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Criminal Minds: Best Spencer Reid Episodes Ranked

CBS' "Criminal Minds" gives viewers a slate of extraordinarily sympathetic characters bursting with complex pasts, dazzling heroism, and shocking secrets. High up on the list is Spencer Reid (Matthew Gray Gubler), an incredibly intelligent FBI agent and the youngest member of the Behavioral Analysis Unit. One of the more offbeat characters in the world of "Criminal Minds," Reid combines social awkwardness with emotional awareness, which makes him a crime-solving superstar who thrives on finding common ground with friends and foes alike.

While Reid's depth is an asset in the field, it can serve as a double-edged sword in his personal life, as he struggles to form bonds with others and regularly catches the interest of some of the scariest criminals the team ever goes up against. After so many seasons and Reid-centric stories, it's still easy to feel like we've only scratched the surface of his potential. There are plenty of intriguing episodes of "Criminal Minds," but if you're looking to lean into the Reid of it all, we've got a few suggestions. These are the 12 best Spencer Reid episodes of "Criminal Minds," ranked.

12. Season 12, Episode 22 - Red Light

Much of Season 12 of "Criminal Minds" focuses on Reid. First, he helps his mother adapt to changing surroundings while still juggling his duties at work. Around the mid-season mark, he's arrested on drug charges and suspicion of involvement in a doctor's death. Emily Prentiss (Paget Brewster) and others attempt to free him before the situation escalates past the point of no return. It all comes to a head in Season 12's penultimate episode, "Green Light," in which Reid's beloved mother Diana (Jane Lynch) is kidnapped by the unstable Lindsey Vaughn (Gia Mantegna).

Though Lindsey might be the muscle behind the kidnapping, she's just playing out her part in Cat Adams' (Aubrey Plaza) long-term plan to toy with Reid. Cat forces Reid to play a guessing game, telling him that she'll call the whole thing off if he can discern the correct answer in time. With Diana's life hanging in the balance, the game provokes secret relationship reveals, twisted confessions, outright manipulations, and even a shocking pregnancy scare. Though Cat is a worthy foe, Spencer is ultimately able to best her at her own game. He can rest easy by the end of the episode, knowing he'll soon reunite with his mother.

11. Season 4, Episode 6 - The Instincts

Audiences know from the get-go that Reid hasn't had an easy life. But the series takes time to reveal the details of his unique childhood trauma. This is partially due to the fact that Reid himself doesn't seem totally sure of the specifics, having repressed major parts of his memory in order to continue functioning. Season 4's "The Instincts" kicks off with a dream, in which Reid finds the body of a young boy in a basement, only to see him wake up. He attempts to dismiss the vision, but finds himself unable to forget it. Compounding matters is the fact that Reid is visiting Las Vegas, his hometown, to investigate the grisly murder of a child. Moreover, Diana is hospitalized, leaving Reid with a whole slew of complicated feelings to sort through.

More secrets are uncovered throughout this stirring episode, as Reid is forced to confront the horrible things that happened in his childhood. The outcome of all this heartache is positive, however: A kidnapped child is returned to his parents, laying the case to rest. This is a difficult and trauma-heavy episode for Reid, but his connection with his mother, which endures despite their hardships, makes up for all the horror.

10. Season 7, Episode 11 - True Genius

Spencer Reid is at his absolute best when he's squaring off against his most truly depraved opponents. "True Genius" antagonist Caleb Rossmore (Jeff Newburg) definitely qualifies. Caleb has held onto an ongoing obsession with his childhood friend Harvey (Finn Wittrock), with whom he once committed a murder. Years later, Harvey has moved on, and is set to marry Marisa, whom Caleb once fell in love with himself. Escalating to a truly wild degree, Caleb chooses to commit a series of Zodiac Killer copycat murders in response to falling out with his childhood pal.

Caleb is all over the place, but he's also capable and well-versed in the art of criminal profiling, which makes him difficult to track down. He comes to believe himself invincible — but in time, Reid is able to crack the case. After tracking Caleb down, our heroes are able to prevent him from harming Harvey and Marisa. But Harvey and Caleb are arrested on the spot after Reid gains the upper hand and spurs Caleb into revealing the location of the body he and Harvey buried all those years ago. It's all in a day's work for Spencer Reid.

9. Season 4, Episode 3 - Minimal Loss

"Minimal Loss" sees the late, great Luke Perry step into one of his most unflinchingly unsympathetic roles: cult leader Benjamin Cyrus. After being kicked out of a communal living situation for assaulting young girls, Cyrus returns and usurps the man who forced him out. The situation spirals into a strict religious organization, in which he presents himself as a savior of humanity and marries a 15-year-old girl named Jessica. He needs to be taken down, and that's exactly what Prentiss and Reid aim to do — but Cyrus doesn't go easily.

This is a Reid spotlight episode, showcasing his ability to think on his feet. He's ultimately able to convince Cyrus to release the compound's children after discovering the cultists have rigged the place with explosives. Prentiss, for her part, shows incredible loyalty when she reveals her own identity to cover for Reid, undergoing a vicious beating at Cyrus' hands for her trouble. Reid is plagued with guilt, but they're eventually able to wrangle a (mostly) happy ending out of the mire by saving a majority of the cult's children.

8. Season 3, Episode 16 - Elephant's Memory

"Criminal Minds" excels at tackling tough subjects. This means it often delves into incredibly uncomfortable territory in the service of the wider story. Of all the show's troubled antagonists, Owen Savage (Cody Kasch) is among the most difficult. Owen's life is beset by hardship: His mother died while he was still young, his father resents and abuses him, and he endures severe bullying and ostracization. Owen does manage to start a relationship with a similarly troubled girl from school. But when that comes under threat, he snaps and goes on a killing spree.

Owen is heavily armed and ready to meet his end. However, Reid empathizes with him, due to their similar childhood experiences with bullying. He puts his own safety on the line to take Owen in alive. Approaching him unarmed, Reid is able to talk the teenager down from the ledge, and Owen is arrested rather than killed on the spot in a shoot-out. Reid so often shines by outthinking criminals, but here, his empathy does all the talking. Owen's actions are truly heinous, but they're also a response to deep trauma that he hasn't been given the tools to cope with. In seeing this, Reid saves the day.

If you or someone you know may be the victim of child abuse, please contact the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child (1-800-422-4453) or contact their live chat services.

7. Season 1, Episode 6 - L.D.S.K.

One of the first episodes in which viewers have the opportunity to see what Reid is capable of, Season 1's "L.D.S.K.," which stands for "long distance serial killer," is a truly memorable installment. The crew is brought in to investigate after a sniper takes aim at random victims, leaving some to bleed out and others to be hospitalized. We soon learn that the killer is Phillip Dowd (Timothy Omundson), an ER nurse whose departure from the military and the police has left him with a huge, murder-y chip on his shoulder.

At first, Dowd attempts non-lethal assaults, in the hopes of being praised for saving the lives of his victims in the ER. But that all goes awry pretty quickly, as Dowd doesn't actually care whether these people live or die. His own paranoia dooms him in the end, culminating in a sequence involving him, Reid, and Hotch. This is a rare moment of early action for Reid, who generally does not use guns. But here, he's the one who fires the shot that kills Dowd. "I was aiming for his leg," he jokes. Gallows humor though this may be, Reid's actions certainly save lives.

6. Season 1, Episode 22, Season 2, Episode 1 - The Fisher King Parts 1 and 2

The antagonist of two-parter "The Fisher King" isn't a criminal mastermind. He's simply a man who's experienced a level of tragedy and physical pain that would push just about anyone over the edge. Randall Garner (Charles Haid, Charley Rossman) lost most of his family in a house fire caused by faulty wiring. Though he survived, he's severely scarred, as is his only surviving daughter, Rebecca (Amanda Bernero). Due to a subsequent mental break, he is institutionalized in the same hospital as Reid's mother, Diana. A bit removed from reality herself, Diana taps into her past life as a literary scholar and tells Garner the legend of the Fisher King. Sadly, this sends him further into his spiral, which reaches a fever pitch when he kidnaps Rebecca and holds her captive.

Here, we're introduced to Reid's concerns regarding his mother's mental health. He cares deeply for her, but he's also afraid of sharing her schizophrenia. Indeed, he and his mother share many things in common, including a sharp intellect and surprising insight into human nature. It's through the stories Diana shares with him that Reid comes to understand what's going on in this truly one-of-a-kind two-parter. Though things don't work out for Garner, Reid is able to rescue Rebecca before the episode's end.

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

5. Season 1, Episode 18 - Somebody's Watching

"Somebody's Watching" kicks off with a brutal double homicide: A young actor and her fiancé are shot to death after simply answering the door. Meanwhile, actor Lila Archer (Amber Heard) is receiving bizarre threats and strange unlabeled gifts. Then people in her professional life start dropping like flies. This leads the team to suspect that the murders are being committed by a stalker who is obsessed with Lila. Despite the chaos of this situation, Reid and Lila develop an attraction to one another, which turns dangerous as photos of him taken from suspicious vantage points pop up in a manila envelope. Eventually, the team realizes that the killer is actually a friend of Lila's, Maggie Lowe (Katheryn Winnick).

Though Maggie is obsessed with Lila, Lila is completely unaware of her activities. She's even more stunned to realize that Maggie has been holding onto a secret love for her after a one-night tryst, many years before. Using Maggie's jealousy against her, Reid boasts that he and Lila are actually in love. This causes Maggie to come after Reid instead of Lila, and gives him time to disarm her. While Maggie might still have plenty of issues to sort through, she survives the encounter, and Reid assures her that she can get help. Though the episode's spotlight is on Reid's chemistry with Lila, his interactions with Maggie are just as compelling.

4. Season 14, Episode 1 - 300

Buckle up, because "300" is a wild ride. Remember Benjamin Cyrus, the sketchy cult leader from "Minimal Loss"? While Cyrus is thankfully dead by the end of that episode, his church makes a big comeback in this installment. When Penelope Garcia (Kirsten Vangsness) is taken hostage by traitorous FBI agent and cult member Mary Meadows (Karen David), Reid is forced to release Benjamin David Merva (Michael Hogan), a killer known as the Strangler, from captivity. As diehard "Criminal Minds" fans know, that hook packs in a number of call-backs. Suffice it to say, there's a lot going on in this episode.

Merva and his cult are extremely excited to get Reid to their compound in Kentucky so they can sacrifice him. They've specifically chosen him as their 300th sacrifice, due to his presence at Cyrus' death. Thankfully, none of this comes to pass: The team bails Reid out in the nick of time. But before that happens, we see a disheveled Reid stare down a master manipulator with equal calm and tell the man in no uncertain terms that he's fully at peace with meeting his end. Chutzpah, thy name is Spencer Reid.

3. Season 8, Episode 12 - Zugzwang

When a killer targets an FBI agent using chess lingo, you know things must be bad. That's definitely the case in "Zugzwang." As enthusiasts may know, "zugzwang" refers to a situation in which a player is disadvantaged by the necessity of making a move. That's Reid's situation in this episode, but the stakes are much higher than a game.

Reid's love interest, Maeve Donovan (Beth Riesgraf), disappears, leaving Reid distraught. Things get even more intense when he becomes entangled in a series of mysterious phone calls. This case feels doomed to end in tragedy from the first moments of the episode, and that feeling only builds as it progresses towards its finale. Ultimately, Reid is unable to prevent Maeve's kidnapper from taking violent action, leading to both of their deaths. While Reid is so often able to best his opponents, this episode sees him completely blindsided. He's helpless to save his newfound love, which makes for a difficult and deeply moving story.

2. Season 2, Episode 15 - Revelations

The second half of a two-parter that starts with the prior episode, "The Big Game," "Revelations" is a knuckle-whitening thrill ride. The team discovers JJ (A.J. Cook) in a barn near the body of a woman who was killed by dogs. Having been trapped with them, JJ was forced to kill the dogs, leaving her traumatized. Meanwhile, serial killer Tobias Hankel (James Van Der Beek) has taken Reid captive, and is holding him in an isolated cabin. Tobias suffers from dissociative identity disorder and takes on the persona of a vengeful moralizer, demanding Reid confess his sins so that he'll feel justified in killing him. But even under torture, Reid is unwilling to lie.

The threat to Reid's life is already intense, but this scenario just keeps getting worse. Tobias beats Reid viciously, nearly killing him. He also drugs him, causing Reid to have flashbacks to some of the most painful moments of his life. As Tobias drags Reid out to force him to dig his own grave, Reid manages to gain control, and takes the tortured man out. But as devoted fans know, this case continues to haunt him long after the episode comes to an end. Reid might win the day, but he doesn't make it out without earning a number of new scars. It's no wonder "Revelations" is considered one of the best "Criminal Minds" episodes ever made.

1. Season 11, Episode 1 - Entropy

Though Reid meets his match many times over the course of "Criminal Minds," it's hard to deny that he and Cat Adams share a particularly special kind of arch-nemesis chemistry. She makes a handful of appearances throughout the series, but "Entropy" offers the first real dose of their wild battle of wits. Reid is undercover, pretending to be a man who wants his wife dead. Cat plays along at first, only to quickly turn the tables on him. She notes that she's aware he's wearing a wire, pulls a gun, and trains it on him under the table.

Rather than kill Reid immediately, Cat bargains for her freedom, insisting that they play a game. She sets a timer and says that he has to answer her questions — and that she'll know if he's lying. With the stakes immediately at an all-time high, the game is officially on. Most of the episode is an intense back-and-forth exchange between these two brilliant minds. This makes for one of the most exhilarating installments of a series that thrives on building tension. Though Reid comes out the victor in the end, it's not by much. "Entropy" officially establishes Cat as one of the most dangerous threats he ever faces, as well as one of the few who matches his intelligence.