Kyra Sedgwick, <EM>The Closer</EM> Kyra Sedgwick, The Closer

Exactly three months ago, when last we tuned in to TNT's The Closer, the Priority Homicide Squad's murder room earned its name, as a federally protected mob informant snapped, snatched Provenza's pistol from his drawer and ignited a shootout within the crowded space, leaving one person dead. Tonight, starting at 8 pm/ET, in what is being billed as a two-hour special event, the action picks up with Kyra Sedgwick's Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson still feeling the ramifications of the melée and facing perhaps her toughest quandary ever. TVGuide.com asked Closer creator James Duff for a sneak peek.

TVGuide.com: Why this special event? It's out of season and not capitalizing on November sweeps....
James Duff:
Well, we're never on during sweeps, and that helps us in a way because we're not obligated to do crazy things, like, "Oh, one of our squad members is buried underground. Will the rest of the team find him?" That makes our storytelling more authentic. Also, we wanted to do something that harkens back to Brenda's past. We wanted to try a little experiment, do something different that we felt was a little too complicated to do during our regular season. As for the timing, it will serve as a bridge between when we're on in our regular season and the period when we're off the air, because we're off the air longer than most other shows.

TVGuide.com: It's like a "mid-hiatus appetizer."
Duff:
Exactly. We tried to be really different, and I hope the people who watch the show like it. You never know, when you're trying to stretch your show a bit, how people will take it. But I feel like it's not cool to be safe.

TVGuide.com: The premise is that Brenda is still on administrative leave, as a result of the murder-room shootout, when she is called on to consult on a case for her old employer, the CIA?
Duff:
Yes. A lot of people don't know this, but the CIA runs a huge domestic division that spies on foreign nationals in the United States — especially in Los Angeles, with the concentration being very heavily on the Iranian community. We know that Iran is desperately attempting to build nuclear weapons, and there are a lot of ways to go about doing that, especially considering that Russia has about 60 tons of plutonium stored in a pretty much open way. So Brenda is on administrative leave when the CIA says, "Help us with this problem we have, and we will call off the federal agents that are keeping you out of your job." A lot of people don't know this, but the Los Angeles Police Department operates under federal consent decree, because of issues brought up by the Rampart scandal. There were something like 200 clauses the Los Angeles Police Department had to conform to, according to a federal judge, before they could leave the supervision of the federal government. So far, there's one provision they haven't complied with, and the judge refuses to lift the consent decree. So the federal government could literally keep Brenda out of her job as long as they wanted to, and there would be nothing she or anyone on the police force could do about it.

TVGuide.com: Wow. So helping the CIA out with this case is almost like a shortcut for getting through that red tape.
Duff:
Yeah, and that's huge. She's been on leave for three months, and you could be on for as long as two years.

TVGuide.com: We will still be seeing the Priority Homicide regulars, though?
Duff:
Oh, yes. In the first episode you'll be getting a good dose of Provenza and Flynn and Gabriel and Pope and Fritz.... Her squad has been temporarily disassembled because of what happened.

TVGuide.com: Will you give us cliff-hangers at the end of either hour?
Duff:
Yes. As you know, at the end of our regular season, Provenza had his gun grabbed from him, and he's on leave, too. So right before the climax of the first hour, Provenza agrees to wear a gun again.

TVGuide.com: Wow, that incident must have hit him hard.
Duff:
Yeah. He feels vulnerable, stupid.... He's really a good cop, there's no question about it, but he feels responsible for everything that's gone on, so he's not picking up a gun. And in a crunch.... Well, I don't want to give too much away.

TVGuide.com: Will the events of this special send the Fritz/Brenda/Pope triangle in any new directions?
Duff:
I think Pope is pretty much out of the picture now, and she has moved on to Fritz. I don't think that's going to be a business that we replay. Pope has moved on, which has allowed her to move on.

TVGuide.com: A lot of fans have been asking me if we will ever see what Pope got her for a birthday present.
Duff:
Yes, I know. Isn't that funny?

TVGuide.com: Are the contents the same as the briefcase in Pulp Fiction?
Duff:
[Laughs] I don't think anyone can answer that question, can they? We will see the birthday present, I promise, in Season 3. However, I cannot tell you that you will recognize it. If you remember that it's platinum, that at last gives you something to look for.

TVGuide.com: Speaking about the shootout episode, did you ever tinker with killing off a major player? It seemed like we were ramping up to that.
Duff:
A lot of people were expecting that. I wouldn't want to do that in a season finale, because there would be no time to actually deal with it. We try to deal with the interpersonal relationships of our characters within the episode itself. I don't want to rule anything out or rule anything in, but I kind of like all of our series regulars. [Laughs]

TVGuide.com: Do you have a theme in mind for Season 3?
Duff:
Our theme for the first year was "the woman in a man's world," and our Season 2 theme was "partnerships." Season 3 will be all about "family." That's the connecting thread through the episodes. When you grow up with a family and then move out, especially to the larger urban areas, you tend to make your own family — not only out of your husband, wife and children, but from those people around you who you find you can rely on, who you end up caring about, who you would do anything for. So we're going to explore that. And we will be meeting more of Brenda's family: We'll be seeing her mother again, and we're going to meet her dad and Fritz's mom.

TVGuide.com: Have either of the latter two been cast yet?
Duff:
No, no. We tend to write the role and then look for the person who will fit it, rather than the reverse.

TVGuide.com: Because Frances Sternhagen was so perfect as her mom.
Duff:
Isn't she great? I'm about to have lunch with her, I'll send her your compliments. She's going on a safari, so I thought I'd better grab her before she gets lost in the wilds of Africa!

TVGuide.com: I know you said you like your regulars, but do you anticipate any cast changes for Season 3?
Duff:
No, I don't. I think this whole season will be with the cast we had last year. I expect to have James Avery back, if he's available, to do our autopsies.

TVGuide.com: I always got a kick out of seeing the Fresh Prince's uncle digging into people.
Duff:
You know, I'd never watched The Fresh Prince [of Bel-Air] even once, until I was in Hawaii this summer. I was like, [Gasp] "That's James Avery!" He's a great guy.

TVGuide.com: How about one final tease about the two-hour special?
Duff:
Well, Brenda reverts to her CIA training, and it's a little disturbing to the people around her. There's an argument in the country going on between our ideals and our pragmatic selves, and she embodies that argument. She's looking for the rationale behind doing the best she can for people that she's not sure she believes in, and I think we're all doing that right now. We all believe in America and the idea of America, but we don't all believe that we're doing the right thing. I'm not trying to make a political statement....

TVGuide.com: I was going to say, this special isn't going to feel like some stand-alone statement, is it?
Duff:
No, not at all. It's an emotional statement, because this is an emotional dilemma. When one side of the world is ready to blow up the other side to settle an argument, it's pretty clear which side you need to be on.

TVGuide.com: It sounds like we'll be seeing a Brenda Leigh like we have never seen before.
Duff:
That's exactly right.

After tonight's special — the second hour of which is directed by Kyra Sedgwick's husband, Kevin Bacon — discuss it in The Closer's TV Show Commentary blog.

Send your comments on this Q&A to online_insider@tvguide.com