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What Really Drove Criminal Minds Serial Killer Tivon Askari To A Life Of Crime

The following article includes references to torture, addiction, and sexual assault.

It seems like almost every member of the fictional FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit of the CBS hit crime procedural "Criminal Minds" has been kidnapped and mistreated at some point during their tenure on the show. Dr. Spencer Reid (Matthew Gray Gubler) is tortured so badly in Season 2 that he becomes addicted to Dilaudid in an attempt to numb himself from the trauma he endured. Agent Derek Morgan (Shemar Moore) gets abducted and abused in Season 11 when a man wrongfully blames him for the death of his son. Technical Analyst Penelope Garcia (Kirsten Vangsness) is held hostage by a cult member who infiltrates the BAU's ranks in Season 13.

Continuing with this theme, one of the most hard to watch episodes of "Criminal Minds" is Season 9's "200," in which Agent Jennifer "JJ" Jareau (AJ Cook) and BAU Section Chief Matteo Cruz (Esai Morales) are kidnapped and brutally tortured. The villain is Tivon Askari (Faran Tahir), a former coworker of JJ and Cruz when the two were stationed in Iraq on a mission to find Osama bin Laden, who was ultimately revealed to be a double agent. 

Viewers look on in horror as Askari restrains the two BAU members with chains, beats them, electroshocks JJ, and even stabs Cruz. It's a brutal episode, and all the while the rest of the BAU scrambles to figure out the identity of their abductor and where they're being held hostage. So, who is Askari, and why did he turn to a life of crime? Here's what the BAU learns on their quest to save JJ and Cruz.

The BAU desperately pieces together Askari's backstory

By searching through JJ's old office, hacking into classified U.S. State Department files, and attending an important State Department meeting, the BAU identifies JJ and Cruz's abductor and learns — to their horror — how dangerous he is.

Askari is a former member of the Iraqi Special Forces who became the lead translator for the State Department in their mission to find Osama bin Laden. That is, until he is exposed as a traitor, in large part thanks to the work of JJ. Although Askai disappears once his true allegiance is discovered, he reappears to obtain the passwords to Integrity, a valuable, classified database compiled during the mission to find Osama bin Laden — and he needs both JJ and Cruz's passwords to get in.

Askari is a formidable foe, and even his name is ominous. Dr. Alex Blake (Jeanne Tripplehorn) translates his name as "Tivon" for "student of nature" and "Askari" for "soldier" — evidently, this is a to nod to both his toughness and the pleasure he derives from watching his victims squirm. He's also incredibly disciplined: The BAU learns that Askari has a distinct, "perfect" methodology, which he has established through years of torture and uses to extract information from his prisoners within 24 hours. Finally, while he doesn't sexually abuse his victims, the BAU isn't sure whether he is a sadist who derives sexual gratification from inflicting pain on others or just finds torture fun (spoiler alert: it's the former).

Further revelations about Askari come a season later

In Season 10, at the end of the episode "The Forever People," Dr. Spencer Reid pulls some strings to get a copy of Tivon Askari's file for the understandably still-traumatized JJ.

From the file — which features information read aloud in the voice of Askari, whom JJ hallucinates is sitting opposite her at her desk — she learns that he was an orphan who grew up on the streets of Tikrit, Iraq, where he was homeless from the ages of 7 to 9. She also uncovers that he was sexually assaulted multiple times as a child, starting when he was 10 years old, leading JJ to close the file for a break. When she reopens it, the next line reads: "By the age of 13, he had killed three people. Violence became a sexual act. Men, women, children. It didn't matter."

In typical "Criminal Minds" fashion, Askari himself was abused in the past and arrived at his evil ways because his psyche was damaged. He's definitely still the bad guy in the present situation, but the complexity of his backstory makes things even harder for JJ — no longer just some inhuman monster who tortures for fun, Tivon Askari becomes a more fully fleshed out person with his own pains and traumas. Deep villain backstories are a hallmark of "Criminal Minds," and they no doubt are a key reason why fans are so obsessed with the series.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).