Why did Spencer Reid go to jail in ‘Criminal Minds’?

With its intense storylines and suspenseful mysteries, Criminal Minds has grown its already substantial fan base since the show was put on streaming platforms such as Netflix and Hulu. It follows the adventures of Quantico’s Behavioral Analysis Unit (The BAU) as they use psychological and sociological tactics to determine who their culprit is, or, as described in the show, the unidentified subject (the unsub).

The show has had its twists and turns, but one almost no one saw coming was beloved character Spencer Reid, played by Matthew Gray Gubler, ending up in prison for half of season 12. The entire storyline surrounding it was intricate and a bit confusing, so if you happened to look down at your phone while watching, you could be lost for the rest of the story. Don’t worry though, we’re here to explain it if you missed something or just need a refresher!

Reid’s mother, Diana who was played by Jane Lynch, was a recurring guest star on the series. She had schizophrenia and lived in an institution where Reid would occasionally visit. In later seasons, she also got diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. So, not only was Reid watching her have breaks with the schizophrenia, but also having to sit while she had lapses in her memory that sometimes involved him.

Initially, Diana was accepted into a medical trial for Alzheimer’s and it seemed to be working, however she was eventually let go due to budget cuts. In Houston, Texas, Reid finds another study that his mother could be a candidate for and visits Texas to see what it’s all about. While he admits her, it doesn’t last long and doesn’t seem to be working.

Eventually, Reid brings her home to live with him and hires a caretaker, but Diana doesn’t think she needs one which leads him to search for other options. While he was in Texas, he met a woman named Rosa Medina who was a doctor specializing in Alzheimer’s. She had written a paper that Reid read and led him to seek her out. It is later revealed that he went to and from Mexico, where Medina was staying, three times without notifying the FBI.

In the episode titled “Spencer,” Reid is arrested in Mexico on charges for drugs as well as the murder of Rosa Medina, who ended up being a woman named Nadie Ramos. Because of Ramos’ dual citizenship in the U.S. and Mexico, Reid was transported back to the states to be sentenced, but the FBI refused him help because him not telling them about his trips to Mexico was against protocol.

He is then sent to prison on these charges after refusing two separate plea deals at the guidance of his lawyer. Where things really get confusing though, is the truth behind the murder of Nadie Ramos and how Reid came to be where he was. After the BAU proves his innocence, and he endures a tough run in prison, Reid is released back into the world. However, there’s another problem: his mother has been kidnapped by two unsubs from Reid’s past.

Cat Adams, a notorious hitwoman who was directly captured by Reid himself and Lindsey Vaughn, who is part of the national drug cartel set the entire thing up to frame him and try to ruin his life. Cat even goes as far as to say that Reid is the father of her baby that she’s pregnant with, but he quickly disproves that allegation. Finally, he is able to reunite with his mother and be out of jail, as well as knowing he didn’t actually hurt anyone.

While it’s a long explanation, it’s an interesting storyline nonetheless. It definitely divided fans, as some people thought Reid was out of character after going to prison. Then again, who wouldn’t be? Criminal Minds ran for fifteen seasons and ended back in 2020. All episodes until season 12 are on Netflix. The final three seasons are on Hulu.

Luckily, for fans, the show is returning for what seems to be a limited run on Paramount+ soon, so we’ll get our fill of most of our favorite characters again. While Matthew Gray Gubler hasn’t confirmed if he’ll return or not, fans are still hopeful we’ll get to see Spencer Reid in all of his genius glory at least one more time.