August 13, 2012



With the exception of those shows that don’t know they’re about to be canceled, rarely has a long-running series come to less of a conclusion than tonight’s last episode of THE CLOSER.  And with good reason, of course–the episode was less an ending than a brief interruption, with the spin-off Major Crimes literally premiering seconds after the final Closer credits hit the screen.  The result felt less like a series finale than one of the episodes where a lead doctor left ER, or where any of the million cops or DAs made their exits from Law & Order.

The torch was only passed at all because Kyra Sedgwick decided to move on after 7 enormously successful seasons on the air, and since she (and co-stars JK Simmons and Corey Reynolds) was one of the few looking for a change, everything else pretty much stayed in place.  Possibly because the watchword for TNT and the producers was “stability,” the finale, written by series creator James Duff and Supervising Producer Mike Berchem, and directed by Michael M. Robin, didn’t give Sedgwick’s Brenda Leigh Johnson much of a send-off.

The hour did provide a final face-off with the show’s Hannibal Lecter character, the shrewd serial killer lawyer Philip Stroh (Billy Burke), whom Brenda Leigh had tried and failed to trap intermittently over the past couple of seasons.  His legal practice didn’t really come into play this time, as Stroh was seen by a teen hustler as he prepared to bury a body in Griffith Park, and most of the drama centered around whether the boy would identify Stroh.  Sedgwick and Burke had one good interrogation scene where he confronted her for her usual tactic of cleverly lying to manipulate suspects into confessions, but then things disappointingly ended with a couple of violent confrontations, which aren’t really what’s made The Closer stand out for all these seasons.

The series, despite its strong ensemble, has always had Sedgwick and her Brenda Leigh front and center, and that was certainly true of her last hour.  Over the seasons, Sedgwick and the writers have probed ever more deeply into their heroine’s own dysfunctions–she’s moved from the semi-comedy of the early episodes, with her “Ah-do-declare” Southern accent, her inability to get around LA and her candy fixation, to a more morally ambiguous figure who’s indirectly been responsible for some deaths.  In the finale, Brenda Leigh appeared to finally understand that all this ugliness and manipulation had affected her too, and it seemed like a big moment when she told the gut-shot Stroh that she didn’t even want to hear his confessions.  But then she perfunctorily left the series by taking a very similar job at the LA DA’s office–close enough for occasional guest star appearances, I suppose, but no movement at all for her character.

The Closer producers, despite a full season to plan for their transition, didn’t do much to wind things up effectively.  The subplot about a leak in Brenda Leigh’s squad, which ran for more than a year, was resolved in a very unsatisfactory way, by revealing that the most loyal of her troops, Sgt. Gabriel (Reynolds) had been the unwitting source all along because an evil lawyer had paid a woman to become his girlfriend and ultimately fiance (now Brenda Leigh is taking him along to the DA’s office and off the series); similarly, Chief Pope (Simmons) was set up for departure with an abrupt promotion.  Most potentially dangerous was the fact that the lead of Major Crimes, IA Captain Raydor (Mary McDonnell), was never built into a character who could become the show’s centerpiece.  But that’s another series…

This moment belongs to Kyra Sedgwick and Deputy Chief Johnson.  The Closer was never one of the great TV cop shows, but Johnson grew into a substantial character, and one always given a smart, first-rate portrayal.  Replacing her and her series won’t be an easy task.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."