Nathan Harris The Criminal Minds Character Explained

This article contains discussions of attempted suicide.

Criminal Minds has included many one-off characters over the years, but few were as memorable as Nathan Harris. Criminal Minds follows a team of FBI criminal profilers called the Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) as they search for “unsubs” (unidentified subjects). The formula of the show splits characters into “good” guys and “bad” guys. Occasionally, the storylines challenge the audience’s black-and-white thinking, though. One such example comes from a potential unsub named Nathan Harris.


In Criminal Minds season 2, episode 11, “Sex, Birth, Death,” Spencer Reid (Matthew Gray Gubler) meets a teenager named Nathan Harris (Anton Yelchin). Initially, Reid believes him to be the killer they’re looking for, but he is mistaken. Throughout “Sex, Birth, Death,” the two characters raise moral questions with no clear answers, resulting in one of Criminal Minds‘ best Spencer Reid episodes.

Related: 15 Most Memorable Unsubs On Criminal Minds Ranked

Nathan Is A Teenager With Early Serial Killer Signs

Reid and Nathan talk in the middle of a busy train station in Criminal Minds.

At the beginning of the Criminal Mind episode “Sex, Birth, Death,” Nathan Harris is a high school sophomore who attends Spencer Reid’s Georgetown lecture on sexual sadism. Because he fears his abilities, Nathan follows Reid and asks disturbing questions about serial killers with sexual motives. In talking with Reid, Nathan realizes he exhibits the same traits as serial killers. A few factors distinguish him from other unsubs, though. Firstly, Nathan is aware of his sexual proclivity. Secondly, he is making an effort to change before he kills someone. His thoughts of sexual sadism motivate him to learn everything he can about his brain.

The Nathan Harris character introduced a practical example of the nature versus nurture debate — one of the most basic psychological topics. Due to the premise of Criminal Minds, the show would have needed to address the topic at some point. Nathan is a mentally ill individual with a natural tendency toward criminal activity. His psychological evaluation shows he has all the makings of a serial killer. However, he has mental health support and adults who care about him. Ultimately, the show avoids answering the question, instead leaving it to the audience to decide what they believe.

Related: 25 Best Serial Killer TV Shows On Netflix Ranked

Reid Questions His Decision to Save Nathan

Spencer Reid looks at the camera with a tilted head in Criminal Minds

After looking at Nathan Harris’s psychological profile, Agent Jason Gideon (Mandy Patinkin) attempts to convince the boy’s mother (Jessica Tuck) that he needs inpatient treatment. When she refuses, offering therapy instead, Nathan gets worse. He hires a sex worker, unclear on whether he’ll kill her or not. The impulse to kill grows stronger by the second, and Nathan decides that the only way to protect others is for him to die. He pulls out a knife and Reid’s business card. Then, he attempts to die by suicide. The sex worker calls Reid, and he comes to save Nathan’s life.

Afterward, Reid grapples with his decision. By saving Nathan, he may have caused future deaths. The psych evaluation results clearly showed a soon-to-be serial killer. Ultimately, Reid made the correct choice by saving Nathan. Nobody should die by suicide. Plus, Nathan was innocent of any wrongdoing. The Minority Report famously presented the idea that labeling someone a murderer could cause them to kill. By choosing to save Nathan in Criminal Minds, Reid may have broken the self-fulfilling prophecy. Additionally, Reid may have given Nathan the hope he needed to believe he could get better.

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