As TNT’s The Closer returns for five more episodes, we see what’s happened since Tommy Delk (Courtney B. Vance) was appointed Los Angeles Chief of Police. Earlier in this sixth season, Brenda (Kyra Sedgwick) came close to getting the job, so now she’s ambivalent about her new boss. Unlike her, Will Pope (J.K. Simmons) desperately wanted the gig, which means he’s dealing with a deeper disappointment. If he lost an old-boys’ game that he played well, she’s now coming to terms with what the contest revealed to her, that is, that she could have been chief.
As usual in The Closer, professional and personal politics intersect. Also familiar is the central dilemma: as Brenda’s FBI agent hubby Fritz (Jon Tenney) puts it to her, “You have to figure out what you want.” Even he’s hearing rumors that Delk will offer her Pope’s job. Always more sure of interrogating perps than understanding her own desires, Brenda wonders, will she seize power if it’s offered or remain in her comfortable role as leader of a tight-knit Major Crimes squad? Will she be able to stand it if someone “incompetent” takes Pope’s job? And does she owe loyalty to Pope, or is her dedication to him misplaced and naïve? Fritz insists that Pope would have “run her over” to get the job as chief, a suggestion that makes Brenda even more anxious than usual.
Within this changed power structure, Brenda again must struggle to determine her own ambitions and responsibilities. The show’s formula dictates that she manage her personal concerns while dealing with the case-of-the-week, here involving another cop’s apparent overreaching. Threatened by a drug dealer he put behind bars, Flynn (Tony Denison) needs Brenda’s help to track down the criminal’s accomplices on the outside and clear his own name from the man’s tampering complaint against him. The dealer, in turn, accuses Flynn of intimidating and coercing a witness during his trial.
Brenda’s investigation has her playing a couple of roles. Pretending to be a corrupt cop to solicit information from a criminal, she finds herself unexpectedly titillated by the physical risks. Her other role is more familiar, fierce protector of her team members. This leads to a slight shift in the series’ usual focus, as the episode looks into the detectives’ personal lives: at an Alcoholic’s Anonymous meeting, for instance, Flynn displays a fatherly concern for a young man attending for a first time. Later Brenda suggests that Fritz might understand Flynn, as both are recovering alcoholics. Such a link might pressure Brenda to come to terms with Fritz’s alcoholism more fully, rather than dodging their communication issues to focus on work.
Throughout the episode, Brenda displays her usual tenacity, tinged with frenzy. During one tirade, she bursts into Pope’s office, purse and papers flying everywhere, demanding to know why she wasn’t told of an Internal Affairs investigation of Flynn. Pope tries briefly to stop her, then sighs, “Proceed with your outrage.”
The joke is that her anger is so regularly displayed and so well known around the office as to be expected. As longtime viewers of the series know, Pope admires Brenda’s passion, knowing it prods her team to push through humdrum daily tasks and also to crack cases. While the men around her are similarly driven, Brenda’s outbursts are linked to her empathetic responses and often followed by a trip to her candy drawer to recover from exposing her feelings so dramatically. The story arc launched by this episode — which has Brenda wondering whom she trusts within the department — promises to spark more of that heat.
The Closer regularly uses some gender stereotypes and critiques others. While police procedural conventions famously denigrate women detectives’ emotional responses to the job and uphold a hard-bodied masculinity as the norm, Brenda’s upsets appear a genuine strength. While it might seem too easy that she’s a woman who can “feel” what to do with her suspects, she does so to prevail during interrogations, closing cases by understanding suspects want to confess to her — seemingly warm, seemingly all-knowing — not just the fact that they broke the law, but also what deep-seated, previously unexpressed emotions pushed them along a dysfunctional path.
When Brenda was jockeying for the chief’s job, some of her peers insinuated that she was in the running because she was a woman, that she was a “token.” But no one denied her qualifications or skills, her morality or her sensitivity to colleagues’ feelings, all qualities lacking in the careerist Pope. In fact, her peers supported her candidacy much more than they did Pope’s, because many of the cops objected to his alpha male posturing and his attempts to shame subordinates into subservience. It seems that empathy and fairness can be more valuable in the pursuit of justice than simple aggression or power mongering.