Criminal Minds was no stranger to roster turnover, losing key protagonists and going through a number of seasons where team members seemed to arrive and leave within the same year. Many departures have become well known, including the dismissal of Thomas Gibson after an alleged altercation onset and the early loss of Mandy Patinkin over the show’s content. One that often goes unnoticed, however, is the departure and return of A.J. Cook’s Jennifer Jareau.
Part of a mid-series shuffle based partially on budgetary constraints, Cook’s character was written off the show despite her seniority and through no fault of her own. More interesting, however, is that she was brought back on less than a season later. Here are the on and off-screen stories behind why A.J. Cook left Criminal Minds.
Who Was Criminal Minds’ Jennifer Jareau?
Jennifer Jareau, also known as J.J. has been on Criminal Minds since the beginning. She first appears in the second episode of the series as the Behavior Analysis Unit’s media liaison, working not as a profiler but as an integral member of the team who accompanies them on most cases. Later in the series, J.J. assumes the role of a profiler, continuing her work with the BAU while also taking on fieldwork opportunities.
J.J. meets her husband, William LaMontagne, while working a case with the BAU. They have two children together over the course of the show, and J.J.’s role as a working mother like a superhero is an important part of her character.
Why Did J.J. Leave Criminal Minds In Season 6?
Despite being a rather foundational member of the BAU team, J.J. was written off of the series during most of Season 6. But before anyone asks if J.J. dies — she was still alive and well. The in-fiction reason was her forced transfer to the Pentagon, a cover story hiding her real work on a task force in the Middle East. Apparently, the Pentagon job had been offered to J.J. multiple times before, though it’s unclear if those instances were also cover stories for similar secret work.
The real-world reason for Cook’s exit was less dramatic, though. The studio was looking to reduce costs, so it let go of both Cook and fellow co-star Paget Brewster, who played the only other women field agent on the show. While Brewster stayed on for most of Season 6, Cook was given two episodes to wrap up her storyline.
While financial reasons were the biggest factor in the decision to not pick up Cook’s contract, some speculated that she had chosen to leave for the standard “creative differences” that are often cited when an actor and show part ways. Others viewed her dismissal alongside Brewster’s reduction as a sexist decision. While Brewster claimed that the network was “not particularly kind to women” and pointed to the significantly increased pay of her and Cook’s replacement, the generally accepted reason is strictly financial.
When Does J.J. Come Back to Criminal Minds?
Fortunately, J.J. wasn’t gone for long. The Season 7 premiere saw the return of Cook’s character and Brewster’s Emily Prentiss to the BAU, with the former now having the profiler training necessary to join the team in a new position. Her return was bolstered by the outpouring of fan support after the announcement of Cook’s departure — no one except the studio seemed willing to let J.J. go.
Cook stayed on as one of the leading roles for the remainder of the show’s 15-season run. Despite the potential for ill will between her and the network, Cook saw the fan support as a silver lining and was able to build a continued career after the experience. While the situation was obviously less than ideal, corrections were quickly made and Criminal Minds fans were able to see J.J. not only continue her story but grow in importance until the series finale.
All 15 seasons of Criminal Minds are streaming on Hulu and Paramount+. A spinoff, Criminal Minds: Evolution, premieres Nov. 24 on Paramount+.