Saddened though I was to bid farewell to my favorite junk food junkie, I loved The Closer's series finale, which aired last night on TNT. Thank yew, Brenda Leigh Johnson and company.
In The Closer series finale, episode 7.21 titled "The Last Word" (2012), two men having a moonlight tryst in a secluded, wooded, cliffside section of Griffith Park witness a masked man, clad entirely in black, carrying a naked blonde's body. The trick, who's removed only his jacket at this point (with his cellphone and other personal effects in the pocket), sees this sinister scenario first and takes off running, literally leaving the kid (survival sex prostitute Rusty Beck), with his pants down. While the boy's yanking his jeans up, the trick's cellphone rings, alerting the killer that he's not alone. Rusty grabs the phone and flees, with the killer hot on his heels. The culprit catches and struggles with the teenager, who fights back valiantly, and in the process unmasks the culprit. The killer, in turn bangs Rusty in the forehead head with a shovel and shoves the kid off the cliff. Miraculously, Rusty - who (we learn) is a survivor in more ways than one - makes his way downtown and uses his john's cellphone to report the crime.
Thanks to Rusty's call, Brenda and her team find the body and use the clues found at and around the serial killer's burial ground as well as leads generated by the phone call to track down the two witnesses and other important clues. Thusly, they identify the dead girl and tentatively identify the culprit as Phillip Stroh.
Stroh is a wily attorney who Brenda and her team know is a serial killer, but - until now - he has so deftly covered his tracks that Brenda has been unable to collect the hard evidence needed to close the case. This has haunted Brenda, who has obsessed over this case for several seasons, even in nightmares that have eerily foretold her and Stroh's final encounter. Unfortunately, Brenda's zealous methods of pursuing Stroh have jeopardized her credibility on that subject and her professional standing.
And then the frantic 911 call causes Beck's, Brenda's and Brenda's real-life bogeyman's lives to collide.
To positively identify Stroh (in a manner that will hold up in court) and close her final case, Brenda must employ nontraditional means that ultimately sacrifice her job and come close to costing Beck and Brenda their lives. First, Brenda lures Stroh to reveal himself as the masked man who buried women in the park by publicizing in the media pictures of a barechested, scratched-up Beck (who left his shirt at the scene when he hastily fled for his life) wearing the serial killer's mask as a hat and phoning 911, along with the call's audio and transcripts and advisement that Sunset Boulevard is Beck's usual stroll. Stroh takes the bait, approaching Beck on the boulevard, and is hauled by Brenda's team into an investigation room at MCD. There, Brenda threatens that she has Stroh's DNA. He's too wily, however, to confess. He knows Brenda would arrest him if she had sufficient evidence, but he hasn't consented to provide a DNA sample, which - he sneers - Brenda cannot legally obtain without his consent. Clearly, he's unclear whom he's dealing with.
Eventually, MCD must cut Stroh loose. However, cocky about besting Brenda again (and perhaps still high on his latest kill), Stroh can't resist revealing he closely follows every detail of her life, and taunts Brenda about her mother's recent death. He then turns and cockily struts into the elevator (that symbolic cell signifying the ability to rise or fall at the push of a button, of life's comeuppances and downfalls).
Brenda (whose quick-trigger reflexes have frequently impressed me) takes advantage of that opportunity to dive into the elevator, just before the doors lock them in alone together, and attack Stroh, obstensibly (and probably) expending the rage and frustration she has built up toward him over the years and expressing her emotional reaction to his dig about her dearly departed mother. In the process, she also calculatedly and in sangfroid draws blood and skin fragments, that she (and her friend DDA Hobbs, who offers her a new job outside of the LAPD) convince the crime lab to match against DNA taken from Stroh's mask. Of course, Brenda's attack of Stroh - in plain sight of her whole team and upward chain of command - threatens to invite (another) lawsuit, a definite reprimand, and possible dismissal from the force. But she ultimately sidesteps all of that and resigns.
That evening, after Fritz has left for Washington, D.C. to expedite the case, Stroh (who's been stalking Brenda) breaks into her house, where a homeless Beck is staying overnight. Brenda recognizes what's happened when she leaves Beck at the table to have a cry in the w.c. and discovers the window wide open, the screen removed, and a Hitchcockian breeze billowing through the bathroom curtains. (I'm not sure there actually ARE curtains, but you get the picture.) She grabs a low-tech weapon (some sort of bludgeon) and, pretending she's unaware there's a killer in her kitchen, continues talking to Beck while cautiously making her way to the that now scary room, where she left him sitting at the kitchen table (now vacant) and the purse holding her gun on the kitchen counter (which she must inevitably pass by serial killer Stroh to reach).
Sure enough, there's Stroh, all the more nightmarish-looking with his battered face and raccoon eyes that Brenda blackened in her attack, holding Beck at knifepoint. Brenda advises Beck to execute the defensive move he's found successful with dangerous johns. Beck complies, letting his body go slack and then judo flipping Stroh. With the attacker flat on his back, Brenda makes a move for her purse.
Thankfully, Beck's more than a pretty face with a pouty attitude; while Brenda goes for her bag, he tackles Stroh. But Stroh slashes the boy in the leg, temporarily incapacitating him, and then goes after Brenda.
In the ensuing scene, eerily reminiscent of Brenda's struggle with another psychopathic killer who cornered her at a boatyard machine shop (which she displayed poor judgment to enter without backup, just as she displayed poor judgment to think she and Beck would be safe at her home with Stroh on the loose, after all that's recently transpired), Brenda's able to grab her designer bag in the nick of time. Stroh's poised his huge butcher knife and is practically upon Brenda when she reaches in her purse and shoots him several times, right through the black satchel's leather bottom. (I have a similar bag, but it's too full of stuff to ever serve me as well in a pinch.)
Stroh, badly wounded and heavily bloodied, falls to the floor, with his back against the counter, unable to get up. Brenda, by now, has removed the handgun from the handbag and aimed it, two-handed, at his kill zone. Stroh - recognizing that Brenda is tempted to kill him, and hearing Beck's strident exhortations to do so - urges Brenda to instead phone 911. Brenda rationalizes that she could kill Stroh "in self defense", but the attorney-at-law counters that Beck could blow that rationalization out of the water when questioned as a witness.
Brenda doesn't heed Stroh's advice, but takes her own counsel. Scenes leading up to this one reveal that Brenda's career, conscience, and colleagues (especially Sgt. David Gabriel - note his angelic last name) are haunted by memories of the Turrell Baylor case, and so - after a tense moment of "will she or won't she?" - former Deputy Chief Johnson phones an ambulance, instead. (Brenda's character contrasts with Dr. Melfi's, in that Brenda's actions in the series finale redeem her, while Melfi - who was tempted to sic Tony Soprano on her rapist after the legal system bungled the evidence chain-of-custody and thus had to free him - would have been irredeemable had she let street justice dispatch with a criminal the legal system was inequipped to deal with) .
Stroh offers Brenda a confession, but "the closer" - who obsessed over this criminal for years - uncharacteristically does not want to hear it. Clearly, she has reached another, more important sort of closure; her mother's death and Beck's comments and life story (which she closely identifies with) have taught her to focus on the living, not the dead.
P.S. Brenda - assured that the new job she's offered as chief of the DA's Bureau of Investigation will let her bring Det. Gabriel aboard with her (as her LAPD Liaison) - accepts the position and says her goodbyes in the last few scenes. The team's parting gift is a black leather designer satchel, filled with the silver-foil-wrapped treats Brenda loves. The purse is meant to replace, as closely as possible, that bag Brenda damaged when she shot Stroh (it's now evidence, so the team couldn't inspect it too closely); the team hopes it's an acceptable substitute.
ASIDE: The filmmakers have ensured that viewers realize how important Brenda's bag is to her; she carried one everywhere, throughout the series, frequently leaving it behind and making a big deal about retrieving it. At the top of the series finale episode, she hefted it after exiting the police van that brought her to the serial killer's burial ground, and the warddrobe department ensured that the oversized black bag contrasted sharply with her short white overcoat and matched her black gloves and tall black boots, so we'd notice it as she tramped around the park.
Touched, Brenda assures the team the gift is perfect; "it's love", she says repeatedly. Clearly, it's not just the bag, and not just the treats that touch her. It's the gesture - so antithetical to the cold shoulder and rebellion that greeted Brenda when she began the job. (Beware, Captain Raydor!) And they'll see Brenda again (after she returns from Atlanta), the former Deputy Chief promises; after all, her new job is just up the block. (There's that up/down terminology, again.)
No mushy hugs or kisses in that farewell, but it's so touching, all the same, that some of those gun-toting tough guys fight back tears.
Then it's out the door and down the hall, where Brenda steps into the same elevator cell where she'd previously beaten Stroh to a pulp. There's no sign of his blood or gore now. Brenda contentedly sniffs the silver treat, much as one might enjoy the bouquet of a fine wine, and smiles, as the door shuts.
Bye-bye, Brenda Leigh! Thank yew so much.
P.S. Anyone else wondering if The Closer's spin-off, Major Crimes, will continue to use the down home bluesy music that goes hand in hand with Brenda Leigh's southern roots, and that is so reminiscent of another police series I enjoyed: In the Heat of the Night?