Sorry, I can’t think of a pithy, punny title for this week’s episode of The Closer — I’m too busy being wrung out, creeped out and more than a little grossed out. In the last couple of episodes, the crime was almost an afterthought — the really compelling stories came from the characters, the personalities and the interplay. This week it was all about the crime, and it was anything but pretty. If it weren’t for one particular happy moment, I’d be a total basket case. As it is, I’m thinking of sleeping with the lights on for a while.

Look! Over there! Spoilers!

Let’s get the personal stuff out of the way before we dig into the nasty stuff. First, Brenda finds out she is, indeed, going into early menopause, which may be hereditary, or it may be caused by some other problem. Her doctor (the splendidly cavalier S. Epatha Merkerson, and can we keep her?) encourages Brenda to ask her mom about her history with menopause, and I’d almost pay money to see that conversation — I get the impression that Brenda refuses to believe her mom even has a "down there," much less that there are mechanics to it. Brenda is, of course devastated — especially when her doc tells her she’s no longer in control of her body, sorry, have fun! — and breaks down. Fritz decides this is the right moment to pop the question. He whips out a ring, and Brenda says yes.

Moving on…

Oh, I’m kidding:  Oh my god, Fritz asked Brenda to marry him! And she said yes! Eeeeeeeeeeeee! That’s so cool!

And Fritz knows how to do a proposal — I was getting all melty just listening to him. He got down on one knee, he bought a gorgeous ring, and he said all the right things. He obviously loves Brenda completely. I’m a bit concerned that Brenda took a minute while she was accepting to get an insight into the crime, but what can you do — that’s our Brenda.

That was the one happy moment in the whole episode. The rest of the hour was grim, folks. I’m so used to The Closer being character-driven and a little quirky that I stopped paying a lot of attention to the reason Brenda’s there — to catch killers. Meaning people die, and they die horribly.

Our crime of the week is particularly gruesome: A naked woman’s body, covered in burns and bruises, is discovered on the beach. The burns come from cigarettes and a cattle prod; the bruising and other marks indicate she was tied up and tortured. She wasn’t drugged, so she felt everything. She wasn’t gagged, so her killer could enjoy her screams. And the brand on her heel indicates that she was the victim of the PCH (for Pacific Coast Highway) killer, a man who kills in threes. He was active back in the late 90s, but he’s been quiet since then. But something set him off, and he’s back to his old pursuits. The brand on the corpse foot indicates she was victim number two. There’s another body out there somewhere.

First holy crap moment: The cattle prod burns aren’t just on the outside of the body. Holy crap — you can talk about someone being raped with a cattle prod on basic cable? And also, oh my god, that’s a horrific way to die. I can’t even imagine. Brenda, however, is haunted by the crime — and by the notion that there’s another woman out there who the killer plans to torture and kill in the next three days.

Body number two shows up in the morgue — she was beaten so badly her face is unrecognizable. That’s new. Also, the killer didn’t dump her personal belongings with the body, which is also new — apparently, this one was personal. A search of missing persons turns up one Tammy Reynolds, who had been on a sailing vacation with her husband. When they get to the marina, the team finds a maintenance guy about to clean the boat — Mr. Reynolds told him he’d cut himself gutting a fish, he said. The interior of the boat tells a different story — ropes, restraints, burned carpet, blood everywhere, some teeth… it’s ugly. Brenda realizes they’ve been looking for the killer in the wrong place — he’s coming from sea, not land. Now the question is, how does he get his victims to the beach completely dry?

The first suspect: Assistant D.A. Mason, whose wife was the first victim found. Some people had theorized that the PCH killer worked in law enforcement, since he seemed to be able to travel unseen despite massive manhunts. That theory is bolstered when Mason gets squirrelly about letting Brenda search his house. I like that Brenda isn’t in Machiavellian persuasive mode with these interrogations. She’s concentrating on one thing only — finding the killer, or his next victim, before another woman dies. Mason’s closet turns out to be full of S&M gear — handcuffs, crops, leather, restraints, the whole shebang.

This is usually where shows get a little preachy — look at the aberrant sexual behavior, eeek, they’re eeeeeeeeevil! And you’d expect Brenda, being a proper Southern lady, to get uncomfortable or maybe a wee bit judgmental when confronting Mason. Mason sure thought so: he kept getting defensive — who are you to judge me! — only to be deflated when Brenda kept… not judging him. She honestly didn’t give a crap about how he and his wife got their kicks — yeah, yeah, bondage, whatever, now give me information that can help solve the crime! It was refreshing.

Mason tells Brenda he and his wife were members of a private sex club. Brenda’s all for calling every woman who fits the profile — divorced and remarried, resident of L.A. County — and warning them, but Pope says they don’t have the resources. Which led to holy crap moment number two for me: Are you kidding me? Yes, I know, you have to catch the killer, but wouldn’t it be preferable to prevent him from torturing and killing his next victim? That’s Brenda’s position, but Pope and Taylor aren’t budging. Combined with last week’s attitude toward gang murders, this does not make me love the L.A. police department.

Brenda sets the team to work discreetly calling potential victims and goes to visit the first victim’s ex-husband. It’s Lucas, the maintenance guy from the marina. While looking for him, Brenda notices a bunch of equipment the killer would find useful — rafts, rope, waterproof surfboard cases, etc.  — and figures it out. Provenza calls, and she walks away to tell him to send backup without alerting Lucas that she’s onto him, but it’s too late — Lucas zaps her, repeatedly, with a cattle prod. 

After a struggle, there’s the big old holy crap! moment of the episode. Brenda finally uses her gun. Have we seen her do that before? She shoots Lucas twice in the chest…. and then pulls out her tape recorder and tries to get a confession out of him! Holy crap, Brenda, don’t move closer to the deranged psycho, even if he is shot! Lucas doesn’t talk, and when he tries to get up and go for Brenda again, she shoots him one last time.

And here’s why I love Brenda — she’s freaked out. She’s scared and hurt and doesn’t laugh it off. But most of all, she’s pissed off that she just stumbled over the murderer by accident, and didn’t get him to confess. It was dumb luck, not her brilliant mind, that solved the crime. And the confession, that’s what she lives for. She can use a gun, but she’d rather get someone to confess and pay for their crimes through the justice system. She’s not a gung-ho, ass-kicking policewoman, and she doesn’t need to be. She’s Brenda, and she’s smart, and she’s flawed, and she doesn’t always get it right, and that’s why we love her.

So I have to wonder: Did this week’s graphic, brutal crime take you by surprise? Did it turn you off from the show? Was the crime too much for this show? Yeah, I know, nasty things happen all the time on procedurals, but it took me by surprise, seemed out of character for the show. What about you? Are you more interested in the characters, or in the crimes? Or would you prefer a balance of both? Do you want Brenda to be tracking down more hard-core psychos like this week, or would you rather they go back to a more character-driven arc? What did you think?

Posted by:Sarah Jersild