Review by Elizabeth C. Bunce

Monday night, TNT closed the books on one of the most popular series in its history, and began a new chapter that seems well poised to carry on the tradition of great ensemble casting and storytelling viewers have come to love.

In the series finale of The Closer, we saw the conclusion of seven years of great drama, including the wrap up of storylines sometimes two to three seasons in the making, as well as a neatly-handled setup for the new Major Crimes spinoff.  All our questions were answered, in a complex, slightly bizarre, altogether satisfying final installment featuring Chief Brenda Lee Johnson’s recurring nemesis, evil defense-attorney-slash-rapist Philip Stroh.  Johnson’s relentless pursuit of Stroh, despite an infuriating lack of physical evidence, ultimately drives her to extreme lengths–attacking Stroh and planting evidence (featuring a truly brilliant scene with the excellent but underutilized Coroner Dr. Morales (played artfully by Jonathan Del Arco, who once played our favorite borg, Hugh, on Star Trek: The Next Generation).  It’s all a bit edgy and far-fetched, but Sedgwick pulls it off, bolstered by a history of increasing histrionics over the past two seasons.  Her behavior also provides a neat exit from the series: she’ll leave the LAPD for a new job as chief of investigations for the DA’s office, taking disgraced Detective Gabriel along with her.  (Which conveniently also explains Fritz’s carryover into the new series.)

A couple of logical gaffes didn’t distract from the show’s overall impact.  When did serial rapist Stroh change his (painstakingly well-established through at least two previous episodes) M.O. and become a serial murderer instead?  And young newcomer Graham Patrick Martin pulled off a terrific performance as protected witness Rusty Beck, a teenage hustler as adept at making deals as the Department of Major Crimes–a strong showing despite some improbable moments designed to wrangle his storyline into the new series.

The very best moment in the entire episode comes during the action-packed climax–an over-the-top violent confrontation with Stroh in Johnson’s home (with only Rusty as a witness).  No spoilers, but suffice it to say that the writers concocted brilliant ends for every beloved member of the series–including Brenda’s ubiquitous black bag.

All in all, the finale felt logical, well-paced, and not overly sentimental.  With various threads wrapped up in the last several episodes, writers weren’t forced to cram too much into the finale, keeping the focus on taut storytelling and entertaining performances.  The best thing to say is the best that can be said for any series finale: It felt like a darn good episode of the show.

Despite seamlessly picking up where The Closer left off, series producers wisely gave Major Crimes its own original plotline for the pilot, giving the new show a chance to stretch its legs and introduce some of the changes viewers can expect to see, including a greater focus on action and Law & Order-style justice system manipulation.  The challenge for the new series will be to strike a balance between old and new–giving viewers enough of what we love from The Closer, while becoming more than just The Closer Minus Brenda.  I think most viewers would welcome the latter, frankly–but that’s not fair to the new series, which deserves a chance to develop in its own direction.

The cast dynamic will feel familiar to longtime Closer viewers, as the first episode centers around powerplays between Detective Provenza (G.W. Bailey) and new boss Captain Raydor (Mary McDonnell).  The two have worked together now for at least the last two seasons, so this aspect felt slightly forced and perfunctory, but no more awkward than average TV pilot growing pains.  Also slightly improbable, yet surprisingly well done, was the integration of Graham Patrick Martin’s character of Rusty, the underage witness introduced in The Closer finale.  In return for his testimony against Stroh, Rusty demands that the LAPD find the mother who abandoned him months earlier at the zoo.  Complications with the foster care system land Rusty in Captain Raydor’s custody–a twist that stretches disbelief.  It’s an interesting move, though, and it’s easy to imagine that the Rusty-Raydor relationship will mirror the zany emotional melodrama of Fritz and Brenda.

With so many familiar faces returning for Major Crimes, and the show in its predecessor’s timeslot, everything should be in place to make the new series a success.  Changes are inevitable, and maybe even exciting–with the focus off Chief Johnson, the series is free to explore new directions with the characters and storylines.  It will be interesting to see what this favorite, seasoned crew serves up with their new project!

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