NYPD Blue wrapped up it’s final season. Even if you were unaware of that fact, the entire season has the feeling of closure about it. Being a long time fan of the show, I’m glad to see it get a good-bye season. This is much like the pro athlete who announces his impending retirement so that the year plays out like a farewell tour.

The show, as it has for it duration, focused on the ever grumpy Det. Andy Sipowicz (Dennis Franz), a man finding himself dissatisfied and frustrated with his calling as a detective. The show was in need of a shake up. It had gotten complacent with its easy rhythm and had fallen into a bit of a rut. Everyone got along with each other. The hustle and bustle of the squad room became six detectives and a boss solving cases in self-contained one hour arcs, not exploring the issues of their characters which had made it stand out from other police procedurals. In short, it had become staid. The first few episodes of this season, however, could best be described as “uncomfortable.”

There is a cloud of palpable tenseness among the detectives squad. A new boss, Lt. Thomas Bale (Currie Graham) is transferred from Internal Affairs (the “rat squad”) who not only is learning his new position on the job but also seems to have the agenda of easing Andy into early retirement. There are problems between partners. Andy and John Clark Jr. (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) continue to butt heads. John Jr. is in a destructive downward spiral of drunkenness and sexual carousing and no one knows how to help (and he isn’t asking for any). Det. Rita Ortiz and her new partner, Det. Laura Murphy (Bonnie Somerville), as Laura uses her sexiness to get by on the job to Rita’s chagrin.

Spiritual reality has always been one of the underpinnings of the show. God is at the root of Andy Sipowicz’s character. When he lost his faith in Him, his life completely unraveled into a drunken spiral into prostitution and self-loathing. In that, the show has come full circle with John Jr.’s channeling the spirit of Andy past. John Jr. is flailing about after the suicide of his father followed shortly by the suicide of his girlfriend, not knowing how to put his back together. [I’m just not quite buying Mark-Paul Gosselaar’s performance. He plays his character just this side of over the top, like he’s wearing a character he’s not quite comfortable with.] He could learn a lot from his partner.

Andy has long engaged in modeling the Book of Job, wherein Job is beset by a series of disasters in his life in turns losing his finances, his family, and his health. For Andy, his Job-ian affair involved wrestlingd with his demons of racism, homophobia, and alcoholism; and also suffering much loss (his son, Andy Jr.; his wife, Sylvia; and his partner, Bobby Simone).

In recent episodes, Andy has returned to the tortured character that was the hallmark of the series. He teetered on the edge of diving back into the bottle after a foe from the past successfully made his life hell on all fronts. Andy stared down his mortality after a recent shooting, tortured by thoughts of who he would be leaving behind. Having no room for “saint and prophet types”, he doesn’t know where to turn, how to connect with God. So he is sent some help in the form of his deceased partner, Bobby Simone (Jimmy Smits, pulling double duty on The West Wing).

Somewhat surreal turns in the show aren’t unprecedented. Two major turning points for Andy’s character came via dream episodes: One where he is reunited with his son via Christ and another where he learns the root of his racism. So a conversation with his deceased partner isn’t as surreal a turn as one might expect. And the first arc of the season seems to be pointing to this climax.

Who wouldn’t want a chance to converse with someone from beyond the grave? Especially a partner that you’ve loved and missed greatly who has been in heaven. Andy acts shocked to hear that there is a God; it’s one thing to believe quite another to know. He doesn’t surround himself with a community of believers and he is not a Bible reader. But he does have his reason and his spiritual experience. Bobby reminds him that when he’s needed Him the most, God’s been there. Like now.

The spirit of Bobby Simone comes to impart some life-changing, perspective-shifting wisdom. First he reminds Andy that life isn’t short: “Life is long … Long in possibilities. Long in those you affect. Long in what lives on after you’re gone.” Fears of ones mortality is a good thing as it leads to consideration of who you leave behind and what kind of legacy, but also it inevitably leads to wondering about the life to come after this one.

Secondly, Bobby suggests that maybe Andy should re-think his calling, pursuing instead a new role as a teacher. For example, serving also as a father figure to his current partner, he should “Spot him the mistakes, Andy, and teach him to ride out the losses … Do you think the big guy [God] let up on you because of your looks? You’re suppose to serve a purpose when you’re down here.” The show has always hinged on the demons of Andy Sipowicz. The vein of racism has seemingly been picked clean and left behind him. Ditto with his homophobia. Even his alcoholism was only touched on as a constant demon that he has under control. Leaving only his spiritual journey. A part of that journey has been recognizing his true purpose. As Bobby says, “We come when we are called.”

While the show is still very good, with this season in particular highlighting the recent seasons, it hasn’t been great since it’s co-creator, the manic voice of David Milch (now running the show Deadwood), left. He seemed to best voice the tortured psyche of Andy Sipowicz and set the show apart, and above, other cop shows. But the show has aged, not always gracefully, but is still a cut above most of the shows on the air. Like Andy, it can look proudly at its own legacy and role as a teacher in how police shows can be done.

Then again, for my other thoughts on the show, pick up the book What Would Sipowicz Do: Race, Rights, and Redemption in NYPD Blue. I wrote a few of those chapters.