Kyra Sedgwick, J.K. Simmons, The Closer

Of all the attractive evils in the world perhaps none is more insidious than the desire to blame others for our own misfortunes. If history is any judge, scapegoating never loses its appeal and, especially in economic downturns, it can be extremely dangerous for those poor souls (or social groups) blamed for events over which they had no control. What's tragic about falsely assigning responsibility for disasters (like lost wars and financial collapse) is that pointing fingers and screaming does nothing to address the real problems. But gleaning what I can from cable news shows, determining who is to blame for a calamity is more important than getting out of one. Which is exactly where we find Assistant Chief Will Pope in The Closer's next episode, "Off the Hook."

Major Crimes gets a call from a woman who senses someone else is in her house. Rattled, the potential victim can't answer questions properly, and while Detective Sergeant Gabriel tries to calm her, his phone line goes abruptly dead. As Brenda tries to sort through the aftershocks of this terrible conversation, Pope explodes and, for the first time ever, personally takes over an investigation.

The results bring even the overtly political Commander Taylor into conflict with his stressed-out boss. Meanwhile, Deputy Chief Johnson must follow the thin, frail thread connecting a detective from LAPD's threat management, a convict in Folsom prison who has thrice been denied parole and a murdering drug addict locked-up at the county jail. Slowly, we begin to detect the heady scent of gardenias. That flowery, hypnotic smell becomes both a metaphor for the innocence and self-righteousness we feel when attempting to blame others for our misfortunes, and also a guide through the elaborate and irrational maze Brenda must negotiate on her way to discovering the murderer.

In this episode, J.K. Simmons, who plays Assistant Chief Will Pope with incredible subtlety, lets lose with fireworks. Well-known as one of the great comic actors of all time (see Juno, The Ladykillers and his massively popular portrayal of Peter Parker's boss in the last three Spider-Man films), and a go-to musical star (J.K. first grabbed national attention for his turn as Captain Hook in Peter Pan), he is also highly regarded as a dramatic actor of amazing variety. Before his artful portrayal of Brenda Leigh Johnson's boss, J.K. played the only recurring character to appear in every version of Law & Order and the most villainous prisoner in the fictional prison of HBO's Oz. It is hard to imagine what my life would have been like without J.K. And his chemistry with Kyra is, well, "Off the Hook."

This episode also marks the return of our fearless leader, Michael M. Robin, who directs with Hitchcockian dash.

Next week, in Closerland, the Police Commission releases the short-list of candidates for Chief of the LAPD. Until then.

— James Duff