[8 June 2009]
The Season Five premiere of The Closer opens with an inviting shot of a suburban home—children’s toys in the yard, bikes leaned up against the front porch, and wind chimes tinkling in the breeze. Any sense of domestic bliss is quickly erased, however, once the camera moves indoors. Here we see four family members, covered and lying in pools of blood on the living room floor. And, as often happens in the series, Brenda Leigh Johnson’s (Kyra Sedgwick) Major Crimes Unit swoops in to solve the case.
This time, though, as the team goes about their business, it becomes clear that they are moved by the vulnerability of the lone surviving family member, the father, Victor Rivera (Lombardo Boyar), who had been at work. While he is a “person of interest” to the investigation, he is also heartbroken, not yet grasping the enormity of his loss. When Johnson and Sanchez (Raymond Cruz) interrogate him all night, Victor collapses in grief and begs them to pray with him. A frustrated Johnson for once takes her eyes off the prize—she always wants a confession—and instead agrees to pray, while Sanchez hands the grieving father a hotel room Bible.
The squad members’ collective empathy leads to individual changes in their own attitudes. For one thing, as the case attracts attention from the squads’ old bugaboo—the media—the detectives contend with over-eager reporters demanding more and more access, following their every move and even jeopardizing the investigation. They are also troubled by the perennial lack of coordination among units, with lots of chances for Assistant Police Chief Will Pope (J.K. Simmons) and Commander Taylor (Robert Gossett) to butt heads with the rule-breaking Johnson. She has little use for turf wars or alpha male posturing and so they repeatedly find themselves picking up the pieces when she pisses off other units or, in this case especially, the FBI (as the murders appear connected to an ongoing federal case). This tension between feds and cops shows up as usual in Brenda’s home, as she again asks for help from her long-suffering husband and Special Agent Fritz (Jon Tenney).
The episode also showcases personal changes for the detectives. Provenza (G. W. Bailey) is sighing about a broken heart, somehow seeming even more of a sly curmudgeon than usual. His loud protestations force Johnson to attend not only to his emotional well-being, but also to the turmoil and needs of other squad members, something she has always been reluctant to do. Here, as usual, the group pulls together and squabbles and pulls together again, even as it confronts at least one major change—the failed relationship between Gabriel (Corey Reynolds) and Daniels (Gina Rivera), now reaching a personal and professional resolution.
Resolution is becoming something of an issue for the series formally, as Brenda’s pursuit of confessions structures each episode. This episode, “Products of Discovery,” takes her out of the interrogation room to other locations, from prison visiting rooms to hotel rooms, transformed into sites for her questions. This welcome innovation speeds up the show’s predictable pace and also emphasizes Johnson’s commitment and concentration. Whether it’s a sign of a good work ethic or her obsessiveness, she is always ready to wrench a confession from someone at a moment’s notice—anytime, anywhere. As usual, her squad must adapt to her abrupt changes in plans. Even if the interrogations are initiated on the fly, each member still has a role to play.
As the series evolves both formally and thematically, Brenda and her team are forced to reflect on their own assumptions and actions, reach out to one another, and make hard adjustments. The series continues to highlight the tenuousness and arbitrariness of experience, and the bonds Johnson and her crew depend on for their strength and perseverance. This episode teaches them that they will need that support, since the tiniest mistake or twist of fate can send someone’s whole world into a tailspin.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/94680-the-closer/