Used car dealerships have been justly famous for their fast talk and unsophisticated advertising, but their greatest salesmen were once genuine marvels of our culture. Part carnival barker, part magician, part traffic accident: the sincerest practitioners of this art inspired wonder and dark admiration as they daily transformed intelligent people into gullible customers, plopping them (almost without protest) behind the wheels of "one hundred percent guaranteed pre-owned vehicles," and going on to run up the price with a succession of worthless guarantees. Sadly, this marketplace, in which used-car salesmen once bartered with ferocity and cunning, daily diminishes under the pressures of the internet, where customers can go and find the exact car they want, in the exact color, and from the exact year, with an exact price. These dealerships, one successful owner mourns, are becoming less like bazars and more like parking lots, way stations for inventory absent any human connection. The next generation of used car salesmen will have a different character from their predecessors.
And that takes us to the theme we explore in our next episode. What do we learn from our parents, and what do we teach ourselves? Our moms and dads represent the foundation stones of our identity. But what we take from them in crafting our character is more a matter of choice than biology. Manners, for example, can be demonstrated and demanded in the home, taught with intensity and rigor, but how children behave when out on their own, to state the obvious, is beyond a parent's control.
And that's how we begin our own "Year-End Blowout," as a father-and-son car dealership becomes the focus of a bitter family feud and an explosive divorce. While we observe that some parents are better at giving up control than others, we also get a good look at how overconfident teenagers can behave when given the keys to their own lives. Our resident material witness, much like tonight's victim, seems to think he has a firm hand on the wheel of his own destiny; Sharon Raydor is unconvinced as, finally frustrated, she assigns the chore of training Rusty over to former SIS detective, Amy Sykes.
As Major Crimes explores a murder, a bombing and the finer points of accounting, Det. Sykes introduces Rusty to Lt. Cooper, her former section chief from the LAPD's undercover unit. Played by Malcom-Jamal Warner with impressive authority, Lt. Cooper takes one look at Rusty, who he christens with a dismissive nickname, and immediately establishes a set of demanding ground rules that he expects to be followed to the letter.
Can Rusty do as he's told? Or will his role as "Number One" in a police operation (designed to find the person threatening him and his guardian, Captain Raydor), end in a premature disaster? How many drivers will have fatal surprises this evening? All I can say is that a second bomb will detonate, and Det. Amy Sykes will end her day by confronting the limits of what training can accomplish. And please give a kind welcome to an amazing cast of guest stars, led by John Aylward, one America's greatest character actors, Dan Castellaneta, taking a well-earned break from his day job as Homer Simpson, Nic Robuck, artfully straddling the line between pathos and bathos as the "other guy" in a new kind of divorce, Joel Brooks from Six Feet Under and The Facts of Life as one of the drollest lawyers in L.A., and Tom Parker, in a "swashbuckling" turn — especially the buckle part - that makes one wonder how other leading men find work these days.
"More on this matter cannot I report," says the crafty Iago, a manipulator who puts even used-car salesmen to shame, and here I must agree and leave off teasing this week's episode. But it would be rude to drive off without saying that "Year End Blowout" marks the third time David McWhirter has directed a Major Crimes episode this year. DMac, as he is fondly known in our company, has also been the First Assistant Director of every odd numbered episode of The Closer and its happy spinoff, but leaves this year to pursue directing full time. We will see him again and again, I'm sure, as he continues to slip behind the wheel on an episodic basis, but we will miss his energy and good spirit in our day-to-day commute.
And, finally, "Year-End Blowout" marks a great alliance between three amazing writers, Leo Geter and Ralph Gifford & Carson Moore, who exemplify the very best of what we try to do at Major Crimes. This artful trio effectively dramatized our theme in seamless way, weaving all the disparate threads of plot into one well-crafted whole. There is a little moment in a parking garage where one dangerous key fob leads effortlessly to another that, in our little world, counts as sheer genius.
Next week, we meet the individual writing the threatening letters to Rusty and Sharon on behalf of Phillip Stroh, and encounter one of the very worst murderers in the history of either series.
Until then — James Duff