CBS drama Criminal Minds has plenty of thrilling episodes and some of these cases stood out for being way ahead of their time.
After 15 full seasons, CBS’s Criminal Minds is headed for cancellation. Fans may be parting ways with the cast but Penelope, Hotchner, Morgan, and J.J. will carry on in over 226 hours of material available for streaming on Netflix and CBS All Access.
It’s remarkable (and maybe a little worrying) that despite the show’s singular focus on a specific classification of violent crime, it hardly ever lacked for new and shocking material to throw at the Behavioral Analysis Unit. Here is a look at 10 of the team’s most thrilling and poignant cases that were way ahead of their time.
The World’s Worst Tinder Date
“Entropy” opens with a humorous bait-and-switch that appears as though Doctor Spencer Reid was on a very awkward date. In reality, he was actually trying to catch a serial killer and assassin who has Technical Analyst Penelope Garcia in her sights. The format is unique, but what really makes the episode special is the personal drama Reid is dealing with internally that the killer is determined to tease out of him. Criminal Minds excels at combining the personal with the procedural and this episode is no exception.
Streaming Culture At Its Worst
“Revelations” ranks highly among fans in most top 10 lists, which says a lot about its strengths since it has maintained this rank since 2007.
The killer in this episode, Tobias Henkel, live-streams his kills and later the captivity and torture of Reid while his teammates watch in horror, powerless to help their friend. It’s an eerily prescient episode, occurring three years before Luka Magnotta, the kitten killer, would become active in real life and begin to terrorize the Internet with his horrific videos.
Not Your Average Scooby-Doo Mystery
“Mr. Scratch” feels more like an episode of Black Mirror than a standard procedural. In this episode, which introduces recurring villain Peter Lewis, the BAU is called upon to investigate a series of bizarre and seemingly unrelated murders. Three ordinary people turn into violent killers while under the influence of an unknown narcotic. In each case, the killer claims self-defense believing themselves to have been attacked by a shadowy figure named Mr. Scratch that has the BAU stumped for quite a while. One thing is for sure, after watching this episode, the smell of burning sage will never feel the same again.
Every Episode With Aisha Tyler’s Character. Every. Single. One.
Aisha Tyler is fantastic as Forensic Psychologist Tara Lewis, a sentiment showrunner Erica Messer agreed with since she promoted Tyler to a series regular in 2016 after her first appearance in Season 11.
Some of her best scenes occur when she is separated from the main team, traveling the country to interview prisoners who have committed crimes similar to the cases at hand. As a profiler, Lewis is whip-smart and has a high capacity for empathy. These sequences feel very much like the first season of Mindhunter but came out a full year earlier.
The 300… But Not THAT 300
People will always be fascinated by cults. It’s why they make such a popular subject for countless documentaries like Wild Wild Country. In “300” Reid is kidnapped once again, but this time Penelope is there to keep him company.
The cult that abducts the two of the most important members of the BAU team has a connection to cult leader Benjamin Cyrus, a villain from Season 4. What is unique about this episode is how old footage from “Minimal Loss”, featuring Cyrus and a young Reid, were edited into the episode.
The Best And The Worst
Too many themes nearly spoil this episode but it is not without its merits. With a corrupt politician, a Jack the Ripper style serial killer, and a troubled teen with psychopathic tendencies all on the loose at the same time, it is hard to keep the storylines straight.
But the conversations that occur between Reid and Nathan Harris, a teenager who believes he is becoming a serial killer, more than make-up for the confusing start. “Birth, Sex, Death” is a great character study and lets Reid’s compassion shine.
A Different Kind Of Frame Story
Season 3 was a traumatic season. It cannot be denied. The episode “Profiler, Profiled” was a particularly difficult one to watch.
While visiting his mother in Chicago, Special Agent Derek Morgan is framed for a series of child murders dating back to his own childhood. His teammates at the BAU immediately come to the rescue. But to clear his name, Derek will have to come forward and confront the man who abused him when he was a boy. It’s an episode that feels different today than it did in 2006, many years before the #MeToo movement.
Difficult Choices For The Whole Family
Since the death of his wife at the hands of George Foyet, the relationship between Unit Chief Aaron Hotchner has had a strained relationship with his father-in-law Roy Brooks.
Roy blames Hotchner for Haley’s death but remains close to his surviving daughter Jessica Brooks and grandson Jack. But as Roy gets older and shows early signs of Alzheimer’s, Hotchner and Jessica are forced to consider the options in terms of eldercare. It’s a conversation not often shown on screen in this genre. Audiences don’t often see the realities of dealing with an aging parent, but it’s an important storyline and one many people face in real life.
AKA The Episode That Is Too Sad To Joke About
“Elephants Memory” delves deep into Reid’s trauma and drug addiction following his abduction and torture at the hands of serial killer Tobias Henkel.
After the opening sequence, which introduces the crime of the day, the scene shifts to a support group where Reid is explaining that while he is presently clean, he continues to grapple with physical cravings every day. The importance of support structures when overcoming addiction cannot be understated. It’s a powerful choice to include this quieter scene on a network show.
Let’s Go Defense!
“The Big Game” episode opens up with CBS’s Jim Nantz and Phil Simms breaking down the results of Super Bowl XLI between the Colts and the Bears. “The winning team is the most physical. They hit the opposing quarterback. Make him throw interceptions. They hit the running back extra hard.” It’s a clever piece of writing meant to foreshadow the way the unsub is going to come after the team and also a cool trick making everything feel more present and immediate.
But isn’t it also exactly how the New York Giants would defeat the undefeated New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII the following year?
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