The Closer

At the office this season, Brenda faces ongoing budget issues that threaten to break up the team she spent two TNT seasons convincing they were a team.

The Closer

Airtime: Mondays, 10pm ET
Cast: Kyra Sedgwick, J.K. Simmons, Corey Reynolds, Robert Gossett, G.W. Bailey, Tony Denison, Jon Tenney
MPAA rating: N/A
Subtitle: Season Three Premiere
Network: TNT
US release date: 2007-06-18

The first images of the new season's Closer are comprised of crime scene video, apparently in the making. The detectives of the LAPD's Priority Homicide Division are just starting to investigate the brutal murders of three family members. As the camera makes its way through the home, it shows dark blood sprayed on the walls and bodies left crimpled, in a horrific disarray.

After Sgt. Gabriel (Corey Reynolds) introduces the scene broadly -- speaking briefly to the uniform on hand and noting there was no apparent robbery -- each body is introduced by a detective. The men on the scene put up with the camera, but hardly seem pleased to speak to it. Provenza (G.W. Bailey) discovers that the killer took a shower after the mayhem, Flynn (Tony Denison) grimaces over a young girl's body, then complains that he's not allowed to use the word "blood" to describe it, because the tape may be used in a courtroom and the term might prejudice a jury. As the detectives discuss options, the camera operator notes from off-screen, "I can't edit this." It is, after all, an official document.

Predictably, unit chief Brenda Johnson (Kyra Sedgwick), is even more impatient with the videotaping. The camera approaches her as she kneels over "Victim Number One." She looks up briefly, makes a face, and puts up her hand to push it away. She's got better things to do than accommodate yet another newfangled procedure. In fact, she soon learns of a survivor, indicated by his left-behind ID. The team tracks 17-year-old Eric (Kyle Gallner) to his bedroom, where he huddles like victim. They approach him with guns drawn. "I wanna see my mom and dad," he whimpers. Brenda puts her arm around him: "I understand that, honey. It's just not a good idea right now."

And so the new season of The Closer begins. The episode's title, "Homewrecker," resonates across subplots: per pattern, Brenda will display idiosyncrasies, amaze her team members, and solve the case. Brenda will also deal with her still evolving commitment to Fritz (Jon Tenney), worried that she still makes him keep his possessions -- even his wardrobe box -- in the garage. This even though he has, ostensibly moved in with her. Patient to a fault, Fritz is frequently relegated these days to playing house-husband, appearing in her at-home scenes more than at work. Asking for her commitment, he nonetheless appreciates Brenda's peculiar combination of aggression and anxiety. If she's not quite the boy in this relationship (she's emotional, vulnerable, eats cupcakes), but she's undeniably dominant and Fritz is fine with that. Understanding her boundary issues and fondness for her routine even though it's mostly mythic, he even accommodates her exploitation of his FBI access and reluctance to give up her vaunted "independence." When she asks to put off the "We need to find a house of our own" conversation yet again because she's got a murder to solve, he sighs: "You always have a murder."

This alone makes Brenda remarkable. A woman in charge of a unit, respected by the members of that unit, and willing to argue with grouchy administrators in order to support that unit, she's also a chief with some sense of her own limits. She looks to Gabriel for guidance regarding the rest of the world, aware that her quirkiness limits her comprehension. He, in turn, pursues his own ambitions. A next-generation detective, he reveals political talents Brenda will never get, able to mollify and also learn from his elders (say, Capt. Taylor [Robert Gossett]). Given the unit's increasing involvement in LA's counterterrorism activities (initiated last season), Gabriel's special skill set looks about to be invaluable.

At the office this season, Brenda faces ongoing budget issues that threaten to break up the team she spent two TNT seasons convincing they were a team. Chief Pope (J.K. Simmons) announces she must lose one member, suggesting that she tell Provenza to retire. Seeing her PHD as a family, she's disinclined to treat any one of them unfairly, even if she is directed to do so by the boss. "In this time of financial crisis," she's told, the unit will have no more expedited blood tests, no overtime, no unusual uses of vehicles or equipment. ("Time is money," mutters Provenza, quite aware of the cliché of their situation.) The directive to cut costs is wrongheaded and familiar too. As always, Brenda does her job by finding ways around its limitations.

Though she points out to Pope that overtime is part of the murder-solving routine, he remains resolute. "Consider, just for a moment," he says slowly, "A universe in which you work for me and what I need is important too." Such exchanges -- neatly written and impeccably performed -- are, of course, The Closer's bread and butter. Repeatedly faced with abstract sorts of obstacles -- bureaucracy, misogyny, racism, arrogance, or ineptitude -- embodied by supporting characters, Brenda inevitably outsmarts or at least outlasts her adversaries. The most obvious of these are the suspects, whom she sits down in the "box" and cajoles into confessions before they quite know what they're doing. Famously sweet-seeming and wily, she provides something between entertainment and education for her fellow detectives, who ritually gather to watch her work, leaning forward in their chairs, emulating viewers at home to study the monitors before them.

If case details change week to week, The Closer's title gives away the formula: Brenda closes. If the series is not so consistently speedy or violent as other LA-based cop shows, it does revel in other kinds of complexity, most visibly in its visibly "diverse" team. While their interactions hardly suggest kumbaya, they do resemble a one-from-every-food-group set of casting decisions. But the show steps beyond the casting per se. The white guys worry about their jobs, the multi-colored team members -- including Daniels (Gina Ravera), Sanchez (Raymond Cruz), and Lt. Tao (Michael Paul Chan) -- bring varied viewpoints to investigations. Cranky and strange as she can be, Brenda observes their differences, which are not always based on what they look like. Even if she doesn’t always comprehend the stakes in their differences, she works at it. And the show invites you to work with her.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.

8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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