When we last spoke to James Duff at the beginning of season five, he alluded to how the theme of this season of Major Crimes, balance, would have repercussions for everyone in the team. As the summer season wraps up tonight with part three of the summer finale, we caught up with Executive Producer James Duff to shed some light on some of the biggest changes we’ve seen so far this season (RIP Chief Taylor), and what we can expect both in tonight’s finale, and for the winter season of Major Crimes, and beyond.
MCTV: I would be remiss to start this off without asking about Taylor, and the shocking decision to kill him off in part one of this three-part summer finale. What lead you to making the decision to have Taylor’s death be such a catalyst in this arc, and as part of the season as a whole?
James Duff: There’s two things to discuss with this. Part one of that is, opening Taylor’s office was always my plan, so that was always going to happen at some point. Part two is that balance is the theme of all thirteen summer episodes – it links them all together. I couldn’t do a study on balance without including the balance of power, and without completely removing the balance of power and forcing a new center of gravity into the circumstances around which Major Crimes revolves. And this new center of gravity that the team is now looking to find is going to be the subject of the next eight episodes–how we adjust to changes, who becomes the center, and how everyone must adjust to accommodate that new center.
History itself is the story of a succession of one center of gravity replacing another, and how people must adapt constantly to that sort of change. People either adjust, or they crash and burn. That’s just how it works. And so, Major Crimes is adjusting. And that will be the back eight episodes we’ll see this winter. That’s always what I meant to happen. And beyond that, there is a world beyond the adjustment of gravity, and so that would be our next season, if we end up getting one.
It’s also important to remember that the LAPD is a dangerous place to work, and police officers have an extremely dangerous job in this day and age. The Los Angeles Police Department trains hard to do the right thing, and to bring policing into the twenty-first century, but it’s still every bit as vulnerable as the bad police departments are. There’s no discrimination, apparently, between good police officers and bad police officers. Taylor also encompassed the essence of the blue/black divide, because he’s both. And both sides are damaged by this divide. And I’m not taking sides, I’m just dramatizing the divide that exists, and he was a very good way to dramatize that nobody wins when violence is the answer.
So Taylor’s death accommodated the two things I needed. One was to explore the balance of power and how it affects our daily lives, which is what part two of the finale was about. But, any meditation on the balance of power in our human life would require us to take into account religion, and its force in the world and on our leading characters. So both of these major events, Taylor’s death, the shooting of Dwight Darnell, the balancing of what we owe to our spiritual selves and what we owe to our professional selves, all of that was meant to create special circumstances for Sharon Raydor. And I think we did that.
MCTV: Speaking to that examination of religion, last week was a departure for the show, in that it both took on a different structure in how it was framed from Sharon’s confession, but also gave us a much closer look at Sharon than we’ve seen for a while. There has been hints that Sharon has this strong religious part to her, but this was the most overtly we’ve seen it, and also gave a bit more insight into the state of her relationship with Andy, and what she feels like she can and can’t talk to him about.
JD: To be clear, it’s not that she can’t rely on Andy to talk to, it’s just as she says, she can’t rely on Andy to talk to about the death of Dwight Darnell. And truly, she couldn’t rely on a lot of the audience, either. A lot of the audience would tell her, ‘Look, you did the right thing. Get over it.” I heard that from people after the episode aired.
But taking a human life is complicated, no matter the circumstances. For example, with the military, we have 20 veterans a day committing suicide, and a lot of it has to do with loss of life they are involved in. We train people to believe that murder is wrong, and then we send them out to kill people, and don’t understand why they’re confused afterwards. And so I thought it would be important to show Sharon in a moral quandary – wanting to feel grief for having stopped Dwight Darnell from killing anybody else through violence, which she’s always been hesitant to use, unless absolutely necessary. And she’s never killed anyone, and I wanted to explore that aspect of her personality.
Also, she’s very Catholic. That has been mentioned throughout the series. She was so Catholic she didn’t divorce her husband for over thirty years. She loves angels, that’s an established fact, and she sent Rusty to a Catholic school. She’s been very serious about her religion, although, this is a murder show, not “True Confessions” or anything like that, so we just haven’t seen it more than that. But if she and Andy were to perhaps want to do something more than just live together, that would create conflict for her. And so maybe there’s a reminder there, maybe I’m setting something up for the future, by reminding everybody about how Catholic she is.
MCTV: Going back to Taylor for a moment, we’re heard through some casting announcements that we’re going to see the power shift, and we’re going to see some new people come in to be in the running for his job. Are we going to get closure on the loss of Taylor at all, and the impact that death itself has on the team?
JD: Well, we will be talking about Taylor for ages to come. And there is an attempt to honor him in the summer finale in the first act. Not at a funeral, because we’ve already done that, when we went to the funeral of the Chief of Police. I don’t want to give away too much, but he will not be gone completely. He’s a member of the Major Crimes family and he’ll be treated that way throughout.
MCTV: In terms of the power vacuum, the Sharon of a few years ago had a lot of desire to move up the ranks. But now that we’re seeing this job having opened up, it’s hard to envision Sharon wanting to leave Major Crimes now that she’s established this great team, and everyone works together so well. How is this power vacuum going to affect her, in a desire to move up the ranks, or lack thereof?
JD: It’s a delicate dance inside the LAPD when one of these positions opens up. If you get considered for a promotion, you have to try to get it because if you fail, you’ll lose what you have. And that happens all the time. It’s an unfortunate circumstance, but when new people move in to positions of power, then the people underneath them, who were also trying to get that position of power, end up with a lot of ‘freeway therapy’. They get transferred to Harbor Division or they end up at SOB (Special Operations Bureau) or teaching at the Police Academy. So in terms of a career path, it’s dangerous.
On the other hand, you don’t get to decide this. The Police Chief job is decided by the Mayor in concert with the city council and the police commission. The job of Assistant Chief is decided entirely by the Chief. There’s no one else to ask. So if he interviews you, and everybody knows you’re up for the job, then you’re exposed. That’s why we’re bringing on Camryn Manheim, and another actor I can’t announce yet, to all be in play for the job. But the struggle to replace Taylor, will also be a struggle to protect Major Crimes. Because a new Assistant Chief comes in, and the division changes. So Sharon is given a lot to think about in these back eight episodes this winter, and that influences how she has to react to being considered for the position.
MCTV: Switching just quickly over to Buzz, and his journey this season. We saw last episode that he’s really stepped up in this investigation and come into his own. Are we going to see more of that now that he has had a taste of being part of this side of the police work?
JD: Well, you’re going to see his realization that things are not over. That’s going to come back. So the conclusion of Buzz’s story is both final, and ambiguous. And Phillip has done an amazing job this season, and in the last scene of the case, he does an amazing job, and in the scene after the case, he does an amazing job. And also stepping up and showing he’s capable has been Julio Sanchez, as a foster parent. And we’re going to see just how much this new experience has meant to him in the finale.
MCTV: Finally, you mentioned that a potential season 6 would have a focus around the adjustment to whoever becomes the new chief, and how that appointment could change Major Crimes. There hasn’t been an announcement yet for season 6 from TNT. Any updates there?
JD: It’s impossible to know what the network consider their needs to be right now, and I can’t say for sure anything. They have not indicated a pickup for next season to me yet, so I really don’t know. I’m very happy overall with how we’ve managed our numbers this season, especially given the switch to 10pm. We did much better than we thought we would do and I think better than TNT thought we would do. It’s a bit of a win-win for us and hopefully the network will want to solidify their gains here and do it again.
The summer finale of Major Crimes airs tonight at 10pm/9c on TNT.