There are times when I rag on the flash-forward technique Southland uses in the first scene of every episode. It’s often very hokey, with the voiceover providing some aphorism about the quotidian existence of police officers that offers a preview, but doesn’t instill a definite mood. Tonight’s flash-forward was enthralling, showing Officer Tang climb into and shuffle her way through a few backyards, gun drawn, before shooting a young boy who obviously isn’t the suspect she was pursuing. For the first half hour of the show, every little scene with Tang and Cooper carried the weight of that initial shooting, building dread and heightening the dramatic irony that Officer Tang’s bad day would only grow gravely worse.
It turns out Cooper was close to serious injury, but the ambulance got to him in time, and he’s just got a bandaged neck wound. Taking away the uncertainty of Cooper’s condition drained some tension away initially, as the first scene had Tang running through yards on her own. The same goes for Tang getting served with divorce papers. It’s a detail that comes in at a point where it seems to be merely convenient for shock value, since Cooper and Tang have a good enough rapport now to have discussed that type of simple personal information.
Unlike some of the other depictions of routine police work, like Lydia and Rueben’s cases in previous episodes that have led easily from point A to point B with no twist, Tang turning into the stereotypical hard-ass, bitchy cop giving out tickets for next to nothing actually works. She’s having a bad day and takes it out on a guy who probably didn’t deserve it. He’s technically breaking the law, but come on, he’s picking up his wife, who has a broken leg and hobbles to the car just as Tang finishes handing the poor guy the ticket. That scene is grounded in her state of mind at the time, and the way in which she refuses to really talk to Cooper about what’s bothering her plants the seeds for their final confrontation.
The kid Tang shoots was carrying a gun, specifically a toy gun with an orange tip, but when the kid’s mother shows up, she’s screaming how her son promised never to remove that orange part, which is now missing. When Cooper rushed into the backyard, Tang was examining the kid’s ankles—right where his gun hit the ground—before administering CPR and putting pressure on the wound. She doesn’t mention searching the kid’s ankles to the police officer that investigates the shooting, and Cooper slowly begins to suspect Tang has done something drastic. This time, it’s more substantial than the coincidental mishap that led to Ben mistakenly accusing Sammy of planting evidence last week.
Sammy and Ben continue to act like brats, feuding over the evidence mix-up. Sammy gives Ben the silent treatment, and won’t eat lunch with him like they’re in third grade, as Ben puts it. Even after profuse and direct apologies, Sammy still won’t let it go, sticking to his gut feelings of betrayal. Then the two of them have to deal with Crazy Carol, who comes at Sammy with a broken beer bottle and is subdued by Ben, who now thinks that by getting his partner’s back, all will be forgiven. That is not so, in Sammy’s eyes. These two need to bury the hatchet, quickly, otherwise they risk going from being the fun but immature cops to the petulant kind of immaturity that holds unnecessary grudges.
Lydia and Rueben play third fiddle yet again, investigating the shooting death of a drug dealer recently out on parole. The guy’s girlfriend in visibly pregnant, which was disappointing, because apparently Lydia just can’t get a case that doesn’t directly open a dialogue to her personal situation. Not that she’s trying to discuss her options: She brushes off any of Rueben’s leading comments, and even runs away from her captain, who tries to talk to her “woman to woman” in order to explain Lydia’s nagging illness and late paperwork. As she and Rueben go through the motions of their investigation only to end up back at the pregnant girlfriend as the guilty party, it’s hard to tell exactly what moved forward for Lydia. The girlfriend makes several cogent points about how shooting her ex-con boyfriend was her only option, as the police had not taken enough steps to protect her after she cleaned up and kicked her heroin habit. The only tiny progression comes from Rueben, who finally stands up to Lydia and bluntly offers advice on why Lydia handled the situation with their captain incorrectly. I wasn’t a big fan of Detective Ochoa last season, but by this point in her arc she’d defined herself as a competent foil to Lydia. Rueben is only beginning to make his stamp, since this plot is very obviously more about Lydia’s pregnancy. What’s dragged down these scenes is the lack of any progress or self-reflection. Southland conveys a lot of its character’s emotions through moments of silence — take Lucy Liu in the final scene of the episode, or the way Cudlitz solemnly considers sharing what he saw in the aftermath of the shooting — but Lydia only scowls, sulks, and pouts in disbelief in the face of all the questioning.
This episode may be titled “Fallout,” but all three key partnerships are still stuck on dealing with Integrity Checks. Lydia can’t come clean to anyone about her pregnancy, and can’t even use the information of the weekly cases involving different parental situations to help inform her decision. Sammy is , but Ben sullies his good save by invoking the standard Nate set as a partner. And in the final shot of the episode, when Tang drops that orange tip into the bowl meant for keys, her integrity is lost, and now begins the spiral downward leading to her exit.
- One of my friends made the absolutely correct observation that while Sammy’s wife was unquestionably the most annoying and hated character on Southland in previous seasons, at least she drew any ire away from a relatively inept Sammy, who’s flown off the handle and kidnapped a suspect and dropped him in the desert in the middle of the night.
- Lucy Liu has been cast in CBS’ Sherlock Holmes adaptation Elementary, so it looks like she’ll only be a special guest for the last three episodes of the season.
- D’Angelo as Cooper’s sponsor? The king stay the king.