Kyra Sedgwick

Kyra Sedgwick lets out a big "Ha!" when asked how Brenda Leigh Johnson, the Georgia peach—turned—Los Angeles police babe she plays on The Closer, has changed after six seasons on TNT. "That's the wonderful and fun thing about Brenda," she says. "The woman really hasn't evolved."

On one level, Sedgwick is right. The Closer returns tonight for five episodes ending with a two-part, Christmas-themed finale December 27 and January 5 that features the largest cast of returning characters the show's ever had. Among others, Barry Corbin and Frances Sternhagen return as Brenda's parents. But the Brenda we'll get is the Brenda we've known since the show's pilot episode in 2005, right down to the vintage suits and private stash of Ding Dongs in her desk. Now, as then, Brenda rankles her adversaries with honey-sweet charm and nails cases on instinct while her cohorts spend the rest of the episode playing catch-up. "Brenda's still always right, and it still takes people a while to see things her way," Sedgwick says.

Except now Brenda has weathered six seasons of being second-guessed, unit politics, horrible crimes and confusing relationships. As Sedgwick says when asked what she'd most like to know from her character, "I guess it would be, 'Why don't you go see a shrink?'"

It might be a good time for that, actually. "The new episodes are much more challenging personally for Brenda than our regular season was," says creator James Duff, spilling a few hints about what's ahead: Passed over for a promotion to chief of police (that job went to by-the-book stickler Tommy Delk, played by Courtney B. Vance), Brenda will soon be offered Pope's post as assistant chief.

"People were so mad she didn't get [to be chief], but now's her chance," Duff says. "The trouble is, Brenda hates change, and it makes things awkward with Pope [J.K. Simmons], so it's going to be agonizing for her." Meanwhile, Brenda's denial about her husband's addiction issues "comes back to bite her," Duff says. Adds Jon Tenney, who plays Fritz, "Brenda doesn't like that Fritz is in AA, but it's thrust in her face and she has to accept reality."

Reality's been dogging Sedgwick, too. She and husband Kevin Bacon were among the victims of financier Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme. And now she's adjusting to life as an empty nester since the couple's two children have gone off to college. "I had my kids when I was 23," Sedgwick, 45, says. "I don't know what it's like to be without kids who need you on a daily basis, so I'm navigating those waters. There are great things about it, and then there's like, 'Oh, my God! I miss them!'"

It helped that Sedgwick finally won the best actress in a drama Emmy for The Closer this year and that fans of the show are everywhere. "At the White House correspondents' dinner this year, Obama's Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, came up and said she never misses an episode," Sedgwick says. "My mouth dropped open."

Had the secretary asked, she might have gotten some spoilers. The first new episode starts with a detective being attacked, "and it's one of our own, so we get right back into the intensity in a way that makes me go, 'Wow, this show is so cool,'" Sedgwick says. But it's the Christmas two-parter she's most excited about. The episode begins with the accidental death of a patriarch and winds up as a meditation on refugees in Kosovo. The real drama, though, comes when Brenda's parents return to announce (avert your eyes if you don't want to know!)...they're moving to California. "It definitely leaves a few things hanging for the summer season," Sedgwick says.

As for whether Brenda will end this holiday run with Pope's job, Sedgwick won't confirm or deny, but her laughter tells you something. "Put it this way," she says. "If Brenda does get the job, I think she'd make a lot of enemies really quickly. She wouldn't be good at the politics, she'd spend too much of the budget and she wouldn't be there that long." Talk about an arresting development.

The Closer airs Mondays at 9/8c on TNT

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