MCTV Exclusive: James Duff Talks Season 4 and “The Courage to Live an Everyday Life”

By M. Sharpe

duff btsMajor Crimes series creator and Executive Producer James Duff recently took the time to chat with about tonight’s exciting season premiere, and preview what lies ahead for the team as they enter their fourth season. 

When we caught up with James Duff last week, he was in the midst of filming episode 406 of the season, prepping episode 407, and editing episodes 402-404. Despite the manic pace that is the production schedule of a television series, Duff was happy to take a few moments from his tremendously busy schedule to let us know how excited he is about this upcoming season of Major Crimes, and specifically how the theme of “courage” will play into the stories of this season. “I’m looking forward to exploring and dramatizing the courage it takes to live an everyday life.  We have some unique elements with which to dramatize that particular theme.”

While courage will be a theme that we’ll see in all the characters’ journeys, Duff says that this theme will resonate particularly strongly within the relationship between Sharon and Rusty. “Every parent who sees their child stepping into adulthood has tremendous fears, as they lose their authority and as the child gains autonomy; fear ensues. Have you prepared the child? Have you given the child good judgment that they need to make the right decisions in this complicated world? And we dramatize 401- provenza raydor rusty taylor lr - Copythat dilemma that all parents face by having Philip Stroh escape; he becomes an existential threat in how do you deal with these existential threats and how do you live your life in the face of something like that kind of fear?” He stresses that Sharon, like so many parents before her, is struggling with having to relinquish her control over Rusty’s safety.

Tonight’s episode takes place several months after the events of the season three finale, and find Rusty as a full-time college student on the cusp of taking on a new endeavor as an aspiring journalist for his college newspaper. Those aspirations will intersect with the team through an arc that finds him researching the story of Alice Herrera (first introduced in the season 3 episode “Jane Doe #38”), a young murder victim who, through the course of the investigation, was discovered to have lied about her name, and was never able to be truly identified.  Duff explains that this season, “Rusty is going to be following that story, trying to identify her for the first ten episodes.”

401- rusty2 lrRusty’s newly-discovered passion will also bring something new to the show, in the form of short video-blogs that will will be posted across the official Major Crimes social media pages (and Rusty’s own YouTube channel, which will be launched concurrently with the blogs). They will follow Rusty’s journey to try and identify Alice over a 10-episode arch. Duff reveals that these vlogs will take place in some familiar settings around the murder room, but will feature a fresh perspective on them in the form of Rusty, and that other familiar faces from the show also turn up within them.

Rusty is not the only person who viewers will see entering the Murder Room with a renewed sense of purpose. As we enter this season, Detective Sanchez returns after the suspension caused by his excessive force allegations last year. Explains Duff, “Sanchez has his own challenge to face. I think it requires tremendous bravery to come back after a public suspension and to try and resume your place. And not everyone is that wild about having him come back.” Duff goes on to promise that the writers will deal with Julio’s anger management issues early on in this season. “We are going to answer where the rage comes from; we’re going to deal with the temper issue and we’re going to see him struggle and we’re going to see change.” Duff states, “It is a tribute to Raymond Cruz, to his talent; that he makes the character transition look like the simplest thing on Earth and yet it is an amazingly emotional scene.”

401- tao4 lrOther members of the Major Crimes team will also have to call on their courage in situations that will test them beyond their limits this season. Duff elaborates, “Tao has to face the consequences of using his weapon. And how that affects him, and how it spurs him on beyond finishing the case.” Additionally, Det. Sykes is faced with an impossible situation when, “[She] has an opportunity to protect a witness and this opportunity comes with great challenges because this witness could possibly solve a murder that they have not solved, and yet the witness’ identity cannot be given out.” Duff explains that, “The law does not make exceptions for the judgment of a police officer in this case, so she is standing up to the legal system as well as to a very deadly street gang.”

Despite the serious nature of many of the storylines, Duff assures us that season four isn’t all gloom and doom, with many treats in store for viewers. Buzz, the team’s reliable, rule-abiding sidekick will step into a more pronounced role this season as he completes his Reserve Officer training and joins Flynn and Provenza on his very first ride along. Though, in typical Flynn and Provenza fashion, the three of them find themselves in a significantly more complicated position than anticipated when a domestic disturbance call at a local hotel turns into a homicide investigation, threatening to spoil the entire Major Crimes division’s July 4th plans to attend a Dodgers game together.

401- raydor 1 lr - CopyDuff also reveals how the theme of courage will resonate with one of the most anticipated storylines this season, as the deepening relationship between Sharon Raydor and Lt. Flynn is continues to be explored. Duff shares that Sharon will need to search for a certain kind of courage herself this season, in order to allow her heart to welcome this potential romance. “There are a lot of pluses and minuses involved in dating someone with whom you work with and especially when the stakes are life and death sometimes. But one of the things that is not necessarily a con is how the LAPD looks at these relationships, all you have to do is inform your immediate superior that the relationship, is in fact, going on and you’re in the clear. But, informing your superior that the relationship is going on means admitting that relationship is going on. So, saying it out loud has a lot of power, and I think that probably is one of the most courageous things that [Sharon] is going to have to do.”

Progression in a possible romance with Lt. Flynn will also have consequences for her relationship with her newly adopted son, and perhaps bring some of the trauma from his past back to the surface. “Adding an older male into his living dynamic has never worked out for Rusty [in the past], and as much as he is okay with Sharon going out and spending time with Andy and dating him, the idea that it might move into something more is not met with rapturous joy. And, so he is going to have to deal with that as well, and so is she.”

401- provenza4 lr - CopyWith Flynn getting closer to Sharon this season, that leaves Provenza the time that he needs to evaluate his relationship with Patrice, who was introduced as his own love interest last season. “We love Dawnn Lewis, she is an amazing actor, and a lot of fun. She loves coming to play with us and we love having her.” Duff says this relationship is where Provenza will need to call on his own courage, “I think it takes enormous courage to start a new relationship at Provenza’s age with a woman who is closer to being a peer than the last woman he dated, who was ridiculously young.”

Overall, as Major Crimes enters this fourth season, Duff says fans will watch as the team faces a more heightened sense of danger than ever before. “What you’re going to see is that people are going to rise above that risk because it is a choice of living in fear or living in a much more hopeful environment. Admitting that you are dealing with something that is out of your control and that is dangerous, but that you must live anyway is difficult. and it is a way of living your life in a hopeful place while going through some dark times, and choosing hope over the anxiety. And that is a brave choice. It is how we are setting up the circumstances and we’re allowing the cast to rise above their problems.”

Duff hopes that this season’s theme and the way that it touches each character will resonate as strongly with fans as it has for him and the rest of the Major Crimes cast and crew. “The choice between living your life in fear or living your life with hope, choosing to live with hope, that takes courage. Moving into a defensive crouch, that seems normal and it seems practical. Ignoring that defensive crouch and choosing to live your life out in the open, to act as if you will survive life’s onslaughts – that takes courage.”

The season premiere of Major Crimes airs tonight at 9pm/8c on TNT.