Kirsten Vangsness Talks Garcia & Luke and Her ‘Criminal Minds’ Ending
[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for the series finale of Criminal Minds, “And in the End.”]
The BAU’s work may not be done, but Garcia’s (Kirsten Vangsness) is after the Criminal Minds series finale.
Though everyone thought they were gathering in Rossi’s (Joe Mantegna) backyard for his retirement party, it turned out they were saying goodbye to Garcia. (Rossi will probably never stop at least consulting at the FBI.) She was going to continue to help people, only at a nonprofit nearby. Garcia’s personal life changed as well, as she accepted Luke’s (Adam Rodriguez) dinner invitation.
The finale ended with Garcia saying goodbye to the team and shutting down her office. But before she left, she wrote a note — we didn’t see what it said — and slipped it between the desks.
Here, Vangsness — who co-wrote the finale with showrunner Erica Messer — discusses Garcia’s career move, relationship, and future.
Garcia chose to move on from the BAU but of course she’s still going to help people. How hard was that decision for her and other than it being the series finale, why was this the right time?
Kirsten Vangsness: So hard for her. It was Erica Messer’s idea. We co-wrote the episode; the way we usually do it is I do half of the show, she does half, and then we switch. We might give each other ideas and stuff, like if she’s doing the third act, I might say, “hey, maybe this could happen.” So, she had that in there, and it was like, “woah, really?” And she was like, “yeah.” Because Garcia had two lines in the first episode, and you never thought you were going to see her again, yet you saw her more than anybody.
She’s the eyes of the audience, really. She’s the empath. She’s the one who usually says if something’s gross or good or bad, so if we’re writing the series finale and we want to show this show is something that goes on and on and on, the good guys are still out there helping, we want the audience to pull away. Since Garcia’s the eyes of the audience, you pull her away, that makes more sense.
It was incredibly hard. The timing was right. One of the things I love about acting is that if you let go, you discover things about your character that just come to you. When me and Shemar [Moore] did a scene together for the first time, [we] both realized, “oh my gosh, we have all this crazy chemistry.” When we wrote “A Beautiful Disaster,” about Shemar leaving, we were doing a scene that I wrote — I remember what I was thinking when I wrote the scene — and as an actor, I realized, “oh my gosh, I’ve been in love with him this whole time. Even after he got married, Garcia still thought that maybe there’s a chance and she’s coming to the conclusion there isn’t and also she doesn’t know who she is at this job without him.” It was this whole existential crisis that I realized.
Then when Adam’s character got on the show, I realized while we were doing a scene, “I’m so angry at him. I hate him. I can’t do a scene without sneering at him. I don’t know why.” I couldn’t figure it out, then I [realized], “she has a crush on him, doesn’t she? She’s doing this thing of like, you already liked this guy, you can’t like this guy, too. That’s just the dumbest thing in the world.” When all that happens and he asks her out because she’s completely shut that down, it is the exact time she would leave. She would never go on a date with someone she was working with. It would be too uncomfortable for her.
Speaking of those two, this season, she really warmed up to him. He helped with that stalker case and told her to let her know if she got a lead on the guy harassing her. Do you think it’ll work out for them?
Yeah, absolutely! But who knows. It’s still very sweet and lovely and the origin story of it is really sweet and lovely. What I think is so fun as an actor playing that is they gave us the scene where we meet in the elevator. You see she’s like, “I don’t know what to think of you.” I used that to inform my behavior, and I would just be sort of rude to him. Then they started to change the lines, which would make us change. That trajectory has been really fun.
We had another party in Rossi’s backyard. What was it like writing that ending with Erica? Were there any scenes you knew you wanted to have in the finale?
We wanted to put the “Heroes” thing in because they are heroes and the lyrics of that David Bowie song are just so special. There’s a David Bowie theme that happens in Criminal Minds — when Garcia gets shot, she talks about him, all these different things — so we wanted that. And we wanted to give time for everybody to be together and just let the camera roll. So that party scene, if you really think about it, it goes on for a decent amount of time where really nothing happens except they were just filming us goofing off. That was a real joy. Also a lot of the background people in that are people who worked in the production office, some since day one, so that was super special too.
And we just wanted moments where people felt like, “oh, that moment felt good.” We liked this idea of bringing back everybody. And you can’t bring back everybody. Obviously you have to nod to Morgan, Gideon, and Hotch because they’re part of why the show is what it is, but you have to be really creative about it because you’ve got 44 minutes to wrap up a whole show. We tried to hit as many things as we could.
And you needed that joy, especially after that phone call from the Chameleon that reminded me of the phone call with Foyet and Haley.
Yeah. And Michael Mosley’s such a good actor that you really look at those scenes and they’re not big scenes. There’s not a lot in them to do and oh my gosh, he makes so many delicious choices that made those scenes so good.
I spoke with Erica, and she said that you two had different ideas about what Garcia’s note said. What was yours?
Did she tell you what hers was?
Yeah, see? Exactly. We told each other. We’re very close, so we whispered to each other like little school girls at the desk, “I think it says this,” and then they would do other takes and so it grew as we went, what it said. So, much like David Bowie would say he doesn’t write down his lyrics because he thinks people should make that decision themselves, I think that too. I wonder, though, if what Garcia put there is less for someone else to find and more for her to find.
We know someone’s going to have to come in and fill that position, but of course Garcia can never be replaced.
What do you think Garcia wants to see in that person who’s going to be working with her team?
I think she wants to see that that person doesn’t do anything that ruins somebody’s life, but is just bad enough that they have to beg her to come back to work part-time or something. She does not want them to be great at it at all. She wants the girl who was her cubicle partner, [Anita,] in the episode two seasons ago where Kim Rhodes played the mean FBI director and Garcia had to go work in that office and there was that wonderful actress who worked opposite me and I gave her my little unicorn.
We also got those really great conversations between Garcia and Diana in the hospital and Garcia looked back at times they’ve all been injured. What were those scenes like?
Really honest and true when you think about it. It’s one of the things about being on a show really that violent that you have to take into consideration. Those things don’t come without a cost and you always have to replenish yourself after you get done doing something really emotionally draining like that, and that’s something Garcia realizes. “Oh yeah, I don’t think I can do this particular thing just straight every year forever. I need a little break.”
Where do you think Garcia will be a year and five years down the road?
She will be making her dreams come true even better and better with more and more clarity. She will figure out more streamlined ways to make the world and the universe a happier, more peaceful, more friendly place. She will probably have a really hot Latin boyfriend named Luke.
When you look back on Garcia’s journey, obviously everything that happened and everyone she knew along the way shaped who she is at the end. You’ve already spoken about her relationships with Morgan and Luke. But which moments and other relationships stand out to you for her as a character?
The scene with Hotch in the hospital where he says, “thank you for staying,” and she says, “wild horses, sir, wild horses.” I really felt like that was so true about me and Thomas. Me and Matthew when he was in the hospital and I shot that guy. There were so many things with me and him. The episode where JJ leaves. We had a scene in my office I distinctly remember always.
It was the episode we did after Meshach Taylor had left the planet, and Joe and I were in Rossi’s office and he’s talking about his friend. It was just such an honor to be in that scene. It was so touching and special. Daniel and I, when we re-met, and we had a scene going to find out that Damon’s character was gone. Damon and I having a scene about how we self-soothe doing this Buddhist chant.
There were so many things with me and Paget, but the one that’s coming to mind right now is where I read this monologue to her to say she’s going to be safe. I have so much fun with [Aisha], it’s so hard to [choose]. I always love when Aisha was in the office with me because we would always just be so goofy and fun and talk like friends. Any time us four ladies could be together, that was always just the dreamiest. My first scene with Adam is probably the one I really, really remember.
You already mentioned “A Beautiful Disaster,” but are there any other scenes or an episode you wrote that you look back on now that still stands out?
There’s a scene between Matthew and the daughter in “Full-Tilt Boogie” where she’s telling him about dealing with her mom who is an addict. I remember when we showed it to the network, the network was like, “well, do we really need this scene?” I was like, “we absolutely need it!” It was super important to me and to then hear from other people that had seen it and [said] “that resonated with me.”
The scene in “Nelson’s Sparrow” where — it’s a little scene, I think they cut a lot of it — me and AJ are eating ice cream. [In “Spencer”], everything that Matthew was doing in the jail was so good, just to be in that environment.