Criminal Minds has not one, but two ongoing mysteries this season — and showrunner Erica Messer didn't even realize it.
"I didn't really think about that until now!" she tells TVGuide.com. "But I guess it's true. We've got a good mystery with Reid's girlfriend and a scary mystery with the season-long unsub. We didn't really plan for it this way, but they both just sort of worked out for this season."
Indeed, producers have been pitching a season-long unsub story line to CBS for years to no avail. "I think they were just more willing this time," Messer says. "Whereas before, other shows were based on that premise on the network. The Mentalist is based on somebody haunting that guy who killed his family. I think they didn't want us to compete with other shows on the network. But this year, when we pitched this idea and said, 'We'd really like to do this guy who's taunting the team,' they were like, 'We'll take it!'"
The truly unknown unsub, whose shady antics we've seen twice thus far, has been duplicating the crimes of the season premiere baddie The Silencer, not mention stalking the BAU via photos. Also yet to be seen so far: Reid's (Matthew Gray Gubler) telephone girlfriend — whom he's never even seen himself. "It just feels like we should all be on that journey with him," Messer says of the decision to obscure the brunette's face.
1. A villain for all season: As previously reported, the unsub, who will keep "leaving bodies in his wake," will be revealed in Episode 16, when he and the BAU will come to a head. That does not mean he will be caught or killed. "He will likely be our ultimate case later in the year, if not the finale," Messer says. "We've got it mapped out and things can always change because they haven't all shot, but for the most part, we know what we want this guy to end up as." The dark room scenes of him developing shots of the BAU will cease soon, but the reason for the shots is tied to his connection with one or more members of the BAU. "You'll learn the connection later on," Messer teases. "When you find out, that will be the reward at the end of the season. ... But we don't want the repercussions to be too much. We want to live with these characters for a long, long time and we don't want anything so bad that they can't bounce back from it."
2. More singular baddies? Though they're not even done with their first stab at a recurring antagonist, the producers are already considering doing another season-long unsub next year. "It would depend on what happens with this one," Messer says. "I think it's the kind of thing that gave us something excited about, especially in the eighth season, and I can see us doing one again."
3. Stop playing telephone: Reid's geneticist-turned-consultant-turned-gal pal will be unveiled in the 10th episode, which is coincidentally directed by Gubler. "That was not planned. We line our directors up [first] over the summer and then the writers go back, and it just worked out that way," Messer says. While her face will be revealed, Messer declines to specify if this means Reid will finally be face-to-face with her and who is playing her. "We just all felt like if we don't have to put it out there and have Reid fans weigh in on it before we see her, then that's how we wanted to go about it," she says. "What we all liked about it was that it didn't look like anything we'd seen and we felt like only Reid would be able to have this kind of relationship, where you haven't met the person and that for the first time, you're excited in that emotional way. Reid's an excitable creature, but you've never seen him excited about making a phone call or getting a phone call. He's got this new thing in his life, and how great is that?"
4. Danger zone? Reid's girlfriend, of course, isn't just any ordinary lady. She's also vaguely hiding and/or running away from someone. Messer promises answers to her "baggage" in the 12th episode, but naturally, the BAU will eventually get involved later in the season. "It wouldn't be Criminal Minds if they didn't!"
5. Undercover blown: Producers had planned an undercover story line for JJ (A.J. Cook) starting with the 15th episode, which will be directed by Thomas Gibson, but they've put a pin in that for now to concentrate on the season-long unsub. "There's a lot going on with this season-long unsub that it felt like it was butting up against that story," Messer says. "We didn't want to be confusing with that because it wasn't going to be that guy who had her and it seemed like if there were two bad guys out there targeting our people, it would be overwhelming. We're probably looking at [the undercover arc] for next season."
6. "Profiler, Profiled" Part 2: The 19th episode will be a sequel to Season 2's Morgan-centric "Profiler, Profiled," in which we learned Morgan (Shemar Moore) was sexually abused by his mentor Carl Buford (Julius Tennon) while he was in a youth center. "He goes back to Chicago and the center and it's going to be about him battling his demons," Messer says. "It brings back memories and the case is somewhat related."
7. No Prentiss for now: Messer rules out a visit from Prentiss (Paget Brewster) this season, but hopes for one in the future. "We'd love to have her come back, but I don't think it will happen soon," she says, adding that she hopes to delve more into the backstory of Blake (Jeanne Tripplehorn) in the second half of the season. "I think she's fitting in so well and I want our fans to know more about her and her Skype relationship with her husband. Jeanne had big shoes to fill and she's doing a great job."
Criminal Minds airs Wednesdays at 9/8c on CBS.