Part 2: How Major Crimes Got Right (Almost) Everything The Closer Got Wrong
In my previous article, I indicated just how many things The Closer did wrong during the course of its run. By extension, you would be hard pressed to think a spinoff of the show would be any more wrong-headed. Actually, spin-off is the wrong word, considering that almost the entire cast from The Closer was on the series, save for Sedgwick, Simmons and Corey Reynolds. It would be more accurate to consider Major Crimes a continuation.
(It should also be noted that Major Crimes is what the unit Chief Johnson was heading was called after it seemed likely that Priority Homicide was going to be disbanded. She called it Major Crimes in front of a reporter. Some would call this an action to protect her people; I saw it as yet another example as to how Brenda refused to accept any decision that threatened her authority. But I digress.)
The central reason, I believe, that Major Crimes worked better was the woman they got to replace Sedgwick. But to explain how they made this choice, we need to go back a bit.
Early in Season 5, we were introduced the leader of the Force Investigation Division (the variation on Internal Affairs) Captain Sharon Rayder. Played by Mary McDonnell, who had just left her best job on the Scifi Channel’s revival of Battlestar Galactica, Rayder was as close to a worthy antagonist — and eventual frenemy that Brenda would have. She was just as determined and intense as Brenda was at her job, but unlike Brenda, she was committed to doing the right thing for justice whatever the cause.
The reason we were supposed to dislike her is the same reason we have been attuned to hate Internal Affairs ever since police dramas began — they are the bureaucracy preventing the cops from doing their jobs. The fact that police might need policing is one of those things that both bad cops and good cops seem to agree on — apparently the only thing worse than being a criminal is being ‘a rat’ — which ironically may be one of the few real things police procedurals are right when it comes to accurate portrayals of cops.
But because Sharon was essentially the other side of the coin when it came to Johnson, it became easy to root for her very quickly. Their relationship was complicated, but the possibility that she was trying to support her because of the difficulty of being a woman in the LAPD — something that was only hinted at — may have led to her trying to help her. She gently nudged Brenda into interviewing for the Chief position, headed the investigation into the Newton murder, trying to protect Brenda as much as she could against the brass, and trying to find the mole in the department, something Brenda virulently denied, even up to the point of her exposure. You could argue that Sharon was trying to help the department this way as well, but Brenda never saw it that way, because she still viewed her as an obstacle.
When Major Crimes began, the series made several brilliant moves. First they put Rayder’s character at the head of the unit. This gave the series a certain integrity that, for all the efforts of the writers, The Closer never really had. We knew Rayder believed in justice; we didn’t have to be convinced. The series also became more of an ensemble piece in a way it had never been in the parent show. Provenza was given more to do than be the crotchety comic, out of touch, old cop, and reveal some genuine talent as an investigator. He was actually allowed to be second in command, something Brenda almost never did. Many of the other characters began to get more of a background that we rarely saw on the show — we saw more of the characters family and some of the characters who had always been on the fringe — Buzz, the cameraman whose sole job seemed to be setting up video on The Closer — was actually given a real backstory, which would form the background of an entire season.
There was also at the center of Major Crimes more of a sense of the process that was never quite there. In The Closer, Brenda got them to confess and that was almost always the end of it. In Major Crimes, the DA’s office was at the center of every investigation. Plea bargains were the goal rather than confessions. We spent far more time in the courtroom then we ever did on the parent season, and while the results weren’t always pleasant, at least Major Crimes acknowledged their was a process.
I honestly think the series could have had a better reputation had it not made such a ghastly mistake from the last episode of The Closer. In the finale, Brenda’s series long battle with an attorney/serial killer Philip Stroh, culminated after she used a teenage male prostitute named Rusty basically as bait to catch him and get him into jail. Right from the start, Rusty was portrayed as one of the most annoying teenage characters in the history of the medium. It wasn’t until We Are Who We Are that I found one that irked me nearly as much from beginning to end.
What makes this hard to understand is why he was on Major Crimes in the first place. Granted, he was a witness in the Stroh case, but there was no legitimate reason to keep him onscreen. I understand why Sharon would feel an obligation to protect him as a witness, but there was no reason at all to invite him into her home. Indeed, the longer the storyline was carried out, the more ludicrous it became. Sharon would end up adopting him later in the show, and eventually he would work at the DAs offices while attending community college.
All of this could have happened without making him a regular. He could’ve just shown up occasionally every few episodes and it would have been easier to tolerate. And since the writers never found a real use for him, I just don’t know why he was there. At one point, he was being used as bait for one of Stroh’s accomplices, and this may have been one of the times I was rooting for a character to be killed off.
But despite this massive flaw, Major Crimes was a very well done police procedural that dealt far more with the consequences of police work than anything else. There was more empathy with the suspects then usual (though there will still more than their share of moronic criminals) and I think it could’ve lasted longer. Indeed, the writers were as shocked as the fan base when the series was canceled after six seasons. I grant you, it basically wrapped up slightly better than The Closer did (though I was not sold on a major death near the end), but it could still be going on today. Granted TNT has moved on to darker and somewhat better material (the rousing Snowpiercer and the delightful Claws), but it could use a series like this. Hell, given everything going on, I think the genre could as well.