Kirsten Vangsness on the Return of 'Criminal Minds' and the 'Evolution' and 'Deliciousness' of Garcia and Luke's Relationship

Kirstin Vangsness dishes on what fans can expect between Garcia and Luke when 'Criminal Minds: Evolution' returns.

After close to a 3-year absence, the FBI’s elite team of criminal profilers returns with the premiere of Criminal Minds: Evolution on Thanksgiving, but like a lot of workplaces, the Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) has undergone changes since the world shut down for COVID-19.

One of those changes is an UnSub unlike any other that the team has previously encountered, who has used the pandemic to build a network of other serial killers and, now that the world is returning to its new normal, his network of killers goes operational.

“We live in the world longer but it’s the same vibe as before, but it’s totally different,” Kirsten Vangsness exclusively tells Parade about the feel of the reboot of Criminal Minds. “What I think people will love is that you’re watching the same thing, so there’s this familiar energy to it, right? But we’re in each of those worlds longer and deeper. And we have this incredible antagonist of Zach Gilford playing Elias Voit, and he’s a monster, but boy you sure are curious about that monster.”

Another alteration is that the series has migrated from broadcasting on CBS to streaming on Paramount+, and Vangsness says under the aegis of showrunner Erica Messer, these new streaming episodes need to be viewed sequentially because they build and build and build, as opposed to being strictly episodic.

“I found myself personally as I read the episodes, going, ‘Oh, I’m curious what happens next,’ and wow, when you’re in episodes five and six, you’re like, ‘Give me the next script! I have to know!’ They’ve been giving us the shows as they cut them, and Paget Brewster [Emily Prentiss] has been like, ‘I need the next episode!’ She’s joking it’s her favorite show because she’s so into it.”

Related: Criminal Minds: Evolutions Is Coming Back Sooner Than Expected As Seen in this Darkly Dangerous New Trailer!

During our Zoom chat, Vangsness also shared what Garcia has been up to since we last saw her, how Garcia was lured back to the BAU, the scoop on the date Garcia and Alvez planned in the season 15 finale, and more.

When we come back with Criminal Minds: Evolution, the passage of time is real time, so what has Penelope Garcia been doing since February 2020?

So, look, everybody had their own pandemic experience. I would argue that the extroverts had a harder time than the introverts, and I don’t know what the ambiverts were doing. I think that Garcia used that time, exquisitely aware of her privilege, as was Kirsten, with food security, enough money to pay her rent, and all of that.

But some people used that time during the pandemic because of sickness, because of the way life was happening, the way their mind was, to contract, to lockdown, to armor more. Garcia, like Kirsten, exquisitely loves her own company, so she wanted to design her world and take a minute to look around and be like, “Wait, what’s off? What are the lies I’ve been telling? What’s the stories? What’s the personas that I put on? I’m dropping all that.”

Which we especially had to do, all of us as people, and I think Garcia did it very similar to me because we’re neighbors and I’m her guardian. All this stuff was happening out in the world, all the stuff that made the world feel like it was burning down, and it was so scary. And the only safe place you have is inside your own body. So, she was working on making the inside of her body safe, and also choose to look at the social injustices and all of that and take radical responsibility for that outside world and say, “What can I do? What part do I play in taking a role that feels both pleasurable to me to do and is important work?”

So, Garcia has curated her own thing, she’s doing this stuff to help youths by using her skill set to make sure that they have expansive, important places, because they are our future, and she is certainly aware of that. And she has come up with these realizations of, “I was a doormat, I was hustling for my worthiness, I was selfless because I thought that made me more loveable.” All these different things. And she makes this decision of this is how I’m going to be. So, when you see her, she is never coming back to the BAU again.

<p>Photo Credit: Michael Yarish /Paramount+</p>

Photo Credit: Michael Yarish /Paramount+

What gets Garcia back to the BAU if she’s made the decision it’s too hard of a job?

She took on so much trauma and she never taught herself how to offload that, the cost of doing that, and she never wants to do it again. She loves the team, she doesn’t love the job. And then something happens at the BAU that it’s the path of least resistance to the thing she doesn’t want to do. Because if she doesn’t go back there, it’s going to haunt her forever.

So, she has to, and then it becomes how do you go back to this thing without the armoring? Making these promises to yourself that you’re not going to be selfless anymore, that you’re going to have boundaries, but now you’ve got to do it in front of people that are used to you being this old way. I think all of us came out of this being like, “I’m going to be this person now.” And then you’re in front of the old people and going like, “Oh, I’m doing that thing that I said I wasn’t going to do.”

But what I love about it, and again I feel very akin to, is she’s more at home with herself than she has ever been. She feels more securely attached and I love that.

<p>Photo Credit: Paramount+</p>

Photo Credit: Paramount+

It has to be asked why did Garcia and Luke Alvez (Adam Rodriguez) only have one date?

Oh, you know what, I want to tell you that, but also, I want to give you the distinct pleasure of maybe learning that. This is what I can tell you, you get to see the evolution of their relationship. We have a lot of scenes together. A lot. And you get to see the evolution of the deliciousness of that relationship, even our relationship over the pandemic, I’ve got to say, Adam and I were friendly during the show, but during the pandemic our relationship got deeper.

We were at the point before the show was starting that we’re having double dates with our partners. So, we adore each other, and the energy has shifted. And don’t you worry your pretty little head, it’s just different. I want to tell you, but all I can tell you is other things. And then when other things happen, you’re like, “I don’t really care.” But then also I feel like it will be more deeply satisfying than anyone could ever possibly imagine. The constellation of things that occur are very satisfying.

Related: Criminal Minds Ends With Season 15: See the Cast Through the Years

Will you write an episode this season?

No, I’m not writing an episode because gosh, I love acting. Writing is fun for me, and I find it really pleasurable, but it’s hard for me to do for Criminal Minds because I’m not as good at it as everybody else. I was taking acting classes for six months before I got back here and I was very excited to be like, I want to do this better than I did before. I want to try things and be more.

And there’s more risks to take, both in the show for all of us, and especially for Garcia. I think that I spent 324 episodes 90 percent of the time in a room alone typing and talking to imaginary people that weren’t there. And 90 percent of the time now, I’m walking around having scenes with people and doing life stuff. So, if anybody is a Garcia fan and is like, “I wish I saw more of her,” you might get sick of me in this because it’s a lot.

<p>Photo Credit: Michael Yarish /Paramount+</p>

Photo Credit: Michael Yarish /Paramount+

Even though the show went away, the first 15 years is one of the most streamed shows in the world, not just in the United States. Why do you think people are so attracted to the show?

I think the show is steeped in authenticity. I think that that’s always been its special sauce. I work with all those people all the time and I can tell you that they are who they say they are, whether they’re playing pretend or not. It starts from that, and it’s a show about exploring the personalities of the people, so it’s steeped in that.

On top of that is this idea that the heroes are always there. I like to believe that the hero is always there. There’s always a safe place to be and that they are a reminder of maybe the different archetypes inside of our own bodies that can show up when something confronts us that is particularly terrifying.

Criminal Minds: Evolution begins streaming on Thanksgiving on Paramount+.

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