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The Criminal Minds Unsubs That Fans Actually Find Sympathetic

Some fans of Criminal Minds watch because of the engaging Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) agents, while others tune in for the unknown subject (unsub) of the week. At their worst, the unsubs are cruel and sociopathic people who use other humans as playthings in service of their own twisted fantasies. But not all unsubs are created equal. While it can be hard to muster warm feelings for a brutal killer, there are a few that elicit feelings of sympathy from fans of the series.

There's a saying that "hurt people hurt people," and some Criminal Minds unsubs are very seriously hurt people. A recent thread on the series' subreddit asked fans to sound off in the comments with any unsubs who stoked feelings of sympathy and sorrow, despite the crimes they committed. There was a wide range of responses, but a few in particular seem to be the unsubs that fans agree are the most sympathetic.

Tobias Hankel couldn't control his actions

Over on Reddit, user u/rs17_mv started a thread entitled, "Have you ever felt sorry for an unsub?" They included a list of their picks, the first being Tobias Hankel (James Van Der Beek), who several other users also nominated. They explained, "He was abused by his father, leading to his drug addiction. This, coupled with his father forcing him to shoot him, caused Tobias to develop a split personality disorder ... In real life, he'd probably be found not guilty by insanity and institutionalized."

The season 2 episodes "The Big Game" and "Revelations" detail Tobias' devastating childhood of abuse, including the fact that he was forced to euthanize his own father. As an adult, he commits murders while experiencing a mental health emergency that causes him to think he's an archangel named Raphael charged with doling out Biblical punishments to his victims.

While many of his crimes are horrifying, as u/rs17_mv pointed out, the physical and emotional abuse Tobias suffered at the hands of his father play a huge role in his crimes. During the episode we even see Tobias slipping in and out of his Raphael personality and it becomes clear that he's a deeply delusional and troubled man.

Samantha Malcolm's disturbing childhood had fans feeling sorry for her

Down in the comments, user u/littleparmaviolet wrote in to suggest another unsub with a disturbing childhood: "The girl with the human dolls. Heartbreaking."

That girl is Samantha Malcolm (Jennifer Hasty), a seamstress featured in the season 5 episode "The Uncanny Valley." Samantha has a dark habit of kidnapping women, drugging them, and staging them in her room as though they are dolls. Eventually, the victims die as a result of the intense drug cocktail, and Samantha finds another victim. While it's certainly cold comfort to the multiple women who died at Samantha's hand, her murderous habits come from a very specific and horrifying childhood trauma.

Samantha's father was a pediatrician who used his career as a cover for the fact that he was a serial child predator. It's eventually revealed that Samantha's father abused her throughout her childhood, and subjected her to various physical and psychological tortures to prevent her from telling anyone about it. One of his methods was to give Samantha a doll as a way to encourage her silence, an item she developed an intense psychological attachment to.

Again, that doesn't excuse multiple murders, but despite being the unsub of her episode, it's Samantha's father that feels like the real villain.

The time Reid stepped in to save an unsub

Another unsub who grew up in an abusive household (we're starting to sense a pattern here) and received several mentions by fans on the thread about sympathetic unsubs is Owen Savage (Cody Kasch) from the season 3 episode "Elephant's Memory." As a child, Owen's life was upended when his mother died while drinking and driving, leaving him in the care of his Marine father. Owen's father was resentful of the circumstances of his widowhood, and took his frustrations out on Owen, who also suffered from a learning disability. This led to a childhood full of emotional abuse both at home and at school, where Owen was ruthlessly bullied by his classmates.

As a young man, Owen retaliated against his father and his tormentors from school by murdering them in a killing spree that almost culminated in him taking out the local police department and the visiting BAU team. In the end, it's Spencer Reid (Matthew Gray Gubler) who is able to subdue Owen by standing in his colleague's line of fire and appealing to him as a fellow sufferer of severe bullying.

Like the rest of these sympathetic unsubs, Owen's tragic past doesn't excuse the harm he went on to cause to others. However, it does help put their crimes into perspective and provides deeper insight into their criminal minds.