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In Criminal Minds, One Episode Stands Above The Rest

Over its impressive 15-season run, the CBS crime drama "Criminal Minds," kept audiences tuning in week after week. The compelling cast of main characters, which remained relatively consistent compared to similarly long-running series, combined with the dynamic and sinister unknown subjects, or unsubs, proved to be a winning formula.

With over 320 episodes to choose from, it's a certain challenge to identify one episode that rises above the rest. Ask a group of "Criminal Minds" fans which episode is their favorite, and you're bound to hear a variety of episode names rattled off. Many would likely offer "100," which saw the heartbreaking death of Aaron Hotchner's (Thomas Gibson) ex-wife while he listened over the phone. Others might declare "Profiler, Profiled" as the best as it explores Derek Morgan's (Shemar Moore) traumatic youth.

While determining a definitive best is all but impossible, Looper did some digging and discovered that one particular episode from Season 2 is a regular on "Best Of" lists and a frequent subject of fan chatter on social media. In fact, the episode in question is the only one to appear in the top five on each of the several lists we explored. So, what made this episode stand out, and what have fans said about it? Let's dive in.

Revelations is the conclusion of a dark two-part storyline

The popular consensus seems to be that Season 2's "Revelations," which originally aired in 2007, is the "Criminal Minds" episode that stands above the rest. 

"Revelations" is the second half of a two-part story arc that began with the episode "The Big Game," which saw the Behavioral Analysis Unit heading to Atlanta, Georgia to investigate the murder of a married couple in their home. While the team initially suspects a team of killers, the actual unsub is Tobias Hankel, whose abusive childhood resulted in the fracturing of his mind and the creation of three personalities. Hankel is played by James Van Der Beek, in a stark departure from his wholesome role as Dawson Leery on "Dawson's Creek." Van Der Beek gives a truly menacing yet sympathetic performance, which likely contributed to "Revelations" being the top-rated episode of the season, per IMDb.

"The Big Game" ends with Jennifer "JJ" Jareau (A.J. Cook) facing down three aggressive dogs that had already mauled and killed another of Hankel's victims. While JJ's situation is dire, Spencer Reid (Matthew Gray Gubler) is facing even worse as Hankel's prisoner.

Revelations sees Spencer Reid at the mercy of Tobias Hankel

Over the course of "Revelations," Reid is subjected to abuse and torture by two of Hankel's personalities: Raphael, an avenging archangel who punishes sinners, and Charles, Hankel's abusive father who Hankel shot and killed as a youth. Reid is beaten, made to play Russian Roulette, forced to dig his own grave, and injected with Dilaudid, which began Reid's addiction to the drug. Much of the torture is live-streamed to the BAU as they frantically search for their abducted colleague.

While at the half-dug grave, Reid manages to trick the unsub and snatch his gun. He shoots Hankel, which causes the man's two violent personalities to recede, giving Hankel dominion over his own mind and body once again. Before dying, Hankel thanks Reid for "killing" the other personalities, while Reid offers apologies for what the man has suffered. The BAU then arrives to rescue their teammate, who is broken both emotionally and physically. The trauma of the ordeal and the Dilaudid would later haunt Reid in subsequent episodes.

James Van Der Beek impressed many with his Criminal Minds character

"Revelations" stands as one of the series' darkest episodes, which is a significant accomplishment for a show that featured some of the most sadistic, twisted, and diabolical killers ever to appear on network television. Both Variety and Distractify named "Revelations" the best "Criminal Minds" episode of all time. Outlets like Collider, which declared the episode the second-best of the series, praised James Van Der Beek's performance, saying the actor played Hankel's three personalities "with frightening acuity."

Fans were also drawn to the "Dawson's Creek" alum's nuanced performance. On Reddit, u/threesifyouplease wrote, "Hankel is just one of my favorite unsubs of the entire series. [Van Der Beek] pulls it off I think extremely well." Meanwhile, u/mccabebabe believed the actor's "triple roles are each played to perfection." Others found Reid's situation nearly too much to bear, with some Reddit posters calling his experience "horrifying" and "heartbreaking."

While unanimity across the vast number of "Criminal Minds" fans is impossible, it's clear that harrowing performances turned in by both Matthew Gray Gubler and Van Der Beek, coupled with an intense and dark storyline, elevated "Revelations" to the upper tier of the series' 300+ episodes.