

They can even just show him at a distance (or someone we assume to be Hotch), with Jack, perhaps still in witness protection, perhaps in a photo, given to the team to show that he’s happy in his new life at some point. They can check in on him. But with “Elliott’s Pond,” his future with the FBI is over.

What did you think of how Hotch was written off? Are you satisfied with that ending?

Criminal Minds season 12 airs Wednesdays at 9/8c on CBS. Want more news? Like our Facebook page.

(Image courtesy of CBS)

Meredith Jacobs

Contributing Writer, BuddyTV

If it’s on TV — especially if it’s a procedural or superhero show — chances are Meredith watches it. She has a love for all things fiction, starting from a young age with ER and The X-Files on the small screen and the Nancy Drew books. Arrow kicked off the Arrowverse and her true passion for all things heroes. She’s enjoyed getting into the minds of serial killers since Criminal Minds, so it should be no surprise that her latest obsession is Prodigal Son.