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The Hotch Detail That Has Criminal Minds Fans Scratching Their Heads

One reason that CBS's "Criminal Minds" is so loved by fans is its distinct characterization of each member of the fictional FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU). Agent Penelope Garcia (Kirsten Vangsness) is quick-witted and flirty. Dr. Spencer Reid (Matthew Gray Gubler) is an eccentric genius. Agent Emily Prentiss (Paget Brewster) is serious but kind. And Chief Aaron "Hotch" Hotchner (Thomas Gibson) is stern, somber, and straightforward.

The balance of the agents' personalities was key to the success of "Criminal Minds," influencing how much fans would like each BAU team, which changed over the course of the show's 15 seasons. Although Hotch wasn't the most sympathetic character on the series, his presence was an important counterbalance to the more fun energies brought by Garcia and Reid — which is why the overall feel of the series changed so much when Gibson was abruptly fired from the show in 2016. However, Hotch's characterization was not without its inconsistencies, and "Criminal Minds" fans recently took to Reddit to discuss this questionable detail about the BAU chief.

Fan theories abound to explain Hotch's smile

To put it bluntly, Chief Hotchner isn't very friendly — and he's definitely not much of a smiler. So it's odd that when the camera gets close enough to his badge, you can see this beaming grin stamped on his face in his official ID photograph. As one Reddit user, u/jumpingjellyf1sh, rightly pointed out, "the norm is to not smile in ID photos," making Hotch's uncharacteristic expression even stranger. So what's the deal with this rare glimpse of a less serious Hotch?

Some fans think Hotch's ID smile refers to the gradual hardening of his character over the years he spent working innumerable cases of violent assaults and murders. One fan, u/etuvu1, commented, "Ah, the face of an ambitious man going into the FBI and wanting to make the world a better place before it absolutely destroys him." Another fan, u/AlexDavid1605, similarly wrote, "He was young, and innocent, and was sheltered from the horrors of the crimes that he investigated when that pic was taken. By that time all he did was in theory. That is why he is grinning. Also he was excited about getting the job too." 

Those are all valid points. Despite these pretty believable explanations, though, some fans opted to take a more imaginative stab at the reason behind Hotch's smile.

Inconsistencies can make characters even better

While it might be easy (though reasonable) to explain away Hotch's ID photo smile with character development in mind, other explanations are a little more out there — and way more fun. For example, building off these theories is u/merpancake, who remarked, "You just know that badge haunts him. It was his first official badge back when he was a regular agent so of course he's a lot less serious. He has tried for YEARS to get the photo changed but someone (Garcia) always deletes the image." Honestly, it's something Garcia would likely do.

Even though there is no official storyline explaining the badge photo, it's fun to conjecture why it might point to a very different Hotch from the one fans have come to love. At the very least, though, the BAU Chief's ID smile points to his character's multifaceted personality, ultimately making him feel even more real. Nuance is what makes strong characters, and that's why "Criminal Minds" is such a great series.