Criminal Minds (2005–2020)
26 user 1 critic

Riding the Lightning 

The team of investigators interview husband and wife serial killers with their execution date set for two days time.


Chris Long


Jeff Davis (created by), Simon Mirren | 1 more credit »




Episode cast overview, first billed only:
Mandy Patinkin ... Jason Gideon
Thomas Gibson ... Aaron Hotchner
Lola Glaudini ... Elle Greenaway
Shemar Moore ... Derek Morgan
Matthew Gray Gubler ... Dr. Spencer Reid
A.J. Cook ... Jennifer Jareau
Kirsten Vangsness ... Penelope Garcia
Jeannetta Arnette ... Sarah Jean Dawes
Michael Massee ... Jacob Dawes
Roger Aaron Brown ... Warden Charles Diehl
Michael B. Silver ... Sam Shapiro
Constance Towers ... Deb Mason
David A. Kimball ... Frank Sheffield
Cher Calvin Cher Calvin ... Lara Sedgwick
Ren Casey Ren Casey ... Riley


The team investigates the Dawes couple on death row in Florida State Penitentiary for thirteen (or more) murders on young blonde girls in 1985. A dozen girl's bodies were found buried under the sexual psychopath Jacob's garage after the police got an anonymous call. Sarah Jean Dawes (née Mason) 'the Ice Queen' only confessed killing her own two-year old son Riley, Jacob would have ordered her to kill him because he slowed down their flight. Sarah's mother Deb Mason claims she was a normal shy girl util she met Jacob, her late father was a strict soldier but hit his wife. Gideon concludes from a letter to her mother and an interview that Sarah Jean is physically innocent. She just blames herself for failing to stop Jacob and tipped the police herself. Jacob, who clearly craves notoriety, refuses to tell Aaron "Hotch" Hotchner or Jennifer "JJ" Jareau if there are more bodies. When told that Sarah got a stay of execution, Jacob spontaneously offers the location of their son's burial ... Written by KGF Vissers

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


TV-PG | See all certifications »

Did You Know?


The episode's title is a common slang term regarding electric chair executions, those who are electrocuted "ride the lightning" to Heaven or Hell. Metallica's 1984 song and album "Ride The Lightning" also derives from this term, the song itself is an anti-death penalty song. See more »


When they are in the work shed, Morgan says the killer tortured his victims on a band saw. When he says that, an image of a table saw is shown, not a band saw. See more »


Aaron Hotchner: How many others are there?
Jacob Dawes: I only have a few hours left and though I like you and I do like you, I'd like to be alone now. Good meeting you, Hotch
Aaron Hotchner: I'm not done yet!
Jacob Dawes: Oh, me neither!
See more »


Cello Suite No. 1 in G major, BWV 1007
Composed by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performed by Jian Wang
See more »

User Reviews

The only episode from Season 1 to reduce me to tears
30 June 2016 | by TheLittleSongbirdSee all my reviews

Season 1 was regarded a few years ago by a number of people as one of the weaker seasons of 'Criminal Minds', though a few years on with a fair few episodes of the later seasons not being that great that's likely not to be so much the case.

For me while there is a finding-its-feet and occasional lack of momentum, there are some strong episodes in the season. To this reviewer too, "Riding the Lightning" is one of them.

It is one of the more visually striking episodes of the show, there is a starkness but also a melancholic look to the photography and the way it is lit that suits the nature of the story perfectly. When used, the music is very fitting with the mood and is not intrusive, inappropriately jaunty or pedestrian. It doesn't enhance as such, but it never distracts either. The theme tune fits the tone of the entire show too.

"Riding the Lightning" is one of the episodes of 'Criminal Minds' that really made me think hard and also there is a stark and creepy ambiance, like the interrogation with Jacob Dawes which saw a chilling lecherousness to the character. It is notable too for being the only episode from Season 1 to reduce me to tears, as well as being one of the emotional episodes of the entire show. Sarah Jean's final speech is along with Hotch and Haley's final exchange in "100" and JJ's appeal speech over the radio in "The Longest Night" one of the show's genuinely poignant moments.

The story is not the most original, but is beautifully paced and told that it doesn't matter. The characters and direction are solidly done, the BAU team were stronger developed in later seasons and their team dynamic more settled, but both the characters and their rapport still more than convinces, the most interesting being Gideon and Reid. Sarah Jean is a quite fascinating and sympathetically written character, that one empathises with somewhat and you are convinced just as strongly as the team that she's innocent.

While all the regulars have done better in the show with meatier material, the acting is still very good with a particularly commanding turn from Mandy Patinkin. Michael Massee is chillingly creepy as Jacob, though his guilt is obvious from the get go which is not a problem as it was the intent all along and there was never a doubt. The episode belongs however to the movingly compassionate and quietly dignified Jeanetta Arnette, her delivery of the speech bringing a real lump to the throat.

In conclusion, a standout Season 1 and 'Criminal Minds' (in general) episode. 10/10 Bethany Cox

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Release Date:

25 January 2006 (USA) See more »

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Technical Specs

Sound Mix:

Dolby Digital



Aspect Ratio:

1.78 : 1
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