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Matthew Gray Gubler's Best Criminal Minds Episodes Ranked By Intelligence

One of the best things about "Criminal Minds" is shaggy-haired, info-dumping profiler Dr. Spencer Reid (played by Matthew Gray Gubler). The FBI's very own human Wikipedia, the adorably nerdy young agent is invaluable when it comes to catching killers despite being the team's own frustratingly quirky gifted child. Like many of his fellow Xennials, Reid is hopelessly overqualified for his job, with a collection of undergrad degrees including BAs in psychology, sociology, and most of a philosophy degree as well as PhDs in engineering, chemistry, and mathematics, at least some of which are from MIT ("Painless," "Big Sea," "Masterpiece") and possibly Caltech ("Memoriam"). According to the agent himself, Reid has an eidetic memory, boasts a beefy IQ of 187, and can read 20,000 words a minute — mostly by skimming through the text ("Extreme Aggressor").

A lifelong lover of learning and a bibliophile, Reid seems to be a fountain of knowledge on various topics including body language, forensic anthropology, graphology, card counting, and even the art of illusion. He can speak Yoruba, Korean, and German, and understands Russian. With a brainiac like Reid around, it's no wonder the BAU has a habit of attracting puzzle-loving serial killer superfans. Because we can never get too many Spencer Reid moments, let's dive into Matthew Gray Gubler's best "Criminal Minds" episodes ranked by intelligence.

14. Wheels Up

"Criminal Minds" might be a deliciously cartoonish vision of an FBI that's brimming with some of the most absurd crime-solving in the world of TV procedurals, but that doesn't mean we can't learn from it — and one of the most important lessons contained in the show is that sometimes emotional intelligence is just as important as the intellectual side of the job. "Wheels Up" finds the BAU dealing with the aftermath of a car crash caused by the team's old foe Mr. Scratch (Bodhi Elfman). Rossi is left hospitalized, Prentiss is held in captivity, and the BAU collectively struggles with the death of Agent Stephen Walker.

As Reid and Luke work together per Rossi's orders, Spencer realizes he isn't in the right emotional state to perform his job, from his driving urge to kill Scratch to the book he ends up chucking at a wall. Rather than suffer in silence and risk sabotaging the case, he wisely comes clean with Luke about the tunnel vision and difficulties he's been experiencing, pleading, "What's wrong with me?" For a guy who has struggled with serious personal issues throughout the series, it's a sign that Reid is finally making room for emotional intelligence next to all of those book smarts. The confession pays off immediately when Luke explains to Reid that the agent has post-traumatic stress syndrome, reminding Spencer that he has to make time and ask for help. And fortunately for everyone, Prentiss makes sure they all get time to recover after Scratch ends up falling to his inevitable doom.

13. Masterpiece

When Reid's genius ends up on full display in a lecture hall at the beginning of "Masterpiece," exactly no one seems impressed by his academic version of the age-old lightbulb joke. But all that changes when a BAU toxic fanboy calling himself Professor Rothschild (Jason Alexander) appears to Reid and Rossi out of nowhere in all his silver-haired glory to show his appreciation for the comedy stylings of Spencer Reid before insulting Rossi and comparing himself to Da Vinci.

Somewhere between the self-aggrandizing monologue and forcing the guys to look at his photography collection, he reveals that he's kidnapping and killing women, and only by solving Rothschild's twisted treasure hunt can the gang hope to reduce the final body count. As Reid works through his clues, he begins to realize that the puzzle revolves around the Fibonacci sequence, and for Rothschild, killing the BAU team with acid booby traps would complete his take on the golden ratio. At the end of the day, it's Rossi who ultimately solves the puzzle and saves everyone, but it wouldn't be possible without Reid. The episode is a reminder that even the village brainiac gets it wrong from time to time, and sometimes the smartest thing you can do is phone a friend.

12. Unfinished Business

Not all serial killers enjoy games and puzzles, but judging by the unsubs nabbed by the BAU, the percentage that does is awfully high. "Unfinished Business" finds the team dealing with Philadelphia's word-puzzle-loving Keystone Killer, who has recently come out of retirement after an 18-year hiatus. Like the BTK Killer, the Keystone Killer uses intricate knots to tie up his victims and taunts the police and press by using a homemade word search puzzle to hand them clues.

As is the case anytime a puzzle is involved, Reid gladly steps up with his super sweet cipher skills armed and ready to go. He immediately zeroes in on a John Steinbeck quote, but the team barely solves the clue before the unsub's promised victim is found. As they begin to suspect the killer is devolving and Gideon's Keystone-obsessed mentor increasingly loses objectivity, the pressure is on. After finding the unsub's scrapbook, Reid has a sudden epiphany, realizing that the killer wasn't retired — he was focused on following through with a kill that was interrupted all those years ago. And in classic "Criminal Minds" fashion, this flash of brilliance comes just in time to save the final victim with seconds to spare.

11. Soul Mates

Although there are no complex puzzles or hacker adventures in "Soul Mates" (Season 4, Episode 12), Reid still gets a chance to show how handy he is with a sentence diagram while solving the case, and it turns out to be one of the more impressive Spencer-centric moments in "Criminal Minds." The episode centers around the search for a pair of sadistic ephebophilic neighbors. Although the team manages to track down one of the killers, they have good reason to believe he wasn't working alone but can't prove it. Thanks to a little computing wizardry, the BAU gang recovers a deleted blog from suspect William Harris. When Reid uses his super sense to analyze the text, he discovers "two distinct voices" using "various idiosyncratic words, phrases, punctuation, and orthography within the blog entries." Reid's peek into the creepy diary eventually leads the team to Harris' partner in crime Steven Baleman — and another case closed.

10. True Genius

"True Genius" (Season 7, Episode 11) kicks off with Reid getting introduced as a speaker at a seminar on violent crimes by none other than writer Patricia Cornwall. As usual, Reid's effort at public speaking bombs, but it doesn't take long before he gets pulled into a new investigation — and this time, the team believes the long-dormant Zodiac Killer may have come out of retirement. As the team descends on San Francisco, they dig into the clues, and Reid immediately becomes convinced that it's a copycat killer. But as it turns out, this faux-diac killer enjoys playing games just as much as the original, and he's picked Reid to play with. There's even a computer genius twist that leaves Reid rambling on about binary and base-8 only moments after groaning about how washed up he feels after hitting the ripe old age of 30. With an appearance from Finn Wittrock as a guy whose true crime obsession gets out of control, the episode features some of the best Reid breakthroughs in the series.

9. The Fisher King

The two-part story arc in "The Fisher King Part 1" and "The Fisher King Part 2" closes out the first season of "Criminal Minds" and kicks off the second, and as far as many fans are concerned, it's one of the best story arcs in the series. The story begins with part of the team heading out for a two-week vacation: Elle and Morgan head to Jamaica, Gideon gets cozy in a cabin with a lady friend, Reid goes to check on his mom, and Hotch endures Haley ritually tossing his childhood memories in the trash — all completely unaware that they're being stalked by a creepy unsub with an old-timey phone and a weird medieval art collection.

Things start to get screwy after Hotch receives a cryptic call about "unrepentant men," there's a murder at Elle and Morgan's hotel, Gideon gets a gruesome delivery, and Garcia's sexy MMORPG gives a hacker access to the BAU computer. The puzzle only becomes more complicated — and stranger — from there, but luckily, the team has a super genius among them. As their treasure hunt begins with an Arthurian message, Reid breaks down medieval time-telling and helps the gang use a sword in a body as a sundial leading to the next clue. If that wasn't impressive enough, Reid later decrypts a book code only seconds after eyeing it. As the clues stack up, Reid sails through every one, making "The Fisher King" one of the best stories in the show and a perfect showcase for Reid's sharp mind.

8. The Angel Maker

"The Angel Maker" (Season 4, Episode 2) finds the BAU team traveling to Ohio in pursuit of an apparent copycat killer beginning on the anniversary of the original killer's execution. With what appears to be the killer's DNA, the gang floats a few ideas including the "evil twin" theory. As the agents look deeper into the killings, it begins to look like the copycat killer may be an obsessive female fan or girlfriend. With little to go on but a strange dot pattern and some letters from the deceased to a mysterious woman he called "my dove," the team finds themselves once again faced with a puzzle to solve — and when there's a puzzle, Reid always steps in to save the day. 

Looking over all the correspondence, Reid begins to realize the message is "hiding in plain sight" if only he can crack it. As Prentiss realizes the strange dots represent constellations, Reid concludes the Angel Maker was using an Aryan cipher based on a binary code from 16th century author Sir Francis Bacon, telling the team it was quicker to translate longhand rather than use a computer. Thanks to Reid's brilliant decoding skills, the translated letters reveal a story of mutual obsession — a tale all too familiar in the world of "Criminal Minds" — and lead the team to the decedent's baby mama.

7. Painless

One of the great things about Spencer Reid is that despite his super brain, the agent knows how to lighten up and have a good time. This is especially apparent when Halloween rolls around and he shows up in costume despite the fact that his job is literally putting away the kind of people seen in most slasher films and again when he cosplays as the Fourth Doctor for a comic con in "Hit" (Season 7, Episode 23). Reid also loves games and puzzles, even if that means ruining them for other people as he does when he instantly solves Prentiss' "impossible" star puzzle (Season 5, Episode 8, "Risky Business"). In real life, the "Criminal Minds" cast and crew always liked to keep things light and were always getting caught up in silly shenanigans — like when they tricked Shemar Moore into taping on a green goatee, as discussed in the DVD extras.

While Reid's more whimsical side pales in comparison to that of the "Criminal Minds" family and even the real MGG — who spends his free time creating puppets and lives in a "haunted tree house" straight out of a fairy tale — the young genius did manage to pull off a prank for the ages in "Painless." While investigating a school shooting copycat killer in Boise, Idaho, the ever-professional Morgan and Reid get caught up in an epic prank battle. After kicking Reid out of the basketball pool for hustling him, Morgan gets revenge by giving Reid's name and phone number as a tip line for the case, causing the agent's phone to blow up with calls. Smartypants that he is, Reid gets him back by hacking his headphones, replacing Morgan's music with the soothing sound of Reid's Muppet-esque screaming. The frustrated Morgan removes his headphones and answers his phone, only to get hit with more of Reid's screams — all while Reid is seated directly in front of him pretending to sleep.

6. Snake Eyes

Spencer Reid is a guy with a lot of interests, from shadow puppet theater to historical ciphers. Of course, that's part of what we love about the agent, but it's always nice to see the guy who spends his free time watching obscure films and poring over books get up to more mundane pursuits with the rest of the normies. And that's exactly what happens in "Snake Eyes" (Season 7, Episode 13), when gambler Curtis Banks (Dean Cain) follows his system into the darker corners of Atlantic City — and his mind. 

As Banks stacks up the chips and racks up a body count, Reid's calculator mind comes in handy yet again, specifically his card-counting ability. After casually revealing that he's banned from casinos in three cities for card counting with nary an explanation and sharing the equation behind the art, Reid ends up sitting down for a game of high stakes poker with Rossi's single-malt Scotch fund. After failing to impress the other players with facts about how many months' wages in Bangladesh they're gambling away and getting himself kicked out of the room, Reid flushes out the killer, proving once more just how handy math can be.

5. Zugzwang

A love story between two star-crossed mega-minds, "Zugzwang" is a classic example of how "Criminal Minds" loves to torment the BAU's most adorkable agent. After an unsettling dream and a spooky phone call, Reid tells Hotchner that someone he cares about has gone missing. Speaking in a mishmash of nerdspeak only those proficient in Spencer Reid can understand, the younger agent spills his guts to Hotch about a girlfriend he uses pseudonyms to communicate with and has never met in person due to ongoing issues with a stalker. When he calls his gal to make sure she's all right, a stranger answers and uses the chess term "zugzwang," inviting him to either "resign the game or play through to the end."

Because they don't technically have a case, the gang has to use their personal time to solve the riddle, and the emotionally compromised Reid finds it difficult to contribute. The trail eventually leads them to his mental equal Maeve (Beth Riesgraf). To reveal who her stalker is, Reid uses his eidetic memory to go over their 100.5 days worth of communication verbatim, a strategy that leads the team to Maeve's aggrieved former grad student Diane Turner (Michelle Trachtenberg). Reid follows Diane's geometry clue to find her and then uses his super brain to convince Maeve's stalker that she's the one he really wants. Unfortunately, his acting chops don't extend to his lips, and the story doesn't have a happy ending. While Reid's efforts to save his beloved Maeve are a perfect example of his brainy best, it's the hyper-intelligent romance between the pair, retold in pieces throughout the episode, that makes this one of Spencer's smartest appearances in the series.

4. Mr. Scratch

Most folks who were alive during the 1980s will be able to recall the Satanic Panic — a period when hysteria about the occult collided with hypnosis in highly suggestible children to create a bizarre conspiracy theory that dominated TV talk shows and church pulpits alike for far too long. This strange convergence of events is at the heart of "Mr. Scratch" (Season 10, Episode 21), which finds the BAU hunting for a killer that may or may not be the Babadook's long-lost brother. Like the very best unsubs, Mr. Scratch just happens to be a super hacker in addition to his advanced pharmaceutical knowledge, and it's those serious encryption skills that lead human computer Reid to the unsub. After Scratch knocks out the BAU's power, Reid concludes via his encryption technique that the unsub must have completed Harvard's elite Math 55 course, Honors Advanced Calculus and Linear Algebra. According to Reid, graduates go to work for the NSA because they're "too dangerous" to work anywhere else. The fact that Reid is able to reach this conclusion by only the type of encryption used makes it one of his brainier moments in the series.

3. Cure

"The Cure" has everything that makes for a great Matthew Gray Gubler episode: an anonymous genius hacker, a costumed killer, clever puzzles, and plenty of mortal peril to go around. The action begins when investment officer Andrew Hirota ends up bound and dead at the hands of a mysterious stranger in riot police gear who took the time to paint a serpent-entwined staff in the victim's blood. Not long after, they receive a call from someone claiming to be "The Cure" — but instead of a friendly goth band, this Cure is bent on bloodletting and may be a terrorist group. 

When the autopsy yields a cryptogram in the victim's throat, the game is afoot. As the BAU team puzzles over whether the code is Klingon or Zodiac-related, Reid effortlessly explains that this unsub is using letters from "four pure alphabets — Latin, Greek, Cyrillic, and Korean." Penelope pipes up that she is "crazy for cryptograms" — information that would have probably been good to know for the past 12 or so seasons. As Rossi and Prentiss look on in disbelief, the pair banter about shift values, frequency analysis, and homophonic ciphers until they reveal the Cure's manifesto, demonstrating once more that neurological diversity makes the world go 'round.

2. The Big Game

"The Big Game" (Season 2, Episode 14) begins with the brutal slayings of a wealthy couple and a 911 call claiming "Rafael is going to kill the sinners that live here." Part of a two-episode arc with "Revelations," the case leads the BAU team to believe there is a pair of Bible-thumping killers on the loose. They soon discover that the killer is tapping into their video feed; a clue points J.J. and Reid to potential witness Tobias Henkel (James Van Der Beek), so the pair head to Henkel's farm with exactly no backup to check it out. Just as the rest of the team are working out that they've found the unsub and Henkel has multiple personalities, J.J. and Reid arrive at the farm only to realize the same thing.

Despite having no cell service and no help, they split up and go after Henkel alone — arguably one of Reid's less intelligent moves. Although the whole debacle gets the still relatively green Reid kidnapped and held hostage, he soon makes up for it: Despite Henkel torturing Reid and plying him with narcotics, the terrified young agent manages to keep his wits about him, manipulating the unsub's personalities with his scriptural knowledge. His genius is even more clear when Reid and the team use scripture to convey messages through Henkel's cameras, ultimately saving his life. Sadly, the experience had lasting consequences for Reid, leaving him battling demons that haunted him well into the future.

1. Entropy

Considered by many "Criminal Minds" fans to be one of the best episodes in the series, "Entropy" (Season 11, Episode 11) pits Reid against Black Widow Cat Adams (Aubrey Plaza) in a battle of wits. Thanks to a little narrative trickery, viewers are at first misled into thinking Reid is on an awkward blind date, with the energy suddenly shifting as Cat blurts out "Tell me about your wife." It becomes clear that Reid is involved in a sting operation as he begins talking about his pregnant wife. 

Knowing full well what the team is up to, Aubrey continues to toy with him right up until she reveals that she knows he isn't married, telling him she's so good at her job because she thinks through every potential outcome and plans accordingly. At that moment, Cat reveals that it's Reid who actually walked into her trap, and she has him right where she wants him. As the conversation heats up, Cat invites him to play a game where Reid answers every question correctly. An electric episode that puts Spencer's mental prowess on full display from start to finish, "Entropy" is a perfect conclusion for an otherwise middling killers-for-hire arc as well as an introduction to Spencer's own personal Moriarty.