Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The Entire Criminal Minds Timeline Explained

Criminal Minds, an immensely popular police procedural, does a compelling job of portraying the criminal minds for which it is named. But it is the lives of the agents of the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit that truly capture fans' hearts. More than just a crime drama, Criminal Minds is an artfully interwoven tale of an elite group of individuals whose personal traumas and quirky aptitudes inspire them to take down the evil that lurks in plain sight.

Members of the BAU team become as close as family over the course of the series, even as the ruthless nature of their job threatens their actual home lives. These close relationships mean that the threats team members face affect all of our favorite characters at once — which only makes viewers more invested, in a way that extends beyond mere interest in seeing the bad guy caught. But even the most devoted fans may have missed a couple of episodes here and there, or are struggling to put the timeline in order. Allow us to assist, with this complete timeline of Criminal Minds.

Seasons one and two: The core cast assembles

The series premiere introduces a core cast, including special agents Derek Morgan and Spencer Reid, technical analyst Penelope Garcia, and communications liaison Jennifer Jareau. The members of the Behavioral Analysis Unit are themselves reacquainting with one of their own: Jason Gideon, who Aaron Hotchner, the head of the BAU, must evaluate for return to the field after medical leave. In the second episode, the team gains another new member in sex crimes expert Elle Greenaway.

Tragically, Elle ends up the victim of a near-fatal assault by an unsub in her own home in the season one finale. Though she recovers physically, her psychological state deteriorates rapidly, until she eventually kills an unsub in cold blood after botching the investigation. She then resigns.

Elle is replaced in season two by Emily Prentiss, a former Interpol agent who struggles to prove her worth to the team, and herself. In the end, she learns that she was placed with the BAU not on her own merit, but by BAU section chief Erin Strauss, who blackmails her at the end of season two to provide inside information on Hotch. Prentiss resigns briefly at the beginning of season three to avoid this conflict, but returns after Hotch persuades her.

Season two: Gideon and Reid take the spotlight

One of the most prominent relationships in season two is the father-son dynamic between Jason Gideon and Spencer Reid, which provides pivotal insights into Reid's character. For one thing, Gideon's eventual departure mirrors that of Reid's father's in his childhood: Both men leave a note specifically for Reid to find. Moreover, Gideon leaves at the end of season two because the woman he loves is murdered by a serial killer, which foreshadows Reid eventually undergoing a very similar trauma when he loses his girlfriend seasons later.

Gideon's parental presence directly contrasts the family issues that will plague Reid throughout the series. Reid's father's departure eventually leads Reid to suspect him of a murder, while his mother's schizophrenia is a constant specter Reid fears he will inherit. He also struggles against his family's predisposition towards mental illness when he battles painkiller addiction after being tortured and drugged by serial killer Tobias Hankel.

Reid's struggles with addiction crop up in moments of distress throughout the series, as when he contracts anthrax in season four, when Prentiss fakes her death in season six, and even in the final episode, when he hallucinates one of the BAU's past tormentors, George Foyet, taunting him as an addict.

Seasons three and four: The George Foyet arc

David Rossi, a veteran profiler who comes out of retirement, joins the team in season three. Season three focuses significantly on the team's family lives. Viewers learn about JJ's long-term partner Will and her pregnancy with their first child, Henry. Though Garcia fights for her life after a gunshot wound in this season, she is also introduced to Kevin, an analyst commissioned to search her computer, who eventually becomes a significant love interest. And, most notably, in this season, Haley, Hotchner's wife, divorces him.

This event lays the groundwork for the George Foyet storyline. Foyet initially speaks with the BAU, purporting to be the sole survivor of a serial killer known as the Boston Reaper, who attacked him 10 years prior. In truth, he is the Reaper. When the BAU investigates the Reaper, he evades and taunts them, to the point of staging his own murder by draining a convincing amount of blood from his own body.

This storyline extends into season five, in which the Reaper, having escaped custody at the end of season four, attacks Hotch in his own home, holds him hostage, and tortures him. In an act of supreme cruelty, he murders Hotch's ex-wife, Haley. Enraged, Hotch beats him to death. The psychological scars of this event stay with him, and the BAU, forever.

Seasons four and five: The team endures

JJ gives birth to her first child prematurely and is briefly replaced by Jordan Todd, who crushes on Morgan, but soon finds that the pressure of the position is crushing her. Speaking of relationships, when Kevin almost takes a job overseas, Garcia hacks and takes down an entire government website for fear of losing him. He finds out, but forgives her.

Forgiveness isn't so easy for Reid, who investigates his own father after false memories and nightmares lead him to believe his father killed his boyhood neighbor. Fallout from this crime is partly why Reid's father left, but he isn't actually responsible. It's a rough season for Reid overall, though: Earlier on, he and Prentiss are held hostage by a cult. This experience strengthens their relationship, laying the groundwork for Reid's pain when she eventually fakes her death two seasons later. Reid also contracts anthrax in this season, and refuses to take painkillers because of his past struggles with addiction.

Fallout from Foyet's crimes continues to rain down upon this season: Morgan briefly replaces Hotch as unit chief in season five, and later, the BAU's members undergo individual questioning regarding Foyet's torture of Hotch and his family. Finally, in the last episode, Los Angeles is terrorized by the serial killer known as the Prince of Darkness, which leads us into season six.

Seasons six and seven: Major shake-ups occur

The Prince of Darkness stalks LA during citywide blackouts, ultimately abducting the daughter of Detective Spicer, who makes Morgan swear that he will protect the girl. The conclusion of this case makes the two lifelong friends.

In unhappier news, two of our favorite characters make temporary exits: Strauss forces JJ to take a promotion at the Pentagon, and Prentiss' Interpol past results in her "death" at the hands of international terrorist Ian Doyle. Prentiss' demise is staged, however, and secretly, JJ helps deliver her into witness protection. Ashley Seaver briefly joins the BAU after graduating from the Academy, helping them search for Prentiss before leaving to join the Domestic Trafficking Task Force sometime before season seven.

Speaking of Prentiss, she does return in the seventh season — only to leave and accept a job at Interpol at the end of the season. Meanwhile, JJ's baby daddy proposes to her in a hospital after homicidal bank robbers threaten their lives, and that of their son. The two get married at Rossi's home. There's a painful irony in this, as this season sees Rossi's first wife ask him to kill her, to spare her the misery of ALS.

Season eight: Relationships, replacements, and the Replicator

Alex Blake replaces Prentiss in season eight (but resigns at the end of season nine after Reid takes a bullet in the neck for her). As usual, Reid endures tragedy after tragedy. His relationship with Maeve, a geneticist, begins out of his concern over migraines and hallucinations. She is later killed in front of Reid by her sadistic stalker. In better relationship news, Hotch's relationship with Beth, who is introduced in season seven, develops further.

The eighth season is terrorized by the killer known as the Replicator, who begins stalking the BAU in the first episode. In the sixth episode, "The Apprenticeship," he is first identified as a copycat killer, then of a more high-profile murderer known as the Silencer. He continues to copy the unit's recently-solved cases, and in the finale of the season, he poisons Strauss, forcing her to drink spiked wine on a public sidewalk in the style of a killer the BAU had apprehended only hours earlier. Her Alcoholics Anonymous coin is what eventually allows Rossi to escape the chamber, rigged with explosives, in which the Replicator traps him.

Season nine: Physical, professional, and personal complications arise

Season nine introduces us to Strauss' replacement, Mateo Cruz, who used to have a professional relationship with JJ that the two initially keep secret. Her time at the State Department in season six catches up with her when she and Cruz are kidnapped and tortured by a traitorous ex-colleague. We learn that while she worked in Afghanistan, an explosion caused her to miscarry her and Will's second child.

Hotch, too, has complications from his past arise: Specifically, the stab wounds Foyet riddled him with in season five. In the meantime, Morgan juggles his complex relationship with Savannah, introduced in the season premiere, which is strained by their devotion to their jobs. The season culminates with serial murders committed by the corrupt deputies of Silverton, Texas under Owen McGregor. A confrontation ensues, in which Reid is shot in the neck and witnesses McGregor escaping. This is what leads McGregor to order Greg Baylor to poison Reid's IV in the hospital at the beginning of season ten. Thankfully, Garcia saves him.

Seasons 10 and 11: Major goodbyes take place

Kate Callahan arrives to replace Alex Blake and ends up leaving in the finale to focus on her new child. Hotch has ended his relationship with Beth, but struggles to move on. Most tragically, Reid is left bereft when news of Jason Gideon's murder arrives.

Season 10's "Beyond Borders" introduces us to Matthew Simmons, an IRT agent who will eventually work with the BAU in season 12. In season 11, we meet  new characters including agent Tara Lewis and Michael, a child JJ became pregnant with in season 10. Morgan marries and has a son with Savannah, who goes into labor after being shot by a man who orchestrated Morgan's abduction a few episodes prior. Savannah's shooter seeks revenge for the death of his son, who was part of a vast and murky network of hitmen. This network connects us to hitwoman Cat Adams, who becomes a major season 12 antagonist for Reid.

Last but not least, in the season finale, Hotch is accused of masterminding a terrorist attack. In the process of clearing his name, the BAU encounters the responsible party: A group of anarchists who end up freeing 13 serial killers in a series of prison breaks.

Season 12: Hotch departs and Reid is framed

The prison break in the season 11 finale includes Peter Lewis, the serial killer known as Mr. Scratch, who tormented the BAU and drugged Hotch in season 10. Hotch not including this fact on a psychological evaluation is what brought him to the attention of the Justice Department as a possible terrorist.

The escape of this stalker serves as the basis for Hotch's departure from the BAU, allegedly to enter witness protection with his son. Prentiss returns to take his place and recruits counterintelligence specialist Stephen Walker, whose record-keeping provides valuable evidence in the Mr. Scratch case. Lewis abducts and tortures Prentiss following a car crash that kills Walker. We also meet Luke Alvez, who is hired to aid in hunting Lewis and who helps the BAU apprehend eight of the 13 escaped serial killers.

The most unlikely killer of the season is, shockingly enough, Reid, who is accused of a murder in Mexico. However, he has in fact been framed by Cat Adams and Lindsay Vaughan, whom Reid met 10 years earlier as the mere daughter of a hitman. Vaughan later poses as a nurse and kidnaps Reid's mother while she visits him in prison. After a bitter confrontation with the incarcerated Cat, Spencer manages to reunite with his rescued mother.

Seasons 13 and 14: Threats form, within and without

Season 13 finally concludes the Mr. Scratch arc, with Lewis falling to his death after a rooftop chase with Alvez. JJ replaces Prentiss briefly as head of the BAU while the latter is internally reviewed by the power-mad Linda Barnes. Luckily, when the team saves a senator's daughter, they earn special protection from Barnes' influence.

Romantic relationships develop for many members in season 14, including Rossi, who remarries Krystall after they connect at his daughter's wedding. This season also introduces the Chameleon, whose origin is exposed through flashbacks when Rossi breaks down in front of Krystall about a near-death experience he had at the hands of the killer. The Chameleon ends up being the final unsub of the series.

Garcia and Reid are kidnapped by the Believers cult, who intend to sacrifice Reid as their 300th victim (in the 300th episode of the show, no less). Reid is the ideal sacrifice, because of what the cultists view as heroism on his part from all the way back in season four, when he took down a related cult led by Benjamin Cyrus. It's not all doom and gloom for Reid, however, as he aces his gun qualification and begins to tackle his PTSD.

Season 15: The past comes calling

Due to a myriad of social and mental struggles, Reid sees a therapist, who challenges him to have a normal conversation with someone outside of work. As a result, he meets Maxine, and they grow to care for one another ... until Cat Adams orchestrates a plot (despite being incarcerated) to kidnap Maxine's father and sister.

The biggest foe of the season is the returning Chameleon, now known to be Everett Lynch: He and his daughter Grace escape from prison in the first episode, leaving JJ critically wounded after Grace shoots her. In the hospital, JJ reveals that she meant what she said when she confessed her love for Reid at gunpoint in the previous season.

On the subject of family, though they work together for most of the series, Lynch eventually kills his daughter. The depraved man wants to meet his father, who inspired him to abuse women, but finds that his mother, who pretended to help law enforcement in order to be released on parole, has already brutally killed him. She attempts to commit a murder-suicide by blowing up a house with Everett and herself inside it. He escapes, unbeknownst to the team, and Reid suffers brain damage from the explosion, leading to hallucinations of deceased characters like George Foyet and Erin Strauss.

A climactic finale suggests new beginnings for everyone

The Chameleon takes Rossi's wife hostage, but Rossi convinces the killer to take him instead. This results in a shootout that knocks Rossi out of a plane before JJ blows it up, finally putting an end to the Chameleon. Rossi's story, with his lover's life threatened, acts as a happier mirror of Gideon's, whose spirit guides Rossi in this investigation.

Despite previously confessing her love for Reid, JJ remains with her family. For his part, Reid's hallucinations finally allow him to confront his many traumas in a quest for closure showrunner Erica Messer said has roots all the way back in season two. In happier news, Luke Alvez asks out Garcia, who leaves the BAU for non-profit work, which leads to a significant improvement in her mental health.

The finale takes place in a place full of memories: Rossi's house. Of course, after fiddling with the idea, he has decided not to retire, so what was supposed to be his retirement party turns into a send-off for Garcia. Though the show also ends its tenure with this episode, the BAU endures, doing good for all mankind.