[WARNING: The following story contains spoilers from the series finale of The Closer. Read at your own risk.]
When it came time for The Closer's Brenda Leigh Johnson to get her final confession, she didn't even want to hear it.
TNT says goodbye to The Closer, hello to Major Crimes
The groundbreaking TNT drama's series finale found Brenda (Kyra Sedgwick) once again squaring off with the elusive defense attorney/serial rapist Phillip Stroh (guest star Billy Burke) — only this time, Brenda had an eye witness in the form of orphaned teenage hustler Rusty Beck (Graham Patrick Martin). One problem: Rusty wouldn't identify Stroh unless the Major Crimes Unit located his mother, who had abandoned him.
Another problem: In typical fashion, Stroh was able to tiptoe around all of Brenda's circumstantial evidence, leading Brenda to violently attack Stroh as he left the precinct. Although it cost Brenda her job, she also got enough DNA evidence in the attack to scare Stroh, who showed up at Brenda's house to silence both her and Rusty for good. After Brenda put a couple slugs into Stroh, he begged her not to kill him, vowing to confess to all of his crimes. But even though Brenda let Stroh live, she no longer cared what he had to say.
Below, series creator James Duff weighs in on just how significant that moment is for Brenda and her future (a Major Crimes cameo?). Plus: He discusses whether he considered an alternate ending, Brenda's feelings about Gabriel (Corey Reynolds) and the legacy he hopes The Closer leaves behind.
The Closer winds down: Who can Brenda trust?
When this six-episode final season began, you told us that you wrote Brenda's entrance at the beginning of the series with how she'd exit the show also in mind.
James Duff: Her first words in the pilot were, "It looks like love," and her last words in the series are, "Looks like love." In the first statement, it is her professional assessment of a murder victim, and her last statement is purely personal. That has always been the tension that we were dramatizing with this character. I'm interested in the ongoing struggle in our lives between pragmatism and idealism, which shows up a lot in the tug between our professional and personal lives. And she was always erring on the side of her professional life, and she finally got to a point where her personal life caught up with her and could no longer be ignored. I was always writing to that moment.
So you've known how you wanted the series to end from Day 1?
Duff: There were certain things I knew were going to happen. [I knew] that someone was going to volunteer to confess and she was going to say, "I don't want to hear it," and that she was going to be tested as to really which side of the law she was on —whether she was answerable to anybody and whether she regarded herself as an agent of a justice system or justice itself. [I knew] that she was going to be attacked, and that she was going to lose her job closing a case. And that she was to going to end up shooting somebody through her purse. [Laughs]
You said Brenda's personal life finally caught up with her. Do you think that would have been true if her mother hadn't also recently died?
Duff: [I had] the idea that somebody in her personal life would pass away suddenly and cause her to re-evaluate [her life]. I was building a storyline that showed that putting your heart in your work is perhaps sometimes a glorious distraction from where your heart ought to be. Your heart needs to be with your family and with your loved ones. And if you put your heart in your work you are going to have your heart broken.
On the set: Secrets of The Closer finale
But that was a nice little scene with the guys in the bullpen.
Duff: The best part of life is the part we spend with the people we love. They've gone from being co-workers to being friends. They've translated into her personal life, and that's how I think it should be.
You said you always wanted Brenda to refuse a confession in the finale. It seemed even more significant that it was Stroh that she refused.
Duff: Yes, I think it did. Stroh was always sort of the uber-villain, and we kept going back to her obsession with him over the years. I wanted her to say, "I don't want to hear it," to someone who she had been desperately trying to get to confess. And it's such a shocking thing for her to say.
What does it mean for Brenda that she is willing to make that choice?
Duff: Brenda's had a lot of loss here in the last few episodes and death is, for the living, a period of transformation. It actually happens in the scene with Fritz, when she is sitting on the bed and she's saying, "I interviewed this young man who made me think about my life." She can't have that conversation with her mother that she missed, but she can have future conversations. She can't change the past, but she can change the future, and by saying, "I don't want to hear it," she is embracing the future. For me, it was one of the central moments of The Closer.
On the set: Secrets of The Closer finale
Did you ever consider a less happy ending where Brenda kills Stroh?
Duff: No. I wouldn't call it a happy ending exactly, but I never considered anything other than this ending because this seemed right to the character. I thought pulling the trigger would put her forever beyond redemption. If she had pulled the trigger, I would have undone everything she stood for. And it would have been, I feel, unfair to the character. She's just not that kind of person.
Perhaps a lesson she learned from the Turrell Baylor case?
Duff: She did drop off Turrell Baylor in a gang neighborhood where she knew what was likely to happen, but she didn't do it herself. And she took responsibility for it. She recognizes that she overstepped. She says as much in the episode with Gabriel [Corey Reynolds]. At the end, she says, "I made the decision and everything that happened after that, everything is my fault."
Given that, and the fact that Brenda is taking Gabriel with her to her new post, it seems she's made peace with him over that whole leak situation.
Duff: [She recognizes] that he was the person who told her what she ought to do, and had she listened to him, she would have done better. To Gabriel, she says, "I didn't listen. I didn't listen." She has a thing now about listening to people, and she is admitting it. She wants someone who is going to talk to her and tell her the truth, and that's why she takes Gabriel.
Where does The Closer's Brenda rank on our list of Sexiest TV Crime Fighters?
Brenda herself assures her former squad that she'll still see them all the time in her new job. Do you think we'll ever see her on Major Crimes?
Duff: There's a possibility, absolutely.
There are a couple references to her in the Major Crimes premiere. Will Brenda's ghost hang over the show even if she never shows up?
Duff: Not really. I think those symbols are of her leaving and they just make her departure less abrupt and give us time to actually, as I would say, pass the Ding Dong.
Even though you already have the spin-off, what do you hope the legacy of The Closer will be?
Duff: I'm not sure The Closer deserves the credit it gets for putting women in [lead roles]. But if that's true, I'm very proud of the fact that we proved that women could be the lead in a procedural show without losing their femininity. We worked very hard at not making a woman succeed because she could act like a man, but making a woman succeed because she could be a woman. In my experience, successful women weren't one of the boys, they were one of the women, and they were successful because they brought a feminine strength to what it was they were doing. And if we inspired more people to examine how powerful women are in their own right, then I'm very proud of that.
What did you think of The Closer's series finale?