These days, it feels like the CBS hit procedural drama Criminal Minds gets more press for its revolving door of cast members and producers than for the actual content of its episodes. Following a tumultuous season 6, where fans and cast members alike spoke out over the loss of A.J. Cook (Jennifer ‘JJ’ Jareau), the showrunners have ultimately brought the actress back for at least two more seasons.

Although she was let go at the beginning of season 6, Cook maintained a presence on the show by dropping by for several guest spots – saying goodbye to Paget Brewster’s character Emily Prentiss and the recent season finale where she confirmed what had long been reported: JJ will be back.

While many have breathed a sigh of relief that their beloved JJ will once again grace Criminal Minds with her presence, Cook has opened up about changes in the character and what viewers can expect from her role with the BAU when season 7 kicks off in the fall.

In another case of life imitates art, JJ’s departure and subsequent return can hardly be separated from the recent professional upheaval Cook has dealt with over the past year. Those changes will be reflected in the demeanor of JJ when she comes back to the BAU at the request of Rossi (Joe Mantegna).

Cook says:

“I am excited to get back there, from an acting standpoint, too. I think this is a different JJ than we’ve seen in the past, so I’m excited to see where she goes.…she’s a different woman — a confident, “I’ve been working in the State Department” woman. But that’s what I like. If I was going to come back, I didn’t want to go back to what I was because apparently it wasn’t deemed important enough to have me there in the first place! I wanted to make sure the character was going somewhere else and was going to be utilized. … We’ve been talking a lot, me and Erica [Messer], who’s now the new showrunner. … What I love about them is it’s open dialogue. It’s always been that way with writers and actors. I guess fans are kind of freaked out that I’m going to turn into this huge ball-buster!”

As evidenced by the fan reaction to her leaving the show, change can be hard for a devoted fan base to accept, so Cook stresses that while many aspects of JJ will be different, it’s just the natural progression of the character – the JJ everyone is so passionate about is still at the core.

“She was working at such a ridiculous level at the State Department that I think she’s coming back … able to handle a little more. But she’s still going to be the nurturer, she’s still going to be that JJ that everyone loved.”

Will the increased off-screen attention Cook garnered translate into a larger role on Criminal Minds­, or a more pivotal position with the BAU? Some have speculated that JJ’s return means she’ll wind up being the new Unit Chief, but Cook isn’t so quick to confirm. Being aware of the rumors, the actress has “no idea” if a promotion will be written into her upcoming arc – mostly because some key actors (like Thomas Gibson) are still without contracts. Though the departure of Gibson’s character Aaron ‘Hotch’ Hotchner was teased in the season 6 finale, the end result of his negotiations will go a long way in determining the storyline of season 7.

The on-again-off-again relationship Criminal Minds has had with A.J. Cook appears to have finally found some closure that fans can be happy with. With luck, the same accord can be reached with others in the cast and hopefully that means the show will achieve some semblance of stability.

Criminal Minds will return Wednesdays @9pm on CBS this fall.

Source: TV Guide