FBI Technical Analyst Penelope Garcia (Kirsten Vangsness) has been with the Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) since the start of Criminal Minds, and quickly became a fan favorite.
That could be due to her quirky, optimistic, friendly personality. Or her colorful, over-the-top sense of style, which is vastly different from the other agents. Or her tendency to serve as the show’s comic relief with her flirtatious banter and fantastic one-liners.
But I think Garcia’s appeal mostly comes from the fact that she is the heart of the team and the character most affected by the cases the BAU takes on.
In the season 3 episode “Penelope,” we learned that Garcia volunteered once a week to counsel families of murder victims because, as she explained to Morgan (Shemar Moore), she couldn’t know those families were suffering and not do something to help.
It was her work with those families that led to Garcia’s brutal shooting by an UnSub. The UnSub believed Garcia was onto him after she flagged several of his case files, and he tried to kill her in order to cover up his crimes. After Garcia’s shooting, Hotch (Thomas Gibson) told the team they would not take on any new cases until they found the person who hurt their friend, and the team continued with the investigation even after Internal Affairs ordered them to stand down. In the end, the UnSub was killed, and the case led to a meeting between Garcia and fellow Technical Analyst Kevin Lynch (Nicholas Brendon), whom she has been dating ever since.
Garcia once told Morgan that she always imagined herself fighting crime, something that horrified her hippie parents. After Garcia’s parents were killed by a drunk driver when she was 18, Garcia spent some time “underground” teaching herself code, and built up her skills as a hacker. Garcia was brought into the FBI after she was placed on a very short list of hackers who could either be useful or threatening, and the government chose to use her skills to their benefit.
Another reason one could assume Garcia joined the Bureau (and works with victims in her off-hours) is the death of her parents. In the season 7 episode ‘Hope’, Garcia revealed to her victims’ support group that her parents were killed when they were out looking for her because she had once again broken curfew. Garcia has seemingly carried that guilt with her for all of these years, and it makes sense that she would choose to use her hacker skills to help save lives in an attempt to assuage that guilt.
Another thing that makes Garcia stand out is that she has a very different perspective about victims than the rest of her team. In the season 5 episode “Exit Wounds,” Garcia risked her life to try to save a dying victim. When Morgan asked her why she’d put herself in the line of fire, Garcia explained that she wanted the victim to see something good before he died, instead of the face of his murderer.
After that case, Garcia feared that she might become too jaded and lose too much of herself to do her job, but Morgan pointed out that she still saw the beauty in everything and that part of her will never change.
It’s that ability to see the good things in life, despite all the horror the team deals with on a regular basis, that makes Garcia such an interesting character, and such a vital part of the Criminal Minds team.
(Image courtesy of CBS)