Sexualizing Brenda Lee Johnson

Something’s not right in L.A.’s Priority Homicide division.

The writers on the fourth season of The Closer — TNT’s hit drama series starring Kyra Sedgwick as a calm, no-nonsense, tough-as-nails professional Deputy Chief trying to command respect in a man’s world while battling a fondness for sweets — have apparently decided that what cable’s most-watched Emmy award-winning show really needs is More! Kyra! Naked!

Well, more Kyra in her underwear, anyway. And before some of you ask, no, this is not a good thing — not like this, anyway.

So far this season, Sedgwick’s character Brenda Lee Johnson has been shown at length in her underwear or lingerie twice, once in each episode — double the number of times she has ever been shown undressed in the entire first three seasons — for reasons that appear to advance the plot not a whit. It’s out of character, and it’s jarring, like watching your co-worker suddenly strip down in front of you at the office. An attractive co-worker to be sure, but it still feels wrong.

Example one: in the fourth-season opener, Brenda Lee is shown conversing with her fiance Fritz while wearing almost nothing, for no apparent reason except a thin excuse that she doesn’t want to unpack when they’re just going to move again soon.

Example two: the second episode started off with an extended (but ultimately interrupted) foreplay scene between Brenda and her fiance Fritz, in which Brenda was paraded around in her underwear while wrapped around Fritz’s waist. Then later in the same episode, in the middle of a murder investigation, we’re suddenly subjected to a close-up on Brenda’s seductively waggling butt as she talks to Fritz at work, with sexy, bouncy music playing in the background.

Since when did this become Priority Homicide Baywatch ?

Hey, I’m not above a little eye candy, but I like mine in context, and when it isn’t reinforcing double-standards about strong female characters, and disrupting the flow of one of my favorite shows. One of the reasons I’ve always enjoyed The Closer is that it doesn’t overly sexualize (or completely de-sexualize) its female characters the way most TV shows do. At least, it didn’t. Now I don’t know what to think.

It’s obvious the writers are trying to show Brenda Lee’s more playful side this season, but why does that require her to be half-naked?

And if the goal is to make her appear more playful, why have the writers inexplicably made her so angry this season?

Sedgwick’s character has been positioned all along as a leader of jaded male cops known for her ability to charm suspects into confessing, and as an expert detective able to navigate sexism and internal politics while maintaining a mostly even temper (at least publicly). When she shows her anger, it’s usually strategic.

Suddenly this season, it’s The Taming of the Shrew as Brenda Lee has become wildly overreactive, angry, and ill-tempered at just about everything and everyone except Fritz. At crime scenes this season, she’s unusually confrontational, and practically snarls out her words, for no discernible reason.

It’s like someone’s paying Sedgwick a nickel for every sneer.

This might work if there were an actual reason offered for this temperament change, but so far, we have nothing to go on. Brenda Lee has suddenly been turned into a sexed-up caricature of the “kitten in the sheets, tiger in the streets” female cop (one who is slightly off her meds), while the other characters are still mostly who they’ve always been. Plus, they’re wearing clothes.

Given all the stereotypes about how women don’t make good leaders in male-dominated fields because they’re too emotional or sexually distracting, I don’t know what’s more annoying: Half-Naked Brenda, or Suddenly Unstable Brenda.

Forget the hit-and-run cases, the serial killers and arsonists. The real mystery of this season so far is: Who took Brenda Lee Johnson, and what have you done with her?

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