Top Best Criminal Minds Episodes

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Criminal Minds is like the many other police procedurals that started airing on network TV after Law & Order and CSI. Like those two long-running institutions, it follows a strict formula that makes it as easy for the showrunners to make as it is for viewers to watch all the episodes in one sitting. Criminal Minds is about the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit, or BAU.

The BAU comprises intelligent, attractive people who use psychology to solve crimes throughout the United States. (In real life, the BAU doesn’t leave its headquarters very often, but TV is TV.) A new threat is shown in a typical episode, the BAU talks their way through the case, and the bad guys are caught just in time. There are a few exceptions, especially as the show got closer to its end, but that’s how most episodes go.

Criminal Minds is just like other police shows on the network in every way. There is a strict father figure in charge, a stuttering genius, a playful tech expert, and many no-nonsense women with brown hair throughout the series. The production has that polished CBS look that makes me think of Saturday afternoons spent on the couch watching reruns. Even the music, made up of ambient cues that are always playing and the occasional needle drop, is like what you would hear on NCIS.

However, what makes Criminal Minds different from NCIS is that it is crazy. The sheer number of serial killers the BAU finds over time is scary, like a country-wide version of Cabot Cove from Murder, She Wrote. But the killers on Criminal Minds don’t usually stop at stabbing or strangling someone to kill them. They kill and skin people! They feed rats, people!

They set fire to a house and put on firesuits so they could watch the family die. A woman is torn apart by wild dogs. And that’s just what happened in the first two seasons! It’s not quite as disturbing as Hannibal, but it’s pretty close.

At its worst, Criminal Minds was almost like PG-13 torture porn, enjoying the horrible things done to scare young women and not even coming close to earning its ending. (The show’s first star, Mandy Patinkin, agreed, which is why he quit.) But it could also be significant, tense TV; every so often, it would turn into gleeful insanity.

Profiler, Profiled

Morgan (Moore), when he went back to Chicago to celebrate his mother’s birthday in the middle of the second season, had to do some heavy lifting. But things were anything but happy when local police accused him of killing three boys. This meant that the BAU had to find the natural killer so their colleague could be cleared of the crime.

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It was an excellent chance for fans to learn more about Moore’s character, and the timely episode also showed how much the team cared about each other. Carl Buford (Julius Tennon), who became a serial killer, was also introduced in this episode.

Coda (S6 E16)

The team went to a town on the coast of Louisiana to investigate the kidnapping of a husband and wife in front of their young son. Everyone thought the boy’s autism would keep him from telling them anything about who the unsub was. But even though Sammy didn’t talk much, he could still communicate.

All the team had to figure out what he was trying to say. In the meantime, Prentiss’s storyline with her old enemy Ian Doyle got more complicated when he approached her and started actively threatening the team.

“Coda” did a great job of making us feel like we were in a particular place by showing us a small town whose economy was ruined by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Fans will remember this episode better because of these details.

Amplification (S4 E24)

In the Criminal Minds season 4 episode “Amplification,” Chad Brown, a terrorist and serial killer, is the main character. In this episode, the unsub wanted to do one thing: show the people of America how vulnerable the country was to a terrorist attack. To do this, he became a homegrown terrorist and used anthrax to attack the government. The most important part of this story is that Reid gets anthrax and tries to help find the real unsub before he dies. There was a cure, which was a good thing.

True Genius (S7 E11)

“True Genius” is a Reid-centric Criminal Minds episode. The BAU goes to San Francisco because they think the Zodiac Killer might have returned after all these years. Of course, this wasn’t the real Zodiac Killer. Instead, a gifted child named Caleb was interested in the actual murders that the police never solved. As a prodigy, this put him in Reid’s wheelhouse, and the episode showed him working hard to regain the confidence he lost when he thought he hadn’t lived up to his expectations.

“Rock Creek Park” (S10 E18)

Criminal Minds had a formula, and it mostly stuck to it. When it did change, it was usually because one of the characters was going through a more significant change (as with most episodes named after a BAU member: “Penelope,” “Lauren,” “Spencer,” etc.) But sometimes, an attack wasn’t about a serial killer at all. Instead, it was about another criminal who needed to be profiled.

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The underrated movie “Rock Creek Park” is about a kidnapping instead of a murder or a series of murders. When the wife of an up-and-coming congressman is taken, the BAU has to figure out which of Benjamin Troy’s (Chris McKenna) enemies might have done it.

The real reveal isn’t quite as shocking as the episode makes it seem (hint: no one casts an Oscar nominee for no reason), but the show often had the feel of a political thriller, and this one shines because of the intrigue and the change of pace.

Zugzwang (S8 E12)

In the Season 8 episode “Zugzwang,” a stalker kidnaps his girlfriend, and the BAU team has to find her and save her before it’s too late. In this case, the unsub was a strange woman named Diane, who was played by Michelle Trachtenberg of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Diane hurt Reid more than almost anyone else when she killed herself and Reid’s girlfriend Maeve at the same time. Reid was sad for most of the season because of this.


There was much to cover in this hour-long episode, which Jason Alexander directed. The BAU was looking for a killer robbing and killing male college students on spring break. That’s because the unsub at the center of the killings had two different sides: Adam, who was weak, and Amanda, who was strong (played by Jackson Rathbone).

Not everything in the episode is still true today, but at the time, it was seen as a deeper and more meaningful look at trans issues. Because of this, the episode is still essential to the “Criminal Minds” canon.

Lo-Fi (S3 E20)

Everyone in New York was scared after a string of well-planned shootings. If they were as random as they seemed, it might be impossible to predict or stop them.

The team’s poor communication with the NYPD and the local FBI worsened things. For one thing, the cops didn’t like the idea of being pushed aside by the government. The FBI agent in charge of the case, Kate Joyner, had a history with Hotch, and it looked like her job was in danger. The agent who will take her place? Morgan. Awkward!

The no-frills, all-too-competent murders turned out to be the start of more serious terrorist activity, and the show made for some great suspense. The twists in the characters’ relationships were also a nice contrast to the tight plot.

Date Night (S15 E6)

Date Night was one of the best Criminal Minds episodes last season. Cat Adams, played by Aubrey Plaza, returns for her third season in this episode. She was one of the best unsubs. She first showed up as a killer that Reid helped catch. She returned after making a complicated plan to frame Reid and put him in jail.

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In this episode, she is getting ready to be killed, but she has one more move. She wants one more date with Reid before she dies, so she kidnaps his girlfriend’s father and sister to make it happen.


After the Season 3 finale, “Lo-Fi,” people had a lot of hopes, so the pressure was on in this first episode. Luckily for viewers, it didn’t disappoint. The attack was about a terrorist plot that was aimed at first responders. The situation got even more complicated when Agent Joyner (Sienna Guillory) was seriously hurt.

Fans were shocked to see Hotch (Gibson), who is usually pretty calm and collected no matter what is going on, lose his cool and ask for help. This made this episode one of the best of the bunch.

Extreme Aggressor (S1 E1)

This “Criminal Minds” pilot got the show off on the right foot, with a strong case and a start that made you shiver.

The BAU team looked into a series of murders in which the victims were held for several days before they were killed. The crimes showed that the killer had a strangely mixed set of motives. As the team raced to save the latest victim, they wondered if Gideon, who had lost six agents and was still showing signs of trauma, should even be in the field.

This first episode had a lot going for it, but one of its best parts was how it messed with the usual way procedurals are made. About halfway through, the “whodunit” was figured out, and the rest of the episode was spent trying to save the life of the most recent abductee. It all came to an end with a terrifying cliffhanger.

“The Big Wheel” (S4 E22)

Criminal Minds is scary, but not every episode is creepy. They are sometimes just unfortunate. There have been many sympathetic UnSubs, but few are as compassionate as Alex O’Loughlin’s shy young man with OCD, Vincent Rowlings, who saw his mother’s murder and feels compelled to reenact it over and over again.

Criminal Minds doesn’t always handle mental illness with care, but “The Big Wheel” does an excellent job with OCD. Vincent does not want to change his slippers over and over or wrap his car wheel in plastic or stab people, but he has to. When he makes friends with a blind boy whose mother he killed, “The Big Wheel” moves steadily toward tragedy.

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