starring Kyra Sedgwick, J.K. Simmons, Corey Reynolds, Robert Gossett, G.W. Bailey, Tony Denison, Michael Paul Chan, Raymond Cruz,Phillip P. Keene and Jon Tenney
created by James Duff and the Sheppard/Robin Company
Over the last couple of months I have watched nearly every episode of the seven-season long Turner Network Television police drama The Closer (2005-2012) on rental DVD. It began when my wife received as a gift a full collection of seasons one and two. I was in the background as she watched them and I slowly got hooked. But I was hesitant at first because I was turned off by the shrill, screechy, haranguing tone of the show’s female lead, even in Japanese dubbing. (And by her ugliness. Actress Kyra Sedgwick is not an eye-pleaser. Each to his own, though. Kevin Bacon likes her enough to be married to her since 1988.) I suppose that if not for the empirically verifiable fact that it is so such comments might sound misogynistic. But thank goodness they aren’t. The female lead’s shrill, quirky personality is fundamental to her character in the context of the show.
First aired in 2005 The Closer is a drama surrounding Los Angeles Police Department criminal investigation procedures. Specifically, it follows the life of Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson (Kyra Sedgwick) who is imported from an eastern U.S. police department to head the LAPD’s new Major Crimes Division. Her specialty is murder. It has been praised as effectively expanding American culture’s ideas of fitting roles for women in the workforce.
Chief Johnson is the wacky personality that every police drama pivots around. There always has to be a straight cop and a wacky cop. When I was growing up in the 1970s the wacky cop was always the black guy. Then the Mel Gibson, Danny Glover movie Lethal Weapon (1987) was the first police drama movie I saw in which the black cop was the normal middle class guy and the white cop was the weirdo. I have always appreciated that.
Chief Johnson’s forte is extracting murder confessions that stand up in court, earning her a reputation as a “Closer.” But here is the great thing I object to. Chief Johnson lies her guts out
in order to trick, manoeuver and intimidate suspects into confessing. She is very clever in that she consistently identifies the real murderer when the rest of her staff and superiors are over-ready to pursue the simplest explanation, the easiest suspect and the wrong man. (Police like easy explanations.) Chief Johnson is never content until the explanation of the crime matches the collected physical evidence, and that pursuit always puts her in conflict with the ambient police culture. She’s on a different path than the usual police detective. So she quickly earns a bad reputation within and without her department despite being correct in the face of everyone else’s error. She is difficult to work with and she is very slow to earn the respect and devotion of her detectives. That rapport does eventually form, but its slow evolution in the face of Chief Johnson’s quirkiness is largely what fuels the comedy in the show.
First, I question how well confessions derived from fraud, trickery, manipulation and intimidation can stand up in a court of law, despite how well they match the physical evidence. People are free to say anything they want, of course.
I don't want a shrill woman with too much red lipstick screeching at me.
Second, I strongly, Strongly, STRONGLY object to the show’s obsession with discovering the absolute truth. The cultural line is clear. The truth will not only save us, but protect us, too. It won’t, of course. Chief Johnson thinks she’s Oliver Cromwell or something, pursuing Truth as the ultimate redeeming virtue. I would have agreed when I was a high schooler or college student. I was more of an uncompromising idealist then. But I feel differently today. I’ve seen too much. I don’t appreciate the Chief being angry and calculatingly intimidating demeanor towards the suspects she interrogates. Instead, the collection of evidence of guilt should be dispassionate. If I was a suspect I would not like a shrill woman with too much red lipstick screeching at me.
The American Miranda Right to remain silent during questioning is neither frivolous nor without cause and the right to the counsel of an attorney during police questioning is a well and properly considered procedure. In the show Chief Johnson excels at catching people in lies and then eking confessions out of the contradictions between the physical evidence and the suspects’ stories. The assumption is that if a person is lying then they must be guilty.
But on the one hand self-incrimination goes against the spirit of the presumption of innocence until proof of guilt. The burden of proof must always reside with the police and government prosecutors and it is right and fitting that the presumption of innocence be vigorously defended at all times, even in cases of obviously despicable people. I think this is exactly what Chief Johnson’s strategy jeopardizes. It is appropriate that the public be protected from the police.
Truth as such will neither save nor protect us.
On the other hand, the Truth as such will neither save nor protect us. In fact, deceit and secrecy are rather necessary in order to live successfully in a social world among people we despise. Lies and secrecy are even more necessary if you are married.
The Closer might be good entertainment but it is not a venerable example of good police procedure. I think people forget that. I think people confuse entertainment with reality and wrongly think that by watching, for example, a police drama they are actually learning something real about police work.