There’s no way that a TV show about profiling serial killers can help but have more than its fair share of creepy moments, and Criminal Minds is no slouch in that department. Over the show’s ten seasons, it seems to have set itself a goal to make each season more disturbing than the last, and coming from a series that has featured paedophilia, cannibalism, people being forced to kill each other, and pictures painted in blood, that’s saying something. What follows are the ten episodes which stuck in my mind as being particularly dark. No doubt I’ve missed a few obvious ones – in which case put a case forward in the comment section below!
“No Way Out” – season 2, episode 13
What could be creepier than a serial killer calm enough to sit opposite Jason Gideon in a diner, and sip milkshake whilst casually concluding that the BAU will simply let him walk away? But that’s just what Frank Breitkopf does in this episode. Here’s a man who has travelled across the country for years, dismembering women along the way – and just for fun, he commits his horrific deeds in a room with a mirrored ceiling, so that they can watch themselves being tortured and killed. You’d think a man like that wouldn’t have a sweetheart, but Frank is convinced he’s in love with the one woman whose calmness under torture caused him to spare her – so now, once a year he sends her a wind chime made out of the ribs of his latest victim. It’s those thoughtful touches that really keep a romance alive.
Perhaps the worst part of this episode, though, is that Frank really does walk away at the end – and although he appears again the season finale, he escapes justice by throwing himself under the train. When even the BAU can’t protect you from a monster, then he’s got to be pretty scary.
“Cradle to Grave” – season 5, episode 5
What do you do when your wife is desperate for children, but is suffering from cancer and can’t have them? While most people would think of a legal way to deal with this sad situation, Conrad Winmar has his own, horrific solution – he kidnaps homeless women, keeps them in his basement, and forces them to bear his children. And if they miscarry or give birth to a girl instead of the desired sons, they get murdered and replaced with a new girl. It’s a disturbing situation that takes the idea of robbing women of their agency, free will and bodily control to the extreme, and worse yet, it’s inspired by some real life examples
“Bloodline” – season 4, episode 13
The kidnapping of children is always going to be a troubling and emotive subject, but Criminal Minds manages to make it all the more horrifying in this episode, in which a Romany family starts kidnapping little girls in an attempt to find a ‘bride’ for their ten-year-old son. What’s worse is that this isn’t an isolated incident – the mother of the family was similarly kidnapped back when she was a girl, and has since totally assimilated into thinking that this is an acceptable way of life. It’s a relief when the BAU manages to apprehend the family and put a stop to this twisted tradition – at least until the very end of the episode, when it’s revealed that there’s another family out there who is also planning to kidnap a little girl for their own son. There’s no happily ever after when you’re left not knowing how widespread this horrible practice has become.
“God Complex” – season 8, episode 4
Wanting to help someone is a very noble sentiment, but all too often the unsubs of Criminal Minds take their desires a little too far in the wrong direction. Dr John Nelson is so desperate to replace his wife’s missing leg that he begins a horrific series of experiments in which he amputates people’s legs and attempts to transplant new legs onto them. Waking up with your leg gone is unimaginably horrific, but how much worse must it be to find a completely different leg imperfectly sewn to your stump? It’s an experiment that’s clearly doomed to failure under the best of conditions, let alone when performed by a mortician in his own garage – but Nelson is so delusional that he believes his work has been entirely successful.
“The Lesson” – season 8, episode 10
It’s not unusual for children to believe puppets are alive, but real danger results when the fully grown Adam Rain comes to believe this too. Having awakened from a coma with severe brain damage, Adam fixates on recreating the incident where he saw his father killed in a robbery – only this time around, his father’s puppets are going to save the day. To that end, Adam sets about putting on a show, albeit one in which living humans are turned into puppets by having their limbs broken and attached to wooden supports. For the victims drawn into his tenuous grip on reality, it’s a horrific and painful experience, especially when Adam is ready to put on his show to a live audience. Why is everyone just sitting there and not helping his victims? Why does Adam’s assistant even go along with it? As it turns out, it’s because they too are a product of his damaged mind.
“To Bear Witness” – season 9, episode 4
Brain surgery is a scary prospect at the best of times, and when it’s being carried out against your will by a mentally unstable person. Anton Harris takes jealousy of his sister to a whole new level when he decides to get himself noticed by not only implanting cameras in the eyes of his victims, but by lobotomising them so that they are left unable to speak. Imagine being desperate to tell someone about what’s been done to you, only to find that one of your most reliable methods of communication has been disabled against your will.
“The Good Earth” – season 8, episode 5
It’s not just women and children who get kidnapped and held against their will – in this episode, farmer and health store worker Emma Kerrigan has come to believe that she and her daughter have serious health problems which can only be treated by using human remains. To that end, she starts farming men, keeping them chained up in her shed and fed a delicious diet of soil additives and animal feed, so that when she kills them, their nutritious flesh will be good for what ails her. As if that wasn’t disturbing enough, her next evolution is to abduct a pregnant woman, perform a C-section, and then munch on the placenta. Whether you find yourself her guest or her victim, hers isn’t a farm you want to spend any time at.
“Rabid” – season 9, episode 18
As you can guess from the title, this episode is all about rabies, and in particular an unsub who gets their kicks out of infecting their victims with rabies. Once said victim goes from being lucid (if scared) to raving, hydrophobic and violent, the unsub introduces a new person into the cell, knowing that they too will inevitably get bitten and infected. It’s a vicious circle, and one that’s made worse by knowing that, even if the BAU rescues a victim before they die, they may be too late to administer a cure. Worse yet is seeing what appears to be an insane and aggressive woman in the last stages of the disease, and learning that just mere weeks before, she was a gentle woman with a loving family who desperately miss her.
“The Uncanny Valley” – season 5, episode 12
I’ve already talked about puppets, but Criminal Minds has also seen fit to play the creepiness game with dolls. When your father sexually abuses you, conditions you with electroshock therapy never to talk about it, and then buys you dolls by way of an apology, it’s no surprise that dolls might be central to your inevitable derailment. Now an adult, Samantha Malcolm captures pretty young women and treats them to a cocktail of drugs designed to keep them immobile, so that she can dress them up and play dolls with them. Of course, humans aren’t meant to be kept drugged and immobile for long periods of time, and her precious dolls inevitably die, forcing her to capture fresh people for her collection. It’s a horrible sight, and never more so when the first victim of the episode awakens in her new captivity – unable to move or speak, the only clue we have as to her terror is her frantically darting eyes.
“Proof” – season 7, episode 2
Brain damage at birth left Ben “Cy” Bradstone developmentally disabled for the rest of his life. But whilst ostensibly he looked like a gentle giant who loved nothing more than hanging out with his brother’s family, the truth is far more sinister. Ever since he found out that kicking his dog made him feel good, Cy has had a taste for violence, and when combined with the pain he still feels over being rejected by his sister-in-law when they were both in high school, it makes for a dangerous combination. As he turns his anger on women who resemble his sister-in-law, he starts depriving them of their senses, putting sulphuric acid in their eyes, mouth, and on their hands. It’s stomach churning from the start, but even more so when you realise that his next victim will surely be his very own niece.
So, that’s it for this time, but that promised blog post on the economy of the United Federation of Planets is still in planning – I promise!