Thursday 9 February 2017

Heroine Fix: Penelope Garcia, Oracle of Quantico

There is no one in reality or fiction quite like Penelope Garcia of Criminal Minds, played by the fabulous Kirsten Vangsness.

Garcia: Oracle of Quantico. Speak if you deign to hear the truth.
She is smart, she is sexy, she is delightfully whimsical, she is scarily smart and skilled, and she has the sort of devastating wit that only comes from having at least four screenwriters behind her at all times.  She provides a necessary relief from the horrors that the BAU team encounter in their search for serial killers and her creative phone answering techniques are often a highlight in every episode.

It would be easy for the character to topple into self-parody and ridiculousness but the show and Vangsness have refused to allow her to become a farce.  For every glib comeback, there is a moment of genuine passion and compassion.  For every eccentric hairdo and wardrobe choice, there is a fierce drive to help others.  And for every casual flirtation, she has shown a loyal and devoted heart to her friends and lovers.

Garcia: Are you lonely in the Lone Star State? And are you wearing chaps?
Morgan: Only in your dreams, Garcia.
Garcia: Oh, not necessarily. I have Photoshop.
Morgan: Garcia, I had better never find any Photoshopped pictures of me on your computer.
Garcia: Oh trust me, my vision, you will never FIND them.

That is the key to creating a character who becomes more than caricature.  The more extreme a character trait that the writer assigns, the more balancing traits are needed to keep the character feeling real.  Garcia might be flippant in how she speaks, but she also displays how deeply she is affected by the work she does.  She doesn't want to look at the crime scene photos but can cross-check multiple databases to track down a serial killer in moments.  She's dedicated to her work even though the audience gets the impression that it leaves nightmares in her mind.  I've always felt that she does what she does because she knows that she is the best and if she didn't, then more people would be hurt by the horrible things in the world.

Morgan: Garcia, baby girl, please tell me something I want to hear.
Garcia: You are a statuesque god of sculpted chocolate thunder?
Morgan: How about something I don't already know?
Garcia: <pauses> I have a sweet tooth?
 Garcia and Morgan had a great relationship of friendship and flirtation.  Although there was never any hint that they would take it beyond the level of banter, there was also never any hint that the possibility was a joke.  Too often, a plus size actress's attractiveness is made into a punch line of the "how could she ever believe that anyone would be attracted to her" type.  But Garcia has never lacked for admirers and, more importantly, doesn't suffer from a lack of confidence in her appearance.  

Garcia: Penelope's House of "How May I Save Your Ass Today"
In the end, I think it's Garcia's confidence which makes her a larger than life character.  As every women's magazine and self-help book tell us, most women do not have that kind of confidence in themselves and their abilities.  That makes her someone that we can look up to and aspire to become: someone with the confidence and courage to be ourselves, no matter how others react.

Garcia: He who seeks the Queen of All Knowledge, speak and be recognized.

Join me for next month's Heroine Fix on March 9th, when I'll be celebrating the formidable Agent Melinda May from Marvel's Agents of SHIELD.

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