Criminal Minds: The real reason AJ Cook was absent for a few episodes


Criminal Minds was no stranger to roster rotation, losing key leads and going through a series of seasons where team members seemed to come and go in the same year. Many departures have become known, including the firing of Thomas Gibson after an alleged altercation and the early loss of Mandy Patinkin over the show’s content. However, one that often goes unnoticed is the departure and return of Jennifer Jareau from AJ Cook.

As part of a mid-series shakeup based partially on budget constraints, Cook’s character was written off the show despite her seniority and through no fault of her own. What’s most interesting, though, is that she was brought back less than a season later. These are the on-screen and off-screen stories behind AJ Cook’s exit.

Despite being a pivotal member of the BAU team, JJ was written off the series for most of season 6. The fictional reason was her forced transfer to the Pentagon, a cover story that obscures her real job in a task force in the Middle East. JJ had apparently been offered the Pentagon job several times before, though it’s unclear if those cases were also cover stories for a similar secret job.

However, the real reason for the actress’ departure was less dramatic. The studio was looking to cut costs, so it fired Cook and her co-star Paget Brewster, who played the only other female field agent on the show. While Brewster stayed on for most of season 6, Cook was given two episodes to wrap up her story.

While financial reasons were the biggest factor in the decision not to accept AJ Cook’s contract, some speculated that she had chosen to leave because of the standard “creative differences” that are often cited when an actor and a show part ways. Others saw her firing along with Brewster’s downsizing as a sexist decision. While Brewster stated that the network “wasn’t particularly nice to women” and noted her significantly higher salary and replacement actress, the generally accepted reason is strictly financial.

Fortunately, JJ was not gone for long. The season 7 premiere saw the return of Brewster’s AJ Cook and Emily Prentiss character to BAU, with the former now having the necessary profiler training 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 JJ go.

AJ Cook remained as one of the leading roles for the rest of the show’s 15 seasons. Despite the potential for ill will between her and the network, the actress saw the support from fans as a silver lining and was able to build an ongoing career after the experience. While the situation was obviously less than ideal, corrections were quickly made and Criminal Minds fans got to see JJ not only continue her story, but also grow in prominence.