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Criminal Minds: The Real Reason Hotch Went To Pakistan

Criminal Minds ran for 15 seasons on CBS, with many actors coming and going throughout its long and distinguished run. For most of that time, Thomas Gibson's Aaron Hotchner, known to many as Hotch, was a key member of the show's Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU), which used analysts and profilers to assist in criminal investigations involving murderers. A former prosecutor and profiler for the FBI, Hotch held the position of unit chief and aided the team in taking down many killers before they could strike again. But the character had an eventful and often complicated journey on the show, even before Hotch was written off Criminal Minds early in season 12, after the actor was fired for bad behavior on set. 

At the beginning of season 7, it was revealed Hotch was on assignment in Pakistan. Wondering why he would go overseas between season 6 and 7 when he had a young child at home and his wife had recently died, some insightful Criminal Minds fans have posited various theories to explain this seemingly innocuous but odd bit of storytelling.

Criminal Minds fans believe Hotch went to Pakistan because of issues behind the scenes

Some Reddit users have created their own explanations for Hotch's trip to Pakistan early in season 7 of Criminal Minds, which saw the return of Paget Brewster's Emily Prentiss. "My head canon is that he couldn't handle the guilt lying about Emily so he took time away from the team," user Lichy101 wrote. User Salty_Boysenberry blamed the higher ups at the FBI: "they never liked Hotch," so it made sense that they "wanted him out of the picture."

Meanwhile, other fans believed the explanation could be found in the real world. "From what I read there was a serious delay in Thomas Gibson's contract ... they had to plan for his departure," wrote user Comprehensive_AD4689. As such, they reckoned, the studio prepared for the actor's departure by sending the character across the world. As for why the character would go? "I'd assume he didn't have a choice: He had to go or lose his job," they said. User ltsaysstuff agreed, saying, "I honestly feel like a lot of the random deaths/characters going and coming back is due to stuff beyond the camera [and] a lot with the contracts and stuff behind the scenes." 

If you ask the people directly involved in the show, though, the answers are much simpler.

Thomas Gibson explains why Hotch went to Pakistan in season 7

Ahead of the debut of Criminal Minds season 7, which had to quickly explain how and why Hotch and JJ (A.J. Cook) faked Prentiss' death in the previous season, Gibson spoke with TV Guide (via Yahoo) about his character's storyline and explained Hotch had simply agreed to take on more responsibilities at the BAU. His trip to Pakistan is a result of him taking on some of Strauss' duties during her leave of absence. "Things get to point where he needs to come back quickly. We're still exploring him doing her job," Gibson said, adding that the added work "might give him an ulcer, but I don't think he feels it. He has a very diligent work ethic."

Elsewhere, showrunner Erica Messer said that Gibson's beard was to blame. During a panel in September 2011 to promote the new season, Messer joked, "Hotch, as you saw, was in Pakistan," she said. "That was mainly because I saw this handsome devil with a beard and said, 'Can you keep that thing? We should write to it.'" Of course, there's also another possible and very practical explanation for the trip to Pakistan: the season 7 premiere needed to cover a lot of time so the show could bring Prentiss back into the fold. The episode was framed around the hearing about her death and disappearance, and having Hotch sporting a new beard while being somewhere else entirely helped to sell that a time jump had happened in between seasons. Whatever you choose to believe, though, is up to you.