Spoiler warning for anyone who hasn't yet watched Major Crimes' episode "Conspiracy Theory: Part 4."
For some fans, Major Crimes Season 6 began with some melancholy vibes, since TNT cancelled the hit spinoff before it started. And for anyone hoping that the series would bow out with a happy and healthy Sharon Raydor, the "Conspiracy Theory" arc's conclusion was as tragic as TV could get on that Tuesday night, as it ended on the somber reveal that Sharon had died. It was quite a shock, especially since Major Crimes still has four episodes to go, and star Mary McDonnell offered some insight into her character's demise, saying the presumed cancellation played a role in the creative process.
So if you are looking at all of these things lined up, and you're a showrunner and an executive producer, you start to come to the conclusion that you're reaching the end. So there was a decision to be made --- did James [Duff], after creating this franchise, want it to be ended by TNT [possibly after the sixth season aired]? Which is their right to do. James started to lean into the idea of being able to write out this show in a way that he felt was gratifying and would be gratifying to the fans. It became clearer and clearer as we got closer that it probably was going to be the end, and so he leaned into that ending for Sharon. James included me in his creative thinking all the way through. It was tough to know that that might happen, but I was grateful to not be shocked by it. So I felt very respected in that sense.
It's interesting to think that, had James Duff and the Major Crimes team not felt as if the show was going to get cancelled, Season 6 might have ended up going in completely different directions. Had no one suspected this would be the last batch of episodes, Sharon Raydor might still be among the (fictional) living. Or, conversely, maybe the unexpected cancellation would have caused Duff to arbitrarily shoehorn Sharon's death into an already-planned finale. At least that latter choice was avoided.
Just prior to her death, Sharon suffered a coronary while in the middle of trying to get a confession from a killer, and it was after a double-episode airing in which she steadily refused to stop working, despite the adverse affects it might have had on her health. The fact that she died doing what she felt was her calling, well, that made it all slightly easier to accept. Plus, she even had a priest go through the Last Rites, which gave her added peace during a mostly stressful period in her life. (Somehow, the Last Rites didn't convince me she would actually die in the episode, since it came across as a red herring of sorts.)
But it wasn't just stressful for Sharon, as Mary McDonnell was really being put on the spot, having to act out the final moments for a role she'd played for eight years (with two of them on The Closer). Saying that she and James Duff had talked about the possibility of Sharon's death since the beginning of the season, McDonnell didn't know until it was going down that the big shock was coming in Episode 9. That choice was made so there would be enough episodes for other characters to deal with the aftermath of Sharon's death, such as her oh-so-recent husband Andy.
As far as acting in her final episode goes, here's what Mary McDonnell told Variety during their interview:
It was very difficult physically to go through that, and also it was very upsetting to the people in the room. It was very upsetting to the cameramen who I'd been with for on and off eight years now --- and to the crew, the sound person, the boom guy, everybody who is in that room when you go through these moments. Not only was it the end of Sharon Raydor, who they contributed to, who they made happen, who they stood by during the transition [from The Closer] and really supported. But it was also my goodbye, and we were all very attached. So it was a difficult scene, and I wanted to get it over with quickly. It took a little bit longer, because it was tricky to figure out the CPR of it all. I just found it very unpleasant, and also necessary, and then it was done. It was kind of shocking, actually.
Shocking, indeed. Major Crimes fans have a month left of shows to mentally deal with Sharon's death, and the series airs Tuesday nights on TNT at 10:00 p.m. ET. To see what new and returning shows will be around when Major Crimes is done, head to our fall premiere schedule and our 2018 midseason premiere schedule.