[Warning: The following article contains major spoilers about Monday's episode of Major Crimes. Read at your own risk!]
Major Crimes' three-part summer finale got underway with a bang Monday — literally — when neo-Nazi serial killer Dwight Darnell (Brett Davern) opened fire in a courtroom while he was acting as his own attorney. His primary target? Dr. Joe Bowman (Bill Brochtru), the psychologist who previously deemed him competent to act as his own lawyer.
But while Dr. Joe survives, other people in the courtroom aren't so lucky, including LAPD Assistant Chief Russell Taylor (Robert Gossett), who's shot by Darnell as he reaches for his own gun. Taylor has been a recurring character on Major Crimes since Season 1, a holdover from the show's predecessor The Closer.
Also killed are DDA Rosen (Jason Kravits) and Officer Simms (Greg Collins), a cop who's acted as Darnell's handler in prison. And Darnell doesn't make it out of the ordeal alive either — he's shot multiple times by Sharon (Mary McDonnell) and succumbs to his injuries at the hospital.
As the team starts to investigate the incident, it becomes clear that Darnell couldn't have acted alone. Someone must have tampered with the gun he used, which had been labeled a piece of evidence, in order to make it functional. Looks like we have a conspiracy on our hands! Was it Simms, who seems to have a deeper connection to Darnell but who ended up paying the ultimate price? Was it someone working in the public defender's office? Was it someone else? Sharon decides to make it seem like Dr. Joe was killed in the shooting in the hopes of flushing out any additional conspirators who may have been involved in the incident.
TVGuide.com spoke with Major Crimes executive producer James Duff about Taylor's death, the intricacies of filming a mass-shooting scene, and what's ahead for Sharon and the rest of the team after "White Lies, Part 1." Here's what he had to say (responses have been edited for length):
TVGuide.com: How did the idea for this three-part finale come about?
James Duff: This season has been about the balance of power. We always try to center our season on a word, and "balance" has been the word this season. We wanted to end our season meditation on this word by exploring the balance of power, and the best way to do that was to create a vacuum at the top, and watch as people struggle to regain their balance.
Racism is not dead. And the Nazi ideology, as heinous as it is, is reasserting itself, not just in America. You see various pro-Aryan groups agitating for more power. I'm anti-Nazi. (Laughs) I never used to think of that as very much of a controversial thing to say. But I feel like the more we allow these crazy racists license, the more normal it seems. It's not normal. It's wrong. So, I wanted to tell a story that dramatized just how wrong it was, and we wanted to make a sacrifice to prove it. And it just went with our theme. The Nazi movement is agitating the balance of power, and inside the LAPD, we've now created a balance-of-power issue, and we also made a sacrifice that dramatized that issue.
Why did you decide to kill Taylor off, and what was Robert's reaction to the news?
Duff: There were multiple reasons for that. Robert is a brilliant character actor, and has an enormous amount of love for the theater, and has inhabited a lot of different characters. I did not have as much use for Robert in his current part as Robert has capacity. It wasn't that he wanted to go. That's not the case. He just was wondering if there was more to do. I love Robert. Robert is a very good friend. And we both just sort of came to the realization that what he really liked here most of all was the people. He liked the cast, he loved the production team, he loved the crew. And, he's going to keep all that. None of that's going away.
By shooting [Taylor] the way we did, we were also authenticating what's going on in law enforcement today. On our show, we feel an obligation to get the details about law enforcement right. And it has never been less safe to be a police officer. They are walking around with big blue targets on them. I would also say, it's never been less safe, apparently, to be driving while black. That seems to be a big problem. And we want to pay attention to both sides of that issue.
Did you grapple with the idea of portraying a mass shooting, given the conversation around gun control?
Duff: Yes, I did, and for years I avoided it. Writers would bring it up and I would say, "I'm not going to play into the theatrics and the sensationalized storytelling of a mass shooting." But now, it's gotten to the point where to not tell the story is to become inauthentic. There are so many mass shootings in America right now, and since there is no will to do anything about it, to not dramatize a mass shooting anymore is to live in a world that is creepily banal. We have mass shootings in America on a regular basis, and I felt finally, if we don't do a mass shooting pretty soon, we're going to look like we live in a different world than the rest of the country.
Logistically, how difficult was it to shoot that scene?
Duff: I've had that idea for the opening of an episode or a series for a long, long time. It was really great to see how well Mike Robin directed that. I felt like he just captured it beautifully. The entire sequence in the courtroom — not the aftermath, but the first half, the questioning of Dr. Joe, the shooting and the aftermath — took a day. And the reason it only took a day was because we were prepping it like crazy. And also because Mike Robin is such a genius director. He grabbed every single thing we needed exactly when we needed it. He plotted and planned the documentation of that scene as if he were on a military mission.
How will the squad be affected by Taylor's loss? Will we see someone replace him?
Duff: Exactly. That's what the next [part of the season] will be about. Fritz Howard (Jon Tenney) is the deputy chief, and he is the initial choice to be acting assistant chief, but there will be several people angling for that job. Sharon will be one of the people under consideration. ... But there will be two other people being considered for the job, and it will cause a lot of tension and rivalry.
Before we get to the back half of the season, what can fans expect from the next two installments of "White Lies"?
Duff: The three-part finale ends with the solution of this particular case, the end of Buzz's (Phillip P. Keene) storyline in the search for the murderer of his father, and the final disposition of Mark Jarvis (Henry Oliver Kaufman), who is Sanchez's (Raymond Cruz) foster son.
Will we get a definitive conclusion to the case?
Duff: Yes, absolutely. There will be no cliffhanger based on this mystery. This mystery will be solved.
Can we expect more casualties before the end of the season?
Duff: I can't answer that, [but] this is a dangerous time. The LAPD is a dangerous place to work. Every law enforcement agency in America right now is a very dangerous place to work. It's people living day to day in a hazardous situation, saying goodbye to their families every morning, not knowing if they will ever see each other again. It's never been worse, and it needs to get better.
What else will we learn about this conspiracy and Simms' potential involvement in it?
Duff: However big you think it is, think bigger.
Major Crimes airs Mondays at 10/9c on TNT.