When The Closer arrived in my mailbox a few weeks ago, it was still weeks before TNT would air the last few episodes of the seven-year-run that Kyra Sedgwick had strung together as Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson. After almost removing the show from its spot in my rotation a year ago, when the sixth season dragged out a lawsuit as its main story, I was sucked back in by the improved storytelling and focus on the department’s criminal cases. But the final four episodes? Those were some of the best dramatic moments on television.
The first ten episodes of this final season ran from July to September of 2011, followed by the middle five airing over the holiday season of 2011, and concluding with a six-week run this summer. In this final set, Phillip Stroh (Billy Burke) is reintroduced as a lawyer who may also be a serial killer, and we know that things are getting personal (again). There’s the brief levity of “Fool’s Gold” featuring Lieutenant Provenza’s (G.W. Bailey) ex-wife, and then it’s off to the races with emotions, drama, and tension building.
I found myself emotionally involved by the end of “Drug Fiend,” which is a complicated case about cancer doctors and the drugs they provide their patients; the attachment comes up when one considers the toll the case takes on Johnson given that her father iss undergoing treatment thousands of miles away in Atlanta. We begin to see the extent of her stress, and how the truism that “it’s more than a job” is becoming solidified in her understanding of her life.
Those issues press forward in “Last Rites,” where the case is compelling, but the focus is actually on the impact that sickness and time are having on Johnson’s family. Suffice it to say that the twist in the overall fabric of The Closer could not have been deliberately guessed by many, and the impact emotionally on fans of the show is… intense. Hours after watching the last three episodes back-to-back-to-back, I still can’t quite shake the second to last. It’s also telling that the “leak in the department” storyline follows immediately afterward, and in another way, life as it is known comes to an end. Without spoiling it, it’s hard to even express how powerfully these elements are woven together.
Finally, in what I see as more predictable, but no less powerful, the season finale finds Stroh rising up out of the dark, and a young street hustler (Graham Patrick Martin of Two and a Half Men) becoming the voice for change in Johnson’s life. The epic parallels between their characters, and their struggle to understand what it means to make their way in the world of dangerous men (and how it has impacted them) is something we should all consider. How do our jobs or habits or decisions impact our lives? Are we above the residual impact? Are our friends, families, and loved ones? For Johnson, is she allowing her soul to care more about the dead than the living? What long-term impact would that have?
I don’t know if new viewers will see the same things; I know as a viewer of all 109 episodes, I was mightily moved, and reminded to consider what I hold dear. Is it my job (”Drug Fiend”)? Is it faith (”Last Rites”)? Is it duty (”Armed Response”)? With The Closer, it ultimately always comes back to family, both on the force and in Johnson’s heart. Hopefully, when we are examined, we will find that those things are our pillars, too.