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11 Criminal Minds: Evolution Facts That Will Make You Feel Part Of The BAU

"Criminal Minds" has been entertaining and horrifying fans for nearly 20 years. The show first debuted in 2005, and for 15 seasons its "serial killer of the week" approach kept audiences glued to the screen and on the edge of their seats. The show officially came to a close in 2020, but almost immediately rumors began swirling about a potential revival series.

That revival has finally arrived. "Criminal Minds: Evolution" premiered on Paramount+ and quickly became one of the platform's top five series. "Evolution" keeps everything that made the original "Criminal Minds" so popular, while also shifting the series's formula to tackle a longer story that unfolds over the course of 10 episodes. After years of waiting for their favorite characters to get back together, fans are finally having their patience rewarded.

After making a huge splash with its debut, "Criminal Minds: Evolution" is charging forward into a second season. This could be the beginning of a new lengthy era for the franchise. Whether you've been a fan of the show since day one or you binged your way through the series in 2020, you can join the Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) family with these behind-the-scenes facts. Wheels up.

There's a Criminal Minds group chat

"Criminal Minds" went off the air in 2020, and fans were left desperately waiting for news of a revival. They weren't the only ones. The show's cast also wanted to find a way for "Criminal Minds" to return, and just like the fans, all the cast members spent time speculating amongst themselves.

Joe Mantegna, who plays Rossi on the show, told Smashing Interviews that even though "Criminal Minds" was off the air, he and the rest of the cast stayed in touch as much as they could. The pandemic lined up with the end of the show, so they weren't necessarily able to see each other in person, but that didn't stop them from talking. Mantegna said they all had a running text thread, and one of the things they regularly discussed was the possibility of bringing "Criminal Minds" back to life.

So the cast was speculating just like the rest of the world. They probably weren't watching old "Criminal Minds" episodes on a loop while waiting for quarantine to end, but then again, if fans had access to that group chat, they probably would have spent less time in front of the TV too.

The show wasn't originally called Evolution

"Criminal Minds: Evolution" really is the perfect title for the rebooted version of the show on Paramount+. The new season's plot follows a serial killer who needed to evolve his methods to keep up with all the changes the pandemic brought around. The show itself has evolved too. Now it tells a truly serialized story with a more cinematic presentation, and, of course, Rossi gets to drop an F-bomb from time to time.

"Evolution" makes so much sense as a title that it's hard to believe the writers didn't start with that name in mind. In reality, though, the title only came about as the writers moved through their own evolution while putting the season together. For most of the time that "Evolution" was being developed, it was simply called "Criminal Minds" Season 16. Showrunner Erica Messer said that the new title came naturally out of the writing process and ended up being a good way to distinguish this season from everything that came before it. The show hasn't changed so much that it's unrecognizable, but the new approach it's taking deserves a new, powerful name.

Zach Gilford once auditioned to play Spencer Reid

The big appeal of "Criminal Minds: Evolution" might be getting to see all — well, most — of your favorite cast members returning for a new case, but the show itself wouldn't work nearly as well without a completely new actor joining the mix. Zach Gilford plays Elias Voit, the serial killer known as Sicarius who spent his quarantine time building a network of killers that spans the entire United States. Gilford plays Voit as a terrifying mastermind, but he also manages to capture the killer's daytime identity as a loving husband and father. The entire plot pivots around Gilford's performance.

In another universe, "Criminal Minds" fans would already be well acquainted with Gilford, but instead of being scared of him, they'd consider him an old friend. When he was still in the early years of his career, Gilford actually auditioned to be a main cast member on the original "Criminal Minds" and almost ended up playing Dr. Spencer Reid. In that alternate reality, Reid's best episodes would definitely have a different feel, but maybe getting to see Matthew Gray Gubler take on the villainous Voit role would be worth the swap. This version of reality is pretty great as it is, but we can still hope that Gilford and Gubler will share the screen in a future episode of "Criminal Minds."

The season finale was kept top secret

We live in an age of closely guarded story secrets. People working on the latest superhero movies and shows go to great lengths to keep plot details from leaking. Legacy sequels and franchise spin-offs try to keep their stories under wraps until an audience is finally sitting down to experience them firsthand. "Criminal Minds" doesn't have very much in common with a big multimedia franchise like the MCU, but the show has adopted some of the industry's tactics when it comes to planning surprises for fans.

A.J. Cook, who plays Jennifer "JJ" Jareau in the series, told Screen Rant how hard the "Criminal Minds: Evolution" team worked to keep the season finale a complete secret. She said that even the show's actors were all but in the dark about how everything would wrap up. "Part of me [didn't know] until I watched it myself," she said, adding, "I didn't know because I've heard so many different endings." It was the first time that the writers of "Criminal Minds" planted multiple endings to keep the real conclusion a secret. The ending of "Criminal Minds: Evolution" Season 1 successfully kept everyone guessing and tossed in some shocking set-ups for the future of the series, so it's easy to imagine that the show will keep up its commitment to total secrecy next time around.

Criminal Minds is a family affair

After nearly two decades of working together, the cast of "Criminal Minds" has become almost like a family. The actors have spent so much of their time working together that even when the show was off the air they stayed in touch because of how close they've become. For some actors, though, the show is literally a family affair.

Zach Gilford is the newcomer on "Criminal Minds: Evolution," but he came onto the show with a plus one. Gilford's character is the serial killer Sicarius, who's especially creepy because he manages to live a relatively normal life with kids and a wife that he cares for when he's not busy killing. Sicarius's relationship with his wife feels genuinely loving in the show, and that's probably because she's played by Gilford's real-life wife Kiele Sanchez.

A.J. Cook also has a familial connection with another "Criminal Minds" cast member. Her character JJ has two sons with her husband Will LaMontagne, and they're both played by Cook's actual sons, Mekhai and Phoenix Andersen. Mekhai has been on "Criminal Minds" for basically his whole life, and fans were completely stunned by how much her oldest had grown while the show was off the air.

Some cast members worked double duty

The actors on "Criminal Minds: Evolution" give every scene their all, and even for longtime fans of the franchise, it seems like everyone on the show has found some secret way to level up their acting game in the years that "Criminal Minds" has been off the air. It helps that the show's somewhat new format prioritizes character work and close-to-home stories over the usual killer-of-the-week approach. What makes some of these performances even more impressive is that the actors themselves directed many of the episodes on "Evolution."

Joe Mantegna directed the third episode of the season, "Moose," which included a heartbreaking moment where Sicarius set his sights on the lovable dog who the episode's named after. Adam Rodriguez, who plays Luke, directed the fourth episode, "Pay-Per-View." Aisha Tyler, who plays Dr. Tara Lewis, directed the seventh episode, "What Doesn't Kill Us." A.J. Cook got to sit in the director's chair for the eighth episode, "Forget Me Knots," and she told Collider that her kids listened to her better as a director than they do when everyone's at home.

The core cast of "Criminal Minds" get to leave their mark on the show in more ways than one. They might be actors by trade, but they understand their characters better than anyone else, and that knowledge and care seeps into the episodes that they direct.

The show had an outdoor writer's room

"Criminal Minds" has always been dark, even for a show that's all about people trying to catch serial killers. The disturbing nature of the show's content is the reason Mandy Patinkin, who played Jason Gideon in the earliest seasons, suddenly left his role after two seasons. He later told New York magazine, "[The show] was very destructive to my soul and my personality."

Patinkin only ever had to act in the show, so what happens to the people who are responsible for coming up with every dark twist and terrifying premise that "Criminal Minds" has been putting on display for 16 seasons? It's easy to imagine that the show's writers need to get into the darkest headspace possible to create as many episodes as they do, but in reality the exact opposite is true.

The writer's room for Season 1 of "Criminal Minds: Evolution" wasn't some mildewy basement or abandoned warehouse. It was actually showrunner Erica Messer's backyard. The writers would gather to enjoy sunshine and fresh air while they plotted the deaths of countless characters and the gruesome habits of Sicarius's serial killer network. It's up to the fans whether or not that makes their twisted imaginations any less frightening.

Rossi's wife's death was COVID-adjacent

The pandemic completely upended the entertainment industry. Plenty of shows were either hit by delays or forced to find interesting ways to incorporate social distancing into their plots. "Criminal Minds" didn't get hit as hard by COVID as some other series because it finished in 2020, but that doesn't mean that it managed to avoid the pandemic entirely.

"Criminal Minds" has always been set in the real world, and "Evolution" is no different. The season takes place a couple of years after the original series ended, but it takes time to address what happened during the pandemic. Most importantly, being trapped indoors forced the show's serial killers to find new ways to satisfy their fascinations. It's a definite possibility that without the pandemic, Sicarius would never have felt the need to start up his serial killing network.

Taking a step back from the main plot, the show's characters were also directly affected by the pandemic, and none more than Rossi. The first episode of "Evolution" reveals that Rossi's wife Krystall died during the show's two-year gap. Showrunner Erica Messer told Deadline, "It was one of those COVID-adjacent deaths." Krystall wasn't able to see her doctor for her usual yearly check-up because of the pandemic, and by the time she received her cancer diagnosis it was too late. It's an understated, but sadly realistic, way for the show to deal with everything the world went through while "Criminal Minds" was away.

The pink note is going to stay a mystery

At the end of Season 15 of "Criminal Minds," Penelope Garcia (Kirsten Vangsness) decided that she needed to leave the FBI for good. She packed up her office, but before walking out, she wrote something on a pink sticky note and tucked the paper away in the office. For years, fans have wondered what Garcia wrote on that note to herself and how, or if, she would ever get back to working for the FBI.

"Criminal Minds: Evolution" answered at least one of those questions. The first episode brings the whole gang back together. Garcia is at first very reluctant to return to the BAU, but over time she realizes that there's a way for her to set healthy boundaries for herself while still using her skills to help stop killers and save lives. When fans watched her walk back into her office for the first time, there's no doubt that plenty of them were hoping to finally get a peek at that pink note.

Unfortunately, the reveal didn't come, and there's no reason for fans to keep holding their breaths for the answer. Erica Messer poured cold water on that hope, telling Deadline, "We're never going to know." She and Vangsness both had different ideas about what should be on the note, but they ultimately agreed that it would be better left as a permanent mystery.

On set there are plenty of breaks for laughs

There isn't much time for levity in an episode of "Criminal Minds." Between finding victims, chasing serial killers, and comforting survivors, the members of the BAU don't get many opportunities to smile on an average workday. In "Criminal Minds: Evolution," they hardly get a break from all the grimness even in their personal lives. Rossi has suffered a massive loss. JJ's husband has a major medical scare. Everyone's love lives are in total chaos. There's barely a chance for anyone to catch their breath, but behind the scenes, that couldn't be further from the truth.

In Looper's exclusive interview with Joe Mantegna, he talked about how the cast manages to separate themselves from the darkness of the events they're portraying. According to Mantegna, there are always jokes flying around between takes, and every single cast member finds their own way to lighten the mood whenever they can. "I think that's on purpose," he said, "because you almost want to counterbalance the subject matter you're dealing with." The next time you're watching one of your favorite characters going through an intensely emotional moment, rest assured that the actor was probably laughing with their friends just minutes after the cameras stopped rolling.

Don't write off the rest of the classic cast just yet

Over the years the BAU has seen quite a few members come and go. Characters like Jason Gideon, Derek Morgan, and Aaron Hotchner have all walked away from the FBI for one reason or another. However, there are some people who were still a part of the BAU when Season 15 of "Criminal Minds" wrapped up who didn't find their back to the team for the events of Season 1 of "Evolution."

Matthew Simmons (Daniel Henney) and Dr. Spencer Reid (Matthew Gray Gubler) are the elephants not in the room throughout the entire season. Fans have been constantly speculating about if, when, and how they'll return. So far the show itself has had very little to say on the matter. The first season hardly even addressed where Simmons and Reid have gone off to, and fans were left wondering if all hope is lost.

It isn't. Erica Messer told Deadline that both Henney and Gubler had scheduling conflicts that prevented them from being a part of "Criminal Minds: Evolution," but that doesn't mean that they aren't interested in returning sometime in the future. It's all just a matter of timing, but now that "Evolution" has been renewed for a second season, there's a whole new set of opportunities for some of the show's classic characters to make a grand return.