“Does the fascination with your ding-a-lings ever end?”
Season Three was a bit uneven and could well have been subtitled “More Family? More Drama!” There were issues for both the Rizzoli and Isles families, but while the episodes of the third season built upon the show’s underlying mythology, the pacing felt compartmentalized as opposed to cohesive.
These fifteen episodes deal with the aftermath of Patrick ‘Paddy’ Doyle’s (John Doman, The Wire) shooting and how it affects the relationship between Detective Jane Rizzoli (Angie Harmon, Law and Order) and Dr. Maura Isles (Sasha Alexander, NCIS). Familial changes for both women also occur as the episodes progress and the season ends in an emotional place for all the characters.
I was surprised the outer packaging for gave away so much of what transpired during the season, nevertheless I will include a spoiler warning here. This third season of TNT’s successful buddy-cop show has three overall arcs it concerns itself with for these fifteen episodes.
First off is the tension between Jane and Maura as a result of Jane’s decision to shoot Maura’s biological father, Irish mob leader Paddy Doyle. Honestly I would have liked seeing this arc carried through for more episodes, maybe even the entire season. Their reconciliation felt a bit rushed, however I understand the reasoning behind making up so quickly. TPTB were worried they’d lose viewers if the titular duo weren’t BFFs. However both characters are grounded and linked by their ability to compartmentalize, doing their jobs and leaving personal issues for another time. So Rizzoli and Isles could have continued solving crimes with their personal feelings plaguing them until they had to confront each other. As it was, they were forced together by their co-workers and families and guilted into spending time together. Both women have grown into multi-dimensional characters with hidden emotional depths and while we saw them angry with each other, I felt there was a missed opportunity during their make-up to see them get in touch with those deeper emotions which form the foundation of their friendship.
The next journey of the season was that of Maura finding her biological mother and half-sister. And there were some very engaging scenes here which Sasha Alexander mined beautifully for all the sensitive emotions layered within. However we missed out on a key component to the journey: how Maura’s adoptive parents were responding to the introduction of Maura’s biological mother, Dr. Hope Martin, (Sharon Lawrence, NYPD Blue) into her life. At the beginning of this season Maura’s mother (Jacqueline Bisset, Bullitt) is still hospitalized after having been seriously injured in a hit and run. But then she’s gone for the rest of the season. It didn’t make any sense that she would be vacant during what ended up being a really emotional time for Maura. Especially with the foundation laid in earlier seasons that Maura and her mother would like to build a closer relationship. So while the introduction of this missing piece of Maura’s past worked for me and took us to a surprising place at the end of the season, I really missed Bisset’s presence.
And finally we have the Rizzoli’s season-long storyline. I have mentioned before my frustration with the character of Angela Rizzoli, (Lorraine Bracco, The Sopranos) matriarch of the clan. I loved her in the first season as a guest star, but when she became more of a regular, it was as a woman entirely too dependent on her children, so her character grated. Now she has the opportunity to show real growth. She’s a woman in a new stage of her life and the chance to portray a strong single woman who happens to be a bit older than the women we usually see on TV was something I was really looking forward to. And it seemed like that was exactly what we were going to get. But then along came Lydia Sparks (Alexandra Holden, Franklin and Bash).
I was happy to see Chazz Palminteri (Modern Family) return to reprise his role as the Rizzoli siblings’ father but it was only so he could be demonized for not only wanting to marry Lydia but also for wanting an annulment so they could have a Catholic wedding. Fast forward a few months and Lydia shows up pregnant and dumped like yesterday’s news. As if that weren’t bad enough, her baby’s parentage is in question. It may be Frank Sr.’s baby but it also could be Tommy’s baby. Tommy as in Tommy Rizzoli (Colin Egglesfield, The Client List).
The result is all of that positive growth for Angela grinds to a halt as she becomes baby crazy. This whole soapy mess brings out a desperate side to Angela which was hard to watch. Plus it meant Jane and Frankie Rizzoli Jr. (Jordan Bridges, Love Finds a Home) ended up keeping secrets and being agitated for more of the season than was necessary. And there were some decisions I questioned, for example Jane and Frankie Jr. decide to keep the fact Lydia is pregnant from Tommy. He’s possibly the father and they don’t bother to tell him until she’s literally having contractions. I’m not sure where that storyline is going to go next season, but I was disheartened to see the baby’s arrival translate into Angela thinking this is her chance to be a mother again. I had hoped for more and found myself disappointed with the whole arc.
There were some things which definitely worked for me this season. Number one is the relationship between Jane and Maura. As it will always be, this show lives and dies depending on whether we believe their friendship. And even while they were at odds, I believed it. Speaking of relationships, I really enjoyed the evolution of the one between Detective Barry Frost (Lee Thompson Young, The Famous Jett Jackson) and Detective Vince Korsak (Bruce McGill, MacGyver). They were butting heads in the first season, and they needed to, but now there’s trust and mutual respect inherent in their interactions. Such growth means they can bust each other’s balls as needed and still be assured they have someone who’s watching their back. The sort of Old School vs. New School vibe they have works very well.
I also liked Frankie Jr.’s arc. Yes he spent most of it annoyed, but his frustration was duly justified. He wants to make detective and garner respect, and though he keeps putting in the work, the opportunity to do so keeps passing him by. I like his scenes with Frost too as their dynamic feels different than anyone else’s. Frankie Jr. is fascinated with death and forensics and Frost is lucky if he doesn’t pass out. I’m not sure if we’re leaning towards Frankie Jr. deciding to change his focus in the next season to the forensic side of the equation, but that appreciation for what Maura does feels natural to his character.
And finally I was happy to see Casey Jones (Chris Vance, Burn Notice) return. While I have been on the record as preferring Agent Dean (Billy Burke, Revolution) as Jane’s romantic foil, Jones’ storyline was really compelling. Returning home from his tour in Afghanistan as a wounded vet is something too many people can relate to. And the frustrations he felt at the challenges inherent in entering into a romantic relationship with Jane were well-played. There wasn’t enough time devoted to their interactions, however the finale left little doubt as to a revisit of their relationship.
Presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, the white levels are noticeably blown out and the five episodes-to-a-disc choice means there’s the compression artefacting you’d expect. Otherwise the palette isn’t any different from any currently airing show and I have no other nitpicks. I continue to enjoy the theme song and the Dolby 5.1 kept up with the demands of the track. Though there weren’t a lot of musical cues, the Foley felt settled in the space and the dialogue never faded. Special features include a gag reel, deleted scenes, some behind-the-scenes interviews and featurettes.
Rizzoli & Isles: The Complete Third Season was a bit on the uneven side, due in large part to the tendency to pick up and drop storylines at will. Eventually, the narrative for Maura, Jane, and the Rizzolis managed to finds its footing and we’re left in a believable place. More things worked than were problematic, and the potential for growth in the seasons to come leads me give this set an endorsement.