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Criminal Minds: The Offensive Spencer Reid Line That Aged Horribly

The following article includes discussions of an unacceptable term for those with special needs.

"Criminal Minds," CBS' psychology-oriented police procedural that made the switch to Paramount+ for Season 16 onward, was first released in 2005. And, like all things that wish to thrive in modern media, the series adapted over time, but it began in a place where writers were allowed to write some questionable things. One such infamous line of dialogue is still drawing attention from disgruntled fans.

In the final moments of Season 2, Episode 8 ("Empty Planet"), Dr. Spencer Reid (Matthew Gray Gubler) plays a card game with Special Agent Jennifer Jareau (A.J. Cook). Very little of the actual game is seen, but it's made clear through their lightly flirtatious banter that J.J. is beating Dr. Reid. As they set up to play another, and perhaps to assuage his bruised ego, Dr. Reid calls J.J. "borderline r***rded."

Earlier this year, in r/criminalminds, a Redditor caught the line, which is said off-camera as the scene transitions to focus on a different set of characters. "I've watched this show [to] completion dozens of times ... How have I never noticed this line ... [It's] so out of character for Reid," they said. "Like he's very obviously autistic coded, they even mention it a few times. He's so amazing and empathetic ... I truly am so confused ... It shows that the writers truly had no idea [what] they were doing. But I'm also surprised MGG agreed to say this line? Yeah, it's 2006, but like it's Reid, and network TV? It was so unnecessary?"

The R-slur was popular during Criminal Minds' early years

The verb "to retard" means to decelerate, to slow down. Once upon a time, the medical community used it as a clinical term to describe individuals dealing with obstructions to their mental development. But the general public co-opted the term, the same way it repurposed similar words like "moron" and "idiot," to create a new way to insult each other. The 2000s were fraught with the R-slur, which wormed its way into every corner of the social hivemind. It became so prevalent that, in 2010, U.S. President Barack Obama signed a law to remove the term from all government documents and instead replace it with "intellectual disability."

Season 2 of "Criminal Minds" was released during the height of the R-slur's popularity. There is a slight, infinitesimal chance that the writers intended for Dr. Spencer Reid to use the term clinically. But it's magnitudes more likely that the writers intended for him to sound like he was up to date on society's favorite lingo. 

Conversely, there's a school of thought that believes Matthew Gray Gubler simply enjoys using the term. A quick Google of his name along with the requisite slur pulls up numerous Reddit threads and TikTok hashtags, all of which point to Gray Gubler's seemingly flippant usage of the term, even beyond its social removal. If what these people believe about the actor is true, it's possible that Gray Gubler improvised the line himself and that the writers had nothing to do with it. Either way, the executives in charge clocked the line and allowed it to stay. It's still in the episode, even now.