Aaron Hotchner is a fictional character from the CBS crime drama Criminal Minds, portrayed by Thomas Gibson. He is a Supervisory Special Agent and the unit chief of the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit, and has appeared from the series' pilot episode "Extreme Aggressor", which was originally broadcast on September 22, 2005.
Hotch begins the series married to his high school sweetheart Haley (Meredith Monroe). They have a son named Jack (Cade Owens), though they later separated over Hotch's dedication to his job. Meredith Monroe's character Haley was later killed in season five by serial killer George Foyet. Two years after Haley's death, he met triathlon runner Beth Clemmons, and had been in a relationship with her, until season ten when it is revealed he broke things off with her when she was offered a job in Hong Kong.
On August 12, 2016, CBS producers announced that Gibson had been dismissed from Criminal Minds following a physical altercation with one of the show's writers and that "creative details" regarding the character's departure would be announced at a later date. After appearing in the first two episodes of the 2016-2017 season, the Hotchner character was removed from the opening credits of subsequent episodes. At the start of the third episode, one character explained Hotch's absence by remarking that he was on TDY.
In episode 12.6 titled “Elliott’s Pond” it was revealed that Gibson’s character, Aaron Hotchner, was leaving his post as longtime head of the Behavioral Analysis Unit after Peter Lewis (aka Mr. Scratch) began stalking Hotch’s son, Jack. The two decided to enter the Witness Protection Program. The move would make it nearly impossible for Hotch to return to his field of work at the BAU, prompting him to resign from the position in effort to protect Jack.
A new BAU chief had to be named and Hotch personally requested Emily Prentiss (Paget Brewster), which in turn she eventually accepted.
Gibson was cast as Hotchner having previously starred in the comedy series Dharma and Greg. Of the transition to Criminal Minds, he explained: "It's very nice to do a little bit of the darkness after a little bit of the lightness. Variety is the spice of life. I enjoy both and hopefully I will be able to do as big a variety as I possibly can." Gibson's family lives in San Antonio, Texas, while he commutes to Los Angeles to film Criminal Minds on a weekly basis, something he feels gives him an insight into Hotch's divided priorities. Discussing the effect working in the BAU has on the agents' personal lives, Gibson opined: "I think it can't help but take some toll. And the first casualty may not be the agents themselves, but their families, spouses and children." Prior to Hotch and Haley's separation, in a 2007 interview Gibson stated that he hoped the two would make their relationship last, explaining: "Marriage can certainly survive lots of hardships. You think about in real life the marriages that survive. They certainly suffer... and I think it's going to be very interesting to see how they work it out because I know it's certainly taking its toll. Haley wanted the marriage to work out." Discussing the conflict between Hotch's career and home life, Gibson detailed:
Gibson characterized Hotch as having "moments of levity", but continued: "Unfortunately, he has a very, very, probably-dusty-it's-so-dry sense of humor. It's pretty dark. It's pretty bone dry. We all need a little levity, but I wouldn't necessarily look for him to break into song and dance. I think Hotch feels there's a lot at stake all the time." Prior to the departure of Mandy Patinkin's Jason Gideon from the series, Gibson described Gideon and Hotch as "an old married couple", deeming them father figures to the rest of the BAU and professional peers to one another. Of Hotch's relationship with the rest of the BAU team, Gibson commented:
Before Gibson was cast in the role, the character was originally envisioned as a "blonde haired, blue-eyed Mormon".
Hotch first met his future wife Haley Brooks in high school. They married soon thereafter, and were initially happy together. Before joining the FBI, Hotch worked as a prosecutorE301 for the District Attorney's office.E319 He has a younger brother named Sean (Eric Johnson), a New York City-based chef.E116 His mother is an alumna of Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, VA.E11. Their father was a workaholic lawyer who survived cancer,E219 and suffered a heart attack at 47, dying while Sean was still a child.E116
Upon joining the FBI, Hotch was initially assigned to the Field Office in Seattle, Washington, before transferring to Quantico, Virginia.
In "Natural Born Killer", Hotchner spoke to a serial killer, Vincent Perotta (Patrick Kilpatrick), and discussed the physical abuse he suffered as a child at the hands of his father. Perotta claimed that everyone who is abused as a child becomes a serial killer, with Hotchner correcting him by saying that "some people grow up to become serial killers". When Perotta caught the correction, he asked what the use of "some" meant. Hotchner replied by saying "and some people grow up to catch them." From his explanation to Perotta earlier, it seems Hotchner and his mother were abused, but she did not do anything with the issue.
In general, Hotchner is depicted as a hard-working, (mostly) humorless, no-nonsense agent who rarely smiles or acts out in anger; his aloof demeanor and composure tend to be mistaken for a complete lack of emotion. He takes great care to avoid antagonizing witnesses, local law enforcement and suspects unless he believes provoking them will cause them to reveal information, occasionally chastising his team mates for needlessly flippant or hostile behavior. With few exceptions, he takes the ethics of his profession very seriously, as evidenced by his angry reaction to Elle Greenaway's killing of a suspect, which he (correctly) believed was cold-blooded murder. Though lacking evidence, he very clearly stated he would arrest her if he had such. He occasionally sympathizes with the subjects he pursues, although he universally condemns their behavior and never allows them to justify it.
Following the birth of his son Jack, Hotch's work with the BAU began disrupting his family life. Following a two-week suspension in 2007 (engineered by office rival Section Chief Erin Strauss after a case at a college campus in Flagstaff, Arizona that ended in disaster when both serial killer Nathan Tubbs and copycat killer Anna Begley died), he requested a transfer to a different division, which pleased Haley, until Derek Morgan (Shemar Moore) convinced him to help the team with a case in Milwaukee. He changed his mind about leaving the department, and when he returned home, he found that Haley had taken Jack and left him.E302 He was later served with divorce papers at work.E311 Hotch attempted to see Jack weekly, but was unable to spend time with him as often as he would like.E416
At the beginning of the show's fourth season, it was shown that the car exploding at the end of season three was Hotch's SUV. Both he and SSA Kate Joyner were caught in the bombing outside the New York City Federal Plaza. Kate eventually died from her injuries, and Hotch suffered shrapnel wounds and a punctured eardrum which resulted in hyperacusis, causing temporary hearing problems.E402 Later in the season, the team worked one of Hotch's old cases: the case of the Boston Reaper. Hotch revealed to Rossi that he had maintained an interest in the case over the ten years since he had investigated it. It was also shown that the Reaper, a power-hungry predator, had taken an interest in Hotch himself.
After being misled for a time, Hotch and the team finally identified the Reaper as George Foyet, the only one to have supposedly survived the Reaper by injuring himself. Hotch and the team arrested Foyet but he escaped from prison shortly afterward, going on the run. In the season four finale, "...And Back", Hotch was confronted in his apartment by the Reaper (identified by his trademark mask).E426 Foyet stabbed Hotch nine times and tortured him with a knife before delivering him to the hospital. Although Hotch survived, Foyet took Haley's and Jack's address from Hotch's apartment, requiring them to be placed in protective custody and unable to contact Hotch while Foyet was at large. Following the encounter with Foyet and subsequent loss of contact with Hotch's family, there was concern within the Bureau, and also on the part of Agent Morgan, that Agent Hotchner was suffering the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and Hotchner's actions were analyzed more closely.E502 In season 9, Hotch is hospitalized due to complications from the old stab wounds after collapsing in the team's conference room.
When Chief Strauss once again began putting pressure on Hotchner,E505 Hotch decided to step down as unit chief to avoid being reassigned to a different unit, relinquishing his position to Morgan. Morgan accepted Hotch's position, but stated that he would step down once Foyet had been captured. Shortly thereafter Foyet reappeared,E508 baiting Hotchner through correspondence with an old unsub (The Fox) who had since been imprisoned since being captured in the Season 1 episode, "The Fox". With the help of the team, Hotchner proceeded to track Foyet,E509 who posed as a US Marshal in order to locate Haley and Jack. Having gained access to her home, Foyet had Haley call Hotch, during which time she realized what had happened. While Hotch managed to issue a code to his son, Jack, to get him to run and hide, he didn't arrive in time to save his ex-wife, whom Foyet murdered while she talked on the phone with Hotch.
Upon arriving at the house, Hotch found Haley's body in the bedroom and noticed Foyet hiding behind the curtains. A full-out fight ensued, with Foyet's eventually surrendering, though Hotchner, enraged and afraid for his son's life, continued to beat him to death until the rest of the team arrived; Morgan had to physically restrain Hotch to get him to stop his rampage. During an inquiry by Section Chief Strauss, the team demonstrated complete support of Agent Hotchner, despite Strauss's persistence in painting Hotchner's actions as premeditated. Her position towards the events eventually changed upon speaking directly with Agent Hotchner who, when asked what he believed would have happened if Foyet had lived, responded: "I don't have to think; I know that he would have tried to kill my son, too." Chief Strauss concluded that Hotchner's actions were entirely justifiable.
After his ex-wife's murder, Hotch took time off to grieve and spend time with his son. He spoke at Haley's funeral.E510 It was clear that Jack was missing his mother, and was comforted by sleeping in his dad's bed. Hotch was offered early retirement from the BAU in order to be with his son. However, after Haley's sister, Jessica, offered to stay with Jack when Hotch had to go away, Hotch agreed and decided to return to the BAU. Since then, Hotch has attempted to build a better relationship with his son by being his pillar of support. Many of Jack's actions make it clear that he holds his father in high regard. For example, in one scene,E510 Jack is shown playing with two figures at the dinner table. He explains to his father that one figure is Hotch, while the other is a "bad guy". When Jack's Aunt Jessica, who is making pancakes for dinner, asks Jack who is going to win, he replies: "Daddy. No one beats Daddy."
In another episode,E606 he refuses to dress up as Spider-Man for Halloween because "he's not a real super hero". Instead Jack puts on a suit that is slightly too large for him, and when Hotch asks him what hero he's supposed to be, he says, "I'm you, Daddy." Later on, Hotch is asked to coach Jack's soccer team when the team's performance lacks and he decides to do it with a little help from Rossi, whom he takes on as his assistant. At the end of the episode, Hotch and Rossi are shown coaching Jack's team and making them win. Despite his many responsibilities, after JJ's departure from the team, Hotch has chosen to take on part of JJ's role as media liaison, a move that he shares with Penelope Garcia. Former Media Communications Officer Jennifer "JJ" Jareau has moved on to become an official full-time profiler.
Hotchner requested to run the psych review on his team following Prentiss' "death". This request was granted by Strauss, and saw the different reactions from his team. Strauss questioned why he had not submitted a psych report for himself, he made an excuse. Hotch is also very protective of Spencer Reid, which is shown in small ways throughout the episodes. In the pilot episode "Extreme Aggressor", Hotch explains that they introduce him as Dr. Spencer Reid instead of Special Agent Spencer Reid so that people will respect him despite his youth. He has mostly taken over the fatherly role with Spencer after Gideon's departure. In the season seven premiere, it was revealed that Hotch was assigned to temporary duty with an investigative task force in Pakistan during the period between seasons. Once Hotch gets back, he tells JJ it's time for the team to learn that Prentiss is alive.
Although JJ isn't sure it's a good idea, Hotch tells her Prentiss is already on her way. He quickly tells the team what happened with Prentiss on the operating table. Rossi, Morgan, Reid, and Garcia are all shocked. Later, in "Proof", Hotch witnesses Reid's hostile behavior towards JJ and tells him to take his anger out on him and not JJ. Reid only replies that it wasn't to Hotch whom he spent ten weeks crying over Prentiss, it was JJ, and she never said a word. In addition to being a BAU Special Agent and also the BAU Unit Chief, Hotch has been promoted to Section Chief because Erin Strauss, the former Section Chief, resigned in the episode "Self-Fulfilling Prophecy" because she had been drinking on the job. This was despite the fact that his involvement in the above mentioned, bungled Arizona case led to his being told that he was not likely to be considered for a promotion.
Later, Hotch makes a connection with a female runner while training for a triathlon. Hotch is hesitant and Rossi feels that is because Hotch doesn't think enough time has passed since Haley was murdered two years ago. While on the plane, the group - including Garcia - debate the issue of Hotch's dating. After their recent case, Hotch admits to Rossi that he will go on a bike ride with the woman. At the end of the episode, the woman, Beth, makes it clear that she's interested in him romantically, which leaves Hotch smiling. During the beginning of the episode "Closing Time", it is revealed that Hotch and Beth have continued training as well as having lunches together. Hotch then asks her out on a date, which she says yes to. At the end of the episode Hotch shows up a day early with roses, and he and Beth have their first kiss. Later, after running the triathlon, Hotch finally introduces his son to Beth.