James Duff breaks down 'Sanctuary City: Part One'
Major Crimes final season
Credit: Eddy Chen/TNT

Major Crimes kicked off its sixth and final season Tuesday night by delving into an area the show had previously, steadfastly avoided: politics.

In “Sanctuary City: Part One,” three 15-year-old boys go missing from a Catholic school field trip, which new Assistant Chief Mason (Leonard Roberts) promptly treats as a critical missing. While there’s initial skepticism among the team for such a quick determination, some preliminary investigation quickly leads Commander Raydor et al. down an unnerving path. Gradually, they find themselves wedged in thorny conversations around undocumented immigrants and the racist sentiments fueling some of their neighbors.

The topic is almost unbearably timely: The discourse around the subject of immigration has sharpened considerably since Donald Trump’s political rise, with both sides animated amid the resurgence of white nationalism and the reportedly increasing aggressive behavior of ICE. On that final point, the intersection of law enforcement and race remains a particularly sensitive issue.

Viewers of Major Crimes, a cable procedural which typically steers away from such divisive topics, might have been surprised by the rhetoric and issues explored in Tuesday’s premiere. Speaking with EW, creator and showrunner James Duff admits that he “loathes” writing about politics, and he has no interest in bringing his own opinions into his work. However, he adds, “I want to be authentic.”

“Writing about today’s law enforcement community without writing about race is inauthentic,” Duff argues. “In particular, writing about law enforcement without talking about the problems posed by the undocumented community is also inauthentic. We have a great struggle going on in this nation about how to deal with the 12 million people who are here without papers.” Duff adds that he saw an opportunity to explore the burden placed upon local police — in this case, the LAPD — when they’re tasked to work federal, paperwork-heavy immigration cases.

The debate, Duff realizes, is intense and ugly — to the point where he could see himself getting into trouble with some folks for merely using the term “illegals.” Yet that tension, ultimately, was his motivating factor for tackling the subject. “Even the terminology in this conversation has become so freighted that I don’t even know how to describe the [undocumented] community without inflaming one side or the other in the debate,” he says. “That tells me not that I have to stay away from it, but that I must write about it: Anything that becomes so hyper-politicized where we can’t even discuss it without people getting angry over the terminology is important to dramatize.”

It’s a fittingly heightened place for Major Crimes to launch its final season. Earlier this month, TNT canceled the drama, forcing it to end with a truncated 13-episode run. The season premiere maintains the show’s standard of not taking a strong position one way or the other, but subsequent episodes will dig deeper into complicated questions that speak directly to the current political climate. (“Sanctuary City” is a multi-part episode that continues over the next several weeks.)

Duff says that he’s making sure to give every angle equal weight, even though he personally leans toward the LAPD’s point-of-view. He wants viewers to grapple with the obstacle that race presents toward greater national unity. “I feel like we have to acknowledge it,” he says of his duty as a writer in 2017. “Otherwise, we’re living in a very scary alternate universe.”

The final season of Major Crimes airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on TNT.

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