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The Real Reason Jeanne Tripplehorn Left Criminal Minds

A lot of talent has graced the credits sequence of Criminal Minds. From Broadway greats like Mandy Patinkin and Jayne Atkinson to TV stars such as Jane Lynch and Shemar Moore, the gritty procedural has been home to actors from all walks of the craft over the years. After the controversial exit of Paget Brewster at the end of season 7, the show brought on Emmy nominee and Big Love Star Jeanne Tripplehorn to round out its cast.

Tripplehorn played Alex Blake, a linguistics expert with a warm presence and some family secrets. Although there was some initial friction with the rest of the Behavioral Analysis Unit due to her replacing the well-liked Emily Prentiss (Brewster), Blake eventually found her place on the team ... for two seasons, that is. At the end of season 9, Blake made the sudden and shocking decision to leave the FBI for good.

Blake's exit wasn't just shocking for the BAU team; it was a surprise to viewers, as well. Tripplehorn was only on the show for two seasons, and just when fans were getting used to the recent addition to the team, she was gone. It left many wondering why, exactly, Jeanne Tripplehorn decided to leave Criminal Minds.

The surprise departure of Alex Blake from Criminal Minds

Tripplehorn's time on Criminal Minds came to an abrupt end in the two-part season 9 finale "Angels" and "Demons." Blake's close relationship with her colleague Spencer Reid (Matthew Gray Gubler) comes into a clearer focus when the younger agent is shot in the neck and seriously injured while protecting Blake. After she has an intense emotional reaction to the incident, Blake reveals that both Reid and a young boy involved in the case they are working on remind her of her son who died young of a neurological illness. The trauma that Reid's near-death experience brought up is too much for her. After texting in a resignation and saying a private goodbye to Reid, Blake bows out of the FBI and the show.

Blake's departure was both touching and a surprise for viewers. The show hadn't announced that Tripplehorn was leaving, only teasing in the promo for the season finale that a BAU agent would be exiting. While the secrecy surrounding Tripplehorn's exodus, and the suddenness with which it happened, sounds suspiciously like there was some behind-the-scenes drama at play, according to Erica Messer, the Criminal Minds showrunner at the time, it all happened in accordance with Tripplehorn's wishes (via TVGuide).

The most likely reason for Jeanne Tripplehorn's Criminal Minds exit

Network procedurals are notorious for booting cast members for reasons that extend far beyond what's happening on the screen. In fact, when Tripplehorn joined Criminal Minds, it was specifically to replace Paget Brewster (according to Entertainment Weekly), who had recently been ousted from the show under circumstances that the actress described as sexist. With Tripplehorn departing suddenly after just a few years, it's not a stretch to wonder if the same fate befell her.

So far, nobody has told the full story of Tripplehorn's departure. After her exit, however, Messer implied to TVGuide that ultimately, it came down to contracts. In an interview following the season 9 finale, the showrunner said when asked about Tripplehorn's exit, "As things unfold toward the end of the season, when contracts are up and all that stuff ... " Messer didn't expand, but it sounds like after Tripplehorn fulfilled her contract at the end of season 9, the actress didn't end up renewing it.

Of course, that's only one version of the story, but for now, it's all we know for sure. Messer did go into more detail when discussing the abrupt nature of Blake's exit, and what role Tripplehorn played in deciding her character's fate.

Jeanne Tripplehorn didn't want a bombastic exit

In her post-finale TVGuide interview, Messer was asked about the "most low-key exit" the show ever had. As she tells it, the lack of hype around Blake's exit was something requested by Tripplehorn herself. Messer said, "Jeanne wasn't interested in a big, flashy exit episode."

The showrunner went on to add, "Jeanne didn't want it to be a big deal and we felt like that was in line with Blake too. I think it makes sense given the character we've known for two years. She's not a splashy, loud character. She didn't come in with a bang — she was already part of the team when we meet her. She came in nicely and she left nicely."

Even though we only have one side of the story, it sounds like Tripplehorn came in, did her work, and departed when she felt it was time. After her stint on Criminal Minds, the actress went on to do voice work on Undone and BoJack Horseman, as well as co-star on FX's miniseries Mrs. America. Alex Blake's exit from the FBI may have been melancholy, but from the sound of it, Jeanne Tripplehorn's departure from Criminal Minds was anything but.