As the Criminal Minds season 8 premiere begins, the Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) once again finds itself replacing Emily Prentiss (Paget Brewster), now that she's taken the position to run Interpol's London office. Stepping in to fill her shoes is FBI linguistics expert Alex Blake (Jeanne Tripplehorn), who has a history with Reid (Matthew Gray Gubler) and, as we find out later, Director Strauss (Jayne Atkinson). Is Blake a good replacement for Prentiss, or will there always be a hole left by their former team member?
Strauss' first case finds her and the rest of the BAU heading out to Texas to capture an escaped prisoner known for leaving his victims with their mouths sewn shut, which lines up with a former unsub known as "The Silencer." In the end, the unsub turned out to be a mentally disturbed deaf man, seeking peace and silence, but Blake was still able to flex her linguistic muscles in an attempt to save the day, albeit extremely conveniently.
As a character, Alex Blake feels extremely similar to that of David Rossi (Joe Mantegna), as they're both known experts in their profession and can each command a scene effortlessly, which proves to be a positive and a negative in the premiere. When Blake is taking charge, it feels appropriate, and she handles herself completely. However, when Blake is interacting with fellow team members – even if she is still "new" to them – it feels too much like she's acting as a superior to them, rather than as a relative equal.
In replacing Prentiss, Blake's strong presence will help to also replicate that element of their former team member - however, she was much more than that. Even though Prentiss' position overall was technically higher than that of her co-workers, she was still presented as a friendly equal to them – which helped drive much character development and viewer attachment.
Now that Blake is the new team member, her (now) appearance of being emotionally withdrawn may leave some feeling like there's an element, not actress, missing from Criminal Minds season 8. Additionally, Blake's authoritative presence might feel overwhelming when combined with that of Rossi and Hotchner (Thomas Gibson), making the friendly, comedic moments in the series even fewer, thus moving the series away from its previous perfected blend of suspense and levity.
Blake currently has a history with Reid and Strauss, so we'll have to see how that plays out, over the coming weeks. Tripplehorn certainly has the talent to pull it off, she just needs the writing to allow her to do it. Hopefully Garcia's (Kirsten Vangsness) friendly gesture at the end is the beginning of things to come.
Criminal Minds airs Wednesday @9pm on CBS