Few television series have stood the test of time like Criminal Minds. The CBS police procedural crime drama that follows a team of FBI profilers as members of its Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU), is hailed as one of the network’s most-watched cable shows throughout its 15-year-long run.
Even those whose never seen a full episode have likely caught a snippet flipping through the channels on syndicated TV or heard the buzz from family or friends who’ve watched the show since it premiered in September 2005. With the 15th and final season airing on Jan. 8, now is the perfect time to get acquainted with the critically acclaimed show. Its streaming on Netflix and CBS All Access, the subscription service that allows you to stream episodes live—and also has all current season episodes of Criminal Minds available on demand.
If you don’t have time to watch all 314 episodes before the start of season 15, these 10 episodes are the perfect introduction to the show you’ll no doubt soon be bingeing.
Criminal Minds is lauded for its exceptional character development and this episode speaks volumes to that accomplishment. In season 3, fans learn more about beloved crime solver Penelope Garcia (Kirsten Vangsness) when the team unites to protect her life from a serial killer. The episode highlights the well-thought out interpersonal relationships between the characters, which draws in viewers as much as the thrilling crime drama plot.
“The Replicator” (S8E24)
In the nail-biting conclusion to season 8, the team races the clock to thwart the end game of the infamous copycat killer known as The Replicator. The Replicator, who was portrayed by Mark Hamill, was a former FBI special agent with a genius-level IQ, who turned into the types of killers he used to hunt. The episode featured climatic scenes on par with creator and producer Jeff Davis’ award-winning storytelling.
Some of the best Criminal Minds episodes shed light on the characters past. In season 3, David Rossi (Joe Mantegna) sets out to solve a case that has weighed on his psyche for 20 years. The decades old case begins with the mysterious murder of two young parents, leaving their three children without a mother and father. Through the years, Rossi continues to keep tabs on the children and hopes to give them closure in this emotional episode.
It’s hard to picture George Costanza from Seinfeld as a criminal mastermind, but that is exactly actor Jason Alexander’s portrayal of serial killer Henry Grace in season 4. When Rossi captures Grace’s brother, another serial killer, the plot is set into motion as Grace vows to get revenge. The episode shocks with a scene of Rossi interrogating Grace only to learn the rest of the BAU team was trapped in a plan of Grace’s making.
“Riding the Lightning” (S1E14)
“Ride the Lightning” is considered one of the most captivating episodes of the first season, taking viewers on a journey as Jason Gideon (Mandy Patinkin), Aaron Hotchner (Thomas Gibson) and the team interview husband and wife serial killers awaiting execution on death row. It’s also the first time viewers get to see Garica in the field, giving insight into the progression of the show.
This episode is among the most memorable in the series, showing how some horrendous crimes hit too close to home for the agents. In season 5, the team must help Hotchner find The Reaper and save his family before it’s too late. The Reaper was a prolific serial killer, who made Hotchner’s life a living hell for two seasons. This episode is considered to have one of the most shocking endings of any episode in the shows’ history.
This episode is great for new viewers, shedding light on the special relationship between agent Jennifer Jareau “JJ” (A. J. Cook) and quirky agent Spencer Reid (Matthew Gray Gubler) while also providing insight into Reid’s childhood. Driven by his nightmares, Dr. Reid embarks on his own investigation into the murder of a young boy years earlier that he believes has a connection to his father.
“The Tall Man” (S14E5)
This episode has it all: mystery, intrigue and undeniable proof that Criminal Minds is the master of pulling off unexpected plot twists. The episode, which aired last Halloween, depicts the BAU’s investigation of a spooky local ghost story of the “Tall Man” after two people go missing in the woods. The urban legend meets real life crime leads to disturbing clues about JJ’s sister’s Rosalyn suicide as a teenager.
“To Hell”… “And Back” (S4E25 and S4E26)
This is a two-for-one pick. “To Hell” (episode 25) and “And Back” (episode 26) is the two-part conclusion of season 4. The team tracks a serial killer who takes junkies, prostitutes and the homeless across the border into Canada. The episodes are memorable not only for the pointed social commentary underlining the plot line, but because of the extra-creepy unsub, who’s lair is sited at a remote farm with stacks of medical equipment lining the walls.