The Closer: Season Four Return

The fourth season return of The Closer finds fresh ways to mine the tensions between work and private life endured by LAPD Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson (Kyra Sedgwick). In the first two episodes, she’s more brittle and aggressive than she has been before. While Brenda calculatedly tries to win a killer’s confidence, she also amps up the threats. Her famously silky affect is changing, the result of some hard experiences.

Previously, Brenda has obsessed about work, displacing her anxieties over personal concerns. Fixated on the minutiae of murder cases, she barely has time to adjust her glasses, much less deal with her fiancé, Fritz (Jon Tenney), frustrated parents (Frances Sternhagen and Barry Corbin), and biological clock. Her intensity and CIA-trained interrogation skills make her highly successful at getting murderers to confess.

In “Good Faith” (airing 26 January), Brenda is confronted with an apparent suicide that the medical examiner insists is a murder. The dead man was a member of a non-denominational church that meets in an old roller rink (replete with “Skating for Jesus” signs). With the uncooperative and manipulative pastor quoting Bible passages at her and sporting Jesus T-shirts, Brenda has to assess the sincerity of his faith. Meanwhile, faced with usual distractions, like Chief Pope (J.K. Simmons) demanding a justification for the investigation and her parents in town begging for her attention, Brenda is all frazzled glory. But her old tactic of running to work whenever home gets too difficult fails here. Her parents press her to prioritize them for once, as does Fritz — leading to a series of scenes that readjust the usual rhythms of the series, however temporarily.

In “Power of Attorney” (airing 9 February), Brenda and her team are chasing a rapist and murderer. When she thinks she has her man and fears he might slip off the hook, she makes like a bulldog. Through clenched teeth, she promises him she will hound him, throwing all the LAPD resources at him until the day he dies. She finds it unconscionable — as always — that she’s forced to make deals with devils (read lawyers). Her drive for justice is here more visceral and immediate than it has appeared in the past. Particularly engaged because the case involves violence against women is concerned, she looks ready to go Old Testament on the creep’s ass.

Her parents take another sort of approach toward her, though the effect is equally effective. Whenever she jilts them in tonight’s episode, they station themselves at her office, knowing she will show up there rather than the place she was supposed to meet them. Her work family covers for her, helping her keep her seemingly fragile life together. Lieutenants Provenza (G.W. Bailey) and Flynn (Tony Denison) assemble to entertain her folks without being asked. And the whole squad tactfully reminds her of when she’s supposed to meet her parents, eyeing their watches for her. Lieutenant Tao (Michael Paul Chan) even lends her the glasses off his noggin when she, as usual, misplaces hers. While they perform as a well-oiled unit, it’s clearer now that enabling her neuroses is part of the job description.

Viewers are again invited to see humor in Brenda’s combination of dysfunction and efficacy: Chuckle and shake your head when she rushes around, trying clumsily to wrangle her life and her purse. Nod in admiration as she comes through like gangbusters professionally when nailing a perp. Still, the new episodes offer a bit of innovation, or at least some clever interactions with those who know her best. When defending her need to investigate the suicide, Brenda has it out with a resigned Pope. She asks, “If I didn’t believe that a murder had taken place, why would I be pursuing this?” Pope provides the only answer possible: “Well, I don’t know, because it’s what you do. When you’re a hammer, everything else in the world looks like a nail.”

RATING 8 / 10