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Moments In Criminal Minds That Didn't Age Well

It's unsurprising that Criminal Minds — a show hinging on the behavioral analysis of serial killers and mental health — would rack up quite a few submissions in the yikes department. Coming up with 15 seasons and 299 episodes of depraved serial killers isn't a task for the fainthearted, but sometimes the show went too far.

It's safe to say that if the series were still on today, the writers would most certainly cut or alter some of these scenes to match the social movements that have made significant strides since the show's 2005 debut. Between toxic portrayals of mental disorders, offensive LGBTQ+ representation, racism, and a heavy dose of sexism, more than a few fans wish these moments could disappear from canon.

However, while none of these scenes would fly today, examining and learning from past mistakes is the only way Hollywood will continue to get better. With that in mind, here's a look back at some of the most cringe-worthy Criminal Minds scenes that wouldn't fly today.

Garcia's toxic ex condescendingly tells her she lost weight

Penelope Garcia is the poster woman for body positivity and calling out men when they imply that she's anything but the beautiful goddess she is. In season 2, the technical analyst even calls out Agent Morgan, her best friend, when he implies that it's weird when a random guy asks her out in a coffee shop. And sure, the guy ended up shooting her on their first date (and Morgan was probably just jealous), but that's beside the point. If Penelope can slap and call someone she truly cares about a jerk for discounting her beauty, she should have no problem telling an ex to shove it.

In Garcia's backstory episode, "The Black Queen," her hacker ex-boyfriend lures her back into his toxic web during a case. The first thing out of his mouth is "Wow... You've lost weight." Excuse you? Never comment on someone's weight ever — especially in a condescending tone with a smug smile on your face.

Garcia, who would normally quickly fire back, stays silent. Given her epic entrance into his hacker lair, it would have been the perfect opportunity for her to take back the power he stole from her in what was clearly a very toxic relationship. Instead, she gulps and says nothing — and kisses a young-looking kid in the room to get back at him. The whole exchange could have been handled miles better and actually honored Garcia instead of belittling her.

Tired tropes involving villainous women

Criminal Minds has a rocky track record when it comes to depicting women in authority positions as power-hungry and morally corrupt. If it were just once, the show could get a pass. However, both initial depictions of high-ranking FBI women are fraught with aggressive micromanaging, condescending behavior, a thirst for power, and an in-unit villain. This behavior only served to feed the narrative that exists to maintain the glass ceiling.

Section Chief Agent Strauss initially held the position of stereotypical tough woman making the team's lives hell, but she admittedly went through a lot of character growth before her death. Still, all of that progress immediately ceased when Executive Assistant Director of the FBI Linda Barnes leveraged her position to liquidate departments to further her career. Barnes was depicted as a straight-up villain, breaking up the team, ignoring cases that weren't "PR-friendly," and belittling everyone on the BAU. As this had become a habitual shtick on the show, it doesn't play well onscreen.

After using her position to break up the canceled Beyond Borders spinoff team, Barnes wreaked havoc on the BAU — offering yet another awful depiction of a power-hungry career woman. Criminal Minds sort of makes up for Strauss and Barnes with Emily Prentiss' competent and brilliant reign as team leader, but the other two character arcs are hard to watch.

A doctor uses her own psych patient for clout

It's not exactly a classy move for psychiatrists to dangle their unstable patients in front of a vast crowd to sell books. Yet that's precisely what Dr. Linda Deaton is on her way to do when her schizophrenic patient Teddy steals an armed officer's gun and takes the train hostage — and no one calls her out for it. Teddy, who Deaton cites as harmless, has a violent outburst out of nowhere, killing an officer and later shooting the good doctor.

Criminal Minds habitually portrays mentally ill characters as violent and dangerous, with very few benign examples to balance out the harmful stereotypes. Dr. Reid's mom is one of the only representations of mental disorders handled well within the series, illustrating a more accurate idea of schizophrenic outbursts. 

As people are quick to blame mass shootings on conditions like schizophrenia, it's up to a show about behavioral health to combat those violent stereotypes. However, case after case, fans continually see mental health problems grossly exaggerated, portrayed improperly, and perpetuating the idea that society must fear anyone who is "other." Granted, it's challenging to have a crime show that hinges on behavioral analysis without showcasing violence within disorders, but the show goes too far too often. In "Derailed," Deaton is heralded as a hero while the team condemns the patient — but no one would have died or gotten hurt if Dr. Deaton didn't put her fame above her patient's wellbeing.

Three major Black characters die in a row

For a show centered around so much death, Criminal Minds avoided killing off most series regulars — especially BAU teammates. Even when the procedural wrote out characters, most didn't die. However, Black characters were far likelier to receive a tragic fate than their white counterparts. In season 10, Rossi's former Marine Sergeant, Harrison Scott, passes from cancer after appearing in numerous scenes. Just a few seasons later, serial killer Mr. Scratch kills SSA Stephen Walker — a core BAU team member. After multiple seasons tormenting the team, it would indeed be unbelievable if someone didn't perish at the hands of the notorious killer, but why Stephen?

Had his death been an isolated incident, fans could argue against a pattern, but his death came shortly after another compelling Black character died — and right before yet another. Following Stephen's death, a sniper from Luke's past killed his old partner Phil to get to Luke. Occurring just one season after Stephen, the pattern took hold.

Only a few "good guy" series regular deaths have transpired in the show. Years after his abrupt departure, Mandy Patinkin's Jason Gideon died offscreen, Serial killer George Foyett brutally murdered Hotch's wife in season 5, and the Replicator executed Strauss in season 9. The next three significant deaths in the show were all Black men, highlighting a systemic issue in Hollywood's portrayal of people of color. This pattern is distinct enough for even non-BAU teammates to catch.

'Doubt' paints self-harm in a dangerous light (trigger warning)

Self-harm is one of the most misunderstood conditions that someone with mental health struggles can live with — and Criminal Minds doesn't do anything to lessen the stigma that sufferers face. In fact, the show horrendously stigmatizes the condition in season 2's "Doubt." Instead of lashing out at other people, those who self-harm point their pain inwards, so they don't hurt anyone else.

In this episode, Anna litters her dorm with photos of her deceased classmates painted over with bloody X's. Even more disturbing, she kills a student that she admittedly likes — just to get serial killer suspect Nathan Tubbs out of custody. Her end goal? Assisted suicide. Anna becomes a killer so Tubbs can help her die. This kind of outrageous depiction of someone struggling with depression and suicidal ideation only furthers the stigma that people going through them are somehow bad and deserving.

Self-harm scars never fade, and the episode could have been a perfect opportunity to shine a light on a condition that so many young people face. Instead, Criminal Minds fed into stereotypes. The episode focuses more on Anna being goth and edgy than her very real and sometimes fatal habit. Scenes like this are incredibly damaging to the community they represent, and need to be done well or not at all. Help is available for anyone struggling with suicide or self-harm.

Morgan's relationship with the cop's daughter

No one can argue that SSA Derek Morgan is the heart and soul of the BAU — especially when it comes to protecting kids. As a survivor of childhood sexual assault himself, Morgan would throw himself into an actual fire if it meant saving an innocent kid. However, from an outside perspective, Morgan's fierce protectiveness might come off as a bit sketchy.

Not one to break a promise, Morgan goes through hell to honor his word to save Ellie, a cop's young daughter whose father and aunt are killed in front of him. Losing the only family she has left, Ellie clings to Morgan, and he doesn't have the heart to set boundaries. After an incredibly long hug that wouldn't be allowed in reality, Ellie runs away from her foster home to see Derek. She'd been texting him constantly, and the rest of the team insists that he stop enabling the behavior. Morgan is at a loss for what to do, and he's out of state when Ellie flees to him.

When Ellie admits that the boys at her foster home were trying to watch her shower, he tracks down her estranged mom, piecing the broken family back together. Barring that intervention, Derek seems like he's about to adopt her himself — because he can't stand seeing a child in pain. But while the episode is endearing in many ways, it would never happen in reality without a full-fledged investigation.

Rossi admits to peeing on a Black student

Criminal Minds season 9 episode "Strange Fruit" is an attempt to be woke, but ends up being highly problematic instead. The episode centers around the interrogation of serial killer suspect Charles Johnson — a Black man who kills white people because of the systematic racism he's faced his entire life. Feeding the Angry Black Man stereotype Hollywood continually falls back on, the focus shifts from the true villains (the racists) to blaming the victim by making him a vengeful serial killer. Had the episode been framed in another light, it could have been incredibly powerful.

Instead, "Strange Fruit" focuses more on Agent Rossi than Johnson. During the interrogation, Rossi tries to prove he isn't a racist by mentioning his Black ex-wife when baited. After Johnson calls him out for it, Rossi finally admits a disturbing secret: He peed on a Black classmate in school after a bout of peer pressure. While it's clear that Rossi has grown, that's not a confession that anyone should breeze past in 20 minutes. Johnson confesses, and no one mentions Rossi's transgressions ever again. 

Cat forces Reid to go on a date

Hitwoman Cat Adams and SSA Spencer Reid have a toxic will they/won't they game of cat and mouse from her season 11 debut up until the show's final season. Cat's obsession with Reid is spurred on by the BAU, allowing her predatory behavior to continue. The team frequently gives in to her demands to save the lives she puts at risk for Reid's attention.

In season 12, the Black Widow Killer manages to convince Reid that she's pregnant with his child — using the amnesia from his drugged state in Mexico to toy with his mind. Almost every interaction they have sits firmly in the yikes category, even on his end. His worst moment in the show occurs when he strangles and threatens to kill a very pregnant Cat when her partner is holding his mother hostage. At the time, he doesn't know if the baby is his — lost in her sea of lies.

Cut to season 15, when Cat embroils Spencer into her schemes once again, kidnapping Max's family for attention. Forcing him to go out on a roller rink date, he admits that she inhabits some part of his brain that no one else, no matter how much he likes them, can penetrate. Things come to a head when she forces him to kiss her under the threat of killing Max's family. Of course, Cat makes sure that Max is there to watch. That's sexual assault, Cat.

The team does nothing as Elle spirals

On numerous occasions, the BAU notes that the team is like a family — but some teammates are treated more like estranged cousins than actual family. The group mostly handles Elle like an outsider for much of her time on the show, and none of them gives her the time of day when she's hurting.

In the season 1 finale, suspect Charles Haid shoots Elle in her apartment after the BAU orders her to go home and sleep. They know that their unsub has personal information on the entire team, without doing much to ensure her safety. Hotch doesn't bother specifying the gravity of the situation to the agent he orders to take her home, who leaves her there with no protection. By the time Hotch realizes his mistake (which he blames on the other agent), it's too late.

The team still doesn't even call her, and they don't find out she's shot until her shooter calls them himself. Four months later, Hotch lets her come back to work before getting cleared by her doctor, leading to a deeper psychological descent. Despite her apparent emotional troubles and unreadiness to rejoin the field, Hotch lets her continue field duty — where she puts herself and others at risk. The situation reaches a breaking point when she shoots an unarmed suspect. After multiple missteps, she resigns with no consequences. This is the first of many instances in which unwell teammates go back into the field too soon after significant trauma.

'Conflicted' perpetuates harmful trans stereotypes

Society has a long, long way to go in accepting, validating, and providing rights to the transgender community. And for each step forward, it sometimes seems like Hollywood takes the movement five steps back. In the season 4 episode "Conflicted," Criminal Minds handles a character with Dissociative Identity Disorder just about as poorly as possible, all while portraying deeply harmful stereotypes to the trans community.

While Adam himself never outwardly identifies as trans, his alternate personality Amanda identifies as a woman while she kills and sexually assaults men at a hotel. Of course, it's not the cisgender man vilified, but his alternate personality wearing a dress. Most people would automatically register Amanda as a trans woman, whether intentional or not, especially in 2009 when the episode aired.

Too many shows and movies illustrate trans characters as dangerous and predatory, which only serves to alienate the community in real life. Countless people look to media for answers on subjects they don't understand, making characterizations like this inherently threatening to the trans community. On average, the trans community faces over 300 reported hate crime deaths a year. At the end of the episode, Amanda completely takes over Adam, essentially making her a trans woman. Having her be the toxic killer is a damaging (and unnecessary) statement to make when there are still so many misunderstandings about the trans community. People don't need another reason to think of trans individuals in a negative light.