Integral to the first Criminal Minds line-up was Thomas Gibson's Aaron Hotchner, the severe, authoritative BAU unit chief constantly pulled between his job and his family. "Hotch" was abruptly written out in season 12 after Gibson, who had reportedly struggled with anger management issues, was said to have kicked an on-set writer/producer. The character of Hotch promptly went into witness protection for the safety of his son, Jack, resigning from the BAU to keep his identity private. With Criminal Minds ending just three years later, the big question: Will Hotch return for season 15?
Given that Hotch had been such a huge part of the series as a whole, the question might have seemed like a no-brainer—if he hadn't left on such bad terms. Speaking to TV Line, Messer was vague about the possibility of Gibson returning: "What I’d love to do is honor the history of the series in some way that is satisfying for all of us, and I don’t know exactly what that will be."
In an interview with Deadline, however, Messer was more optimistic about bringing back fan favorites—which include Gibson, Shemar Moore, and Mandy Patinkin—for the final season. "I am very hopeful that we can honor all of those characters who have been beloved and with this team, with the audience for years, but I don’t know what that’s going to look like," she said.
The circumstances surrounding Gibson's departure remain murky. Well, from CBS and ABC's point of view, perhaps less so; after initially suspending Gibson, the networks behind the crime procedural released a terse statement: "Thomas Gibson has been dismissed from Criminal Minds. Creative details for how the character's exit will be addressed in the show will be announced at a later date." Gibson, however, says that he never "kicked" the producer/writer in question, telling People: "He came into that room and started coming towards me. As he brushed past me, my foot came up and tapped him on the leg...If I hadn’t moved, he would have run into me."
His costar Shemar Moore, however, quickly posted a now-deleted video in which he noted: "Lot of birdies chirping out there. The gossip is real...I’ll just say this: I believe in karma." Rumors swirled that Gibson had been difficult to work with, especially after his ex-manager filed a lawsuit alleging Gibson's "lack of professionalism." Gibson, however, has kept himself busy with other projects in the years since, acting in 2017's Axis, July's Shadow Wolves, and an upcoming movie entitled The Writer's Bible that Gibson wrote and directed, as well as starred in.
Considering that Gibson and ABC/CBS have, to this day, conflicting stories about what led to his departure, it's possible that he wouldn't be invited back to the set. It's also possible, of course, that Gibson would be invited to participate in the show's final season and would decline the offer, whether due to tension over his exit or projects he's presently involved with. There's certainly no evidence that he returned to the show for the filming of its final season—but there's no evidence that he didn't, either.
Whatever happens, it's a done deal: Criminal Minds finished filming its final season in May, and is expected to air midway through the 2019-2020 season.
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