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Criminal Minds: Evolution Does Not Need Spencer Reid & It's Better Without Him

When news broke that "Criminal Minds" was being resurrected for the streaming realm, longtime fans of the procedural drama were understandably elated. Their goodwill was rewarded by the brilliantly retooled treat that is "Criminal Minds: Evolution." And as viewers of the streaming hit can attest, the series indeed returned not just leaner, but a whole lot meaner.

To be clear, that "meaner" element refers to how "Evolution" spends a lot more time with its killers than the original series. As for the "leaner," well, it has actually helped that certain O.G. "Criminal Minds" cast members opted out of the revival, including longtime star Matthew Gray Gubler

Gubler, of course, portrayed Dr. Spencer Reid over the show's first 15 seasons, and the character was arguably the original series' most beloved character throughout the duration. So beloved was Dr. Reid that some fans even questioned whether the show would work without him. However, while Dr. Reid's absence from "Evolution" was glaring at first, the surprising truth is that it actually helped the new series stand on its own feet — arguably, "Evolution" thrived because of the good doctor's absence. 

And even as fans continue to clamor for Reid's return, it's time to face the fact that "Criminal Minds: Evolution" is better off without him. 

Criminal Minds: Evolution can never give a satisfying reason for Spence's absence

As a brief refresher, when "Criminal Minds" left the network airwaves in 2020, the various members of the BAU amicably went their separate ways, with most moving on to new assignments. So, when the time came for the gang to reunite for "Criminal Minds: Evolution," it was hardly a given that everyone would be back in the BAU saddle.

Even still, of all the "Criminal Minds" characters to sit out the team's showdown with murderous mastermind Elias Voit and his network of killers, Dr. Spencer Reid doesn't exactly fit the bill. And no, the various attempts by "Evolution" creatives to explain his unfathomable absence by claiming he couldn't get away from another case just doesn't track. 

Frankly, it's laughable to argue that the BAU's boy genius would ever be too busy with another assignment to help out with what proves to be his old colleagues' biggest — and most dangerous — case to date. His absence is particularly bizarre given that the parent program made such efforts to portray his undying devotion to the safety of his team. It's not just out of character for Reid to play hooky in their hour of need: it's categorically unbelievable. It strains credibility so far, in fact, that at this point the "Criminal Minds" bosses are better off permanently cutting him loose, because any reintroduction will have to (badly) explain why he was M.I.A. when Voit was running blood-stained rings around his BAU buddies. 

Let's be honest, Reid's incessant rambling was pretty annoying by the end of Criminal Minds

Uncharacteristic absence aside, it was legitimately weird — but exciting — to see the BAU gang work cases without Dr. Reid in the inaugural season of "Criminal Minds: Evolution," given that the original series had so often leveraged Reid's piercing intellectual insights to help crack a case. 

One could easily make the argument that "Criminal Minds" was using Reid's case-breaking observations as a bit of a narrative crutch by the time it ambled to the end of its network run. So much so, really, that it became a bit of an inside joke among some "Criminal Minds" fans that Reid would invariably turn the tide of any investigation by way of a well-placed "Eureka!" style information dump. And while nobody can argue that a key appeal of the earlier "Criminal Minds" seasons was watching Matthew Gray Gubler undertake the verbal acrobatics that accompanied such monologues, this trope — which eventually devolved into wildly condescending rants — got very, very tired by the end. 

So yeah, it was refreshing to make it through an entire season of grisly "Evolution" action without being subjected to Reid's overtly theatrical ramblings. And if we're being completely honest, we'd be happy if such rants were relegated to reruns, moving forward.

Criminal Minds: Evolution has proven it doesn't need the BAU's boy wonder

As it was, not being able to lean on the narrative crutch of Dr. Spencer Reid's infamous information dumps had another major impact on the "Criminal Minds: Evolution" landscape. Primarily, it allowed series creatives to front the formidable talents of his old teammates. That crew had obviously utilized their crime-solving skills to aid in the capture of one unsub or another over the years, but in "Evolution" — in absence of the boy wonder — their skills were more necessary than ever. 

The "Evolution" writing team absolutely thrived in putting them to work. And the cast stepped up to fill the Reid-sized void as well, with regulars A.J. Cook, Paget Brewster, Kirsten Vangsness, Aisha Tyler, and more helping breathe new life into characters they've been playing safe with for the better part of the past two decades. It was Joe Mantegna who really stole the season, with his BAU heavy David Rossi coming out of a well-earned, if maudlin state of retirement to aid in the case. Finally, in what was perhaps the season's best twist of the non-Reid narrative era, it was actually Rossi who broke the case, tracking down the nefarious Elias Voit with a savvy bit of old school detective work. 

Had Reid been on the scene, one has to wonder if that refreshing twist would've found its way into an "Evolution" script. However, Reid wasn't around, and the show's writing was all the better because of his absence. 

Criminal Minds: Evolution might be wiser to bring Gubler back behind the camera

At this point in the game, it's probably worth mentioning that the "Criminal Minds: Evolution" team didn't leave Dr. Spencer Reid out of the action by design. In fact, it was reportedly Matthew Gray Gubler who opted not to reprise his signature character for the streaming return of "Criminal Minds," with insiders citing scheduling conflicts and an extremely tight production window for his absence. It remains to be seen if Gubler's schedule will open up ahead of the show's second season. And even as we're arguing that "Evolution" was better off without the grandstanding antics of Dr. Reid, we also have to admit we sort of missed the way Gubler could put his stamp on an episode.

However, bringing Reid's tussled hair and unabashed angst back into the mix for the new season would likely negate a season's worth of narrative evolution. So, if the "Criminal Minds" team want Gubler back in the mix, they might be wiser to let the actor once again put his mark on the show behind the camera.

The actor did, after all, direct 12 episodes of the original series between seasons 5 and 14. We don't mind saying some of those episodes rank among the best the series ever produced during its network tenure. Gubler would no doubt relish the chance to helm an episode of "Evolution" with the newfound narrative freedom the series has found in the streaming realm. We'd honestly love to see what Gubler would bring to the current iteration of "Criminal Minds" from the director's chair — but please, let's leave his fan-favorite character in the past.