I was having a conversation with a former student the other day that started off like this:
Former Student: “Ms. K, I know you’ve got to like Criminal Minds. It’s a well-written cop show about the psychology of crazy that uses quotes at the beginning and the end.”
Me: Yes, it’s probably my favourite show. While I’ve been sick, it’s pretty much all I’ve been watching. (I’ve written about my love of cop shows in general and Criminal Minds in particular in a former blog entry here. I’ve also brought up quotes in 1, 2, and 3 different entries).
FS: Anybody ever told you you’re Penelope Garcia?
Me: Yes, actually.
FS: ‘Cuz…I was watching this episode the other day…and Ms. K…you’re totally Penelope Garcia.
Now, this is not the first time a friend or former student has told me that I remind them of Garcia. In fact, it seems to be a recurring conversation in my life. Reasons come down to any of the following things: her relentless cheerfulness, her banter with Derek Morgan, her colourful style, her geek cred, her love of computers, her loyalty to her team/friends, her irreverence, or her heart. Now, let’s be honest here, some days, I’m not the most cheerful person in the world, but most of the time I can put on a happy face for folks. Would I like to have a Derek Morgan sort in my life? Sure. Yes, I love colour, whimsy, and all things geek. Yes, I adore computers, but let’s be real, Garcia’s skills are far and away better than mine…she’s a master hacker, I’m just the family and friends techie. I am loyal to my friends well past what’s good for me sometimes. Yep, I’ll be irreverent until the day I die. And sure, I care about people. So, yes, I see why I am compared to her.
I know that for some people, Garcia seems unnecessary. Some people might even be offended by the comparison. This guy said he’d like to see her character drive off a cliff. But here’s the thing. She’s a bit wacky, a lot of crazy, and has the world at her fingertips. She keeps Morgan on his toes and can give Reid a run for his money on random factoids. She’s good friends/sisterly with the other women on the show (who have a much more normal edge to them). She confuses Gideon, Rossi, and Hotch at times, but they all respect her and she makes them smile. People who watch only one or two episodes probably don’t understand her character. They may think of her as flat or just a random geekette in a room full of screens, but I would argue that she’s much more than that.
Garcia is different from the other characters. She adds levity to a show that would otherwise be pure darkness. Criminal Minds deals with some of the darkest bits of humanity, often based on real cases. There needs to be a little brightness in a show like this. (As my dad says, “Christiana…your shows…I just don’t know…they’re hard to watch…”). She is the character who is always affected by the cases they take on, even though there is usually another character who takes lead in each episode. She works with families of murder victims in her off time, lost both of her parents to a drunk driver when she was eighteen, and spent time underground beefing up her hacker skills until she hacks the FBI, gets put on a short list of hackers, and is hired by the FBI as a result. Garcia gets shot because of the way she views victims and what she’s willing to do for them. At one point, she runs towards an unsub and his victim, risking her own life, because she didn’t want the last thing the victim saw to be his killer’s face. She worries that she’ll become jaded, yet she finds the beauty in the world around her. She looks for the good in people regardless of what she sees on her screens each day while helping her team. She inspires as much loyalty in her friends/family of choice as she gives. No matter what you think of Garcia, you can’t say that she isn’t well-intentioned, kind-hearted, and true to both herself and her family of choice.
I have to say, if people are going to consistently compare me to a fictional character, I’m happy it’s Penelope Garcia. People seeing me as a wacky person with a good heart and a willingness to help others is a positive. I can’t think of a better compliment.