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The Biggest Mistake Hotchner Ever Made On Criminal Minds

Over the course of 12 seasons and nearly 300 episodes, "Criminal Minds" fan-favorite profiler Aaron Hotchner (aka "Hotch," portrayed by Thomas Gibson) brought a slew of the world's most dangerous and complex criminals to justice, often at the cost of his own emotional and physical health. Despite being put through the wringer repeatedly, the character's dogged determination to hunt down members of this violent and unpredictable percentage of the population remained unassailable, even after his obsession with the job prompted his wife, Haley (Meredith Monroe), to leave him. 

Like any crime procedural "family man" worth his archetypal salt (see also: Christopher Meloni's Elliot Stabler, who went through similar personal problems), Hotchner is forever torn between his almost involuntary fervor for the job and his love for his family. Although this tension gives the character context and depth, it also frequently (and intentionally) leads viewers to disagree with some of the former Behavioral Analysis Unit chief's decisions. It also forces them to call into question the arguably imbalanced understanding of his priorities that end up governing those choices.

While it's easy for audiences to root for the charismatic and driven protagonist, there's one epic Hotchner decision in particular that even fans of the character confess feels like a pretty big mistake.  

Hotchner had the opportunity to be a good father, but he didn't take it

According to many a "Criminal Minds" fan, the former unit chief spent the majority of his time on the series being a downright terrible father — a mistake the character would ultimately attempt to remedy in Season 13, though it may have been too little too late. One fan wrote directly to the character on the series' popular subreddit, saying, "Your ex-wife and the mother of your child died a terrible, violent death leaving your son without his primary caregiver, and you turn down retirement in favor of catching deranged psychopaths" (via Reddit). The fan is referring to the murder of Hotchner's ex-wife by serial killer George Foyet (C. Thomas Howell), aka "The Reaper," in the Season 5 episode "100," wherein the team races to attempt to save their leader's wife and son from Foyet but doesn't get there in time to save Haley Hotchner.

Following the traumatic event, Hotchner is given the option to retire but ultimately turns it down, and it's this decision that fans take issue with most. "He should've taken the retirement offer," wrote user u/whatarewegoodfor in another "Criminal Minds" thread, adding that Cade Owens' Jack "was never with his father, and it's possible he'd grow up to resent him for putting his job above his son." The fan also felt that Haley's sister, Jessica (Molly Baker), "shouldn't have had to drop whatever she was doing to care for Jack at a moment's notice because Hotch had a case."

The notion that Hotch should have retired back in Season 5 may be an unpopular one for those who grew to adore the conflicted father over his many seasons, but there are plenty of fans who feel otherwise.

Can a good BAU chief ever be a good father?

Redditor u/saturdaybloom had similar feelings about Hotchner's skewed priorities, saying that "there were several points in early seasons where it was clearly a choice he had to make between his son/family and the BAU, and he went with the latter." In yet another discussion on Hotchner's decision to stay on despite his motherless son's needs, u/GP9151 accuses the character of "pawn[ing] off the parenting work to Jessica while he went off doing what he loved," while Reddit user u/mccabebabe wrote that despite the character's (much later) decision to leave the BAU, "it doesn't seem logical that he wouldn't've retired THEN, when Jack was younger and needed him most." 

Some fans took their feelings toward Hotchner's decision a bit further, suggesting that the real mistake occurred not when he turned down early retirement but when he decided to have a family at all, given his occupation. U/The_Phantom_Dragon wrote that Hotchner not retiring "when his job was the cause of Hailey's [sic] death was just another example of why he shouldn't have chosen to have a family." This feeling was echoed by u/Dazed_Confused_Used, who observed that "it's unfair of anyone of anybody on the team to become a parent" given the 24/7 demands of the job.

Nevertheless, Hotchner's decision isn't without its supporters, some of whom view it through a lens that has less to do with his parenting skills and more to do with the practical logistics of the series. "It would've made perfect sense for him to retire at that time," wrote Redditor u/luk3ycharm, "but you know, television." Fair enough. The series, after all, was nowhere near done with the character's ever-tumultuous arc.