Hotch will see dead people on Wednesday's Criminal Minds, but Thomas Gibson won't be watching — at least for now.
"It may be a little tough for me to watch with Haley and Foyet returning. It will be a while before I do," Gibson tells TVGuide.com. "Plus, I don't know how many people want to see the guy who killed their wife again!"
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He may not want to, but Hotch will come face-to-face with George "The Reaper" Foyet (C. Thomas Howell) again on Wednesday's episode (9/8c, CBS), along with his late wife Haley (Meredith Monroe), whom, of course, The Reaper killed in the show's 100th episode before Hotch beat him to death. After collapsing at work due to complications stemming from The Reaper's attack four years ago, Hotch will undergo surgery as the rest of the team heads out on its latest case. While he's under the knife, he sees visions of the two and interacts with them in a movie theater-set dream.
"We really wanted to honor that story line for Hotch," executive producer and showrunner Erica Messer says. "Here we are 100 episodes [since the stabbing] and how is Hotch dealing with it? ... It's a really beautiful story for Hotch and Haley, and it's nice to see them again. And The Reaper too."
Gibson says that he was immediately on-board with the idea after hearing the pitch from writer Virgil Williams. "I think there's always a thinking about, 'We've written this person off, so how can we see them again?'" he says. "This is a very imaginative way of not only bringing back Haley, but George Foyet. I loved it because it was a well-constructed story. ... We catch bad guys pretty much 100 percent of the time, but it's also nice to take a break and see who this person is and what makes him tick and what his challenges are. It's great to have a big canvas of almost 100 episodes to kind of play with. Our writers are great. It makes it easy to go some of those places that are not the easiest."
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In the dream, highlights of Hotch's life from the past four years — including their son Jack (Cade Owen) and his current girlfriend Beth (Bellamy Young) — play on the movie screen, as he and Haley reconnect and discuss their relationship. In the show's early years, Gibson voiced his wish for the couple to stay married, but the two divorced in Season 3 under the strain of his job.
"It's a disappointment certainly, but it's one picture of one person's life, and things don't always work out. You do the best you can. It's the struggle to keep everything together under the stress of this job and the stress of a marriage and trying to make all of it work and sometimes it doesn't," Gibson says. "[The dream] is not really a 'What if?' It's not quite the relationship you saw them have, but it's very emotional."
The Reaper is also not exactly as fans remember him, as seen in the exclusive clip below when he hugs (!) Hotch. "I don't think I hugged him back," Gibson says with a laugh. "It's like 90 percent him and 10 percent me. You're going see him with a box of popcorn too. It's a completely different Reaper. Be ready."
Needless to say, Hotch — spoiler alert! — survives the surgery. Don't expect him to be out of commission for long though. In classic Hotch workaholic fashion, he'll be back at it like nothing had happened. "He doesn't say it, but he says it with his actions, which is, 'I don't want to talk about it. I'm OK. Thanks for your thoughts. Let's get back to work,'" Gibson says. "He's somebody who's very dedicated to the job. He's a tough guy. It's not easy for him to change. That's why his marriage ended."
Still, Gibson assures that the near-death experience will be a "perspective-sharpener" for Hotch, but he balks at the suggestion that the dream will provide closure. "I don't really believe in closure. That's something that writers talk about or people wished that they had," he says. "You might want to be able to close a chapter of your life, but I don't believe that you ever do completely. Moving on is not closure. It's not neat and it's not about turning the page. It is about moving on, but it doesn't mean that you've left something behind."
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So what pieces of Haley — and The Reaper even — from this vision will Hotch carry with him as he moves forward?
"You will see moments where you might see a little resonance from that experience," Gibson says. "Maybe we set up an expectation where fans want to see how it plays out, but I think it's more interesting how we play it, where we see the little places where something's different. We'll see it play out in various ways this season and in some ways, our audience might say, 'Didn't Haley tell you XYZ? Why aren't you doing that?' Certainly this experience has affected him, but I don't know how much he's able to completely digest it. ... Maybe then he'll see them again!"
Criminal Minds airs Wednesdays at 9/8c on CBS.
(Full disclosure: TVGuide.com is owned by CBS.)
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