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Joe Mantegna On Why Rossi's Ending Was Such A Surprise On Criminal Minds - Exclusive

One of the most interesting things about seeing any long-running show come to an end is discovering the ways in which the writers wrap up arcs for personalities fans come to know and love over the course of multiple seasons. Sometimes, the results are bittersweet, or even jarring if they run counter to the headcanon fans have written for their favorite characters. Other times, even the people playing the parts in question are taken by surprise.

When it comes to the way things ended for Senior Agent David Rossi on Criminal Minds, much of the above could be said to be true. The character, played by veteran actor Joe Mantegna, was a dedicated public servant and the glue that held the FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit at the center of the show together. In its final seasons, Criminal Minds spent a lot of time talking about Rossi's potential retirement, to the point that it seemed like hanging it up would be the natural endpoint for his arc. Instead, viewers were treated to an open-ended conclusion in which it's assumed that Rossi and other members of the BAU keep up the good fight.

For Mantegna, the result was something of a twist, as he, too, thought Rossi was headed out to pasture. That said, he couldn't be happier with the way things wrapped up. Looper sat down with the Criminal Minds star to get his take on Rossi's end point, and whether it leaves the door open for more profiling action in the future.

The beat goes on for Rossi and the BAU on Criminal Minds

Given how much Rossi's retirement had seemingly been set up, that it didn't happen took even Mantegna unawares. 

"That was a surprise to me, to tell you the truth," he told Looper. "I don't like to interfere with the writers, where they're going to go with the stories. You don't run a show for 15 seasons if you have a weak writing staff. So, I think we were fortunate enough to have a very good staff, and so it was somewhat of a surprise to me where they went. Maybe, in a way, they were covering their bases in the sense of, 'If the time ever comes and we want to revisit this, we've at least let everybody land in a situation where it's conceivable they're still able to do something.'"

Twist or not, however, Mantegna found where Rossi and his team end up very fitting. 

"What I liked about the way it ended was that I think it was important not to have a finale-finale. It's not like Mary Tyler Moore, where they all hugged and bounced around the room hugging, and [have a feeling of], 'This is it, you shut the door.' We represented a real organization, and I've been to Quantico numerous times, and visited the real people who do that job, and I've become friends with some of them," Mantegna explained. "I think the point that was trying to be made with that ending was that the beat goes on. Night's going to fall, everybody's going to go to bed, but in the morning, some of these people are going to have to go on and keep doing this job. As it turned out, I was one of them."

The actor added, "I thought the ending was pretty good. It kind of gave everybody enough wiggle room that anything could happen, and people could use their imaginations as to where it went from there."

Could Rossi, and Criminal Minds, return?

You may have noticed that Mantegna mentioned the idea of leaving the door open for some sort of return to the Criminal Minds-verse. Does this mean any sort of plans are in the works? According to Mantegna, they're not — but if something were to arise, he would be into it. And he believes the rest of the cast would be as well. 

"If there was an instance where something else could go on, I think it would be probably warmly received by those of us who enjoy doing it," said Mantegna. "It was just a wonderful experience, and I think everybody would agree to that — and especially the final eight of us, as it wound up being. Everybody was pretty much on the same page in the sense that there was not one of us that felt like, 'Okay, this is good, we're glad it's over, time to move onto something else.' In other words, in a heartbeat I think every one of us would have said, 'Let's do season 16. Let's do it again.'"

If the Criminal Minds finale was the last we'll see of Rossi and his team, however, Mantegna is very happy with the way things turned out and grateful for the friendships he developed with his castmates along the way.

"We stay in touch. We text almost daily. And it's always just the complete confluence of personalities that really worked," he said. "But I think on the other hand too, I think we were very grateful to have had the experience we did, because it's pretty rare to do 325 episodes of the show. It puts us in kind of a unique category. So, on one hand you feel some regret, but on the other hand, you feel fortunate to have had the experiences as long as one did."