While the title may sound like another pointless Facebook survey, the immensely popular crime drama Criminal Minds has such a wide variety of characters, with vastly different personality traits, that chances are viewers can relate to one or more of them.
Throughout the history of television, there have been numerous crime shows: Dragnet (1954); Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955); Get Smart (1965); and The Rockford Files (1974), to modern-day hits such as Homicide: Life on the Street (1993); 24 (2001); CSI (2000); Bones (2005); and Southland (2009).
In all likelihood, if you were to ask an actual homicide detective, FBI agent, or forensics expert how accurate any of these shows are, they would find numerous flaws. Notwithstanding, each of these shows has demonstrated in its own way that the tension, extreme violence, romance, strained relationships, and flawed heroes of the crime-fighting world appeal to us.
What Separates Criminal Minds?
Some may not consider Criminal Minds to be among the ranks of greats like HBO’s The Wire or The Sopranos; yet, it stands out for its own reasons.
CM goes into great detail about the analysis of killers themselves; characters often make references to real-life serial killers such as John Wayne Gacy, David Berkowitz, Dennis “BTK” Rader, and Charles Manson in order to give perspective on a current case. At some points, certain aspects are described very graphically, especially in reference to bizarre sexual crimes or those of a particularly heinous and frightening nature.
Thus, we have the BAU, or Behavioral Analysis Unit, comprised of eight FBI Supervisory Special Agents and Analyst Penelope Garcia, whose job it is to put together a profile of the apparent killer, and apprehend him before he commits further murders.
Each member of the BAU, as stated before, has a very distinctive personality and set of skills. While each is talented and well-trained, each also has experienced some sort of emotional trauma or shown their “weaknesses” in certain situations. According to their bios on TV Rage: Criminal Minds:
Dr. Spencer Reid (Matthew Gray Gubler) has three PhDs, is a genius with an eidetic memory, is excellent with statistics, and has an uncanny ability to do magic. In spite of his many skills, however, he is socially awkward, has a lot of difficulty with women, and following a traumatic experience, becomes a drug addict in later episodes.
David Rossi (Joe Mantegna) has a number of years experience under his belt, has done interviews with famous serial killers, and displays great intuition in the field. He is, however, continually haunted by an unsolved case involving the murders of some young children’s parents, and may seem to become overly emotionally involved in his work.
Aaron Hotchner (Thomas Gibson) is a former prosecutor and SWAT team member. While exceptionally skilled at profiling and serving as team leader, he has a tumultuous family life due to his job, and is sometimes seen by others as being emotionally cold or distant.
Emily Prentiss (Paget Brewster) is the daughter of Ambassador Elizabeth Prentiss, who was mainly posted at the United States Embassy in the Ukraine. Because of her mother’s job, her teenage years and family life were anything but carefree; as a result, she has a low opinion of politics. Despite being fluent in Arabic, Spanish, Italian, and some Russian, she too has experienced several terrifying events that haunt her and affect her life in and outside of work.
Derek Morgan (Shemar Moore) has a black belt in Judo, runs FBI self-defense courses, and previously served in a bomb squad unit as well as the Chicago police force. In spite of his tough exterior, however, he is a caring and sensitive person who looks out for his fellow team members and shows vulnerability on more than one occasion.
Jennifer “JJ” Jareau (AJ Cook), while being highly athletic and incredibly skilled at darts, also demonstrates that she is emotionally sensitive and, being a mother, is very affected by cases that involve children.
Penelope Garcia (Kirsten Vangsness) is, on the one hand, an astonishingly skilled computer hacker, who also analyzes videos and photos of murder victims for important information. Yet, balancing her quirky sense of humor, warm personality, and outward confidence are an inner vulnerability, some naiveté, and a tendency to panic when called upon to use her lesser skills.
Elle Greenaway (Lola Glaudini), prior to her character’s leaving the show, was an expert in sex crimes, and fluent in Spanish. Despite her valuable skills, after being shot in the Season 1 finale, she returns to the job rather abruptly; soon after, she shoots and kills a serial rapist, without remorse, as revenge for his crimes against women. Her supervisors question her ability to do her job following the incident, after which she turns in her badge and gun.
Jason Gideon (Mandy Patinkin) serves as a father figure to all of the BAU team members, because of his age, experience, and ability to counsel them through traumatic events. He too eventually leaves the team, however, after one particular killer gets so close to him and his private life that he feels it is too much to endure.
So, after reading all of these descriptions, do any of them fit you? Of course, not all of us are fit for law enforcement, let alone an elite government branch such as the FBI. Regardless, the writers and the actors on the show have created the characters to be very human.
Nearly all of them, for example, struggle with relationships, both romantic and blood-related, due to either the stress of their jobs or outside circumstances, such as illness.
Think for a moment, if you will, of comic-book superheroes. There are few superheroes without an Achilles heel, so to speak: Superman has Kryptonite; Batman has his sense of duty, which for the most part prevents him from killing anyone; and Spiderman has his sense of responsibility, which causes him to suffer emotionally and romantically. So in a sense, the characters on Criminal Minds can be thought of as realistic counterparts to the superheroes of DC, Dark Horse, and Marvel Comics.
The nerdy and geeky among us can almost certainly identify with both Spencer Reid and Penelope Garcia, in one way or another. In spite of their incredible talents and intelligence, both have an emotional sensitivity that is reflected in the way they handle various traumatizing events that they either witness or experience. For anyone who’s ever had to suffer trauma, whether in school, in adult life, physical, or mental, Reid or Garcia can serve as emotional outlets for some of your pain.
Someone like Gideon, on the other hand, may feel more familiar to those of an older generation, currently in their 50s or 60s. He often comes across as the wise father/mentor, not unlike Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings, or Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. Yet, he is far from perfect; while being an excellent profiler and chess player (showing his abilities to think on his feet and form a complex strategy), he often discusses past cases in which he’s made mistakes that have cost people their lives.
Derek Morgan, another very well-rounded character, is one with a tough exterior who might at first seem all jock, or all “tough cop.” In one episode, it is revealed that Morgan once endured sexual abuse by someone he knew as a young teenager. This experience, along with others in his youth, seem to have developed more sensitivity and vulnerability in his character. Also, perhaps unexpectedly, he is best friends with Garcia, in spite of their seemingly different personalities. They can relate similar experiences, and have a chemistry like childhood friends.
JJ, as mentioned before, while being skilled at her position and having grown up a “jock” in high school, displays much emotional sensitivity, and on more than one occasion, is visibly affected by different cases. For those viewers who are young mothers or mothers-to-be, JJ is certainly one character you might relate to. She also has a great affection for Spencer Reid, in spite of the fact that in their younger years, they were very different people and ran with different crowds.
Then, of course, we have the “leader” characters like Hotchner and Rossi. While being in supervisory positions at the FBI, different episodes reveal the disorder in their personal lives. Both go through divorces at different times, and both also live through traumatic events that haunt them, and possibly even change their personalities.
So, which character(s) do you ultimately identify with? It may be one, or it may be all, but chances are you have had, or will have, some kind of experience in your life that reflects what is portrayed on the show.
Back in Real Life…
So yes – in spite of the character depth and intensity of the plots, Criminal Minds is still just a TV show. While you may not see yourself “portrayed” on the show exactly, it might not be so hard to find one or several traits you can identify with.
The main point that stands out from the show is that we’re all human. No matter what our training, how prestigious our career, how high our IQ, or how great our athletic ability, we all make mistakes, and we all still have a lot to learn.
If you haven’t watched the show, check it out – you just may find a character that represents you.