The first time TV death and real life death intersected for me was with Mr. Hooper. Will Lee, the actor who played the Sesame Street storeowner, passed away while still on the show. How the show chose to deal with his passing became a touchstone for the program. The producers made a point to discuss his death, something some people thought was too difficult for its young audience to understand. But in the end, whether you’re talking with kids or adults, death is shrouded in the unknown. Those left behind always want to know why. And the universe is rarely willing to answer.
No good reason. Just because.
Since news of Lee Thompson Young’s tragic suicide last August, all Rizzoli & Isles fans have been quietly dreading this day. We knew it was coming; it was an inevitable truth. But we didn’t want to have to feel it again–the loss of such a talented young man. The shock of his death reverberates still. We want to know why. But there is no why, just because.
Since his passing, Lee’s family has launched the Lee Thompson Young Foundation to raise awareness about and erase the stigma around mental illness. It’s a worthy tribute to the man and a reminder to everyone struggling that they are not alone. Reach out, speak up, ask for help. We are here. And, unlike death, the reasons for living are infinite.
Because his death came while cast and crew were shooting the penultimate episode of the fourth season, Rizzoli & Isles producers decided to not address his passing last year. That left the grim task to new series showrunner Jan Nash. It is already a challenge to come on to an existing series with such a close-knit cast dynamic. But when tasked with immediately handling the untimely departure of one of those beloved members, it becomes so much harder. So I did not envy Nash’s position.
The decision of how to depict his death could not have been easy. Some may quibble with the ultimate choice of a car crash. But I have to applaud Nash’s tact throughout the episode. In the end it felt deeply respectful both to Lee the man and to Det. Barold Frost the character. And that, really, is all that matters.
Right. On with the show.
Maura is pruning roses. Mama Rizzoli walks in and they hug. When words fail, the body speaks volumes. Mama R asks how she is doing and Maura replies for everyone, “I don’t know, I don’t know.” Neither do we, neither do we.
Mama R is worried about Jane and how she is handling Frost’s death. So, of course, she asks Maura. At this point everyone knows that Maura is the source of all information on Jane and Jane is the source of all information on Maura. Even in our confusion and grief, there are constants in this world. And that, that is one of them.
Because Jane was so very close with Frost, and because Jane is so very pregnant, Mama R is so very worried. Maura shushes her, which–wow–that is next level comfort with your mother-in-law right there. She reminds Mama R that Jane does not know that she knows. Oy, drop the Clear Blue Easy and let’s get on with this charade already.
Mama R just wants everyone to have a good cry. But Maura tells her DABDA. She goes to hand her a metaphorical tissue for her word sneeze, but Maura politely explains it’s the five stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. Then she explains that referencing seminal work from the mid-20th Century is a critical stage in her personal grieving process.
Oh, wait, did I mention they’re whispering all of this because Jane is still in bed? At Maura’s place? Again? Please, like she wasn’t going to spend the night at Maura’s after news like that. You hold those you love close when times are the worst. Jane comes in and thanks Maura for letting her stay over. This is no time for eye sex, but they give each other condolence eye snuggles instead.