As Criminal Minds wraps up its brief 10-episode final season, the characters tease several changes to the Season 15 lineup. Emily (Paget Brewster) is up for consideration to be the first female director of the FBI, JJ (AJ Cook) is considering taking a leadership role in the New Orleans field office and Rossi (Joe Mantegna) plans to retire. However, at the end of the finale, it is Penelope Garcia (Kirsten Vangsness) who leaves the team.
Quirky and colorful programmer Penelope Garcia has been supporting the team from behind various computer monitors in her trinket-strewn office since season 1 episode 1. She’s something of a tech wizard, able to extract obscure information about people. and places in the ether, sorry, internet, to help with each week’s case.
Her skills have been invaluable to the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit. Among the cast that she changes often, she has been in almost every episode except one. Still, not only does her technical knowledge make her a beloved character, but her capacity for love never wavers.
The finale’s writers, Kirsten Vangsness and showrunner Erica Messer, interpret his departure as a twist, first making the audience think the group is reuniting for Rossi’s retirement party before revealing that it’s actually goodbye for Garcia. She has found a new job, but what could be a sad moment turns into a celebration of team bonds.
Thus, the final shot of Criminal Minds is Garcia walking out of her empty office, stuffing a mysterious post-it between the desks. Perhaps she’s an unexpected way to end the series, but her departure shouldn’t come as too much of a shock to enthusiastic viewers.
Actress and co-writer of the finale, Kirsten Vangsness, explained that it was showrunner Erica Messer’s idea for Garcia to leave the BAU at the end. Considering Garcia’s role in the series, Vangsness thought she made sense.
As for why Penelope Garcia, the character, decides to move on, that’s a different story. At the party, Garcia says that she had many other job offers, so it’s clear that she decided that she wanted to leave the BAU during the time jump of the month. Judging from her conversation with Spencer’s (Jane Lynch) mother earlier in the episode, it seems like Spencer’s (Matthew Gray Gubler) near-death experience and hospitalization is what pushed her over the edge.