We had the chance to jump on the phone with Criminal Minds: Evolution creator and executive producer Erica Messer to discuss the disturbing events of Criminal Minds: Evolution Season 1 Episode 4.
Erica talked about bringing the series to the streaming market after 15 seasons and teased that Moose's story isn't finished and will not end well.
Please enjoy our conversation below.
Oh my gosh. I have to tell you, Erica, I watch a lot of TV, but I have never been as disturbed as I was over Moose's tragic ark.
I'm the person who never wants an animal to be killed.
But in this case, I would've preferred it. I really would. I mean, it breaks my heart that you took a cuddly bear of a dog like Moose to show and have Elias pretty much destroy everything that he was to show what kind of a monster Elias is.
How did you come up with that arc?
We keep looking at Elias as an experimenter, that he's this sort of curious killer. I mean, that sounds weird, but for us, that left so many stories open to tell and weird things to explore.
And the writer's room was in my backyard, literally sunshine and fresh air and the nicest group of people you'd ever meet. And we wanted Voit to kill Hal. We're like, Hal's the worst. Why are we cheering for somebody to get killed? We don't know, but Hal is awful, and we want him to die. What's a horrible way to die? And then it was the Moose of it all.
It was really at the end of episode two when you see him hunting Tawny through the window, and sweet Moose is on guard just enough, you presume. Oh, God. Well, he got Tawny.
And then he has the collar. And so I thought, well...
He has the collar. Exactly. So you're like, oh, they're both gone. But spoiler alert, that's not the end of the story. So having Moose's collar was sort of a promise of what in the heck he's going to do with Moose, or is Moose dead?
And then to see Moose, no, Moose is a killer now, which is horrible. And then next week, we see more of Moose, and then Moose comes back later in the season too. So there's a Moose thread in the first ten episodes.
But it came to us in that weird way that we, as the writers on the show, are trained to think of what's unexpected. What's the thing normal people wouldn't think about?
Right. Right. And is Moose going to mirror Elias in his way? Or do we have any hope for Moose to become the Moose he was? Well, he will never be Moose again.
He'll never be Moose again. No. And I have a big thing. It's interesting, the show itself, we really avoid cruelty to any animals because it's worse and not worse. But people really have this real reaction when there's an animal involved.
But serial killers are known to experiment with animals. I mean, that's part of their thing. So anyway, there's more Moose to come. It won't have a happy ending.
Yeah, it can't have a happy ending at this point.
The poor thing has been broken, and I couldn't help but look at Elias with his daughters and think he may not realize that he's doing the same thing to his daughters, but just by being who he is and that they will eventually find out what a monster their father is, he will have the same impact on his daughters as he had on Moose. And that just broke my heart too.
Right. I know, I know. And it's that thing if you see this, and arguably we've just never been able to explore and unsub the way we can Elias. So you're like, wait, how could this person who does these horrible things also go home and have a wife and kids? And how does that happen? And the truth is, it does.
And that compartmentalization that serial killers can often pull off is a fascinating behavior to explore. So there are two truths to him. It's, well, more than two, but it's like he needs to kill. This is part of who he is, and he truly loves his wife and kids.
How can both of those things be true? They are. Right. It's almost difficult for any of us to understand.
Does he really love his family? He thinks he loves his family, but he doesn't love his family. If he loved his family, he couldn't be that person.
Right. I know. That's the complicated thing, right, where he will protect them fiercely, but also, he's killing somebody that looks like his neighbor because he can't kill his neighbor because that would be breaking the rules.
He's so methodical about it and logical of like, well, if I hate Hal, but if I killed Hal, they're going to knock on my door and ask if I had any interaction with Hal. Right. This is bizarre. It's so bizarre. But yeah, Moose.
I'm afraid of your writer's room in the backyard, to be honest. [chuckles] Are further reveals going to be in the same shocking vein?
Yeah, we have a few unsubs that are not quite as standalone as we've done in the history of the series, but ones that don't seem to be puppet mastered by Voit, but even those are sort of elevated and disturbing.
So not that we ever did the classic unsub of the week, but even those characters that we have, have a lot more going on. And we have a few more minutes per episode to dive into those things.
So I think that's what helps. And because of that, I think these reveals and these like, oh gosh, ugh, that can happen, just can happen at a deeper level, I guess.
And is your team many of the same people that were there for Criminal Minds? Or is there fresh blood as well that are working with you? What is the writers' room makeup?
So I'm the only writer that's been on the series for the entire run of the series since 2005. Breen Frazier is on the team and brilliant. And Chris Barbour, also brilliant. Those two have been with me for. They were on Criminal Minds for years.
Chris Barbour was even on Beyond Borders with me. That's where I met him. And then came over to Criminal Minds when that show ended. And we are the three writer-producers who have been on from the writer's room through production.
And then there's a consulting producer named Matt Lau, who I also worked with on Beyond Borders. And he came over and was part of the writer's room for 20 weeks.
And then everyone else is a staff writer. So I really wanted the room to have a mentorship vibe to it. So there were four exec producer levels who have all been showrunners that, certainly, in that space before, and then four staff writers.
So that we said, it's kind of the room we wish we all had when we were coming up because there's a lot of natural mentors happening, and we're all very comfortable writing in this space.
I think it's easier to do on a show that has such a history to it that we can, in terms of guiding others through the process, we're not all second guessing what the process is because we have a great foundation already.
So I think that we'd have to ask the staff writers, but I do think that the experience was a little more comforting than maybe a normal staff writer gig where you're just like, "oh my God, I'm not going to say anything. I'm just going to sit here and absorb." We really encouraged conversation and ownership of the episodes that they wrote.
I mean, obviously, everybody needs guidance, myself included. We don't do this in a vacuum. We definitely treat this as a team sport.
And it's been incredible to watch the staff writers learn and adapt and be very flexible with, okay, well, now your episode is going to be a mid-season finale, and now your episode is going to be the first one back after a three-week break.
Okay, here's what's going to change about those episodes, and here's what's going to stay the same.
And it's a great way to learn those lessons because we always have to expect the unexpected in this job and those little things like that that come along and affect directly something that you would imagine, it's like, okay, well now we have to reimagine it. So all of that has been really, I think just made the experience richer for all of us.
And there are fun things that are happening in this series obviously, that you couldn't do on broadcast TV, obviously. And one of them, I had to laugh whenever Rossi called Elias, who I cannot call Sicarius because I agree with Rossi that he doesn't get a nickname.
Rossi called him fuck head, and Garcia was trying so hard to try to go there, and she just couldn't do it. It worked really well with the new format. And I wondered how many times Rossi has wanted to say that in the past.
Oh yeah. Or how many outtakes do we have where maybe something did get swept?
Yeah. And Joe's the one who really holds the torch for all the curse words this new season, but it sounds so, "of course, he would say that." He's the guy. You find a shipping container full of preserved dead bodies, saying damn isn't enough.
This guy needs a little expletive in there, so. And we had fun. And at first, it's, I think, that episode in that particular, like, "oh, okay, we're using maybe one too many of those."
And so I would ask that the cast does an alternate just in case we were like, wow, that went from one F-bomb to five F-bombs really quick. So let's pull out that because I am super aware that we have a really broad audience; even though we're on streaming now, it's still a broadcast based and a streaming darling before it was made for streaming.
And so we have kids who watch the show, so we joke it's like 10 to 110, watch this show. And I didn't want it to all of a sudden be like, earmuffs. There's going to be a slew of bad words right now. But I'm also acutely aware that we are not introducing this language to children.
They have heard it before. This is a mature show. This is not, all of a sudden, we're not creating new words that people never heard before.
And even shows seemingly created with children in mind, although they say that they're really not, but you know that they say far worse things. So having one of those every once in a while isn't going to rock the boat too much.
So what's it been like overall writing this season-long arc versus the case-of-the-week format, having this freer atmosphere in which to do it?
I have to say we love the structure of the show, and we really didn't want to mess with that. In other words, we didn't want to add more twists or to all of a sudden have 65-page scripts because we're going to have more time on screen.
So we really embraced what's been working for 15 years and said, okay, here's our suspense thriller model. And what we get to do now is live in the moments more. And I'm sure you've recognized that.
It's like you could watch the first episode on Paramount Plus and lean in and be afraid and all that. You could also watch the 43-minute version on CBS and feel the same thing. We lifted where we had to make it a CBS; they put it on for promotional purposes on that Thursday night.
And I was really afraid, "oh, we're going to lose the scary." You don't lose it on CBS, but it's better in streaming. It's just better when you can live in it longer.
So I think we've just embraced the ability to live in the weirdness longer, or even live in the character beats longer to not feel like we have to shortchange them in any way.
And finally, tell me real quick, what's the most important thing that we need to know about the remainder of the season?
The most important thing? Oh my gosh, that's a hard question. I think you just need to buckle up because this ride is just getting started.
Criminal Minds: Evolution is currently airing on Paramount+. New episodes drop weekly on Thursdays.
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Critic's Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.