When “Major Crimes” serial killer Phillip Stroh (Billy Burke) got his lawyer friend to put a can of compressed air in front of him, we knew escape was imminent. Just when Rusty (Graham Patrick Martin) thought he was safe, the man who “leaves no witnesses” is in the wind. We know Captain Raydor (Mary McDonnell) and her squad will exhaust all possible resources to find Stroh, but will they ever really be free of his deadly influence?
The only thing scarier than a dangerous predator in front of you is one you can’t see. When Stroh was in custody, Rusty could feel reasonably secure. This was especially true with the criminal lawyer’s communications severely restricted and monitored. Now that Stroh has escaped, Rusty can’t be sure his enemy won’t be lurking at his apartment, school, or around the next corner.
The only glimmer of hope in Stroh’s freedom is that he will be too preoccupied with escape to bother about Rusty. Eliminating the witness against him wouldn’t help Stroh’s case much, now that he’s added another murder to his resume. It’s doubtful he would risk capture just to get revenge.
As an astrology-influenced killer revealed on the “Major Crimes” winter finale, however, Stroh is a planner. He spent time crafting an escape, with money and supplies already stashed for emergencies. It’s possible he also carefully planned how to get rid of Rusty, by his own hand or someone else’s.
The show’s writers have created an ominous enemy in Stroh. He’s not a lone wolf. He easily convinces naive or damaged people to work with him. Other killers are inspired by his crimes. This is what makes his escape so terrifying. He has free access to any friend, protégé, or motivated killer. The last time he communicated with another murderer, Rusty nearly ended up stabbed on a plastic-covered couch.
Even if Stroh is captured relatively quickly, the time he’s had in the outside world is damaging. Every moment he’s free means someone is in danger. The Major Crimes unit has more to worry about than just Rusty. Sharon or any of the squad are targets, along with any other potential victim Stroh decides to have his way with. The influence he has on others could continue long after he’s back under lock and key.
Most police and law genre series work episodically. The characters work a case, win or lose it, and react accordingly. The next week it all begins again. “Major Crimes” has a longer memory. Cases may get solved, but repercussions exist. Even Sanchez’ habit of roughing up suspects has come back to haunt him. Like most real-life cases, Stroh’s “day in court” has been an agonizingly lengthy process.
The most chilling aspect of being a witness to such violence is Rusty will never know for certain if he’s safe. Stroh made sure to plant that seed with his “we share a destiny” speech. Even Stroh’s death would not stop the fear. No one would be sure what plans or people he set in motion before his demise. As Lieutenant Provenza (G.W. Bailey) told Rusty in the two-part finale, he has to go on as if Stroh didn’t exist. Otherwise, the killer has taken his life from him without laying a finger on him.
This full story arc works well for the series in two ways. It gives “Major Crimes” plenty of material to work with for future episodes, as Rusty deals with Stroh’s escape and any physical or emotional aftermath. It also paints a realistic picture viewers can empathize with. We know some police and lawyers may consider a case a “win” and move on, but the victims have to carry the consequences. We get invested in Rusty’s well-being, his fear, and his adoptive mother’s fierce protectiveness. Fans now wait breathlessly for the summer episodes, to see how this family fights and survives.
Photo By Darren Michaels