Don’t worry Criminal Minds fans: Members of the BAU who aren’t currently on board for Paramount+‘s sequel series Criminal Minds: Evolution aren’t “gone gone,” showrunner Erica Messer promised during the virtual Television Critics Association panel on September 21.

“Our hope is that the team members that we ended the series with on CBS will be able to come back and play at some point,” she shared. While Joe Mantegna (David Rossi), A.J. Cook (Jennifer “J.J.” Jareau), Kirsten Vangsness (Penelope Garcia), Aisha Tyler (Dr. Tara Lewis), Adam Rodriguez (Luke Alvez), and Paget Brewster (Emily Prentiss) are all back, Matthew Gray Gubler (Dr. Spencer Reid) and Daniel Henney (Matt Simmons) are not. “It’s a little bit more of a mystery what Reid and Simmons are up to. But they’re certainly not forgotten. Dr. Reid and I believe Matt Simmons’ desks are still there, still have stuff on it.”

As for who and what we will see when the series premieres on November 24, Messer revealed, “These past few years have made the team count on one another a lot more.” And it sounds like they’ll need that because, in the premiere,”they’re going to discover there’s been a prolific killer on the loose since 2005, and he’s evolved into legendary status during the pandemic,” she revealed of Zach Gilford’s “one of a kind UnSub.” The killer’s name is Elias Voit, an operations analyst for a global cyber-security firm who has a dark side and obsession with death.

Elias has used the COVID pandemic to build a network of other serial killers the team must hunt down, one murder at a time. The idea to incorporate COVID came to Messer during the pandemic, as she admitted, “I thought, what are serial killers doing right now? I go to worst-case scenario in my brain constantly. That was my worst-case scenario for the pandemic: serial killers talking to each other and perfecting their craft.” We’ll learn more about Elias in Episode 3, directed by Mantegna.

Also directing this season: Tyler, Cook, and Rodriguez. But don’t expect to see Brewster behind the camera. “I don’t want to direct, I’ve never wanted to direct, it just doesn’t appeal to me, it’s too many questions from too many people. But thank god you guys are all great directors as cast members. You’re great at acting and directing,” she said. “I really appreciate that you know what you’re doing. You’re aware, you’re thoughtful, you’re involved, you’re just great directors.”

Joe Mantegna as David Rossi in Criminal Minds Evolution

Monty Brinton / Paramount+

The first two episodes will put Mantegna’s character “in a new light,” Messer revealed. “When somebody like that, the core of the team, is not in a good way, there’s a ripple effect throughout every relationship he has. We wanted to honor this journey of grief that a lot of people have been through, certainly since we’ve last seen them, and we put that burden onto Rossi’s shoulders, and Joe beyond delivers an emotional roller coaster with Rossi.” As a result, the others are “worried and suffering with him and for him.”

Speaking of those first two episodes, Tyler shared that after watching them, her husband admitted he was going to have nightmares. Mantegna agreed with that assessment. “If anything, it’s going to be like Criminal Minds: Evolution XX because if you think you were disturbed before, we may be taking it to another level,” he said. However, he also defended the darker aspects of the series, noting that they offer a “realistic aspect to what these real men and women do.” And that part doesn’t bother him “because when they say cut, that person lying there with the axe in his head pops it out and goes over to craft services and gets a sandwich.”

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Not only will these 10 episodes delve into the UnSub more, they’ll also show more of the effect of the work on the agents. “It just makes it so much fuller and you get to see it through their eyes a little bit, what they’re dealing with. It’s not just their job. It’s their home life, it’s their spouses or boyfriends or girlfriends or children,” according to Cook. “It’s a lot to juggle and that’s something really great about the new season here. We’re going to get the full and complete snapshot of what these heroes deal with on the daily.”

Still, just because they can do more on streaming than in the original run on broadcast television, Messer noted that she knows that teenagers watch. “I never wanted us to go into full, rated R, extra violence or anything that would suddenly feel like a very different series, but we live in the world longer and so because of that, it’s almost like you get to live and breathe in this space and it can be disturbing. It can be a disturbing space to live in,” she explained. Furthermore, “the dialogue feels more authentic” in that the agents will be using language that reflects their “frustrations.” Still, “it sounds like what they would’ve been saying all along.”

Criminal Minds: Evolution, Series Premiere, Thursday, November 24, Paramount+

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