Southland: “Identity”
B+

Southland: “Identity”

Even when it paints with far too broad strokes, Southland gets so many little moments right it can't help but seem compelling. Introduced in the short preview last week, Lydia’s pregnancy thankfully wasn’t hidden at all. Her mother notices the morning sickness, bras not fitting, and moodiness, and tries to have an honest conversation with her single daughter who’s rapidly progressing to the far end of her child bearing years, but Lydia doesn’t really want to talk. She's content to observe and listen to everyone else for the day, but her mindset has the audience looking for the same details she is: anything related to children or parenthood sticks out and gets amplified. We only get to see certain parts of her day on the job, but as she and Rueben respond to a stabbing death of a man who housed a homeless mother and her daughter, the case becomes less about the predictable outcome and more about what details Lydia will choose to enhance during the day. There are a lot of ham-fisted moments of directly stated opinion on parenthood and love that knows no bounds, but Regina King plays her part very subtle, not engaging in a way that puts her cards on the table. Listening and asking questions keeps the pregnancy revelation interesting without going overboard.

There’s still a bit of mystery in that plot, since Lydia hasn’t revealed who the father is, but it became clear that discovering that fact wasn’t really the point. Lydia had to figure out for herself whether or not she wanted the baby, and since she was looking for those answers, the details of her investigation that stuck out pertained directly to her qualms about becoming a parent. It’s still extraordinarily convenient that a case with a mentally unstable child and a single mother who still believes parenthood gave meaning to her previously aimless life drops into Lydia and Rueben’s lap on the same day that Lydia is directly confronting what to do with her pregnancy. But I’m willing to forgive that overarching clumsiness when Southland puts together so many great little scenes.

The most sublimely ridiculous short is a standoff between Tang and Cooper and a couple of officers from a different branch of the force (either CHP or the county sheriff, but I’m betting on the sheriffs — LAPD absolutely hate those guys) over who has to deal with a body torn apart by a train scattered all over the tracks. Cooper and Tang are trying to help a homeless man get an ID and into a shelter, and Tang takes special interest in the guy since he’s got Marine tattoos, and her dad used to be one, but her attempts to get the veteran help aren’t going so well. The train scene is incredibly gruesome, but Tang completely ignores the situation to berate whatever Veteran’s Affairs desk jockey she’s got on the other end of the line. Liu has surprised me in this role all season, which has more O-Ren Ishii and thankfully very little of Alex Munday. She’s doing so well that she’s threatening to blast poor Rueben out of the water as the only established new character. Last week was Dorian Missick’s time to shine, rehearsing his speech for his daughter’s party, dropping hints about military service, but he didn’t own that backstory touch like Liu did while revealing even smaller details.

Over with the younger cops, this week Sammy continues his run of misguided police work when he accidentally shoots a dog behind some dumpsters after mistaking it for a feeling suspect. He gets a bit too attached, and pays $1300 for life-saving surgery, only to find out that the dog isn’t a stray, and belongs to a little girl. Sammy is essentially the comic relief of this episode, mocked by Ben and Dewey for his blunder and subsequent emotional attachment, but there’s clearly something deeper going on. During a fast-paced response to a call, Sammy essentially interrogates Ben about moving out of Silverlake and buying a house, before they rush into an indoor pool to stop a woman from stabbing a man, then have to save her drowning daughter. They respond to several other little incidents throughout the day, stopping a new gang of young kids responsible for the shooting death of a universally respected grandmother, and continuing to discuss Ben moving out of his apartment and into a proper home just a week after Sammy was complaining about not getting to go out as much as Ben.

I have to admit, I’m getting a little tired of Ben’s overeager attitude. He’s jaded and angry one week, then addicted to chasing down perps on foot and jumping into pools the next. Just once I want to see a guy who’s in better shape pull away from him while running and see what happens. Ben has been a consistently even-keel character, only reaching a boiling point on rare occasions, but now he has no regimented goal to reach. Along that same line, what season 4 lacks so far is any kind of overall development or endgame. Ben graduated to his current position, and now Southland moves in fits and starts throughout its ensemble. Those brief scenes may be very well constructed, or peel away layers to attempt some small profound discovery within one character each week, but right now there is no sense of direction, and I haven’t quite figured out whether I like that or not.

Stray observations:

  • I love that Lydia rocks an Oakland Raiders t-shirt in the first scene. Nice regional detail.
  • The paramedics who take the dog to the vet ask for 2 Lakers tickets in return. Those guys are getting nosebleed seats, and shouldn’t they want to see Lob City play instead? I know the production schedule wouldn’t account for the CP3 trade, but still…
  • Messed Up Moment of the Week: It was almost the girl in the swimming pool, but there’s nothing that can top Cooper trying to haggle away the train death fiasco away to those other officers. That was some incredibly dark humor.
  • Tang and Cooper busting in on the fake ID operation was pretty great. The small moments that really stand out can even be this short, or up to the couple minutes of Dewey telling a very colorful story about shooting someone’s thumb off.
  • “You know who the Conquistadors were, right? They’re not Peruvian.”
  • Ben still has to deal with the fallout from hitting that teenage girl, this time in the form of a woman he helps out who spouts off anti-police opinions.

More TV Club