“Thank yoooou. Thank you soooo much.”
If you watch The Closer, the series finale of which airs tonight, you know that’s the signature line of LAPD Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson – chocolate addict, Southern lady, hard-bitten professional.
And, as a perpetrator once observed, when Brenda Leigh says, “thank you so much” – voice dripping with more sugar than you’d find in a gallon jug of sweet tea – what she’s really saying is, “you know where you can stick that.”
I admit I’m a sucker for the steel magnolia trope. Give me a sassy gal with a big mouth, a gun and a mediocre plot line, and I’m yours.
But The Closer reaches beyond television mediocrity by delivering on its storytelling promise. Like most great stories, it doesn’t lack for plot, but The Closer is ultimately character-driven.
And Brenda Leigh Johnson is one great character.
While she speaks with the syrupy sweetness of an overripe Georgia peach and wears frilly skirts and pastel colored sweater sets to crime scenes, Brenda Leigh is tough. She’s stubborn. She’s sure she’s right even when she’s wrong, and she’s not afraid to tell her colleagues – subordinates or superiors – that they are.
She’s Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara. Frankly, my dear, she doesn’t give a flying damn (but thank you soooo much for asking!). On the other hand, she’s not above pitching a hissy fit or batting her eyelashes to get her way.
She’s smart as a whip. She’s great at her job. She works long hours, and she looks it. (By the way, it’s wonderfully obvious that Kyra Sedgewick doesn’t see Brenda Leigh Johnson as a vehicle for showcasing her sex appeal, or how hard she’s been working on her triceps. While Kyra invariably looks California chic, Brenda obviously favors bargain bin. And while the former has the liquid, soulful eyes of a labrador retriever, the latter wears the squinting, judgmental gaze of an overlarge raptor.)
Brenda gets lost, breaks down, cries at the office. She can be shrewd, cold and calculating. She can also be unexpectedly kind, and loyal to a fault.
In the words of Kyra Sedgewick: “She’s really good at living in denial and staying really strong on the outside. On the inside, she’s just a big mess, right? I mean, that’s what makes her so fantastic.”
Most of the fantastic women I know have exteriors that aren’t quite as tough as Brenda Leigh’s, and interiors that aren’t quite as messy. But I think we all, to varying degrees, struggle with that inside-outside dichotomy of strength and fragility, control and chaos.
Most of us also feel pressure to attain perfection – physically, professionally, interpersonally. And Brenda Leigh is anything but perfect. She’s brilliant, yes, but she’s also fallible. She doesn’t have it all, and she definitely doesn’t have it all together.
In some ways, that’s kind of reassuring. Even the immediate supervisor of the LAPD’s best and brightest – an alpha-female, the boss in a world of men – can’t find her keys in her too-large, off-brand tote. She really wants to kick her candy problem, but she also really, really, really wants a Ding-Dong. Sometimes her hair looks weird, and her parents’ visits last too long, and her cat’s death sends her into an emotional tailspin.
What could have so easily been another manifestation of a tired TV cliché (Hot Blonde Cop solves crimes between torrid love scenes with Tall, Dark and Handsome FBI agent), instead became the story of a highly successful, hyper-complicated, deeply flawed and totally real woman.
So for that, writers, cast and crew of The Closer, thank you. Thank you so much.