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The Truth About Garcia's Note In The Criminal Minds Finale

In February 2020, Criminal Minds aired its last episode, and the BAU rode off into the broadcast television sunset. One of the big twists of the finale was a bittersweet reveal: Penelope Garcia (Kirsten Vangsness) would be resigning from the FBI to take a job in the non-profit sector. It was a common character facet for Penelope to be very distressed by the details of her job; after all, she didn't come from a law enforcement background, or even finish college. Her job for the FBI was one she lucked into when she was busted for hacking in her twenties, and over the years, she earned her promotion to analyst for the BAU, so she had no prior training or experience to inoculate herself from the extreme violence.

It's a testament to her devotion that she put up with the job for the friends she made and the material good her work did for the world, but it absolutely had an effect on her, which she commented on throughout many episodes. Ending the show with her departing the FBI was a kindness, so the audience knew that Penelope was moving on to better things while still doing good for society.

In one of her last moments, we see Garcia place a folded-up note in between the edges of two joined desks in her former office, now bare and bland after cleaning out all of her decorations and doohickeys. She smiles at the note — which we never see the contents of — and leaves for the last time, shutting the door quietly behind her. Here's the truth about what the showrunners intended for her secret last word on Criminal Minds.

The content of Garcia's note was meant to be ambiguous

During a roundup interview about the finale with TV Insider, longtime showrunner Erica Messer was asked specifically about the little note Garcia wrote. Basically, as you might have imagined, it's up to you to decide what Garcia felt needed to be said and left behind. 

"We're never going to say [what's in the note]," Messer said. "We want that to be whatever you want it to be. I had a different idea for what it would be than what Kirsten had, and what other people think it is, and I think that's the point of it. This show and these characters meant different things to different people. Kirsten and I both agree she was leaving a note for the next person to find one day."

It would be very Penelope to leave behind a note for whoever next took up residence in that office, whomever that analyst might be. We're curious to know what the difference between Messer and Vangsness' versions might have been, though. If we had to imagine, given Penelope's personality, it might be a happy note of encouragement the recipient could hang onto for the most difficult days assisting the BAU. Something like, "This job is tough, but the people you're helping are very special and will help you when you need it, too." She wouldn't want the colleagues she left behind to lack a new friend, right?

What Penelope's note says is a well-kept, meaningful secret

Chatting with TV Insider in a separate interview, Vangsness confirmed that she and Messer, who co-wrote the Criminal Minds finale together, had different ideas about what Penelope's note said. However, that was part of the fun — keeping it a secret that, ostensibly, only the two of them know. Messer didn't disclose to TV Insider the contents of the note, and neither did Vangsness.

"Yeah, see? Exactly," the actress said when interviewer Meredith Jacobs stated that Messer kept her lips sealed. "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."

This finale was meant to leave die-hard fans of Criminal Minds reassured that their favorite characters were headed towards even better days as each others' best friends forever, and extrapolate whatever comforts they want to imagine. What a gentle and sunny ending for what was, at times, a very gruesome TV show.