“Wow! I never thought I’d hear the words charming and rectal in the same sentence.”
Season Four of Rizzoli & Isles will always be marked by a real-life tragedy. In August 2013, just when the ninth episode was airing, Lee Thompson Young (The Famous Jett Jackson) who played Detective Barry Frost, committed suicide. The show took a five month hiatus soon after and when it returned in February 2014 aired Thompson’s final episodes which included all but the finale. The finale shows the writers have not yet worked out how to explain Detective Frost’s sudden departure, no doubt indicative of the lingering impact of Thompson’s own absence.
Rizzoli & Isles: The Complete Fourth Season once again revolves around the lives of Boston Homicide Detective Jane Rizzoli (Angie Harmon, Law and Order) and Chief Medical Examiner Doctor Maura Isles (Sasha Alexander, NCIS). This season the focus is once again on expanding Maura and Jane’s worlds through familial interactions. The episodes are like magic tricks where the cases act as misdirection while the surprises come in the form of reappearances. There are so many retreads each episode is like a game of whack-a-mole with the audience wondering who is going to pop up as this week’s blast-from-the-past. Maura has to deal with the reappearance of her biological mother and half-sister while Jane struggles with the return of her military boyfriend Lt. Casey (Chris Vance, Transporter: The Series).
This season is a bit of a hit and miss for me with both positive and negative revolving around characters. On the positive side we have the growth of Frankie (Jordan Bridges, Crew 2 Crew). I enjoy his increased involvement and especially appreciate the organic way it comes about. I also believe Jane’s character feels more grounded and settled, and though she hesitates with decisions this season, it’s clear she struggles more with knowing what her choices are going to cost.
My main issue concerns the handling of Maura’s character. I cannot wait to see Maura blossom into the self-confident woman we’ve had glimpses of these past four seasons. However it seems as though that day may be an eternity in the making as there is more digression than progression. I simply don’t understand why Maura feels so beholden to these people, especially when they are shown to be users, taking advantage of her people pleasing nature. And by “these people” I mean Maura’s biological family. Hope, Cailin, and Paddy all put Maura into awkward positions. My problem with that choice is the result is always the same: Maura is made to look even more neurotic than we already know she is. I wish the outcome of those awkward moments was actual character growth. Instead if she seems to be leaning toward reacting in a harsh manner there’s someone from the Rizzoli family (usually Jane’s mother) to maneuver her into a choice I don’t feel always resonates with the character. It seems like a brush-off of a whole realistic subset of angles these characters could be dealing with and I can only hope they’re addressed in Season Five.
The main thesis being put forth seems to be that blood is thicker than water, yet this is in direct violation of the show’s core relationship and main draw, the relationship between Jane and Maura. That relationship is what grounds the show, the sun around which everything else orbits. Their yin and yang continues to evolve, with the mesh and clash both working equally well. Maura and Jane fight, they laugh, they grieve, and they work well together in equal measure. It’s easy to chart the progression of the relationship and how pushing each other to act outside of their boundaries helps deepen the relationship between the two women.
Season Four contains sixteen episodes spread across four discs…
* “We Are Family” — The season opener sees a senatorial assassination during a parade which leaves everyone shaken. Lt. Casey returns with news for Jane while Maura struggles with not hearing from her biological mother after Maura donated a kidney to her half-sister, Cailin (Emilee Wallace, Glee).
* “In Over Your Head” — Maura pays Hope (Sharon Lawrence, NYPD Blue) a visit after Cailin asks for help. Someone from Jane’s past returns but it’s not a welcome surprise. A new boss causes friction between Jane and Frankie.
* “But I am a Good Girl” — It’s baby TJ’s baptism and bombs are dropped everywhere. First of all, Lydia (Alexandra Holden, Dead End) shows up with a new fiancé in tow. Then Maura discovers a body in the church. Finally, Tommy (Colin Egglesfield, The Client List) reveals he never filed custody papers, leaving the door open for him to lose TJ.
* “Killer in High Heels” — Maura can’t remember the night before, a fact made all the worse when it’s discovered her date from that evening has been murdered. Jane struggles to protect Maura when the evidence begins to pile up against her best friend.
* “Dance with the Devil” — The long-awaited day arrives…Paddy Doyle’s (John Doman, Borgia) murder trial begins. However, that drama pales in comparison to the revelations of Lt. Cavanaugh’s (Brian Goodman, What Doesn’t Kill You) past.
* “Somebody’s Watching Me” — An altercation between Jane and a coffee shop patron is caught on video which quickly goes viral, leading to Jane’s position with the department being threatened. The week’s case deals with a conspiracy theory which may not be so crazy.
* “All for One” — The driving instructor for a local high school is killed in a hit-and-run and solving the case is made even more difficult for Jane when she sprains her ankle.
* “Cold as Ice” — The violent world of youth hockey is the setting for the case in which a woman is murdered without any obvious ties to hockey at all. Meanwhile Maura struggles when Cailin shows up out of the blue and invites herself into Maura’s home for three weeks.
* “No One Mourns the Wicked” — A copycat replicating three different serial killers leads the team on a merry chase to justice.
* “Built for Speed” — The world of illegal street racing claims the life of a young driver. But solving this crime may be harder than it needs to be when Jane encounters resistance from Lt. Martinez (Amaury Nolasco, Street Kings) who runs the drug unit.
* “Judge, Jury and Executioner” — A respected judge dies during her daughter’s Mock Trial competition. Angela’s sudden interest in a new side business raises red flags for Jane.
* “Partners in Crime” — Opening a letter from Paddy leads Maura to make a decision she feels conflicted about. Two cases of murder on the same night prove more interesting than they first appear.
* “Tears of a Clown” — The return of a perpetrator from 20 years ago who dresses as a clown and abducts children puts everyone’s nerves on edge. Jane and Casey talk about life-changing decisions.
* “Just Push Play” — A singer/songwriter dies and evidence turns up suggesting she may have been living a double life. Jane’s dad (Chazz Palminteri, The Usual Suspects) pops back into town.
* “Food for Thought” — A reality TV chef is murdered and it seems as though his past may have contributed to his death.
* “You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone” — The season finale finds Jane facing unexpected news which has to be put on the backburner as the death of a senator’s daughter means the investigation is threatened by government higher-ups.
The technical specs are another disappointment, sadly. Though there are four episodes per disc, unfortunately there appears to be much compression artifacting. The 1.78:1 transfer just isn’t the high definition video I’d expect. At least the whites and blacks were leveled, so the video has that going for it. The Dolby 5.1 audio is a solid track though this season felt quieter and I noticed the sound a lot less, only having my attention really drawn to it during the opening credits.
The bonus features are pretty sparse this time around: only two featurettes. One focuses on how real-life events are transformed into episodes while the other highlights the production department.
Yes, I have issues, especially with how Maura is handled this season. However, I don’t want to imply those issues have taken over and clouded my entire perspective regarding this set. While my discussion of the characters may have implied everything else this season takes a back seat, that isn’t the case at all. Speaking of the cases, this season contains some of the most varied and tightly written ones of the whole series. The show has not lost its ability to find new and different ways to tackle the brutal crimes being solved each week, and for a show this far along in its run that’s very impressive.
The relationship between Jane and Maura is what has drawn and continues to hold the audience these past four seasons. The series-altering changes which occur this season ensure I will tune in to Season Five if only to see how everything shakes out. The loss of Lee Thompson Young has me especially concerned about the future of the show.