MCTV Exclusive: Hope for the Holidays – James Duff Previews the ‘Major Crimes’ Winter Return

By M. Sharpe

Major Crimes Executive Producer and Co-Creator James Duff. Photo Credit: Mark Hill, Courtesy TNT

Major Crimes Executive Producer and Co-Creator James Duff. Photo Credit: Mark Hill, Courtesy TNT

With the holidays fast approaching, it seems fitting that the theme for the winter season of Major Crimes is “hope”, and the role it plays in our lives. Executive producer and co-creator James Duff took time out of his busy schedule to talk to about how hope can come in so many forms, and how that plays out in the winter run of the show, premiering tonight on TNT.

A mid-season shift in focus to the theme of hope is a natural progression from the theme of “expectations” that characterized the beginning of the season, says Duff. “Our summer episodes were all about expectation and the role that expectation plays in our lives and how the ability to project what happens around the curve is part of what separates us from the animal kingdom. But when that fails, when expectations don’t work out or when you have to fall back on something else, you’re left with hope. And that’s what our last nine episodes are about, and with the holiday season it seems appropriate.”

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Photo Credit: Patrick Wymore, Courtesy TNT

Duff says in keeping with the formula of previous seasons, the upcoming winter episodes will focus more deeply on the personal lives of the squad, while, as always, exploring crimes that often reflect the struggles of the team. First up are Captain Sharon Raydor and Rusty, who, according to Duff, start the winter season off with a big decision – whether or not he will be adopted by Sharon. “He has a mother, he has a mother who is in prison and he has a mother who is difficult and a little complicated and has another mother who just loves him. And so he has a choice to make and hope is a double-edged sword. It is hard to hold onto and it is hard to put down and when it’s all you’ve got, it’s really hard to put down. And we dramatize that in our first episode quite a bit.”  

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Photo Credit: Courtesy TNT

Other characters getting a focus this season include Detective Julio Sanchez, whose behavior has been getting more erratic. As Duff puts it, “You’ve been seeing him slowly unravel this year – unravel and pull himself back together and unravel and pull himself back together.” In fact, Sanchez has what Duff describes as “a personal tantrum” when he suspects his mother’s home healthcare worker may be stealing from her, which “leads directly to an Internal Affairs investigation and a murder investigation, when someone that he beats up ends up dead.”

Duff is mum on whether the return of I.A. into the squad’s life will bring up any issues for Sharon Raydor, who is the former head of I.A.. But, he is quick to point out that “Every time Sanchez has done [something iffy] he has been corrected by a supervisor, and now we are going to get to the end as he finally comes to term with the fact that his temper is out of control and he tries to do something about it. We’ll see if it succeeds.”

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Photo Credit/Courtesy TNT

According to Duff, Sanchez isn’t the only one battling demons this season. “Flynn saves a guy who is about to kill himself only to find out that he’s a sex offender with a dead 16 year old girl in her pajamas in the back of his pickup.” Lt. Flynn also has some internal trouble of his own to deal with as we finally get to meet his daughter, Nicole, who, it turns out, still has the wrong idea about her father’s relationship with Sharon. “[Nicole] has a very interesting conversation with Sharon that leads to a more developed talk with Flynn than Sharon has had before. And it actually encourages Rusty to intervene in a way that he has never intervened before in Sharon’s life.”

Some familiar faces will be back for the winter run, and according to Duff, much of that has to do with how the characters- and the actors who portray them – fit in not only within the universe of the show, but behind the scenes as well. “It’s always great to introduce a new character who clicks with the gang. Obviously, Kathe (Mazur), Malcom (Jamal Warner), Bill (Brochtrup) and Ransford (Doherty) struck chords with each other and each fills a vacant spot inside our world in a wonderful way. What many people don’t know is how much guest stars blend in with the general scheme, and how the cast often bonds with them in a way that makes us want to have them back. Ryan Kennedy as Sharon’s biological son, for example, and Tom Berenger, who is a force of nature to which we all feel indebted.”

Both Kennedy as Sharon’s son Ricky and Berenger as Jackson Raydor are back this winter, and in Jackson’s case, a wedding band is no longer the force keeping him in Sharon’s life. Duff confirms that Sharon’s divorce is final, but that now, “You’re going to see the consequences of her divorce. He’s a lawyer, he’s back in town, he’s practicing, he’s passed all the tests necessary to be court appointed and now he’s with a firm as criminal attorney who specializes in defendants. And those defendants, if he gets them off, they get to sue the city, so he’s doing actually really well and so he comes back into the picture a couple of times.”

Their divorce might be final, but the relationship may be anything but cordial as Sharon and her now-ex-husband face off. “He and Sharon end up having a fairly epic meeting of the minds,” reveals Duff.

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Photo Credit: Danny Feld, Courtesy TNT

Another guest star whose return has been highly anticipated is Billy Burke, signaling the return of Phillip Stroh, whose presence in Major Crimes has until now has been in name only. Stroh’s murder trial and Rusty’s witness testimony have been linked since day one, but now, Rusty’s ultimate fate may lay in the balance of what happens to Stroh, who Duff reveals has fired his lawyer and is now acting as his own attorney to try and renegotiate his deal. “He’s demanding a new deal and as his own attorney he is entitled to interview his own material witness without a crowd. So we finally have another confrontation between Philip Stroh and Rusty Beck in an interview room. And then we build to the moment where we decide Stroh’s fate and Rusty’s fate; they’re tied together.”

Duff is enthusiastic about the opportunity to once again explore the different parts of the justice system through Rusty’s journey as a witness. “It allows us to look at the justice system from completely different points of view than our other series regulars. And it’s been very interesting detailing the ordeal of a witness because you don’t often see that shown in crime drama or police procedurals. [Witnesses] have no rights, and they have a lot of dangers that they have to go through. And I think that we’ve sort of opened up that corner of the legal system and shined a light on it in a way that hasn’t been done really, for both Rusty and Stroh. Philip Stroh is a criminal, and Rusty Beck is a witness and the legal system deals with both of those types but they are not actually part of it they are acted upon in both cases.”

Though filming for the season wrapped last week and the cast and much of the crew is now enjoying a well-deserved hiatus, for Duff, there’s no rest for the weary. He’s still hard at work, editing the upcoming winter episodes, a process that will continue for the next several weeks, and he reveals that the writers will be back on the job a week after the winter premiere begins in order to get started on season four of Major Crimes. Says Duff, laughing, “it’s like a full time job!”

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Photo Credit/Courtesy TNT

As we wrap up our talk, Duff leaves us with these final thoughts about the winter run of Major Crimes, and how they fit into the theme of the season. “We have some great stories dramatizing hope – how hope works, and what we hope for, and how we hope for good things and bad things. And how you know how sometimes it’s troublesome to get both. And then we end with a hope that I think is fairly universal, a hope that we encounter as we grow older, especially this resonates I think in Rusty Beck’s life, a hope that we will one day be able to control to a certain extent, our own destiny. And how we gain control of our own destiny and what that means exactly.”

Major Crimes returns with all-new episodes tonight at 9pm/8c on TNT. Join James Duff for a live chat on Facebook during the airing of the premiere episode from 9-10PM ET at