Criminal Minds never shied away from some really disturbing cases.
While the show’s entirety is considerably dark, some of their unsubs bring the disturbing factor up to a 10 (and more).
With news that Criminal Minds plans on making a return on Paramount+, we decided to gather some of the most disturbing episodes we could think of!
Of course, a lot of this list is objective, and we can’t make a list that’s forever long (because we could definitely fill a very long list with disturbing cases).
Check out our list below (in no particular order), and pop down to the comments to add your most disturbing episode!
Criminal Minds Season 3 Episode 8 “Lucky”
Starting with a bang, Criminal Minds Season 3 Episode 8 dealt with a little bit of cannibalism. The unsub abducts women, but before he kills them, he forces them to eat fingers! The worst part of the episode came from the unsub’s (Jamie Kennedy) quote:
Priest: God is in all of us.
Unsub: So is Tracy Lambert.
The unsub joined the search party for his final victim and cooked a meal (of stew) for the other people searching for Tracy. Little did they know: the stew got made from her remains.
Criminal Minds Season 2 Episode 7 “North Mammon”
North Mammon takes a unique approach to Criminal Minds: it doesn’t focus on the team as much but on the victims.
The unsub kidnapped three soccer prodigies from the girls’ local soccer team. He doesn’t give them any food or water, just an ultimatum: if one dies, the others get released.
He gave them a hammer and forced the girls to decide who lived and died.
This episode left a lasting impression on many fans, and many (us included) skip this episode on rewatches.
Criminal Minds Season 4 Episode 25 and 26 “To Hell… And Back”
This two-part season finale left many viewers very disgusted (and scared).
The unsubs are kidnapping people (homeless and sex workers), but instead of immediately killing them, they are being experimented on. After the experiments were completed, they fed the people to pigs.
This two-part finale left many viewers with a queasy stomach because the experiments and treatment of these people were so vile (granted, not as gross as cannibalism, but still awful).
Criminal Minds Season 5 Episode 16 “Mosley Lane”
Whenever Criminal Minds dealt with children, we braced ourselves for a harrowing and emotional episode. No one wants to see children going through hell!
Mosley Lane ended up being no different, with a husband and wife kidnapping and killing team abducting children to raise as their own and killing them if they misbehave (or get too old).
They don’t kill them mercifully or humanely; they put the children in boxes and burn them alive. This episode goes down as one of the most horrific due to the treatment of these kids.
The child actors impressed in this episode too, and one of them went on to star in many seasons of American Horror Story: Evan Peters!
Criminal Minds Season 1 Episode 7 “The Fox”
The Fox marks the first time Criminal Minds showed us that they weren’t kidding around. This episode showcased a killer who preyed on families that were supposed to be on vacation.
The best (and most disturbing) part of this episode came from a scene at the end of the hour. In the central portion of the hour, the killer killed two families.
However, at the end of the plot, the camera reveals eight wedding rings in the unsub’s possession, implying that there are at least six other families he killed in the past that haven’t gotten attributed to the case.
This reveal gave us chills and showcased just how far Criminal Minds would end up going with its murders in subsequent seasons.
Criminal Minds Season 8 Episode 8 “The Wheels On The Bus”
Criminal Minds Season 8 Episode 8 is another hour showcasing children. A school bus filled with children goes missing.
The targeted students were also from the unsub brothers’ school. They were taken to an abandoned warehouse, where the brothers forced their fellow students to play a game. They put shock collars around their victim’s necks and chose students one by one to play out their favorite video game entitled Gods of Combat.
The students got forced to kill each other through the video game format, and the brothers monitored everything to ensure cooperation.
The perpetrators and victims were both adolescents, which made this case one of the most disturbing to watch.
Criminal Minds Season 12 Episode 2 “Sick Day”
Despite being told in a weird, non-linear format, Criminal Minds Season 12 Episode 2 recounted a disturbing tale of kidnapping.
JJ recounts to her husband about the case she had just worked on, where the unsub would kidnap brother-sister pairs, strap them to beds, and then burn them alive.
Even though the format of the storytelling of this episode didn’t do it any favors, the story disturbed us!
JJ was also quite disturbed by the case, as we never really see one of the team break down as she did.
Criminal Minds Season 6 Episode 9 “Into the Woods”
Criminal Minds Season 6 Episode 9 combined kid killing with pedophilia.
The unsub lives deep in the woods and kidnaps children off the trail. He then keeps the kids alive and tries to sell them off to other pedophiles.
If that isn’t disturbing enough, by the end, the team managed to save the two kids, but the perpetrator managed to elude them.
The case and the escape of the unsub managed to make our skin crawl and earned itself a spot on our “skip” list.
Criminal Minds Season 5 Episode 9 “100”
This episode (the 100th episode overall) disturbed viewers; while leaving them holding their breath due to the stress of the case!
The hour pitted Hotch against one of the most threatening recurring unsubs: The Reaper.
This time, The Reaper targeted Hotch’s family. Hotch’s wife Haley let the unsub into their house, thinking he was the new Marshall assigned to protect her family.
This ultimately led to a showdown between Hotch and The Reaper after he fatally shot Haley in the neck.
The personal element made 100 even more gut-wrenching.
His wife’s loss changed Hotch for the rest of the series and affected their son Jack.
Hotch did get to kill The Reaper. He brutally beat him to death with his bare hands.
Luckily, Hotch didn’t get any disciplinary action against him. This episode goes down as one of the hardest to watch.
Criminal Minds Season 8 Episode 10 “The Lesson”
We did say that this list was “in no particular order,” but Criminal Minds Season 8 Episode 10 (directed by star Matthew Gray Gubler) often gets considered the most disturbing episode of the show’s 15-season run.
The Lesson featured some very gruesome scenes that left many viewers very nauseous.
It follows a man named Adam Rain, who wakes up from a coma completely changed.
He kidnapped people, dislocated their joints, hung them by string/ropes, and turned them into marionette dolls (while they were still alive).
He turned these people into dolls to create a play and had an assistant that was just a puppet (that he thought was a natural person).
He also kidnapped two people to be a part of his play as hostages and tied them up to chairs.
He constantly threatened these people to ensure they didn’t try to escape.
He also had three failed attempts at hooking people up to his machine, so he killed three on top of kidnapping four people.
This case disturbed viewers so much that many still voice their disgust over the episode today!
So Fanatics, what did you think of our list?
Do you agree with our picks for the most disturbing Criminal Minds Episodes?
Let us know what you think in the comments below!
Michael Stack is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter.