The Closer likes to rotate members of its ensemble in and out of the spotlight, and last night was Sanchez’s moment. What a wrenching story line they handed him. Out fixing his motorcycle, he hears shots, races down the street, and finds his kid brother Oscar bleeding all over the sidewalk. And then the African-American ambulance driver won’t pull right up: “Sorry, gotta be careful in this neighborhood.” Nice little irony, there.

Incidentally, as Sanchez ran out of his garage, I thought the camera zeroed in briefly on something he dropped. I figured it was his badge and later, when the ambulance approached, I figured they wouldn’t believe he was a cop. But he flashed his cop ID, so I don’t know what it was he dropped.

The episode was all about how we respond, often wrongly, to appearances and perceived threats. Oscar wasn’t who he appeared to be, and neither is anyone else, most notably the murderer, revealed in that spectacularly chilling final twist. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

addCredit(“The Closer; Darren Michaels”)

We’ve seen this plot device a thousand times before, the cop whotakes an overly personal interest in a case and is commanded to stayoff the job — and doesn’t. But it still works, and even after Brendatold Sanchez to take a vacation and find a counselor, didn’t we allknow he’d soon be back, ignoring regulations and pushing the caseforward?

And this case needed all the help it could get, what with unreliablewitness Elena Contreras, her bloodstained sneaker twitching under thetable. Agitated and semi-hysterical, she was clearly lying when shesaid the shooter was black. Was there any doubt about that?

We then had a brief cameo from our favorite journalist, who accusesthe LAPD of prioritizing cases involving the rich, the white, andrelatives of cops.

Brenda: Right back at you, newspaperman.

By the way, big hole in this episode — nobody else from Sanchez’sfamily was ever introduced. Maybe a mom or dad or another sibling orsuch could’ve enhanced the plot and helped us learn some more aboutOscar, about whom I felt curiously…nothing.

But the show hit its stride when Brenda started interviewing the series of vividly drawn witnesses and suspects.

First up, the comically pathetic, possibly brain-damaged Miguel, whotries to explain away his massive bruising: “I slipped and fell. I’m avery clumsy person.” And then: “I am here of my own violation.”

He gives up Puppet, Elena’s ex, which makes way for the amusinghot-tub/boat scene, in which Provenza has a chance to be Provenza.Loved it when he rolled up his pants to take a little soak.

“Hey old man, get out of our pool.”

Provenza doesn’t (of course!) and when he eventually leaves he andhis team have wangled Puppet’s location (of course!) only to findSanchez already there (of course!), having backed the cowering Puppetbehind a futon.

What a prince this Puppet is. “That girl loved to get dated,” Puppetsays of Elena. My first response: Too true, if she was willing to dateyou. And get that tooth fixed.

Even worse than Puppet, though, is the ex-con with the lovelyforehead tattoo, whose expressions range from smirk to scowl. He’d makea great Scared Straight poster. I thought it was just a cute littleembellishment to his character that they had his hand-wringing mom andbaby brother trail in after him. And I was sure he was the shooter.

But half-dressed, jittery Elena doesn’t finger him, Sanchez startsfreaking out, everything seems to be falling apart and what’s this? Whyis Elena suddenly shouting and crying?

My skin prickled. It wasn’t the burly scary guy after all, it wasthe skinny clean-cut kid in the collared shirt, spotted by Elena in thewaiting room. I honestly did not see that one coming.

Terrific moment. Terrific drama. Brenda gets Tony in the box, andafter a little manipulation, he confesses, telling a sadly banal storyof boys, guns, and macho posturing.

I’ve said this before, but I think Brenda gets too hammy in theinterrogation room. I cringed when she whipped out the hat to show thekid that it contained “no markins, no numbers, just blood!”

I thought her fiery speech undermined the pathos of the momentrather than heightening it. Anyone else wish Kyra Sedgwick would toneit down now and then?