After 15 seasons and more than 14 years on the air, CBS's Criminal Minds concluded on Feb. 19, 2020, with an emotional and poignant series finale. Viewers said goodbye to the BAU members and learned more about where the likes of Rossi, Spence, J.J., Garcia, and Prentiss would end up.
The nostalgia of the finale was further amplified with flashbacks to past characters who had left the FBI behind seasons earlier.
One of the characters who returned was former unit chief of the BAU Jason Gideon. He left the series fairly unexpectedly in Season 3 following actor Mandy Patinkin's swift departure (he later referred to being on the show as his "biggest public mistake"). Though fans got finality to his character in Season 10 when he was killed off-screen, a younger version of his character, who was played by Boy Meets World alum Ben Savage, returned to the series finale.
Gideon's spirit, who was reminiscent of the investigator in his early career, guided Rossi with advice about a case. The character's return — though unconventional — created further closure during the finale.
How did Gideon die on Criminal Minds? Read on for the refresher on Gideon's fate, and how the show brought back a younger version of himself to help the BAU one last time.
How did Gideon die on 'Criminal Minds'?
While it's difficult to think of Criminal Minds without David Rossi (Joe Mantegna), the character was brought on in Season 3 as a pseudo-replacement for Jason Gideon's exit. When Criminal Minds began, Mandy Patinkin was the biggest name on the cast list, and he was the undeniable star of the show. As the leader for the BAU, he guided the other team members, and he made the final decisions on investigations.
Gideon's allegiance to investigating and profiling criminals began to wane when his girlfriend Sarah Jacobs (Moira Squier) was murdered by serial killer Frank Breitkopf in the Season 2 finale. The pair had been dating since the end of the show's first season, but they had known each other since they were children.
Sarah's death naturally left Gideon shaken up, and he felt guilt over the fact that she was murdered by someone the BAU was investigating.
In Season 3's premiere episode, "Doubt," Gideon has holed himself away in a cabin to consider his life choices. While investigating another case, Gideon's choice to release an unsub leads to her death and the demise of another young woman. He decided to leave the BAU, which Dr. Spencer Reid (Matthew Gray Gubler) discovers when he goes to Gideon's cabin and finds his gun and a note.
Gideon wrote that he had lost faith in happy endings as a result of his work and Sarah's death.
While the public ultimately learned in 2012 that Gideon really exited so rapidly because Mandy didn't like being on the show, there were rumors for years that the character would return in some capacity down the line. This hope was quashed in Season 10, when the remaining BAU members learned that Gideon was murdered off-screen by another serial killer, Donnie Mallick (Ayre Gross).
The BAU was sent to investigate their former mentor's death, in the heartbreaking episode "Nelson's Sparrow." Gideon was found shot to death in the cabin he had lived in seasons earlier.
When Gideon was killed off, executive producer and co-writer Erica Messer spoke to TV Guide about wanting to give viewers closure about Gideon's fate.
"Having it be this character, who we haven't seen in forever but we're going to see where it started with him, it just felt right to see where it all ends for him... It felt like a really nice way of honoring Gideon. We don't kill off our heroes very often," Erica said.
"All of our fans who've been watching for 10 years, all of us who've been working here 10 years and the actors who've been living these characters for 10 years — it was like, 'Let's give them some real drama,'" she continued. "When it hits home, it doesn't get more real than that."
Though Gideon never did physically return to the BAU for further closure on his exit, the original character was given a send-off of sorts on the series finale.
Gideon did return to the 'Criminal Minds' series finale.
Five years after his murder, a young Gideon pays a "visit" to Rossi to advise him on finding Everett Lynch, aka the Chameleon.
Younger versions of Rossi and Gideon had been featured on the show before. The first time this occurred was in the episode when Gideon died, and viewers saw how the two used to work together in their early careers. It was even revealed that Gideon had named his son after Rossi's middle name: Stephen. Their former bond helped Rossi solve Gideon's death in the present.
During the series finale, the presence of young Gideon with a present-day Rossi was a first for the series. In the flashbacks (which took place while Spencer was in a coma following the explosion in a previous episode), scenes from Gideon's career at the BAU were shown as well.
Other former characters, including Hotchner and Morgan were also shown in these flashbacks, while the actors themselves did not reprise their roles.