'Major Crimes' Showrunner James Duff Talks Season 4, Rusty's Journey, 'Shandy' Relationship & More (Q&A) – TVWise

Major Crimes is back. Several months after the show returned to U.S. screens, the fourth season of the hit TNT procedural starring Mary McDonnell hits the UK tonight (Monday September 7th) courtesy of NBCU’s Universal Channel.
When last we checked in with the Major Crimes Division, notorious serial killer Phillip Stroh (Billy Burke) had murdered a Judge in order to facilitate his escape, Rusty was being surrounded by 24/7 police protection for fear his life was once again in danger and Sanchez was facing a prolonged suspension after losing it with a suspect.
Other lingering story-lines included Lieutenant Provenza’s fledgling relationship with Patrice, a potential romantic relationship between Captain Sharon Raydor and Lieutenant Andy Flynn, not to mention some health concerns facing Fritz Howard, who left the FBI to become the Deputy Chief in charge of the LAPD’s Special Operations Bureau in season three.
So as the show returns for its fourth season – which, thanks to a recent order increase from TNT, will now run a broadcast length of 23 episodes – what is in store for the detectives and support staff of LAPD’s elite Major Crimes Division? To get an answer to that question, TVWise recently spoke to Major Crimes creator and showrunner James Duff.
In the below interview, Duff previews what’s ahead in season four (in not only these first ten episodes, but the next eight as well), Rusty’s journey in season four, what’s in store for Detective Sanchez, the various romantic relationships on the show and much more.
TVWise: What can you tell us about season four?
James Duff: All of our seasons are thematically tied together, so we’re always exploring a concept in each season. Sometimes we use the front part of the season to look at one part of an idea and the back half to look at the opposite. That’s unusual for a procedural, but because the show is only lightly serialised, it’s a way of uniting the [episodes] under a common thread – that theme holds everything together. The season four theme is courage and not the kind of courage it takes to wear a badge, put on a gun and go out and fight the bad guys, but the ordinary courage that people have to summon in their everyday lives. We sometimes forget how important courage is to living a well thought out life. We explore that idea in the front part and then we look at a complimentary idea in the back part of the season, which is trust. We just figured it takes a certain level of bravery to risk trusting other people and make yourself vulnerable in that way.
TVWise: The obvious name that springs to mind when you mention courage is Rusty and the Phillip Stroh situation, how does that play out?
James Duff: What we have to assume is, having now committed crimes that go way beyond what Rusty was obligated to testify against, Stroh no longer considers him a threat. I would think that he is happy enough to have gotten away, but this is a very hard thing for Sharon to accept and something that Rusty is insisting that they accept. The first episode does revolve a little bit around ‘what do we do now?’ There is a ‘what do we do now?’ aspect now that Stroh has gone, but it plays fairly much in the background and it is Sharon’s struggle with this concept that forms the emotional core of the episode. Rusty is insisting on going to college, he’s insisting on not having a security presence around him. He wants to try to lead a normal life. That insistence comes into conflict with what Sharon wants, which is to have him in a cocoon 24 hours a day, seven days a week until Stroh is captured. But he is nowhere to be found and there are references to him being overseas. So Stroh plays in the first episode and is not really mentioned again. He is subsumed and the act of courage is living your life with the fear of death in the background, which is something we all have to do anyway.
TVWise: So Rusty is very much focussed on his future?
James Duff: Yes, he’s off to college and he starts a vlog. He’s posting a vlog and he wants to be a journalist. He gets some advice in the opening episode about how you don’t need to wait for someone to hire you, it’s never been easier to start your own site. What’s hard is finding the story, finding the brand… What’s not hard is getting it out there. If you have the story, then everything else will follow. And he has a story… he begins following the story which then plays through the first ten episodes. It has to do with Jane Doe #38, Alice Herrera, a murder victim that we had in our last season who was found in the trash and who was never identified. He makes it his mission to find out who she was, because the police don’t have time as they’re onto other things.
TVWise: That makes sense, we did see Rusty identify with her in that episode in season three.
James Duff: Yes and in the next episode too, he did identify with all those missing girls that he was processing. So it’s like how many missing people are there? And the answer is quite a lot actually and not all of them are reported missing. It’s a very interesting journey he takes us on. There are these three-four minute vlog pieces that are made available on Facebook or YouTube immediately after the episodes air. They star Graham [Patrick Martin] and Buzz appears, Dr Morales appears, a couple of guest stars appear, Slider – the murderer – appears. We have a more detailed story for the back eight [episodes], which is that [Rusty] does the flip story of Alice, which is the story of Slider as he faces his trial and possible imposition of the death penalty. So this season Rusty is demonstrating passionate interest in other people, which is a good thing and not something he was famous for in his first three years on the show. [Rusty] is easily the most controversial and unusual character on the show and the one that gets the most interest from the audience. I get more interest about Rusty than any other character and I also get more criticism.
TVWise: That’s interesting, I quite like his journey so far…
James Duff: I like it too and I think it elevates the tone of the show, I think it complements the mystery. The trick of course in any show with this many characters is finding the right balance between them all, but I think we’re doing a fairly good job of it overall. I feel so proud of what Graham has done, he’s such a wonderful actor and has become really quite a good friend. The truth is when you’re writing television, it is a collaboration between you and the actor, especially over a long period of time, once the character is established. You’re writing for that actor’s voice. You’re writing knowing how that actor is going to speak or how that actor is going to deliver or what the actor needs to provide you with the story element or the emotional reaction that you require. Knowing the actors really well and being open to their process, like they’re open to mine, allows us to do better work.
TVWise: Another holdover from season three is Sanchez’s anger issues, what can you tease about that storyline?
James Duff: You’re going to see him struggling. He’s been suspended. When the season starts, he comes back at the end of act one and Robby Oderno from Missing Persons has been holding onto his spot, helping out. [Sanchez] comes back in and not everyone is thrilled to see him. Flynn for example says ‘I want to be worried about arresting the bad guy, not that the cop next to me is about to explode’ and it is a mixed bag. In real life what Sanchez did… a lot of people would understand it, but a lot of people would be like ‘I can’t deal with this’. And it just so happens that we shot that episode before Ferguson. It was finished, done and in the process of being edited before Ferguson ever happened and the drama about police officers losing their shit with people ended up being a national news story.
We had always planned to take a fairly heavy handed approach to what he did there. That scene was a strange scene because in broadcast television you could never have done it. Having a main character lose his bananas and begin beating up somebody after he’s been told to stop, after he knows to stop and after the guy has given up, is just not what you should do. And he’s done it before by the way, although nobody saw him really. In The Closer he dragged a guy out a truck who broke [Sanchez’s] arm, and he kicked that guy several times after he was down. This is true to how a lot of human behaviour works, because when your adrenaline kicks up and you are in a high stakes, emotional, physical encounter, it’s very hard to just turn it off. So he has something to learn and he lets us know the underlying causes of his rage, why he can’t seem to let go of it and what triggers it and that he doesn’t know how to end it. Eventually he is going to figure it out.
TVWise: Here’s a question some fans have been debating for a while: will Sharon ever be getting that promotion to Commander?
James Duff: It’s going to be harder now to promote Sharon now than it would have been at the beginning of the series because normally when you are promoted you are also transferred out of your division at the LAPD and there are very very few exceptions to that. We did discuss it in the opening of the first episodes and we were going to pursue the story, but we just decided it wasn’t the right time to try and do that.
TVWise: You’ve got a great supporting cast in Buzz, Dr Morales and some others. Are we going to be seeing more of them this season?
James Duff: Yes. You’re going to learn Dr Morales’ first name. You’re going to see Buzz become a reserve officer and actually go on his first ride along with Flynn and Provenza – what could possibly go wrong? You’re going to learn a lot more about Buzz, and you’re going to learn a lot more about Sanchez. And we will eventually get to Tao, with the Badge of Justice consultancy – he figures out a way to use their sets to help us solve a crime, which is kind of fun. We get more deeply involved in Flynn’s life than we have before, especially in the back eight episodes. Flynn gets hurt very badly and that leads us into more of an examination into the workings of his mind, such as it is.
TVWise: The episode where Buzz goes on a ride along with Flynn & Provenza, is that the yearly Flynn & Provenza episode the fans have come to know and love?
James Duff: Yes, it’s the Flynn, Provenva and Buzz episode this year. Buzz has every bit as much to do with it as they do, especially with his earnestness and his Boy Scout attitude. They’re like ‘This is not what’s needed. You are here to learn from us, you are not here to teach us how to police’. The LAPD has changed a lot since Flynn and Provenza went through the academy and reserve officers have to do everything that regular police officers do so [Buzz] is learning the new way of community policing and they are very old school. He’s trying to apply his new policing skills and they are resentfully pushing them aside and insisting on implementing the old school rules. And trouble then ensues as they are called to a domestic disturbance at a hotel where one of the most expensive weddings in Los Angeles is about to be held. I think it’s the best lighter episode we’ve done ever on Major Crimes. I’m very proud of this episode it’s very funny and it also involves a Dodgers game – a good motif that we carried over from The Closer
TVWise: For the past year or so we’ve been dancing around a potential relationship between Captain Raydor and Lieutenant Flynn, which the fans have dubbed ‘Shandy’. Will we see that storyline progress this season?
James Duff: [Laughs] Yes, that will be progressing more. And Provenza is happily dating Patrice, who was the mother of a killer in a hospital. Amy and Lt Cooper are still considering each other at close range. And Jon Tenney comes back as Deputy Chief Howard, the guy with the arrhythmic heart condition leading the most violent division of the LAPD.
TVWise: You mentioned several relationships there. Now that Rusty is out, is a boyfriend on the horizon?
James Duff: Yes, he struggles with this. A boy does appear and Rusty’s egotism, his focus being so much on what he wants to do and what he thinks he ought to be doing is so intense that he misses it. He misses the ball and he doesn’t have a means of… I don’t want to give away too much. There are two possibilities for relationships here and the most obvious possibility is fraught. That’s often the case with young people, learning the ways of communicating with a romantic partner or a potential intimate partner can be more difficult and his experience with intimacy is not really the right kind of experience [laughs] and he knows that. So he’s a little clueless in some ways and in other ways he’s a little wilfully blind and getting through that, and also getting through what he thinks real intimacy is, and how to define that, and how to really do the right thing, is a process for him.
In the back eight episodes he gets to talk to Dr Joe for a moment about his romantic relationship and he brings up the fact that he’s not fun. He doesn’t think he’s fun. Dr Joe say’s ‘Why is that?’ and Rusty goes ‘Because I don’t want to drink and I don’t want to do drugs. I saw close up what that does to people. I don’t want it. I don’t want it in my life, so it makes me look boring to the people I might hang out with at school, to a much larger degree than you might think. And when I have gone out with guys, on the four times I’ve done it, I’ve always done the wrong thing for some reason or other and I don’t want just fall into bed with someone. I had two and a half years of having sex with people before I even knew their names and I don’t want to do that and that is all they want to do’. So he is really in a place that’s awkward for him because he’s already done all the things, or a lot of the things, that young people do, and he doesn’t want to do them anymore. He want’s someone real and that’s what we all want. But it’s hard to come by. It’s just really hard to come by.
Major Crimes season four premieres in the UK on Universal Channel on Monday September 7th at 9pm.