by Deborah Harter Williams
When The Closer started, it launched with a bang and the arrival of Brenda Leigh Johnson–all sweater sets and southern accent–a fish out of water in LA. She was tough but vulnerable and came in with a background at the CIA and with Will Pope, her new boss. In the first episode, all the detectives submitted their resignations but by the end of the hour, they were in awe of her and settled in to solve crimes. She lured people into underestimating her and then she took them down.
The Major Crimes spin-off had a bigger challenge. Rather than introducing a new lead they had to take an unsympathetic, low affect, dark character, thin on humor and try to beef her up into a sympathetic heroine and leader for the team. Where Brenda filled the room with kinetic energy and motion, Raydor (almost a robotic name) seemed to be on a mission to annoy. She was the anti-Brenda, the nemesis, though ultimately, for reasons not clear, she seemed to become Brenda’s friend.
Raydor has been all cool containment, watching, taking notes, waiting to go behind closed doors to make her, often political, points. Can’t just have her suddenly start patting folks on the back and telling jokes. Her personality has been well established as the stickler for rules. Time to bring her out of the background and let us know what makes her tick and feel. They’ve almost done it.
One step was to have her take the teen-age runaway, Rusty, into her house. This gives the audience a chance to follow along and see the personal side of Sharon Raydor. She has closets filled with clothes left behind by her children and a mystery husband, from whom she has been separated for twenty years. (There must be a story there. Can’t wait to see whom he turns out to be.)
She reports to Taylor who is puffed up with his new power and status. I always thought he was most interesting when he was being nice. One was never sure if it was authentic or strategic. Characters’ contradictions are, for me, what make them intriguing.
Everything went out of balance for a couple of episodes, while the cast and the Major Crimes team sought a new normal. Provenza railing against the idea of plea-bargaining was overly repeated–okay, I got it–but I’m not sure I care. His scene of quitting didn’t ring true. It came across as just petulant and Raydor dealt with it that way.
Flynn spent a lot of time looking confused; Tao retreated into data, and Sanchez into black humor. Poor Buzz got care-and-feeding of Rusty when he was at the LAPD, which means he got to play exasperated. Each of these characters provides wonderful seasoning to the ensemble, but for the first Major Crimes episodes they often seemed forced into unnatural posturing to set up the conflicts needed to get Raydor into her evolved position. The new woman team member, Amy Sykes (Kearran Giovanni), seemed way more bumbling than an Afghanistan vet would be, particularly when it comes to chain of command.
Mary McDonnell has two Oscar nominations (Dances with Wolves and Passion Fish), as well as a Saturn award for her role as President Laura Roslin on Battlestar Gallactica. In Wolves, and on a Grey’s Anatomy story arc as a surgeon with Asperger’s syndrome, she used a low emotion delivery similar to Raydor. People seem to hate her or love her. Whether she can change the former into the latter, remains to be seen.
Little by little, we see her laugh, display anger and compassion. Too quick a turn and it would have been jarring, so they’ve been introducing it in bit by bit over three episodes. Raydor with her glass of wine, Raydor as mom, Raydor’s clean, well-decorated apartment with watercolors. Last season the writers set us up for surprises from Raydor, when they had her pull what looked like a pump action rifle out of her trunk and shoot at a suspect with what we later learned were beanbags.
It’s going to take a lot more to give her a fully fleshed out personality, complete with intriguing and compelling contradictions, but the seeds have been planted. This week she will get a little help in the guise of a guest shot by Michael Wetherly–aka Tony DiNozzo from NCIS. Learn more on the show’s website.