If the "Criminal Minds" faithful thought they knew Jennifer "JJ" Jareau, they're about to learn a lot more about her.
A.J. Cook is pleased the year she was away from playing the part is being put to creative use as Season 9 of the CBS crime drama starts Wednesday (Sept. 25). The first two new episodes are about a ritualistic killer in Arizona, but they also involve Hotch's ( Thomas Gibson) suspected bid to become the new FBI section chief of the Behavioral Analysis Unit after Erin Strauss' ( Jayne Atkinson) death last season.
If Hotch really is after the job, as the team believes, he's destined to have competition ... specifically from someone from JJ's past.
"We're taking that serendipitous gift of Season 6 to make lemonade out of lemons," Cook tells Zap2it, "with a really cool story explaining what she was up to when she was at the State Department. The wheels are turning in the writers' room, and it sounds really good."
One of the biggest of those wheels is the eventual section-chief successor, played by the actor Cook calls "the lovely Esai Morales. It turns out JJ and his character have met before, and seem to know each other very well. His first episode (scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 16) doesn't answer a lot of questions, so people are going be scratching their heads a bit. And maybe getting a little nervous about what's going on."
Indeed, JJ has a detective husband and a young son, but Cook believes "it's great that you think you know characters, then all of a sudden, there are twists and turns. This will ruffle some feathers. It's going to upset some people, but stick with it, because the payoff is going to be amazing. And there's going to be more than meets the eye."
Cook notes that before that story takes full flight, "We have a lot of pieces left to put back together, right from the first episode, and we're not going to disappoint, We hit the ground running, but this is really a season about the fans. We want the fans who have been following us all this time to really learn more about who these characters are, and how all of our stories intertwine.
"Don't get me wrong, we're still going to be catching the bad guys every week, but I think what makes our show special is that people have come to love these characters and want to know more about them. And we'll be doing a lot of that in a flashback format."
Cook was glad to rejoin "Criminal Minds" after Season 6, when she was let go from the series and then-co-star Paget Brewster's presence was reduced. Still, contract renegotiations for Cook and fellow series long-timer Kirsten Vangsness went down to the wire before CBS announced the Season 9 renewal.
"Even with all the craziness with the show in the past few years, this has made it all worth it," Cook maintains. "All that hard work is paying off now. People may be nervous about why JJ has to change, but I'm not the same person I was nine years ago. I don't think anyone is.
"She will always be that nurturer and that mothering type, but things happen in life that make you change, and that's what we're going to explain with this character. I've changed a lot, and I think it's great that we've been able to fuse that into JJ. I feel like she's always evolving. I'm never bored with her, so it's all worked out the way I hoped it would."
Photo/Video credit: CBS