Celebrating 15 Years of ‘Criminal Minds’: Our Favorite Cast-Directed Episodes

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Courtesy of CBS

In February 2020, the beloved crime drama Criminal Minds aired its final episode. The series had a successful 15 season run on CBS from 2005-2020. It followed the members of the Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) of the FBI as they tracked down serial killers and anticipated their next moves to stop future crimes.

For the show, some of the cast members carried their talents behind the camera. Six of the main cast stepped into the role of director throughout the show’s tenure: Matthew Gray Gubler (Spencer Reid) with 12 episodes, Joe Mantegna (David Rossi) with nine episodes, Thomas Gibson (Aaron Hotchner) with six episodes, Aisha Tyler (Tara Lewis) with two episodes, Adam Rodriguez (Luke Alvez) with two episodes, and A.J. Cook (Jennifer Jareau) with one episode.

To celebrate the upcoming 15th anniversary of Criminal Minds, we look back on some of our favorite episodes directed by the cast.

“Broken Wing” (Season 14, Episode 9)
Directed by Aisha Tyler

Courtesy of CBS

“Broken Wing” is the second episode Tyler directed. When Tara’s ex-husband Daryl – a doctor with a focus on addiction treatment — reaches out to her, the BAU takes on a case involving a spike of overdose deaths that happen within 24 hours of patients leaving a rehab facility. Meanwhile, Tara and Daryl confront Daryl’s past struggle with alcoholism that led to their divorce, making the case all the more personal for them.

Tyler’s style comes more to the forefront in this episode for me. She keeps the same uneasiness noticeable in her directorial debut episode (“The Bunker” in season 13), however this time around, it’s paired with a personal plotline for her character. The episode offers emotional moments between Tara and Daryl that complement the overall urgency of the episode.

“Chameleon” (Season 14, Episode 13)
Directed by A.J. Cook

Courtesy of CBS

“Chameleon” was the directorial debut for Cook in 2019, following suit of several of her fellow co-stars. The episode itself is centered around Rossi and his obsession with the Chameleon, revealing through flashbacks the unnerving past of Everett Lynch (Michael Mosley) and Rossi. There’s a particularly sentimental moment at the end of the episode where Rossi is sharing a vulnerable side of himself, wondering if he’s meant to be the guy chasing down the bad guys anymore while sitting on the patio with Krystall (Gail O’Grady). Krystall gently reminds him that his mind is still his sharpest weapon, and this sentiment is clearly vital for Rossi to hear. —Haley

“Last Gasp” (Season 13, Episode 16)
Directed by Adam Rodriguez

Courtesy of CBS

Another Criminal Minds directorial debut — though not his first time behind the camera — Adam Rodriguez was the fifth member of the BAU team to man the helm. The episode saw the BAU meeting in secret to investigate an unsub that seems to be kidnapping and photographing young women. They take the case on in secret due to Linda Barnes (Kim Rhodes), the FBI’s Assistant Director of National Security, denying the team the cases. As a result of the denied cases, 26 people have died. —Haley

Courtesy of CBS

“Gabby” (Season 9, Episode 16)
Directed by Thomas Gibson

This episode is the second episode directed by Gibson. It follows the team as they head to Mississippi to investigate the kidnapping of 4-year-old Gabby Hoffer, who was left to the care of Sue, a family friend, while her mother and her boyfriend went on a cruise. While taking a nighttime drive to help Gabby sleep, Sue stops at a gas station and runs inside for a few minutes, which is all it takes for Gabby to be abducted.

The episode works in the familiar style of the show, but with an added edge that helps establish Gibson’s directing style. It has a palpable tension that only increases through the entirety of the episode.

“Derek” (Season 11, Episode 16)
Directed by Thomas Gibson

It’s no secret that Criminal Minds has its fair share of hard to watch episodes, especially when they revolve around a BAU team member (I’m still reeling over “100”). “Derek” is one of those episodes. As the title indicates, the episode revolves around Derek Morgan, who is kidnapped and tortured. To survive, Derek dissociates, reconnecting with his late father (Danny Glover).

The episode continues to solidify Gibson’s penchant for directing episodes with edge-of-your-seat suspense. It also showcases his ability to direct emotionally heavy episodes. Who better to direct a BAU member centric episode than one of their own? The episode was heart-wrenching and, quite honestly, very stressful, but Gibson handles it well.

Courtesy of the ‘Criminal Minds’ Instagram

Directing the most episodes of any of the cast, Gubler has a knack for directing episodes that most people would consider unsettling. Noting this, he does so in a way that leaves the viewer almost scared of the unknown. Although I can’t mention all of his episodes on this list, I will focus on a couple that I think really show Gubler’s strength as a director. —Haley

“A Beautiful Disaster” (Season 11, Episode 18)
Directed by Matthew Gray Gubler

“A Beautiful Disaster” marked Shemar Moore’s goodbye to the television series and his beloved character Derek Morgan, so it felt fitting that Gubler would be part of that send-off. On the directing side, Gubler proved he can handle action-heavy plot points, considering a lot of his other episodes are more eccentric in nature. Of course, there are a few nods in the episode to his usual style, including the urgency in the opening scene with Savannah (Rochelle Aytes) being rushed into the hospital and the overall drama that we are used to seeing from Gubler.

“The Capilanos” (Season 13, Episode 17)
Directed by Matthew Gray Gubler

One of the more eerie episodes, it definitely showcases Gubler’s abilities and ambitions directing wise. The case itself brings the BAU to Guymon, Oklahoma to investigate a murderous clown that is terrorizing the town. And, look, clowns, let alone killer ones, are not my thing. However, the attention to detail that inhabits the episode (the clown makeup and the drawing done by Gubler) really adds to his distinctive touch.

Courtesy of CBS

“The Road Home” (Season 9, Episode 13)
Directed by Joe Mantegna

This episode is the directorial debut for Mantegna for the show. The BAU heads to Cleveland to track down a vigilante unsub. Meanwhile, Rossi travels Los Angeles to find his former Marine sergeant and friend, Harrison Scott, who goes missing.

Similar to Tyler’s episode, part of what works in Mantegna’s favor is directing an episode that’s partially Rossi-centric. He balances the tense nature of the BAU working a case while also holding on to the emotional integrity of Rossi’s search for his friend. This sets the precedent for Mantegna’s future episodes.

“Mirror Image” (Season 12, Episode 7)
Directed by Joe Mantegna

“Mirror Image,” a mainly Tara-centric episode, sees the BAU take on a case focused around Tara’s brother, Gabriel. When a man, Desmond, claims to be Gabriel and knows details only Gabriel would know, the team tries to figure out his motive, leading them back to Mr. Scratch.

This episode varies slightly from the typical style of Mantegna’s directing but is effective nevertheless. It’s easy to feel the same frustration the team, especially Tara, has towards Desmond. The episode has a near tangible amount of tension, leaving you on edge. It’s an episode that will stick with you.

While there are so many others, these are just a select few of our favorite episodes from a handful of the cast. Stay tuned for more as we continue to celebrate the upcoming 15 year anniversary of the first Criminal Minds episode airing on CBS. Did your favorite cast-directed episodes make the list? Let us know in the comments below!

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By Julia
Julia is a writer/editor/content assistant for Nerds who joined the team in 2019.
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