Surveying a TNT landscape that in recent weeks saw Dallas and other dramas fall by the wayside, Major Crimes creator James Duff does not take for granted the fact that The Closer‘s spin-off thus far has reaped relatively easy renewals.
“We’ve been incredibly lucky,” Duff told TVLine during a Q&A previewing the crime drama’s upcoming winter run. “Believe me when I say that we are all very aware of the rarified air in which we exist at the moment” – especially with former Fox boss Kevin Reilly about to take the reins at the cable network.
Here, Duff shares a look at the back half of Major Crimes Season 3, which launches Monday at 9/8c and features “hope,” new family ties and the long-anticipated return of the franchise’s most loathsome villain.
TVLINE | As Season 3 resumes, is there any kind of a through line for these back nine episodes?
The first half of the season was based on expectations, and the back nine are based on the hopes that human beings have. It starts out with your most primal hope, which is a hope for a family, which we satisfy in the first episode, and then we begin to go further afield and test hope in different areas.
TVLINE | With regard to the hope for a family, what is the next step in the Rusty adoption story?
The next step, of course, is he has to deal with his [biological] mother (played by Ever Carradine) – and he’ll be dealing with her again next season, as well. Rusty will also celebrate Christmas with his “brother” and “sister” when Ricky Raydor comes home and Emily Raydor comes back from New York for Christmas. Throughout all that, the relationship between him and Sharon changes, as it becomes closer and more trusting. We will see how that changes in terms of what he feels comfortable saying to her and sharing with her. His relationship with Sharon is different from the relationship she has with her biological children, and we contrast that in a way that I hope is both touching and humorous.
TVLINE | What can we expect from Sharon’s daughter (to be played by Zarah Mahler)? What role does she fill within the larger family?
Well, she is the artist in the family, and she’s wondering about whether or not her career [as a ballerina] is going to go forward or whether she’s reaching the end of it. She also is a repository of secrets. In fact, she is keeping a new secret….
TVLINE | Of her own or of someone else’s?
Someone else’s. And the question is whether to share that secret with Sharon or hold it back. Rusty of course is all for sharing it, while her biological children are like, “That is the worst idea that anybody ever came up with. Do not tell her.” Rusty’s like, “I think she can handle it,” and they’re like, “She can’t, so we’re not going to do it.” For certain, nobody wants to be here when she does find out.
TVLINE | You previously hinted that Flynn’s daughter (played by Pretty Little Liars‘ Torrey DeVito) is going to arrive with certain misconceptions about his closeness to Sharon. What else can you say about that?
Nicole is only slowly getting closer to her father. He wasn’t a great dad and he’s trying to make up for it, but she’s not quite sure he’s capable. And he’s misled her into thinking that he and Sharon are an item in some ways.
TVLINE | Because it makes his life seem a bit better than it is, more complete?
Yeah, and also she liked Sharon so much that he felt like if she thought he was dating Sharon, she would think, “Oh, my father must have changed a lot for someone like Sharon to be interested in him.”
TVLINE | Does this misunderstanding kind of nudge Sharon or Andy to maybe take a longer look at what is there between them?
That’s exactly what happens. There’s a moment of — how do I describe it? — “disturbing clarity” at the end of the episode, and Sharon doesn’t quite know what to make of it. For me, I found the moment very interesting.
TVLINE | As I look over the loglines for other upcoming episodes, the one directed by Jon Tenney (who plays Fritz Howard, and Scandal‘s Andrew) seems especially provocative.
And Jon did an amazing job. I’m [editing] it now and unfortunately it’s 12 minutes over, but it’s going to end up being great. Flynn finds a guy about to jump off a bridge and intervenes…. After the intervention is over, he finds the body of a 16-year-old girl in the back of the guy’s pickup. It’s a strange and disturbing story, and Flynn goes on a strange and disturbing journey. Sex offenders occupy a very special place in our criminal justice system, and it’s hard to fully grasp how complicated the situation is, so we don’t try to. I don’t make any excuses for anybody in this episode. You know, we do lighter episodes — we have a Santa flash mob that dances to Johnny Mathis’ “We Need a Little Christmas” while a bank robbery is going on — but we also do a lot of dark and disturbing things, because we feel like we need to shift the tone a little bit now and then.
TVLINE | You have Billy Burke finally appearing in the flesh in the last two episodes of Season 3. Is that because this is potentially the final chapter in the Phillip Stroh story, or just a significant chapter?
I don’t want to give away the end, so I don’t know how to answer that question, but I will say that can’t tell the story of Phillip Stroh without Phillip being there….
TVLINE | Though you did do that for the Season 2 finale.
Yes, but that was an episode where he’d hired Jeri Ryan as his attorney. Now he’s fired her and he’s negotiating his own deal with the special master.
TVLINE | Is he as slithery as ever? I always use “slithery” to describe him.
Yes, he is every bit as slithery as he ever was, and he is every bit as duplicitous. He’s an incredibly dangerous person, and you approach him at your peril. He’s law enforcement’s worst nightmare, because he’s also very intelligent — and these kind of murderers exist. Our chief tactical officer on the show is a former detective at LAPD robbery/homicide, and he’s like, “Every now and then, you run across one of these really masterful criminals who is so dangerous you just don’t know what to do.” You know, Hannibal Lecter didn’t come from nowhere — Thomas Harris researched that — and Philip Stroh doesn’t come from thin air either.
TVLINE | Is there a cliffhanger to the end of the season?
Yes, but it’s not a story question. I don’t like story cliffhangers, I like personal cliffhangers. So it’s not a life-and-death cliffhanger, but a much more personal cliffhanger dealing with Julio Sanchez, whose anger issues we’ll be exploring during these back nine episodes.
TVLINE | Lastly, is there any movement on the potential S.O.B. spin-off (to be fronted by Jon Tenney and Laurie Holden), or was that from TNT’s previous regime?
I think there was a halt in the forward motion of everything because [TNT president] Michael Wright left to go work with Steven Spielberg — you’ve heard of him, right, Steven Spielberg? — and Turner took a very long time to land on his replacement. But there’s a lot of positive energy around what we did. The S.O.B. (Special Operations Bureau) episodes that we did got a big jump in the ratings and DVRed very well, and tested very well. Laurie Holden is amazing in it, Jon Tenney was fantastic in it, and there’s a lot of story that’s been built around S.O.B….. I would only be speculating right now — and I hate to do that because I don’t want to second-guess my corporate masters – but we’re hoping to discuss the future of S.O.B. with Kevin Riley when he picks up the reins [later this fall].
James Duff will be doing a Facebook chat on Monday starting at 9 pm ET, during the Season 3B premiere.