Unsurprisingly, many of the episodes named contain character-driven stories that focus on one or more members of the BAU. We’ll get to those in a minute. First, we have an episode with an unsub that fans actually find sympathetic.
The unsubs in the season 1 episode “Riding the Lightning” are a married couple sitting on death row named Jacob Dawes and Sarah Jean Mason (Michael Massee and Jeannetta Arnette). While Jacob is convicted of the horrific murders of 18 young women, Sarah confessed to killing the couple’s own son. But while interviewing Sarah shortly before she is set to be executed, Agent Jason Gideon (Mandy Patinkin) discovers that her story isn’t quite what it seems.
Sarah confessed to killing the couple’s young son, when in fact she gave the child to a family to raise in secret. Her lie was to protect the child, as she didn’t want him to go through life branded by the stigma of his parents’ misdeeds. When Gideon attempts to stay Sarah’s execution and reunite her with her son, she declines the offer. She asks him to keep her secret and let her be executed, even though she is innocent, so that her son can continue to live in ignorant bliss.
The tragic circumstances of Sarah’s case were highlighted by several fans on the Reddit thread, including the original poster, u/Mysterious-voices, who cited it as one of their top 2 saddest episodes. User u/k_amusta agreed, and wrote, “That episode with Gideon and the woman on death row is slept on. Truly SO heartbreaking.”