15 Best Criminal Minds Episodes of All Time
The nail-biting thriller Criminal Minds keeps viewers on the edges of their seats. Debuting in 2005 on CBS, the series quickly became a significant hit, initially airing for 15 seasons. The series returns with the upcoming 16th season on Paramount+. The show revolves around criminal profilers in the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit. Also known as the BAU, they investigate gruesome crimes, murders, and abductions using profiling and examining behavior.
The best Criminal Minds episodes feature the team hunting violent serial killers or taking on taunting murderers. The series began with an all-star cast of movie stars, TV icons, soap opera actors, and unknown names. The cast underwent several changes throughout the series, with the main characters departing. The series brought in some heavy hitters to replace the missing pieces. At the same time, a who’s who of Hollywood stars appeared in the series as local detectives or powerful villains.
With an all-star cast, the series features a long list of great episodes. These thrilling episodes include exciting storylines that keep viewers guessing. As is the case with these types of shows, the BAU agents struggle to balance their personal lives with their demanding job tackling complex mysteries. This makes them more relatable and is one of the reasons the show is so popular. So without further ado, here’s a look at the 15 best Criminal Minds episodes.
15 Best Criminal Minds Episodes of All Time
1. Masterpiece (Season 4, Episode 8)
Henry Grace is the scariest, creepiest psychopath the BAU has ever encountered. Portrayed by Jason Alexander, Grace is the type of character that causes nightmares. It all starts when he reveals to David Rossi and Spencer Reid that he killed seven women. Grace plays an eerie game with the BAU as he taunts them to uncover five more missing women.
Later, Grace reveals his plan was all about exacting revenge on Rossi for catching his serial killer brother. Alexander’s haunting performance helps make “Masterpiece” one of the best in the series. Fans often cite the episode as one of the most popular.
2. The Fisher King (Season 1, Episode 22, & Season 2, Episode 1)
The season 1 finale introduces one of the most psychotic villains the team has come up against. The episode “The Fisher King” sees Jason Gideon (portrayed by Mandy Patinkin) and his team encounter a bizarre quest. The Fisher King, aka Randall Garner, draws each member into a quest to save the life of Rebecca Bryant.
The horribly disfigured Garner sends the team on a wild hunt ending with original BAU agent Elle Greenaway clinging to her life. Season 2 picks up where the finale ended, with the team racing against time as they search for Bryant, hunt Garner, and pray for Greenway’s life.
3. Minimal Loss (Season 4, Episode 3)
The season 4 episode “Minimal Loss” features TV icon Luke Perry as evil cult leader Benjamin Cyrus. He is one of the most notorious villains in the series history. He leads the underground cult, Separatarian Sect, in a secluded compound. In addition to being a cult leader, he commits statutory rape and several murders.
BAU members Dr. Spencer Reid and Emily Prentiss go undercover as children interview experts to catch Cyrus, but he soon discovers Prentiss is an FBI agent and their investigation unravels. Inspired by the 1993 Waco Siege, the episode finds the FBI entering the compound with dire consequences. The episode is one of the most memorable in the franchise.
4. The Replicator (Season 8, Episode 24)
The Replicator, aka John Curtis, is one of the BAU’s most challenging cases. Portrayed by Mark Hamill, Curtis initially copies past crimes that the Behavioral Analysis Unit has already solved. He ups his game throughout the season as he haunts and taunts the BAU. As a former FBI agent with a high IQ, Curtis proves to be the team’s greatest threat.
It all comes together in the season 8 finale, “The Replicator.” Curtis’rampage of violence ends when the BAU catches him. However, he manages to murder a long-time character, Erin Strauss, in one of the show’s most shocking deaths.
5. Lucky (Season 3, Episode 8)
Floyd Feylinn Ferell owns Feylinn’s Fine Bar-B-Q in Florida. Also known as Lucky, Floyd is a sick serial killer and twisted cannibal. He would often murder his victims and serve them up as meals at his fine dining establishment. With another brutal murder, the BAU heads to Florida to untangle the strange crime in the season 3 episode “Lucky.”
Portrayed by Jamie Kennedy, Lucky shockingly reveals that he fed the search party the victim they were trying to find. The unsettling episode is one of the most disturbing in the series, however, the episode has one more twist up its sleeve when the popular Penelope Garcia’s date, Jason Clarke Battle, shoots her, leading to the next episode below.
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6. Penelope (Season 3, Episode 9)
“Penelope” starts with the beloved character Penelope Garcia fighting to stay alive. The episode’s heartbreaking on many different levels. Portrayed by Kirstin Vangsness, Penelope was thrilled to be on a date with her dream man, Battle. However, he’s actually a dangerous serial killer that the team is hunting.
For the first three seasons, viewers watched the bond between Penelope and Derek Morgan (portrayed by Shemar Moore) grow. Watching Morgan by his close friend’s side is both touching and sad. Despite surviving, Penelope’s nightmare is only beginning as Battle, still on the loose, begins to stalk Penelope throughout the season.
7. Entropy (Season 11, Episode 11)
Spencer-centric episodes are sometimes tough to watch. Dr. Spencer Reid (portrayed by Matthew Gray Gubler) often finds himself a hostage of a violent killer, as is the case in season 11’s “Entropy,” where Reid goes undercover to catch a hitwoman. Guest-starring Aubrey Plaza as Cat Adams, the hitwoman quickly deduces the BAU’s trap and takes Reid hostage.
Somehow Reid manages to take control of the situation by profiling the unknown suspect. Cat quickly became one of the BAU’s and Reid’s deadliest enemies. She even attempts to frame him for murder. The character appears in several more episodes, making her one of the team’s most challenging foes.
8. Mr. Scratch (Season 10, Episode 21)
Portrayed by Thomas Gibson, Aaron Hotchner is the chief of the Behavioral Analysis Unit. Given the nickname Hotch, he’s known for his keen leadership and lack of sense of humor. In the season 10 episode “Mr. Scratch,” Hotch finds himself in the middle of a nightmare. The horror-themed episode revolves around a serial killer, Mr. Scratch, who drugs his victims, causing them to hallucinate.
Also known as Peter Lewis, Mr. Scratch convinces his victims to kill loved ones or friends. The thrilling episode brings Hotch face-to-face with Mr. Scratch in a climactic finale. After getting away, the character reappears in several more episodes. He’s easily one of the series’ greatest villains.
9. True Genius (Season 7, Episode 11)
Criminal Minds is famous for referencing real-life serial killers. The series even bases a few fictional characters on these real-life monsters. “True Genius” takes it to the next level with a storyline involving the Zodiac Killer. It revolves around a prodigy, Caleb Rossmore, who starts copying the Zodiac Killer in an attempt to get his friend’s attention.
With the murders intensifying, the BAU bands together to profile the copycat killer. Since the episode involves a genius, Spencer Reid takes control of the case. He figures out the history between Caleb and Harvey, allowing him to arrest them both and stop any more murders.
10. The Big Game & Revelations (Season 2, Episodes 14 & 15)
The Behavioral Analysis Unit encounters several villains that are always one step ahead. Nobody embodies this more than Tobias Hankel. Portrayed by James Van Der Beek, Hankel’s mind is fractured into three distinct personalities. There’s the remorseful Hankel, his violent father Charles, and the archangel Raphael. Hankel hunts those he considered sinners and brutally murders them. The situation goes from bad to worse when Hankel kidnaps Spencer Reid.
With the team watching on monitors, Hankel tortures Reid and injects drugs in his veins. The horrifying episode ends with the team tracking down Reid after he drops several hints about his location. The two-part episode has long-term effects on Reid, who develops issues related to his abduction and torture.
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11. Damaged (Season 3, Episode 14)
David Rossi (portrayed by Joe Mantegna) is one of the profilers that helped start the Behavioral Analysis Unit. Tormented by a cold case he couldn’t solve, Rossi returns to the BAU. 20 earlier, a murderer killed an innocent couple making their kids orphans. Rossi vowed to track down the killer but failed.
In the popular season three episode “Damaged,” Rossi finally gets a chance at redemption. Tracking down the killer, Rossi fulfills his promise to the three kids. It’s easily one of the best episodes in the series featuring Rossi.
12. Lauren (Season 6, Episode 18)
Actress Paget Brewster joined Criminal Minds during season 2 as accomplished FBI agent Emily Prentiss. For years, Prentiss doesn’t reveal much about herself while forming a bond with her co-workers. However, everything explodes in the season 6 episode “Lauren.”
A man from Prentiss’ time undercover, Ian Doyle, resurfaces. After Doyle kidnaps Prentiss, the BAU searches for their loyal team member. The controversial ending to the episode angered a good portion of fans. After faking her death at the end of the episode “Lauren,” Prentiss returns at the start of season seven.
13. Amplification (Season 4, Episode 24)
Dr. Spencer Reid often finds himself as a hostage. So it only makes sense that he gets infected with anthrax at one point. The memorable episode “Amplification” follows serial killer and homegrown terrorist Chad Brown.
His goal is to demonstrate how easy it would be to commit a terrorist attack in America. The unsub stays one step ahead of the BAU and even infects Reid with anthrax. Luckily, the BAU stops Brown and discovers the antidote to save Reid and anyone infected.
14. Jones (Season 2, Episode 18)
At a moment’s notice, the BAU can hop onto their trusty jet and fly to any city in America. They solve crimes in big cities, small towns, and everything in between. In “Jones,” the team flies to New Orleans to investigate a series of copycat murders. In this case, the killer emulates one of history’s most notorious serial killers, Jack the Ripper.
As the team dives deep into the mystery, they discover the killer is a woman, Sarah Danlin. Danlin set out to inflict pain on a group of men for raping her on Mardi Gras. The gripping episode is one of season 2’s most intriguing storylines.
15. Chameleon (Season 14, Episode 13)
Told in flashbacks, “Chameleon” introduces one of the most feared villains in the series, Everett Lynch. The story revolves around Lynch’s life and the BAU’s first encounter with him. Agent Rossi ponders a recent case and tells his girlfriend a story involving Lynch.
The episode famously ends with Lynch escaping. However, he would return in season 15 as the team’s final villain that season. Fans often cite the episode as one of their favorites.
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