For fans of Criminal Minds, the axing of Canadian A.J. Cook last year was nothing short of criminal.
But thanks in large part to the outcry not only from viewers but from other cast members, Cook is back playing J.J. Jareau on a full-time basis as Criminal Minds embarks upon its seventh season this fall (CBS, CTV Two).
"It has been a really crazy year to say the least," said Cook, whose character returned to Criminal Minds in the sixth-season finale last May, after a full year away.
"In hindsight, it happened for a reason. I had no idea the fans cared so much about my character in particular. It really helped me hold my head high when all of that first happened."
On the surface, it didn't make sense when the producers of Criminal Minds declined to pick up Cook's contract prior to the sixth season. Why muck with the chemistry of an ensemble cast on a hit show?
"When I called everyone (other cast members) and told them about it, everyone thought I was joking," Cook recalled. "That's how taken by surprise everyone was. None of us had any clue.
"(The producers) decided to make a creative decision. I think they were trying to just freshen it up. Which was funny to me, because I'm the youngest person on the show. I was thinking, 'Wow, what's wrong with me? Am I getting old?' "
Looking back, which was more shocking, being fired or being rehired?
"The whole shock of not getting my option picked up, that definitely takes the cake," Cook said.
"From Day 1, everyone on the show has been fighting for me to get back there. But I knew who they were fighting against and I didn't think it was going to change.
"It has been an adventure and absence makes the heart grow fonder, I guess."
The time away from Criminal Minds allowed Cook to work on other projects and spend time with her family -- her young son in particular -- so there were silver linings. But the experience of being let go has changed Cook's attitude toward her profession.
"It hurt, it definitely hurt my feelings, but it was not the end of the world," Cook said.
"More than anything, it taught me to never get comfortable. I was so lucky to be on a show that had run that long, and it's easy to think, 'I'm going to be fine, I show up on time, I have a good work ethic, I'm a very nice person, why would I get fired?'
"But that's what I learned about this business. It doesn't matter. It's their show, they can do what they want with it -- and they will. It just sort of made me look at what's important in life for me."
Criminal Minds devotees certainly made it clear that A.J. Cook is important to them.
"When they decided to make these changes for no reason, the audience was just not having it," Cook said. "They were not thrilled at all.
"It was really nice how supportive the fans were, and how outspoken. Don't mess with a Criminal Minds fan."