Why 'Criminal Minds' Introduced Stephen Walker at the Right Time and in the Right Way
It has been a time of change for Criminal Minds. Last season featured Morgan's departure, and this season saw Hotch go into witness protection, leaving the BAU without two of its members, agents who had been around since the beginning.
At the beginning of season 12, Luke Alvez joined the team from the Fugitive Task Force. Though Prentiss originally came back when Hotch was supposedly on a temporary assignment, she ended up sticking around -- and taking over as Unit Chief -- once it was revealed where he really was. And, when she managed to find a way to increase their budget so that they could hire a new agent, she reached out to someone she knew: Stephen Walker.
The Show Gave Viewers a Chance to Get Used to Stephen Walker
Rather than throw him right into the middle of a case with the team (like Luke was in the premiere), viewers first met Stephen at the end of "Scarecrow," after Prentiss had only been willing to say that she had extended an offer to someone for the open spot on the team. Before we even saw him, we knew he had been with the Bureau for 20 years, they met on a case with Interpol and Prentiss thought he'd fit in with the team.
It wasn't until after that episode's case was solved and the team had returned to the office that Damon Gupton made his debut as Stephen, waiting to give Prentiss his answer in person. At that point, we learned that Rossi already knew him (well enough to greet him with a hug), Stephen had followed and admired the BAU's work for years and the team (including Garcia, who would not be passing on Luke "Newbie" Alvez's new guy status to Walker) was happy to have him join them.
And then the show went on break for a few weeks for the holidays, and when it returned, it used a couple of scenes, bookending "Profiling 202" to further establish who Stephen is as a character: a very naturally gifted profiler whom Prentiss had to pry away from the FBI's BAP (Behavioral Analysis Program) and who may have gotten into Rossi's profiling course his rookie year (it took Prentiss until her third), but his profile was still off on his first case after the class. In other words, he's gifted, but he's not perfect.
Criminal Minds also hasn't made a big deal out of Walker's addition to the team. Garcia's dislike of Luke has only served to highlight his "new guy" status, while Stephen has seemed to quietly slip right in. Granted, we haven't really seen too much team-interaction with him -- and right now, Reid is on leave with his mother -- and the majority of his first official episode with the team saw him teaching a course with Rossi and Prentiss, but hopefully that's an indication of how they plan to treat him joining the team moving forward: as someone who, as Prentiss said it, fits in.
He Has the Experience
The BAU already has one new member this year with a non-profiling background: Luke Alvez, who came to them from the Fugitive Task Force following a case involving one of the escaped convicts that led to Mr. Scratch. When he joined, it was immediately clear that Luke was more comfortable in the field and Hotch told him that he'd have to put in the full profiling load (with the exact number of hours that would require), while as already mentioned, Stephen's coming in from the BAP and is a gifted profiler.
We got a taste of that in "Profiling 202," as, despite Stephen being the newest member of the team, he and Prentiss joined Rossi for his advanced seminar. And he was the one to pick up on the fact that Yates sounded sad, not threatening, when he talked about not knowing how much time you have left, leading to the realization that Yates was dying and what that meant for him as a serial killer.
The Timing Is Right
When better to truly introduce Stephen Walker as a character than in the same episode that features Rossi teaching a course similar to the one that the new team member took? In fact, the episode also highlighted the different paths someone can take after one of Rossi's seminars: continue as he or she is or reevaluate and choose to do something different. Stephen went on to become an experienced agent who is well-known enough to warrant an offer to join the BAU from Prentiss.
On the other hand, following the discussion about Yates' case, one of the agents in the class, Clark, decided that he was leaving the program, even though Rossi thought him one of the most promising young coordinators they had. He just got engaged and didn't want to bring the insanity of this job home, Clark explained. He didn't want the skills necessary to deal with cases like Yates', and he couldn't have this job become his life.
Stephen Seems More Likely to Stick Around Than Luke
The feeling I got when Luke first joined the BAU at the beginning of the season was that he'd stay to catch Mr. Scratch (who did make it personal for him, after all), complete the required hours and maybe even hang around a case or two longer, only to possibly decide to move on. Before he joined, after all, he bounced around between divisions before joining the Fugitive Task Force, and he's been established as a guy who prefers to be in the field.
Meanwhile, Stephen doesn't have a connection to Mr. Scratch or any of the escaped convicts (that we know of yet, at least. Prentiss was also planning to hire a new agent before Mr. Scratch resurfaced and targeted Tara and her family, so she hadn't just decided to bring someone in for that specific reason.) Instead, he's someone who, in his first appearance, made it clear he followed and admired the team's work for years.
Yes, it's possible that he could leave the team to go back to the BAP -- Prentiss did mention that she had to pry him away from the program -- but he seems more likely to be happy sitting down and developing a profile than spending most of his time out in the field, kicking down doors. (And maybe it's because we've only really seen him in an academic setting so far, but it's hard to imagine him going around and kicking down doors like Morgan and Luke.)
A Past Hiccup Was Addressed Pretty Much Right off the Bat and with Little Fanfare
It's no surprise that he has something in his past that could haunt him. (After all, "Profiling 202" was all about a serial killer who taunted Rossi by withholding the locations where he buried his victims.) But rather than tease it out, with a mention here and there over several episodes, Stephen revealed that his first case after Rossi's class went sideways. They lost all three agents who were deep undercover with a cell in Belgium. Though they ended up getting the cell and stopping a planned attack, his profile was off.
And rather than have part of Stephen still blame himself, the agent told Rossi he didn't anymore because of him: "We save lives, and that's all that matters. Every life we save, it's a win." That should be an indication that we won't see him second-guessing himself moving forward because of this past event. The show could have easily tried to draw that out into some sort of arc for him, but it looks like they've wisely chosen not to do so.
Criminal Minds season 12 airs Wednesdays at 9/8c on CBS.