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The Best Episodes Of Criminal Minds, According To IMDb

The qualifications for a "best episode" of the long-running procedural Criminal Minds are unique to its format. Any program that runs for over 300 episodes will develop its own quirks, patterns, and tropes that are both good and bad — in Criminal Minds' case, those good tropes usually involve a high-stakes kidnapping of one (or multiple!) BAU members, an outstanding serial killer with a wicked personality, or a bottle episode that focuses on a particular member and puts them through an understated wringer of the psychological flavor. 

The show is about its characters before it is about the murders that are investigated, so its high water marks usually reflect something special in characterization arcs or moments, even if the character is a one-off antagonist. Since Criminal Minds was cancelled in February 2020, it's the best opportunity ever to reflect on the best the series had to offer, or to dip a toe into the superlative offerings if you never counted yourself as a fan.

IMDb faithfully tracks its users' input, rating television episodes by the thousands — and out of 323 episodes of Criminal Minds, the five best-rated ones include entries from a wide gamut of the series' history, from season 2 all the way to season 13. Serial murder may not be everybody's cup of tea, but fans of darker procedural dramas have always found something to love in the series throughout the years. Here are the five highest-rated episodes of Criminal Minds according to IMDb.

Season 10, Episode 21: "Mr. Scratch"

"Mr. Scratch" is directed by Matthew Gray Gubler (who portrays Dr. Spencer Reid on the series), and anybody who's followed Gubler on social media for ten minutes will know he's got a particular bent for the upsetting and creepy. "Mr. Scratch" lives up to that description and then some; the picture above is one of many drawings created by Gubler himself for the episode. In it, the BAU took on a case with an unusual, seemingly supernatural bent: three people accused of murder claim that they had been attacked by, of all things, a clawed monster before committing their crimes, and have little to no memory of what they've done to their loved ones. Criminal Minds briefly threatened to turn into a spin-off of Supernatural with this episode, and understanding just who and what Mr. Scratch was took all of the BAU's prowess to discover — and then escape.

This one had everything, folks: mind control, terror-filled hallucinations, personal life-and-death gambits, NSA subplots, and a story with a ton of historical world building for its characters. This episode also kicked off a multi-season plotline for one of Criminal Minds' most infamous nemeses. If this episode successfully hooks you, this reddit thread lists all the subsequent important episodes of this killer's arc.

Season 13, Episode 22: "Believer"

Most Criminal Minds season finales loved to go especially bonkers, and also to operate as two-parters split across the seasonal divide. The season 13 finale, "Believer," stands out as a sterling example of how good the first half of one of these cliffhangers can be. It began with erstwhile FBI agent Owen Quinn (James Urbaniak), who had been missing for over a year, turned up in a metal storage container where he'd been left to die, begging to be believed that he's been held captive and brutalized all that time by a cult led by a man referring to himself as the Messiah (Michael Hogan). The cult indoctrinated budding serial killers and erased their fingerprints when they achieved full membership — a ritual that Quinn had also been subjected to, leading to the BAU's suspicion of a double-cross.

As the BAU closed in and captured the Messiah, however, the situation turned on a dime when the double-cross they anticipated came from a totally different angle, the Messiah managed to get free, and a hostage situation quickly ensued with two of their own in the crossfire. Since the episode naturally ended on a high-stakes cliffhanger (which is probably one of the many reasons this episode is so well-liked), season 14's numerically significant premiere, "300," finished the rest of the story. Though it didn't make this list, "300" is also astoundingly well-rated among Criminal Minds episodes, and it won't let you down as a conclusion.

Season 2, Episode 15: "Revelations"

To properly appreciate "Revelations," it should be understood that it is the second half of a two-part mid-season climax in season 2. Though the latter half is by far the more exciting episode, the episode that aired before it (entitled "The Big Game") is critical to understanding what's going on. This is one of the episodes many longtime fans of Criminal Minds will point to as a personal favorite; it's exceedingly dark, creative in characterizing the murderer's MO, and it features Dr. Reid taking a whole lot of abuse. In fact, this episode is the establishing point of what would become a trope within the series of making Reid the punching bag of the show. Many great episodes poison, shoot, or otherwise maim and hospitalize him, but "Revelations" did it first and probably the most profoundly.

In the episode, the killer-of-the-week the BAU had been previously investigating upped the stakes by snatching Dr. Reid right out from under the team while they were out searching for the suspect. The case became a whole new kind of personal, as they were forced to watch Reid on a video broadcast being subjected to the same torture they'd seen previous victims endure, and witness Reid try to argue, cajole, and outsmart his captor all in real time. It was a harrowing episode, and a few seasons later, Gubler would take his first turn in the director's chair for an installment that was even darker.

Season 5, Episode 16: "Mosley Lane"

Season five is full of standout episodes, but the highest-regarded of them all is "Mosley Lane". The episode is also special because it's the first of many episodes Matthew Gray Gubler got to direct, opening the door for other veteran talent on the show to do so as well. Longtime fans of Gubler and Criminal Minds will know going in that the episode will be dressed in the trappings of the horror genre, and be out to downright scare you witless.

In it, the crew were investigating the disappearance of a little girl in Virginia, but the case took a turn when a woman who had been hounding JJ (AJ Cook) for years to get the BAU to investigate the case of her own missing son turned up at the local precinct, insisting that whoever took the girl-of-the-week is also responsible for the disappearance of her child, Charlie. The "procedural" descriptor went pretty thoroughly out the window for the episode, spending more and more unsettling screen time on the family holding the little girl and three other children against their will — an aging couple that look like they were plucked from the darkest version of a Grimm fairy tale possible. It's part horror film, part survival thriller for this one, and the children and their twisted captors will stick in your head for a long, long time.

Season 11, Episode 11: "Entropy"

The top-rated episode of all according to IMDb metrics is the season 11 episode "Entropy," proving that even in latter days, Criminal Minds could still come out strong with powerful stories. The season featured several episodes centered around a secretive network of hitmen that each specialized in different types of assassination and preferred clients. "Entropy" is the standout episode of this arc, featuring the inimitable Aubrey Plaza in a very different kind of role you're used to: Miss 45, the member of the group that took commissions from men looking to kill their wives, sometimes even killing the clients in a double-cross as part of her serial killer pathology.

Many of the mental chess game tete-a-tetes in Criminal Minds are beloved — we loved The Reaper vs. Hotch arc in seasons 4 and 5, as well as the first-season episode "Ride the Lightning" for these exact reasons — but "Entropy" deserves to be at the top of that illustrious list. The entire episode is centered on Dr. Reid going undercover to meet Miss 45 for a "date" which was to double as a "service contract negotiation," if you will. But those plans quickly went south, and the two became locked in a rhetorical game of wits to win their individual freedom. Telling you any more than that would spoil the fun. It's tension and emotional twists all the way down, effectively leaving you wondering if this is indeed the time Reid won't be able to talk his way out of yet another deadly situation.