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Spoilers for Criminal Minds’ series finale are discussed below!
Even with the ratings being up this season, Criminal Minds ended its impressively long run with a series finale that saw its characters’ stories conclude after fifteen seasons. Among those to cross the finish line were Penelope Garcia and Spencer Reid, but you may be wondering why their stories ended the way they did.
Before getting to Reid’s ending, this is what happened with Garcia. Criminal Minds ended with Garcia leaving the BAU to work at a non-profit. The BAU subsequently converged for a goodbye party (probably as emotional as the off-screen one) to bid their good friend and colleague a fond farewell. Speaking about Garcia’s ending, Criminal Minds’ showrunner, Erica Messer, told CinemaBlend’s Nick Venable:
We had talked about – when I say we, I mean the writers, and in this case, Kirsten was part of that conversation – if you take a look at our entire team and you say, 'If this character leaves, what are they doing?' then it feels like, 'Well if that character leaves, then this one should leave, and then that one should leave, and blah blah blah.' Then it's like a domino effect. But it's like, I don't want everyone leaving, I really don't. I want everyone to believe exactly what we wrote: this team gets another case, and they get on the jet – a new jet which we'll never see – and we'll never know what that case was, but we can imagine, because we've had 325 cases to compare it to. And this team, as you know, is going to keep on going in the feel and fighting the bad guys, fighting the good fight, right? The heart of it at home that's sat in that high-tech room with all her little tchotchkes around her, that's the thing that looks different, which is really a major part of the show; the heart of the show in a lot of ways. I could handle that in a weird way, like I could handle this one really important piece saying, 'I'm gonna use my skills for good, and I'm gonna go over here to some other people who need my help right now.' It made sense to me.
The BAU losing Garcia is a significant change for the team. She was their computer expert and even more than that, serving as sort of the "heart" of the team. Criminal Minds’ showrunner reveals that actress Kirsten Vangsness was involved in the conversations surrounding Garcia’s ending, which also included Garcia getting asked out by Luke Alvez. She accepted his invitation to go on a date, so let your mind do the rest!
As for why Garcia ended up making the decision to leave the BAU and work for a non-profit, Criminal Minds’ showrunner has thoughts. It turned out to be a natural progression for the character, who, after years of fighting the darkness, decided to shift her attention elsewhere. On Garcia’s choice to exit the BAU, Erica Messer said:
It was another selfless move on Garcia's part. You know, seeing the darkness in the world took a toll on her, and she's like, 'Wow, my skillset doesn't just have to be for that. It can be for these other things as well. I'm gonna go do that instead.' So it was that importance of I want you to believe this team still exists, and they're still out there, and they're still fighting the good fight. And Garcia is doing the same, just in a place we'll never see. It was just important to believe that it's just going to go on. Because the bad guys aren't gonna stop being bad, and the good guys can't stop being good. They just have to keep going. So that's kind of where that was born out of.
As for Reid, his ending storyline involved an aspect years in the making, as Criminal Minds found a way to revisit the past as Reid contemplated his future. One that would not include JJ in a romantic capacity. Reid did end up spending some time unconscious during the series finale. Facing a near-fatal injury will do that!
Reid had to decide: life or death? That was not the only choice he had to make either. Criminal Minds’ showrunner, Erica Messer, explained the parallels between Reid and Garcia’s conundrums in the series finale, saying:
So that was something that started in the second season with him, really, when he was held by James Van Der Beek's Tobias Hankel and was given drugs that then made him go unconscious. And he'd have these weird flashbacks, these weird memories that he was holding onto. So it felt like an acknowledgment of that, which we'd set up with the character hundreds of episodes ago, and just following through with that. That both Reid and Garcia were having major crossroad decisions in their lives. Reid not only with 'Am I gonna live?' but 'If I live, what am I gonna do? Am I going to keep doing what I do? Am I gonna teach? Am I needed elsewhere?' It was very complementary to the things that Garcia was thinking about.
As Criminal Minds’ showrunner relates, Reid and Garcia were both arriving at a make-or-break point in their lives. For Reid, hovering between life and death led to some past characters showing up, including Reid’s late girlfriend, Maeve. As long-time fans may have figured out, the seeds for Reid’s final round of hallucinations were sewn seasons ago. On Reid’s story, Criminal Minds’ showrunner, Erica Messer, said:
So with Reid, particularly with this injury that he was having, there were gonna be so many opportunities to revisit characters that we've missed all of these years, the good and the bad. So once we knew that was going to be the structure, we were spoiled for choice, and there were so many ways we could go. But having Maeve be his guide through that felt like what his soul needed in a way, so even though he was in physical and mental turmoil, he had this bright light, this love of his life who was beside him.
Having JJ be the one to help Reid sort things out would have been beyond strange at this point. Criminal Minds instead gave Maeve the chance to help Reid sort through his life and death dilemma. Thankfully for fans, Reid decided to stay among the living. An uplifting twist for the series finale. In the end, Reid and Garcia both got a happy ending.