The Best Episodes Of Criminal Minds Ever

In February 2021, Paramount+ announced plans to revive "Criminal Minds," much to the delight of fans who had been mourning the loss of their favorite police procedural for a full year. For 15 seasons, beginning in 2005 and ending in 2020, "Criminal Minds” was one of the most popular crime dramas on network TV. The CBS hit followed the Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) of the FBI, a group of criminal profilers, as they investigated crimes and identified perpetrators.

Each of the 324 original episodes features its own unique villain and case (with a few exceptions). However, the new version will reportedly focus on a single case over the course of 10 episodes. In anticipation of the reboot -– and in recognition of the fact that a long story arc can actually be a good thing in the "Criminal Minds" universe -– we're looking back at the 15 best "Criminal Minds” episodes of all time, according to Episode Ninja. Join us in bingeing them all while we wait for an official release date for the reboot!

Omnivore (Season 4, Episode 18)

One of the most notorious villains to ever appear on "Criminal Minds," the Boston Reaper makes his first appearance in this Season 4 episode. After a 10-year hiatus and a seemingly closed investigation, the serial killer strikes again. These resumed attacks are particularly personal for Aaron Hotchner, as the case was the first one he was assigned to as a lead investigator for the BAU.

An incredibly suspenseful and well-written episode, "Omnivore" introduces a storyline that will run through Season 4 and into Season 5, much longer than the typical single-episode arcs fans are used to. The character of the Reaper also stands out in "Criminal Minds" lore as one of the most disturbing and calculated murderers the gang has ever gone up against. In fact, he's so dark that C. Thomas Howell, the actor who played the Reaper, still feels the weight of the role to this day, telling WE TV, "A role like the Reaper definitely had some weight. Generally, a character will linger for weeks, maybe a couple of months, before I can completely let it go, but this one has kind of parked himself close to my heart." 

Entropy (Season 11, Episode 11)

As you'll continue to see, many of the fan favorite episodes of "Criminal Minds" feature recurring villains. "Entropy" is a perfect example. After a brief, contractually obligated break, Matthew Gray Gubler (aka Dr. Spencer Reid) is back and headed out on a date with Cat Adams (played by Aubrey Plaza, a fan favorite guest star), one of the "Dirty Dozen" assassins. The date is supposed to help the team get a better idea of who's leading the assassin group, but when Cat catches on to the fact that it's all a setup, it quickly devolves into an intense game of psychological cat-and-mouse.

Producer Erica Messer said in TV Guide of the episode, "There are a lot of twists to it and it feels like old-school 'Criminal Minds.'" Messer went on to share that the episode was a way to "kick-start the new year by acknowledging our arc that got established in the premiere and having it dovetail with Matthew's return to the BAU." They added Plaza to the mix, which, as Messer put it, "was the dream."

Date Night (Season 15, Episode 6)

The incredible chemistry that exists between Matthew Gray Gubler and Aubrey Plaza is also what helped land "Date Night" a spot on the best "Criminal Minds" episodes list. Four seasons after their initial entanglement, Dr. Reid and Cat Adams find themselves preparing for a romantic evening yet again. This time, the assassin has requested a date with Reid in lieu of her last meal, a request that comes in the midst of a baffling kidnapping by a seemingly unrelated suspect. As the gang works to untangle the entire situation, and Reid cozies up to this master manipulator, his blossoming relationship with Maxine comes under significant pressure.

For Plaza, who typically takes on more comedic roles, playing a psychopath was challenging. She told "TV Line," "It was hard ... When you're playing someone that's a murderer you have to justify [their actions], you have to dig deep and go to a dark place." Despite the challenges, Plaza said she loved her time on the series, crediting her friendship with Gubler (the duo also starred in the film "Life After Beth") with convincing her to take the leap.

Carbon Copy (Season 8, Episode 16)

Ready to be creeped out by some copycat crimes? Turn on the "Carbon Copy" episode, which sees the BAU team dragged into the dark, twisted web of a serial killer that replicates the unit's most recently solved murders. After a group of nurses is found dead in Philadelphia, the team heads out of town to investigate, coming head-to-head with a local investigator, Detective Rizzo, who seems hell-bent on keeping them as in the dark as possible. While investigating, it becomes increasingly clear that the gang themselves are being targeted/stalked by the Replicator, and might be walking directly into a trap he's set for them.

The show ends on a cliffhanger (a common "Criminal Minds" move), and the Replicator storyline isn't actually wrapped up until the Season 8 finale. But that little detail doesn't seem to bother the series' most die-hard fans. On a popular "Criminal Minds" discussion board, fans have written things like "BEST ENDING EVER" and "I enjoyed the episode from start to finish."

Derek (Season 11, Episode 16)

Now for an extremely emotional episode. At the start of "Derek," resident heartthrob Derek Morgan is drugged, abducted, and tortured -– though no one knows by whom or why. While the BAU team frantically searches for their missing compatriot, Derek, who's generally impervious to harm, must use every ounce of his willpower and strength to escape alive. He finds himself assisted by his father (played by guest star Danny Glover), who comes to him through visions and flashbacks.

The episode marks the beginning of Shemar Moore's exit arc, something the actor himself initiated. As he told E! News, he wanted "balance" and hoped "to see what else is out there for me and what else I'm capable of in my career and also in my personal life." And while his ultimate exit was devastating for fans, it didn't come without a few sweet moments, like his proposal to on-screen girlfriend Savannah (Rochelle Aytes), which takes place in the final seconds of this episode.

No Way Out, Part II: The Evilution of Frank (Season 2, Episode 23)

The first two-parter to make the list, "No Way Out, Part II: The Evilution of Frank" is the final episode of Season 2. Most of the action in this finale is centered around the disappearance of Jason Gideon (after serial killer Frank kills Sarah, Gideon's girlfriend) and the group's desperate, but unofficial, search for the both of them. While all of this is going on, Erin Strauss, the section chief, is performing a surprise evaluation of the BAU, which only heightens the stress and drama.

The emotional turmoil experienced by Gideon in this episode is often used to explain the character's abrupt departure at the start of Season 3. In reality, Mandy Patinkin left "Criminal Minds" over creative differences -– he reportedly didn't approve of the violence that was regularly featured on the show — but on-screen, his exit from the BAU is attributed to the loss of his partner as well as a botched investigation he carries guilt over.

Hit (Season 7, Episode 23)

"Hit" is the first half of the Season 7 finale (keep reading to see where the second half falls in the ranking!). The episode opens with the team enjoying a slow, relaxing Saturday morning, only to have their R&R come to an abrupt halt when a trio of bank robbers, who call themselves the Face Cards, hold up a Washington D.C. bank and take several hostages. As the BAU works to identify the robbers and keep the situation from devolving, one of their own is taken captive, and they realize there might be an accomplice on the outside.

Fans on Reddit raved over the episode, saying things like "the Season 7 finale is an absolute masterpiece" and "It's one of my favorites. Lots of suspense, interesting unsubs ... I thought it was a great episode for [Will & JJ's] relationship." The hour-long show does end on a major cliffhanger, so if you plan to watch it in the near future, be sure to leave time for its companion "Run" as well.

Demons (Season 9, Episode 24)

Just before the Season 9 finale aired, "Criminal Minds" showrunner Erica Messer told TV Line that it was "the most action-packed two hours that we've ever done. The stakes are insanely high because the whole team is in jeopardy in a way they've never been before." If that commentary doesn't make you excited about diving into the episode, we really don't know what will.

"Demons" continues the plot from the first half of the finale ("Angels," pictured above), beginning with the unveiling of an unsub (law enforcement speak for an "unknown subject," or the perpetrator a team is trying to identify) who had been torturing and killing sex workers in a rural Texas town. As the team works to take down the killer, they must also protect Reid — who is suffering from a gunshot wound — as well as several witnesses, all of whom are stuck in a particularly unsafe police department. At the end of the episode, profiler Alex Blake (played by Jeanne Tripplehorn) leaves the team in order to properly deal with some trauma, the source of which comes to light during a particularly tense moment in the episode.

The Fisher King: Part II (Season 2, Episode 1)

The Season 2 opener picks up right where the Season 1 finale left off: with the BAU trying to solve the Fisher King's murderous puzzle. Though they've identified the girl, the team still doesn't know who, exactly, they're up against. Making matters worse, one of their own, Elle Greenaway, has been gravely injured while trying to find out. It takes Reid uncovering a personal connection with the killer for the BAU to get a better handle on the unsub, but the revelation may wind up being too late (at least for Greenway, who spends a brief moment in a purgatory-like state).

Most fans love the episode, calling it "one of the best first episodes of any of the show's seasons" and "strangely heartwarming." However, there are a handful of viewers who can't seem to overlook its various plot holes, writing on Reddit that they make the episode "pretty difficult to follow" as it "makes little to no sense."

Penelope (Season 3, Episode 9)

Few episodes illustrate the bond shared by the BAU team the way "Penelope" does. The Season 3 episode begins just after Garcia is shot by her date, James Colby Baylor, and is rushed to the ER. After the FBI orders the BAU to halt their search for Colby because of an encrypted file they find on Garcia's computer, the team takes matters into their own hands, determined to find the potential assassin at all costs.

Kirsten Vangsness, the actor who plays Penelope Garcia, told the Long Island Weekly that it's the "spirit of closeness" in the cast -– which is so evident in this episode -– is what allows the show to resonate so deeply with fans. "I ​​think when you add to that all this mystery and suspense and the idea that monsters are created by monsters; that becomes a very intoxicating situation," Vangsness continued. "I think that's why people can watch the show again and again because you're watching the plotlines and people that are very relaxed behaving with each other, are happy with their jobs, and interested in a good product."

The Replicator (Season 8, Episode 24)

The Replicator harassed the BAU team through all of Season 8 (see "Carbon Copy"), but in the finale, the gang finally discovers his identity. Unfortunately, before they confront him, and come face-to-face with him in the booby-trapped house he's lured them all to, he commits one more murder: killing Erin Strauss.

Erica Messer told TV Guide that killing Strauss was difficult, saying, "Strauss seemed like the one who had to go, which makes me sad, but it made sense, story-wise. She was our sacrificial lamb. She was introduced as an enemy of the team and by this year she was so on our side." And while fans were caught totally off-guard by her death, Jayne Atkinson, the actor who played Strauss, had several weeks to warm up to the idea, having been told at the end of Episode 16. She was ultimately okay with the decision, feeling that her character had creatively run its course.

The Fisher King: Part I (Season 1, Episode 22)

As Season 1 comes to a close, all the members of the BAU set out to take some much-needed vacation time, heading for locations around the world. Unfortunately for the FBI's most tireless agents, relaxation is not meant to be. After a serial killer gets in touch with Hotch, telling him to "not mind" the first victims but to "save the girl," the team springs back into action, attempting to identify the mysterious girl and unmask the unsub.

Throughout its first season, "Criminal Minds" had won decidedly mixed reviews from critics, with the Chicago Sun-Times calling it "kind of good" while New York Daily News decried it as "being patched together from scraps of failed CBS dramas of the past" (via Metacritic). It's highly likely that the dramatic cliffhanger "The Fisher King: Part I" ends on was intended to ensure viewers tuned in to the second season. It also gave the series a chance to grow and mature. If that was the plan, it worked -– generally speaking, ratings from the second season were higher than ratings from the first.

100 (Season 5, Episode 9)

For any TV show, the 100th episode is a monumental one, and "Criminal Minds" is no exception. One of the series' longest-running storylines, the Boston Reaper, is finally wrapped up in "100." Told almost entirely through flashbacks, the episode shows how their battle with the Reaper eventually leads to the murder of a spouse of one of the BAU members. Incredibly suspenseful, heart-wrenchingly emotional, and brilliantly acted, the episode consistently lands on fan-favorite lists and is highly rated on platforms like IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes.

The bone-chilling episode (and the story arc leading up to it) even creeped the cast out, with cast members A.J. Cook and Joe Mantegna telling TV Insider that the Reaper was among the creepiest unsubs to ever be featured on the show. Cook told the outlet, "There was something about the Reaper [that made him the creepiest] because it was so personal to all of us."

200 (Season 9, Episode 14)

Another milestone, "200" landed smack in the middle of Season 9. At the start of the episode, JJ and Mateo Cruz have both been kidnapped by a mysterious gloved man. The rest of the team, unaware that the duo had known each other before joining the BAU, must now track them down. In order to do so, they get in touch with Emily Prentiss (who left the show back in Season 7), who's able to shed a little more light on the top-secret mission where the missing profilers met.

A variety of familiar faces pop up throughout the episode (including Erin Strauss, who is dead at this point in the "Criminal Minds" timeline but appears through flashbacks), and things get real emotional (at least, according to various fan bloggers). And while the episode may not be as dark or suspenseful as many of the 199 episodes that came before it, it was still a mega-hit with fans, with over 12.8 million viewers tuning in.

Run (Season 7, Episode 24)

And the best "Criminal Minds" episode of all time? The Season 7 finale, "Run." Picking up exactly where "Hit" left off, the episode starts with Will being held hostage by the Queen and her newly revealed accomplice (who, surprise, was inside the bank all along). The Queen forces Will to drive her to his house, where JJ's son Henry is located, and clearly has evil plans for both of them. Thankfully, those plans are interrupted by the arrival of the Behavioral Analysis Unit, who has been furiously trying to track them down all along. Despite the drama, the episode ends on a happy note, with the wedding of JJ and Will.

The episode also marks the final one for Emily Prentiss (played by Paget Brewster). Though she was technically fired at the end of Season 5, due to various contractual obligations, Brewster stayed on through the end of Season 7. She told the AV Club that leaving was heartbreaking at first, especially because she was essentially let go because a higher-up wanted other women to replace her and A.J. Cook. However, she eventually felt that it was the best thing for her personally as she realized she loved "everyone here, but I realize now, having left, that my heart isn't in it."