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The reason Mandy Patinkin left Criminal Minds after season 2

The criminal profilers at the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) have tackled their final case, but the palace intrigue around the series' early casting shakeup lives on.

Jeff Davis' smash hit procedural Criminal Minds bowed back in 2005 and ran for 15 seasons, the last of which concluded on February 15, 2020. When the show launched, viewers delighted in the erudite investigations of Jason Gideon (Mandy Patinkin) and Elle Greenway (Lola Glaudini). But while fans were flocking to the new crime drama, rumors swirled that all was not well behind the scenes. 

Despite massive ratings success, the cast inexplicably shuffled in season 2. Patinkin left abruptly amid talk of personal conflicts, as did Glaudini who, according to the Criminal Minds Fanatic blog, wanted to return to her life in New York City. The two leads were replaced by Paget Brewster and Joe Montegna — and fortunately for fans, the new regime worked well, and the Brewster-Montegna led cast carried the show for the remainder of its run. Fans have never stopped wondering, though, about the real reason Patinkin jumped ship from the successful series.

Creative differences or conscientious objection?

Patinkin's exit was particularly shocking at the time, since the success of the show felt propelled by his charismatic portrayal of the irascible and brilliant Gideon. Although the official reason cited for Patinkin's departure was "creative differences," early remarks from the Princess Bride actor in the wake of his escape suggested that he objected to the show's disturbing content. 

In a profile published in New York Magazine, Patinkin said that he was "concerned about the effect it has. Audiences all over the world use this programming as their bedtime story. This isn't what you need to be dreaming about." While that may very well have been what was going through Patinkin's mind back in 2007 (and at the time of the interview in 2012), the real story has become more layered in the years since Jason Gideon last graced our screens. 

Truth be told, that explanation has always seemed a bit shaky. Even in 2005, Patinkin was no babe in the woods when it came to TV. Criminal Minds was his third TV series, the first two being CBS' Chicago Hope and Showtime's short-lived grim reaper comedy Dead Like Me. When he signed on to play Gideon, he had presumably read the script and understood the nature of the content — but Patinkin went so far as to cite his new gig as being much more suitable for public consumption.

Criminal Minds was the sickness, and Homeland is the antidote

In that same interview, Patinkin calls agreeing to Criminal Minds one of his biggest professional mistakes. "The biggest public mistake I ever made was that I chose to do Criminal Minds in the first place," he said. "I thought it was something very different. I never thought they were going to kill and rape all these women every night, every day, week after week, year after year. It was very destructive to my soul and my personality. After that, I didn't think I would get to work in television again."

He was wrong about that. Just two years later, Showtime came calling with a career-defining lead role as Saul Berenson on their new series Homeland. Fans could be forgiven for questioning why Patinkin seems so at home on the national security drama, which has included its own fair share of disturbing moments over the years — but Patinkin doesn't see the two as equivalent. In his opinion, Criminal Minds glorified violence and depravity, whereas Homeland provides an important critique. "A show like Homeland is the antidote," he said. "It asks why there's a need for violence in the first place."

Patinkin admits he was probably being difficult

Just one year after that scathing assessment, an introspective Patinkin took a very different tone with the New York Times Magazine. "I behaved abominably," the actor admitted. By this time, it was common knowledge that Patinkin went "AWOL" after season 2 of Criminal Minds; without providing any notice to the show's producers or cast, he simply disappeared. An executive producer at the time described him as "the father who goes out for a carton of milk and then just never comes home."

Ashlee Lapine, who directed Patinkin on Criminal Minds, told the magazine that Patinkin was a handful. "He's not neurotic, oddly enough," she said. "He's myopic. He would lose himself so much in the work, and he was playing an obsessive, which goes hand in hand." Patinkin's propensity to get lost in a role likely worked against him playing the compulsive Gideon. From all the statements given by producers and Patinkin himself in the aftermath of the departure, it sounds like the demands of that role in particular were having a serious impact on the actor's well-being. That's not a defense for ghosting the show, but it is an explanation.

While it sounds like Patinkin stands by his moral stance against Criminal Minds, there are likely a few things about his exit that he wishes he could have done better, which is a feeling we can all relate to. If you happen to be an extremely talented, famous actor, there's a lesson here: before you accept a gig, you perhaps should make sure that it's one you actually want.