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Mary McDonnell on ‘Major Crimes’ Finale: ‘I’ve Never Experienced Anything Quite Like This’ (Guest Column)

Major Crimes” star Mary McDonnell shares with Variety her thoughts on the show’s final season, which saw her character, Sharon Raydor, killed off.

I have been watching, reading and listening to the fans’ reactions to Sharon’s death, and it’s taken me a while to find the essence of my experience. I have been approached by several journalists, but in truth, I was not ready to speak until now.

The fan reaction to the death of Sharon Raydor has been sharply illuminating, deeply, deeply humbling, and a true confirmation of what Commander Raydor stood for. When all of this was in the planning stages, I was hoping we would be able to both announce the end of the series and give a gentle warning as to the death that was coming. My original understanding was that the arc was created as part of an impulse and strategy that revolved around staying in control of the narrative, as it was clear the show would be canceled, which of course it was.

What surprised and humbled me, and in a deeper sense than ever before, woke me to the incredible power of the medium, was the level of authentic grief that emerged after Sharon’s death. Many fans were truly saddened, angry, and overwhelmingly frustrated. I knew how much Sharon was loved. I knew she was a role model. What I hadn’t totally comprehended was how much importance she held as a symbol. And how her importance had grown since the election last year.

So losing her, I think, felt like a kick in the solar plexus to a lot of amazing women and men out there. That was hard to witness. But I read a lot and tried to understand. I am deeply grateful for all of it, and it has changed me somehow. I’ve never experienced anything quite like this in my career. I will be studying it for a long time to come.

One of the amazing things that went on in the last few weeks was the fan response to my name being removed from the credits. Many fans decided to change their profile pictures to a shot of my name as I was formally billed, against a black background. I joined them and changed my picture online for a few days, frankly because I was as shocked that my name was removed as they were. Neither I nor my representatives knew this was going to happen.

I honestly felt the fans’ response to be galvanizing. My Twitter feed turned almost completely black with my name in the starring position. It was actually energizing. A lively protest. Genius!

All in all, the experience of playing Sharon Raydor has taught me more about leadership, communication and public engagement than anyone I’ve ever played. I will always be extremely and sincerely grateful to James Duff for creating this remarkable woman at a time when, culturally, we needed her. And I am grateful that James never allowed Sharon to depart from her moral center. Sharon mattered in ways both obvious and mysterious. And I miss the hundreds of people — the cast and crew — who gave their hearts and souls and talents and time to this story for many years. I miss them all.

I look forward to continuing conversations about Sharon Raydor’s life and death. The amazing amount of interest and discussion about her is a tribute to the success of “Major Crimes.” I’m very proud of the impression she has left, and I anticipate some tremendously interesting ongoing discussions about life, women and politics through our podcast “What Would Sharon Raydor Do?” That is one of the legacies of this solidly ethical character. “WWSRD” will go on. And through her symbol, more lively engagement can occur. To me that’s a giant wow!

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