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Criminal Minds Storylines That Fans Hated

Criminal Minds jumped into the TV fray in 2005, offering an in-depth look into the minds of serial killers. Viewers follow the FBI's BAU (Behavioral Analysis Unit) as they create behavioral profiles used to catch cannibals and kidnappers alike. Sometimes they succeed. Sometimes they fail. But they never, ever stop trying to take down the bad guys by getting into their heads.

The show, which ended in 2020, ran for 15 seasons before CBS pulled the plug. To successfully run that long, writers had to come up with a myriad of plot twists, storylines, and character arcs. Some of these choices worked like gangbusters, some were merely mediocre, and some were outright disasters that have fans spitting mad to this day. From flimsy excuses for writing several characters out to relationship teases that didn't end up culminating in anything, these are the Criminal Minds storylines that had fans reaching for the remote.

Elle kills an unsub in cold blood

If you ask Criminal Minds fans who their least favorite BAU agent is, many will name Elle Greenaway. Barely making it past the first season, the newbie BAU teammate never fully vibes with the team. Even Elle notices: She's quick to mention that the unit hardly cared when the Fisher King broke into her home and shot her. Elle's PTSD surrounding the event leads to a complete disruption of her mental health, and no one on the team offers her much support.

Ultimately, she becomes a vigilante. Furious at having to let a predator walk, she takes the law into her own hands by shooting an unarmed suspect while he spews creepy, sexist rhetoric. While she faces no legal retribution for murder due to a lack of evidence, Hotch knows what happened and "suggests" she leave the team.

Elle's departure from the BAU has less to do with the character and more to do with the actress herself, however. According to Heavy, actress Lola Glaudini wanted to move back to Manhattan and pursue theater. Ed Bernero, executive producer at the time, told TV Guide that it was "a very amicable parting." He said, "We were looking for a way to shake the cast up a little bit, and she really wanted to go home."

Reid gets addicted to Dilaudid

Most long-running shows have at least one character who faces an addiction. Typically, the arc pops up throughout the rest of the show. Addiction is, after all, a life-long struggle — one that many people have intimate experience with.

In season two's "Revelations," SSA (Supervisory Special Agent) Dr. Spencer Reid is tortured and drugged for two days, barely surviving the ordeal. Still relatively new to the field, the calamity has a profound impact on him, and he starts using the pain medication Dilaudid to ease his mental and physical suffering. Reid eventually does get help and attends one NA meeting on-screen, but that's it. Apparently, that's all he needed to kick his addiction.

If done well, character arcs like this can really affect fans who are impacted by addiction in their own lives. This storyline is not of that category. The writers condensed what could have been a powerful and long-running storyline into several episodes, and barely mention it throughout the rest of the series. Even when Reid is drugged again in season 12, he doesn't struggle in any unique way. If the writers didn't plan to give Reid's addiction any real attention, it shouldn't have existed at all.

Gideon dies off-screen

Few things are considered more disrespectful than killing a character off-screen. Former SSA Jason Gideon gets that (dis)honor in season 10. After Mandy Patinkin's departure, Gideon leaves the BAU with nothing more than a letter to his protege, Reid. Patinkin left the show in a similar manner: He ghosted Criminal Minds before the term even existed. Later, the actor admitted that the content was "very destructive to [his] soul." 

A full seven seasons after Gideon leaves in the first episode of season three, the BAU identifies their former mentor's body. They discover that his death is the result of a serial killer he and Rossi failed to catch when they first formed the BAU. This killer is particularly grotesque: He essentially turns his victims into birds, breaking their limbs, shoving them in a nest, and feeding them worms. Yikes doesn't begin to cover it.

Prior to his death, Gideon catches wind of the dormant kidnapper for the first time since he was a young agent. The case that's haunted him for years ultimately leads to his demise when the unsub notices Gideon poking around. Gideon should've lived the rest of his natural life in his secluded cabin instead of facing a cheap off-screen death. 

Maeve dies in front of Reid

Dr. Spencer Reid is a lovable, awkward genius, and fans adore him for it. Unfortunately, that means his love life tends to be either tragic or nonexistent. In the case of his girlfriend Maeve, it manages to be both. First introduced during a bizarre phone call in season eight's "God Complex," Maeve is a geneticist Spencer meets while seeking treatment for migraines. Spencer learns Maeve has a stalker, but Maeve refuses to let Reid enlist the BAU to help. In a very uncharacteristic move, he doesn't push the subject, leading to awkward scheduled payphone calls he hides from his coworkers. Stalking keeps her home-bound, and this is the only way they can get to know each other.

Most fans find the early interactions between the doomed lovebirds uncomfortable, but everything comes to a head when self-proclaimed genius Diane reveals herself as the stalker. Seriously, what is with Reid's thing for women being stalked by other women?

A deadly game of chess ensues, culminating in Reid watching Diane kill herself and Maeve in one lethal blow. The moment haunts Reid's eidetic memory for the rest of the show's duration — much to the disappointment of fans who wanted the storyline to disappear as quickly as possible.

Rossi sets up Gideon's killer so he can "legally" shoot him

Most BAU agents have a unique relationship with protocol, and while it yields results, the team goes too far on multiple occasions. The show repeatedly features agents brutally and unnecessarily killing unsubs in cases that get too personal — however, Elle is the only agent to face any real consequences. Fans sometimes find themselves cheering for the agents in these moments, but all too often, it crosses a line.

Rossi adds his name to the list of questionable BAU "line of duty" killers when he avenges Gideon, his former partner's, death. Like Elle, he has clear intent to kill, but unlike Elle, he's smarter about it. After the team disarms the unsub peacefully, Rossi waits until they're alone. He tosses the gun back to the killer, goading him into picking up the weapon so Rossi can "legally" shoot him in "self-defense." This goes unmentioned until Hotch is under investigation years later, and his interrogator brings it up. The season 12 scene proves that his actions were common knowledge within the FBI, but Rossi faces zero consequences for his crime.

Hotch enters protective custody

According to Variety, ABC ordered Thomas Gibson, who played Aaron Hotchner, to attend anger management classes in 2010 after a "violent outburst" with an assistant director. But the issues didn't stop there. During the show's 11th season, Gibson allegedly kicked writer, Virgil Williams. The actor later told Variety that the situation was a misunderstanding, but his removal from the show is telling.

With such a tumultuous and out-of-the-blue removal necessitated, writers had to come up with a credible way of writing out one of the show's staple characters. Right off the heels of Shemar Moore's departure, the arduous task proved impossible. Hotch doesn't leave the BAU when serial killer Foyet kills his wife and very nearly his son as well — it's a stretch that he'd hang out in protective custody indefinitely. Yet that's what happens: The team learns that escaped killer Mr. Scratch is stalking Hotch's son, Jack, causing them to relocate.

The BAU is a world-renowned team that's given dozens of widespread interviews. There's no way someone wouldn't ID him, especially a dedicated killer. The group takes their sweet time capturing Scratch, but even after his death, the show excuses Hotch's continued absence by indicating his desire to remain a full-time dad. The BAU barely mentions him again, making the storyline even more awkward and forced. Fans, less than pleased by his absence, started a "No Hotch, No Watch" boycott.

Luke instantly tries to replace Morgan's dynamic with Garcia

"Baby Girl" Garcia and "Thunder God" Morgan have unparalleled chemistry from episode one. However, their adorable dynamic almost didn't happen at all. Criminal Minds cast Kirsten Vangsness as Penelope Garcia, technical analyst extraordinaire, with the intention of making her a one-off character.

The higher-ups took notice of Moore and Vangsness' incredible chemistry, however, and made Garcia a full-time staple. While the show stands by the platonic nature of Morgan and Garcia's relationship, Vangsness told Parade that Garcia was in love with Morgan, causing her to fight her future crush on his replacement, Luke Alvez. But seriously: Has anyone ever platonically called someone their "God-given solace"? We're looking at you, Morgan. Even the team ships it.

The relationship remains a massive part of the show's heart until Moore's season 12 departure. It's a slap in the face, then, that Luke immediately tries to replace Morgan's irreplaceable dynamic with his Baby Girl. Their initial elevator meet-cute scene has enough unresolved sexual tension to fuel the BAU jet, but it's too much, too soon. Luke and Garcia get the ending meant for Morgan and Garcia — and many fans will never get over it.

JJ admits she loves Reid

Criminal Minds teases a possible JJ-Reid relationship way back in the fourth episode. Yet the pair doesn't discuss their true feelings until the final episode of the penultimate season ... when it's too late.

During a twisted game of Truth or Dare, proxy killer Casey Pinker forces JJ to reveal her deepest secret. Coerced into a confession with a gun pointed at Reid, she admits that she's always loved him. But they can't act on their mutual love, as JJ has a family.

From the beginning, JJ's relationship with her eventual husband Will is one-sided. It's obvious he loves her more than she loves him, and essentially begs her to stay with him when she wants to call it quits. Actress A.J. Cook admitted to TV Guide that the subject of Reid and JJ still gives her knots in her stomach "because that's such a big deal, and I protect JJ so much." She said, "I think it was all handled really, really well in the long run." Admittedly, it would be a disservice to both characters' morals for JJ to leave Will for Reid. However, dangling the possibility to dedicated fans who shipped "Jeid" for 15 seasons at the 11th hour is savage. RIP Jeid.

Morgan is brutally tortured

Derek Morgan is about as beloved as Criminals Minds characters get. No one wants to see the heart of the BAU hurt — but of course, in the high-stakes world of prime-time television, that only ensures his suffering.

Morgan's hard-to-watch torture is part of the hitman storyline that plagues season 12. The horrifying scene shows Derek's tormentors frying his skin and displaying him on a makeshift cross. The knife is truly twisted by interspersed scenes in which Morgan bonds with his dad. Of course, all of these are happening entirely within his head.

It's unclear if these interactions are spiritual in nature, or just Morgan's imagination coping with trauma — but it doesn't matter. They're a welcome reprieve from the terror going on in reality, and provide much-needed closure for Derek, who watched his father die in the line of duty as a child. As the agent is about to become a dad himself, the paternal scenes are justified ... but the prolonged torture is not. At some point, it's just unnecessary and gruesome. The episode does, at least, set up Morgan's eventual departure from the BAU in a believable way.

JJ gets forced from the BAU

When putting together a team to take down international terrorists, most people wouldn't immediately think to add a communications liaison. However, in season six, after JJ's successful negotiation with serial killer Flynn is broadcast, the Pentagon recruits her — and they don't take no for an answer. Twice.

The higher-ups keep her real mission a secret, naming her a Department of Defense liaison. Her true assignment comes to light in season nine after writers tease an affair between JJ and the new BAU section chief, Cruz. Her former associate Tivon Askari kidnaps her, and the team finally learns the truth about her days at "the Pentagon." During a savage torture sequence, JJ reveals herself as having been part of top-secret work in the Middle East, and that she lost her unborn baby when Askari had her tortured the first time.

Following that revelation, the show does an admirable job having her work through the grief she kept hidden for so long. However, the story is flimsy at best. The show never explains why the military required JJ's specific skillset for such a tactical and high-profile expedition. Each explanation — the cover and her mission itself — clumsily unravel to excuse the actress' departure from the show. According to Deadline, the show originally chalked her leaving up to budget cuts. But according to an interview with Paget Brewster, it was actually due to a big-wig CBS executive wanting "new women." Ew.

Prentiss fakes her death

Shortly after JJ departs Criminal Minds in season six, Paget Brewster's Emily Prentiss faces her own farewell from the show — for a minute, at least. Following the executive directive to replace Cook and Paget with "new women," Brewster's agents managed to get Brewster 17 more episodes than planned, allowing for a much more thorough write-off than Cook received. Brewster originally asked to be killed off, and got her wish ... until she didn't.

Criminal mastermind Ian Doyle comes out of the woodwork to stalk Prentiss, his former fiance, who was undercover at the time of their coupling. Doyle joins the "let's torture BAU members" bandwagon, but Prentiss won't break. After a grievous wound to the gut, she is taken to the hospital and apparently dies. Morgan and Reid have huge trouble dealing with the loss, with Reid crying at JJ's regularly and Morgan blaming himself. Little do they know that Prentiss staged her death, and only Hotch and JJ are in on the secret.

To the writers' credit, fans know right away that JJ helped fake Prentiss' death, but the divide the team faces when they learn the truth is almost worse than Prentiss' funeral scene. 

Reid gets arrested

The hits never stop coming for Spencer Reid, who arguably faces the most emotional trauma of anyone on the show. In season 12, Reid takes off to Mexico to find experimental remedies for his mother's worsening Alzheimer's. He is subsequently drugged and framed for murder. The storyline is executed brilliantly, but it was the last straw for Reid fans who just wanted to see him happy for five minutes.

Even a decade after the show's debut, the team still sees Reid as a "kid." But all that changes following this trauma. While the Maeve situation sent him plummeting into a deep depression, getting locked up forces Reid to come to terms with a darker side to his personality. He faces the urge to kill the serial killer Scratch, who the team originally pegs as the culprit. In a surprising plot twist, hitwoman Cat Adams is actually behind the setup, and she uncomfortably tries to convince Reid that he fathered her child, despite them never having done the deed. Season 12 permanently changes Spencer Reid, and though it makes him a stronger person, many fans believe that it came at too high a cost.