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Criminal Minds: Evolution Season 1's Ending Explained

"Criminal Minds" is back with a fresh season, subtitled "Evolution," a new serial killer, and the Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) is faced with a whole bunch of new issues. Audiences can watch as Emily Prentiss (Paget Brewster), David Rossi (Joe Mantegna), Jennifer "JJ" Jareau (A.J. Cook), Penelope Garcia (Kirsten Vangsness), Tara Lewis (Aisha Tyler), and Luke Alvez (Adam Rodriguez) race against the clock to find Sicarius — a serial killer that has been leaving kits throughout the country for budding killers to find and use before he escapes the FBI's clutches and disappears into the night.

The team isn't only trying to track down Sicarius. They also struggle with additional cases, invasive government oversight, and a changing status quo as they reopen cases and request jurisdiction even after it is taken away from them. Everyone also has something going on in their personal lives, from JJ's husband worrying about test results to Penelope trying to draw a line in the sand as she wades back into the world of solving crime.

With everything the BAU goes through this season, we're here to give you a spoiler-filled breakdown of what happens as the first season of "Evolution" comes to a close. Let's see if the team catches Sicarius, and where the future of the BAU will lead with the revelation of secret government projects looming in the background.

Agent Rossi is coming to terms with his grief

When "Criminal Minds: Evolution" begins, Agent Dave Rossi is in a hotel room which he has apparently been living in for months. The walls are covered in crime scene photographs as he pours himself into his work instead of coming to terms with his grief over the death of his wife Krystall (Gail O'Grady). He hasn't been going into the office, and Emily Prentiss is covering for him with the people who work above her. 

As Rossi tracks down Sicarius, he is kidnapped by the team's prime suspect Elias Voit (Zach Gilford). While trapped in a shipping container underground, Rossi experiences a hallucination in which Krystall convinces him to keep living when he wants to give up.

Rossi's evolution over the course of the season is important for his growth and acceptance of his life. Cracking the nationwide murderer ring gives him something to work towards. Though he goes a bit far at moments — following Voit's wife into a grocery store to convince her to talk to him, for instance — throwing himself back into the field instead of hiding out in a hotel room pulls him out of his depression.

Thanks to the work he puts in, he can accept his wife's words and return to the world of the living instead of wishing to be with the dead. As the series moves into the next season, it's likely fans will see an even more determined Rossi, not the sad individual his colleagues came to know at the start of this season.

Penelope is learning to set boundaries

At the end of Season 15 of "Criminal Minds," Penelope leaves the BAU to take on a new adventure. When audiences are reintroduced to her in "Evolution," she is taking time for herself by meditating, hosting baking parties, and being mindful of the content she consumes. In other words, she is steering clear of anything that could remind her of her old job.

When JJ and Luke pull her back in because of where a suspect is meeting victims, Penelope breaks the boundary she set for herself. Sure, she enforces other boundaries — not letting Rossi speak down to her when he's frustrated, for one example — but she throws herself back into a job she willingly left for greener pastures after a single request and an informant that appeals to her curiosity.

By the end of the season, she is romantically interested in a witness for a federal investigation. Though they go their separate ways due to a lack of trust, Penelope makes sure to tell him, and the audience, that maintaining her professional and personal boundaries is something she needs to continue to work on if she's going to return to the BAU in a more permanent capacity.

Penelope is a great example of why professional boundaries are important. Though she has trouble enforcing them at times, she is putting herself and her own wellbeing first, which is something everyone can take note of. 

Tara and Rebecca's relationship is in ruins

While investigating Sicarius, Tara makes the difficult decision to ask to reopen an old case. The tricky part of this case is it made her partner Rebecca's (Nicole Pacent) career. Reopening and potentially changing the outcome could heavily impact Rebecca, especially since she has moved up the ranks in the Department of Justice.

It's revealed that Tara and Rebecca met through a support group, each working through the ending of difficult relationships. While they are happy and are even considering moving in together, what they've built is immediately fractured by Tara's request. She doesn't talk to Rebecca first, and though Rebecca asks her not to push it, Tara does. In the final episode, Tara wants to make amends, but Rebecca is offered a job in Sacramento and decides to take it.

Their downfall is an example of how personal relationships can sour due to working relationships. Their relationship is also an example of how not to communicate about and navigate difficult situations. Tara isn't upfront about her intentions regarding the case and tries to remedy the situation, only for Rebecca to shut down and make the decision to cut off contact.

With their relationship left the way it is, it's unlikely that we'll see the two back together when the next season starts. However, with the revelation of Gold Star, there is a significant chance that Rebecca will be back despite her new job.

Deputy Director Bailey makes the ultimate sacrifice

While the BAU is trying to hunt down Sicarius, they also deal with significant pushback from the powers that be in the federal government. The director is concerned with how Prentiss is utilizing resources and there is a significant interest in combining the BAU with the Domestic Terrorism Unit.

After a bit of back and forth, Deputy Director Doug Bailey (Nicholas D'Agosto) is sent to communicate with Elias in the final episode. He goes into the house wearing a bulletproof vest and is killed by a single shot to the head. Elias does not hesitate when he takes the deputy director's life.

With so many close calls throughout the season, it wouldn't be realistic for every team member to make it out alive considering how brutal the investigation becomes, but for Bailey to draw the short straw is a surprise. He thinks he's safe because Elias knows about Gold Star. He goes into the house, and the possibility of Elias killing him doesn't appear to cross his mind.

Bailey's death could be an example of getting too comfortable with a situation. He thinks he knows Elias because of their shared knowledge, and he thinks he can use it to his advantage. In this case, he's wrong. The entire situation is a reminder to never rest on your laurels and to trust the people around you when they advise you against something, especially when the other option is trusting a serial killer.

JJ and Will could work together again

As audiences watch JJ help the team, they also see some of her personal life. Her oldest son Henry seems to have a girlfriend, she is working a lot, and her husband Will (Josh Stewart) has some concerning test results. This creates a divide in the household, with Henry picking up on the tension.

JJ and Will's marriage seems strong, but it's clear that Will is struggling with the idea of being sick. While additional tests are coming back clear, he inexplicably still has an elevated white blood cell count, which could mean there is something else hiding in his body despite his doctor giving him the all-clear.

In addition to dealing with that, Will and JJ run back into the same issue that's come up time and time again in their relationship — work-life balance. Will has always wrestled with JJ's hours and how often she has to be gone. Will goes with her to Seattle as the team corners Elias and hints at wanting to continue working with her in this capacity. Could their work-life balance issue be remedied if they start working together again?

This isn't a new dynamic to their relationship, but their method for handling it has matured, particularly on Will's side. He quit his job when they first got together and struggled to adapt to his new life. This time around, he is more understanding of JJ's work and seems willing to adapt to the schedule.

Will audiences see Tyler again?

This season, audiences are introduced to Tyler (Ryan-James Hatanaka), a vigilante who works to infiltrate the Sicarius ring because he believes the person running it is responsible for his sister's death. He is the informant that sends the locations of the kill kits and even agrees to be a witness in the federal investigation because of what he knows about the crime ring.

However, he starts to have romantic feelings for Penelope. After she breaks it off, he uses a voicemail against her by sending it through a phishing link to Rossi. He breaks her trust by doing that, causing her to set a boundary between them. This is after he follows Elias and nearly dies in the woods from a gunshot wound.

So, where does capturing Elias leave Tyler? It looks like he will survive his injuries, so the only matter is whether or not the government will need Tyler's testimony when they pursue the case against Elias. If Elias is prosecuted, it's likely that Tyler will pop up a time or two in the next season, but nothing is set in stone just yet.

Tyler is another example of what grief can lead you to do. To become a trusted member of the Sicarius ring, Tyler has to say he is interested in committing incredibly violent acts. While taking on the persona of a killer, did he lose himself along the way? Rossi found his way out, but Tyler is only moving on to the next chapter of his grief.

The future of the Voit family is murky

Even when Elias tries to kill his wife, Bridget (Kiele Sanchez), he fails because his gun's magazine is empty. After this incident, Bridget is in disbelief over the events of the past few days and confused about who she married. The current plan is for her and her daughters to enter witness protection.

However, it's unlikely that's the last time audiences will see Elias' family. The serial killer's network is large. Chances are there is a plan in place in case he is captured, and it won't be long before his followers hear about his arrest on the news. This plan could include locating his family and tying up loose ends. 

Elias is incredibly talented when it comes to breaking into networks and learning things that are typically locked behind several layers of encryption. If he ever gets his hands on a phone or computer, he could easily figure out where his family is. Depending on what the federal government decides to do, he could be out of jail and tracking them down as early as the first episode of the next season.

That said, witness protection isn't going to keep his family safe. If Elias or his associates want to find them, they will. The only question is what will happen when they do.

Prentiss is still under fire

Over the course of the season, Prentiss' job is repeatedly threatened. From Deputy Director Bailey using her every action as ammunition against her to the director to the attorney general trying to blame Prentiss for Bailey's death, there isn't a time when Prentiss isn't worried about her job.

How could this change with the new season? After Bailey's funeral, Prentiss shares what she knows about Gold Star with the rest of the team. While it isn't much, it's enough to interest everyone, meaning they could become a thorn in the Department of Justice's side as they search for answers. Depending on what actions they take, Prentiss could be in even more hot water.

If Prentiss loses her job, the entire BAU could fall apart. Bailey tries to stick up for her in the end, but with him gone and her team asking questions, it's only a matter of time before audiences see a huge shift within the team. Firing Prentiss would give the higher powers the perfect excuse to fold the BAU into Domestic Terrorism since the ship wouldn't have a captain. Basically, Prentiss and the team are already on thin ice, and pushing for more information about the secret Gold Star issue could result in massive repercussions.

The future of the BAU is still in question

Even if the BAU is combined with Domestic Terrorism, not everyone's job will survive the merge. Rossi would be forced into retirement, and the team would likely all be stationed in different parts of the country. While that's been the case because of the number of causes they work on, it's harder for the team to work as solo agents.

Without the BAU, the next season of "Criminal Minds: Evolution" could take a drastic turn. Audiences could see the team fighting to be put back together, Prentiss taking an early retirement or transitioning into a random position within the federal government, and Rossi falling back into a depression without work to keep his mind occupied. It could also result in lots of work behind closed doors. It's unlikely that the team is going to let Gold Star go anytime soon, so even if they aren't together, the chances are high that they will continue trying to find the truth.

The politics of investigations get messy

While the BAU spends most of the season trying to catch Sicarius and shut down his crime ring, they also try to prove their worth to the powers above them. From the first episode, Deputy Director Bailey is trying to cut funding, remove Prentiss from her position, and dismantle the BAU. This is only reinforced as the season moves along, especially when they try to arrest a senator's son and reopen a closed case. Though Prentiss wants to arrest the senator's son, especially after he's found holding someone in their car at gunpoint, the people above her think otherwise. She should have control over her jurisdiction and her agents, but that's taken away from her because of who it involves.

The politics of it all really impacts the team's ability to work quickly against Sicarius, especially with other cases to handle as well. The season shows just how ineffective the team can be when they aren't given what they need. Hopefully, that changes in the next season.

What is Gold Star?

When Elias speaks to Deputy Director Bailey on the phone, he mentions that he knows Bailey likes getting gold stars. This is a coded message, referencing something called Gold Star that Bailey, Rebecca, and Attorney General Louise Davis (Monnae Michaell) discuss. It's clearly something going on within the Department of Justice that Elias knows about, and his knowledge may influence his decision to kill Bailey.

The nature of Gold Star isn't revealed, but there are several clues as to what it could be about or involve. Based on Bailey's reaction to the BAU arresting a sitting senator's son despite him holding someone at gunpoint, it could have something to do with well-known members of the United States government. When this initially happens in the 5th episode, you don't think much of it. But, combined with the knowledge that the Department of Justice is hiding something, it looks a bit more suspicious. When Tara asks Rebecca about the phrase in the final episode, all Rebecca is willing to give up is, "There are issues within the DOJ." What those issues are, she isn't going to divulge.

With Elias in custody, and only willing to speak to the attorney general, there's a significant chance that the next season will see the BAU not just trying to save their department but trying to figure out what Gold Star is and why Elias knows about it. After all, a secret between a serial killer and the federal government is never a good thing.