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The Most Illegal Thing Hotchner Ever Did On Criminal Minds

Aaron Hotchner (Thomas Gibson) served as the Unit Chief of the Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) at the center of "Criminal Minds" for much of the series' 15 seasons. The pragmatic, by-the-book leader was prone to dour facial expressions, save for the fleeting moments with his family — and even then he was more stern than warm. Despite his usual adherence to the rules, Hotch, like any good investigator on TV, did occasionally bend those rules when necessary to save a life.

But there's a fine line between bending rules and outright breaking them, and Hotch shocked everyone when the normally buttoned-up Boy Scout crossed that line in Season 5, letting his rage get the better of him. Though an internal investigation ultimately absolved the FBI agent of guilt, and viewers certainly sympathized with his anger, Hotch's actions were unquestionably illegal and contradicted his previous response to a colleague's similar crime in Season 2. That crime? Murder.

The Reaper pushes Hotch to commit murder

Season 5, Episode 9, "100" opens with the internal investigation into Hotch already underway and the team providing individual testimony regarding his actions into the investigation of unsub George Foyet (C. Thomas Howell). Introduced in the previous season, Foyet and Hotch had a history dating back over a decade. In the 1990s, Foyet terrorized Boston with a series of 20 murders over three years, earning himself the moniker "The Reaper."

When local police at the time kept hitting dead ends, they called on the FBI, which sent a newly promoted Agent Hotchner to assist. Unbeknownst to Hotch, Tom Shaunessy (James Handy), the lead detective on the case, received a secret offer from The Reaper: If Shaunessy ended the investigation, The Reaper agreed to stop killing. Dismayed by the growing body count and lack of any strong leads, the detective agreed to the deal. The Reaper honored his end of the bargain, remaining dormant until Shaunessy's death in 2009.

George Foyet stalked and tormented the BAU over two seasons

With Shaunessy dead and the deal no longer active, The Reaper quickly resumed his murderous ways, catching the attention of the BAU. Over the course of several episodes in Seasons 4 and 5, Foyet and the BAU engage in a high-stakes game of cat and mouse. Though they eventually discover The Reaper's true identity, Foyet manages to escape police custody. Much like Shaunessy before him, Hotch is now Foyet's main target for torment. In time, he attacks Hotch in the agent's apartment, stabbing him repeatedly during a prolonged torture session. Satisfied with his work, and eager to move on to the next phase of his plan, Foyet delivers Hotch to the hospital.

When the BAU realize Foyet's continued torture of Hotch means targeting his son, Jack (Cade Owens), and ex-wife, Haley (Meredith Monroe), the unit springs into action. As Hotch stabilizes in the hospital, the team collects his family and places them in protective custody, seemingly away from The Reaper's clutches.

George Foyet crossed a line targeting Hotch's family

In "100," Foyet manages to locate Haley and Jack's safe house. Posing as a U.S. Marshal, Foyet tells Haley the safe house has been compromised and that she should take Jack to the family's home. What follows is the most heartbreaking scene in the series' 15-season run. As Hotch races to the house, Foyet allows Haley and Jack to speak on the phone with Hotch. The FBI agent gives his young son a coded message instructing him to hide. Knowing Haley is unlikely to survive, the divorced couple say emotional goodbyes before Foyet shoots and kills Haley while Hotch listens.

Upon reaching the home, Hotch finds Haley's body and engages Foyet in a brutal fist fight. Overpowered, Foyet says, "You got me. I surrender." Hotch, however, ignores him and continues to pummel Foyet's face with his fists. By the time Morgan (Shemar Moore) pulls Hotch off Foyet, the killer is dead, beaten to death by Hotch.

Hotch let his emotions take control

On an emotional level, it's certainly tough to find fault with Hotch's actions. A prodigious serial killer targeted him and his family, terrorized his preschooler son, and killed his ex-wife. It's hard to imagine anyone not killing Foyet if given the opportunity under the same circumstances. But Hotch isn't just "anyone." He's a law enforcement officer, and the unarmed Foyet offered a clear surrender. If Hotch's emotions had been in check, Foyet would likely be sitting on death row.

In Season 2, when Supervisory Special Agent Elle Greenaway (Lola Glaudini) let her own emotions take over and killed an unarmed suspect, Hotch gave her a sound scolding, and though she resigned before he had the chance, he was prepared to fire her. Admittedly there are some stark differences between the two situations, but the fact remains that both Greenaway and Hotch killed unarmed suspects.

Fortunately for Hotch, the investigation into Foyet's killing cleared him of any wrongdoing. While the morality of Hotch's actions can be debated — the world is certainly a better and safer place with Foyet deservedly dead — killing Foyet is the most illegal act Hotch committed during his time leading the BAU.