When The Closer first aired in 2005, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was headed to a quick grave. It aired on TNT, of all places, a channel most known for 40 NBA games a week and whatever direct-to-TV Noah Wylie vehicle he’s got out (his ER money sure didn’t last long). It was one of the few cop shows to feature a woman not only as a boss, but as the main character. And its lead actress’s most famous role prior to that was simply being Mrs. Kevin Bacon.
But here The Closer is with its fourth season out on DVD and a fifth season starting on June 8. It outlived its shaky beginning and network unlikelihood (seriously, what was the biggest hit TNT had before this?) to become a show that seems built for the long haul, and one that is improving with each passing season. The fourth season, collected on a four-disc set with a handful of deleted scenes and the obligatory blooper reel, is out just in time for the Season Five premiere, an event that has been publicized on TNT since February, and rightly so—the show is the most-watched program in the history of pay cable.
Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson, one of the best written female characters on television, is played by Kyra Sedgwick. While other leader roles on cop dramas featuring women (such as Glenn Close on The Shield or S. Epatha Merkerson on Law and Order) are written as one-dimensional automatons that aren’t allowed to show much depth, Johnson is complex and dimensional. She’s a chocoholic who can’t put down the candy bar, but also feels bad about her addiction. She can be flighty when it comes to remembering addresses, but can also be a cold domineering figure when face-to-face with criminals. She fears the commitment of marriage, yet demands loyalty from her detectives.
Indeed, her character is multi-faceted in a way that is normally only present in pay-cable shows like The Wire or Breaking Bad, since cable shows are often free to spend time on character building instead of just trying to lure viewers in with flashy visuals. The Closer was shaky in this regard in the beginning—the first season centered too easily on the tumult created by Johnson being placed in charge of a unit of tenured male detectives who felt they were more qualified for her job—but as the show progressed, her charges, as well as the viewing audience, quickly learned to never write her off as a one-sided affirmative action hire.
Season Four is a season of great change for Johnson in her personal life, as the long-running plot line—whether or not she will finally marry her long-time boyfriend Special Agent Fritz Howard (played by Jon Tenney)—is finally wrapped in the season finale when Johnson finally decides to just do it. While it ended up being kind of corny, whether or not Johnson would be able to relinquish enough control of her life and get married was up in the air until late in the season, a mystery as deep as the cases Johnson solves every week.
But the more things change in Johnson’s personal life, the more they stay the same at the job. By this point, The Closer has a reliably established formula: Johnson’s Priority Homicide Unit (changed to Major Crimes Division mid-season) gets assigned to a sensational case, Johnson and her unit can’t figure out who’s guilty, someone says something innocuous to Johnson, and – ah ha!—she uses her CIA-honed interrogation techniques to crack the case. But while the formula is established, the writers of The Closer do a remarkable job of covering up exactly who is at fault until the very last moment, often leaving the audience and Johnson’s unit in the same boat until Johnson makes clear who’s she’s after in the interrogation room.
That’s where The Closer differs from other cop procedurals: 90 percent of the show’s fireworks happen in the interrogation room, and we never even get a whiff of the court room. Johnson’s interrogations could form episodes by themselves; she sets up her detectives as glorified props, sent in to ask specific questions without knowing why, she plays people against each other, and acts however she feels she needs to in order to get a confession (mean, sad, ambivalent). There are some big scenes in season four, including a standoff with a Sheriff’s Department officer played slimily Daniel Baldwin over a case involving his probable rapist son.
While Season Four bears a lot of fruit in terms of big plot twists with various cases, including one that involves the brother of one of the detectives in Johnson’s unit, Season Four feels largely like a prologue to Season Five. The first case of the season involves an arsonist covering up a murder, which provides an ample opportunity for an arsonist from season three to make a guest appearance akin to the Daredevil popping up in Spider-Man comics. Which is to say its sole purpose is to announce the continued existence of said arsonist.
Johnson also picks up another potential nemesis in the middle of the season when a defense attorney is revealed to be the head of a two-man crew responsible for raping and murdering multiple women. Both characters in this crew could provide villainous foils for Johnson in the future, since one of the main things the show is missing is a consistent intellectual opponent for Johnson to do battle with, but in Season Four, both criminals make one-episode appearances and are stricken from memory by the next. That could probably be pinned to the Writer’s Strike, which forced the season to be split into two parts that aired a few months apart.
But only Season Five will tell. The Closer is likely to keep running until Sedgwick decides she’s had enough. And given the high quality of the show from season to season, there’s no reason for her to stop any time soon.