It's the twang you notice first.
Each word that falls from Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson's mouth holds hints of Georgia. Every syllable seems scented with magnolias and potluck suppers. Her voice softens her physical angularity and turns her from intimidator to intimate. As she plays confessor to Los Angeles' crooks and killers, and dorm mom to her all-male team of detectives, her twang makes her feel somehow … genuine.
Which, when you think about it, may be The Closer's oddest irony. Because Deputy Chief Johnson is one of television's most duplicitous characters. She lies, cajoles and cheats to get possible perpetrators to confess. And she'll walk to the edge of legality—and dangle her foot over it—to try to make L.A.'s streets safer.
This closer is a poser.
If we've learned anything from the last decade of television, it's that America loves crime procedurals. And, for the most part, The Closer follows the genre's playbook point by point. Every week in this telegenic la-la land, someone dies who shouldn't. Every week, Brenda and L.A.'s Major Crimes Unit sift through evidence, witnesses and suspects to find out who did it and why.
But what sets The Closer apart from CSI and NCIS is its titular character, hired away from Atlanta for her ability to get criminals to hack up confessions.
"Murder is the only crime I care about today," Brenda tells a pair of auto thieves. And when the thieves tell her that the dead guy might've been killed by a stray bullet from one of their would-be carjack victims (who fired warning shots in the air to safeguard his Cadillac), Brenda seems ever-so-sympathetic.
"I completely understand," she tells them as they unwittingly write out detailed confessions for attempted robbery and, because they feloniously triggered the chain of events that led to the accidental death, murder.
Brenda is the show's moral core—but she's often an "end justifies the means" sort. Not that we're asked to embrace everything she and her squad of detectives do, mind you. As the series has worn on, we've seen some of the unit's questionable decisions come to haunt them all. In The Closer's seventh and final season, Johnson and her team are under more scrutiny than ever—fallout for some questionable decisions made in a case the previous season. The result of these moral quandaries, as far as viewers are concerned, is one part escapism and two parts thinkism, meaning the show takes serious issues, lightens them up a bit, then encourages us to … ponder.
In one episode, Brenda and crew must investigate the torture and death of a murderer, inviting us to mull vigilantism. In another, the Major Crimes Unit explores the seemingly senseless death of a neighborhood "saint"—a reformed gang member who was working at a local parish before he was killed—and in so doing asks us to think about where God might be in the midst of random horror.
A quirky, self-deprecating levity is smoothed onto the top of those deep thoughts, and that sometimes gets in their way. But a bigger roadblock here is the fact that TV shows seem to all want to be PG-13 (some of them R) movies these days.
Brenda, in the hands of Kyra Sedgwick, is curiously old-fashioned. Her movements and dialogue at even crime scenes give her an air of authoritative gentility. She's not known for her swearing, which in our context is a good thing. But the criminals who surround her—and the rest of her squad, for that matter—aren't quite so courteous. The s-word sometimes makes an appearance, as well as "a‑‑hole," "d‑‑n" and "b‑‑ch." God's name is habitually battered.
Rarely do the murders happen onscreen, but the aftermath often makes the cut: bloody holes in foreheads, bruised and lacerated limbs. When we don't see the fallout, we're sure to still hear quite a bit about it, descriptions proffered with cold, graphic precision.
Series writers seem to shy away from sex scenes. But sexual content is common, from investigating the murder of a minor celebrity who built a cable show around the documentation of his one-night stands, to strategic salacious pictures, to detectives detailing their sex lives.
The police are the good guys here, no questions asked. It's the world they inhabit—and the worldview they accept—that are the perps.
The unit investigates the death of a security guard—a war hero who had his face blown away by a shotgun. We see the man's dead body as well as blood and gore on the asphalt. Multiple crime shots of the body pop up throughout the episode.
As the investigation wears on, suspicion falls on a young man and his 16-year-old girlfriend. The guard apparently kicked them out of an empty house, which is strewn with the detritus of their relationship, including condoms (used and unused), marijuana (which he allegedly had a prescription for) and the girl's bra. The young woman lies to protect her boyfriend, saying that a "big black man" on a motorcycle was talking with the guard shortly after the guard kicked them out of the house. Brenda eventually tracks the shotgun used in the murder to the girl's father, who admits to killing the guard after his daughter told him that the guard tried to rape her (another lie). "He made her strip and tried to mount her," the father believes. Both he and his daughter are accused of the murder.
People talk about pot and beer. Detectives contemplate bodily fluids. One officer learns that the woman he's living and sleeping with was a "leak," giving the secrets he'd share with her to an outside source. We also learn that the detective and the leak met at his church. Characters say "b‑‑ch," "d‑‑n," "a‑‑," "h‑‑‑" and misuse God's name twice.
"To Serve With Love"
Detectives Provenza and Flynn, with help from computer expert Buzz, take on an unapproved freelance gig to serve court papers to a felon wanted by the FBI. When Buzz asks if what they're doing is legal, Flynn says, "We're law enforcement and we're doing it. That makes it legal." Then, moments after they serve the guy, he's gunned down and dropped out a 14th-story window—onto Buzz's Prius. (We see bloody bullet holes in the victim's back and a trickle of blood from his ear.)
Turns out, the dead man was only an actor. And Brenda suspends Provenza, Flynn and Buzz for 72 hours for taking on the illicit job. But she, of course, is just as bad as they were: Their suspension allows her to use them—as temporary civilians—to track down the felon for real, stringing along the FBI in the meantime.
Provenza and Flynn laudably turn down a bribe. But they break or bend the law several times in the space surrounding that one good decision. Brenda lies to the felon's family members, misleads other police officers and misdirects the FBI. A man's lack of circumcision becomes a big clue. Characters say "d‑‑n," "h‑‑‑," "b‑‑ch," "b‑‑tard" and misuse God's name.