The Closer

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.

RATING 7 / 10