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Terriers: "Sins of the Past"

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Before I get to this week’s case—with its foundational flashbacks and perhaps too-pat mistaken-identity parallels—let me first rave about the opening scene of “Sins Of The Past,” which exemplifies a lot of what I love about Terriers. We begin with Hank helping Britt clean his stuff out of Katie’s apartment, and Hank doing his damndest to convince Britt that he should forgive Katie for cheating (or at least stick around to “punish her”). Then Katie comes in, and tells Britt that she left the engagement ring on the table for him to take back—even though he never asked her to give it up. The two exes bicker a little over who should take possession of Winston, and Britt finally snaps that he can’t cut the dog in half. So Katie says goodbye to Winston, weeping as she does, pouring all her regret and anguish over Britt’s leaving into her farewell to their pooch.


Beyond the raw emotion of Laura Allen’s performance as Katie, and beyond the smart conceit of using Winston as the linchpin of the scene, I love that the Terriers writers—specifically Tim Minear for this episode—are so good at exploring a common but complicated feeling. Just watch Katie throughout this scene. How is she supposed to feel? Ashamed? Apologetic? Desperate? Pissed? The correct answer: A little bit of each, which is exactly how Minear writes it and exactly how Allen plays it. She’s mad at Britt for not wanting to stay and work it out. She’s mad at herself for driving him away. She’s trying to maintain some dignity and not beg him to reconsider. There’s so much going on under the surface, revealed in a few short minutes of screen-time.

Given how strong “Sins Of The Past” started, it was probably inevitable that I’d be let down by some of what followed—specifically Britt’s storyline. I like the idea of Britt continuing to ignore Hank’s advice, playing detective in his personal life by breaking back into the apartment to search through Katie’s Facebook account, looking for the guy she slept with. He’s in a drunken rage and “trying to figure it out,” which is a very Terriers state of mind for him to be in. Throughout the run of the series, our boys have used detective work to try and solve the mysteries of their lives. And throughout the run of the series, they’ve concocted evidence to support conclusions that haven’t always been right. Which is what Britt does here. He tracks the wrong guy to a bar, punches him out, and gets thrown in the pokey.


Like I said, in theory I’m behind all that as a direction for Britt’s story to travel. But as it played out, Britt’s bender was a little one-note, and a little too in step with Past-Hank’s story in this episode. (Which I’ll get to in a moment.) Granted, it makes sense for Britt to be especially single-minded, given that he’s heartbroken and drunk off his ass, but when taken in concert with Past-Hank’s non-stop drinking, “Sins Of The Past” came off a little Afterschool Special-y at times.

As always though, my complaints are more nitpicky than anything: minor gripes at a show that’s capable of taking even an alcoholic stupor and finding its finer shading, as “Sins Of The Past” does elsewhere. I’m thinking here of a scene set three years in the past, when Hank wakes up to see his wife Gretchen staring down at him, concerned. He got drunk, stayed out late, passed out on the couch, and missed a couple of marital obligations. He’s so in his own world that he doesn’t fully grasp how mad Gretchen is; he just thinks they’re engaging in playful banter. But then he asks her about a suspect in a case he’s working on: A rich prick named Billy Whitman, whom Gretchen knew in college, and dated briefly. Gretchen thinks Hank is accusing her of something; Hank thinks Gretchen is hiding something. So later he brings Billy Whitman into the interrogation room, ignores his demands for a lawyer, and accuses him of being a serial rapist—asking him specifically about whether he assaulted Gretchen in college. The way one misunderstanding fuels another, all tied back to Hank’s drinking … that’s the good Terriers writing I’m looking for.

This episode also marked the return of the Terriers-style twist-a-plot, which I also appreciated. The case-of-the-week is initiated by investigative blogger Laura Ross (who doesn’t work for “dead tree media,” just so you know). She stops by Hank’s house to feed him some new information she’s uncovered about the rapes that Hank accused Billy Whitman of three years ago. The rest of the episode shifts smoothly between the past and the present, using a couple of locations—particularly the Hank/Gretchen house and the Ocean Beach police station—as the focal points for a comparison of how things were and how things are.

Among the significant moments we get to witness in the past: Hank meeting Britt for the first time. Three years ago, Britt gets arrested trying to boost Billy Whitman’s car, and since he happened to be near the scene of an attempted rape, he’s held under suspicion that he’s the serial rapist plaguing Ocean Beach. But after a brief interview, Hank rules Britt out, noting Britt’s concern for the victim. (Also, the voice on the 911 call alerting the police is clearly Britt’s.)


Instead, Hank targets Whitman, noting to Gustafson that Whitman was on the scene the same as Britt, and that he’s “got an ugly history with women as long as my dick.” But really, Hank just wants Whitman to be guilty. It’ll confirm his biases against the obscenely overprivileged—the Whitman name is plastered on a nearby library and stadium—and it’ll be a proper revenge for Whitman having gone out with Gretchen. (And for what it’s worth, Hank probably thinks his dick is really long, too.)

Throughout the investigation, Hank does what he can to stack the deck against Whitman, including trying to persuade the victim to pick him out of a police line-up. So when Billy Whitman gets into a car accident and the police find the tools of a rapist in his trunk, Gustafson naturally assumes that his increasingly erratic and frequently drunk partner is to blame.


As it turns out, they both have the wrong guy. Back in the present day, Hank shows Gustafson the new info that Laura Ross has unearthed, and convinces him to call Billy Whitman back in for one more interrogation. “Just trying to put a period on it, Reynolds,” Hank says to Gustafson’s jerky new partner, whom we last saw a few episodes ago regarding a gay transvestite runaway with disgust. “With you, it’s always an exclamation point,” Reynolds replies, as he steps behind the glass to watch Hank present Whitman with a bag of new evidence. And later, after Hank wraps up his interrogation, Reynolds sneaks into the evidence room to destroy the bag. It turns out he’s the serial rapist. And it all adds up, too: He was always the first officer on the scene and the victim three years ago picked him out of the line-up when he was there filling space. (Very clever bit of hiding the truth in plain sight, Terriers.)

If you’ve been reading these reviews all season—only two to go, folks!—you know that I often like to zero on one telling quote or exchange from an episode, to sum it all up. This week I’m torn. I was going to go with the terse back-and-forth between Reynolds and Gustafson, when the latter shows the former the tape of him going after the bag. Reynolds mutters, “It’s not real evidence,” and Gustafson says, “It is now.” Such a great line, and one that speaks to the notion of the Terriers characters’ habit concocting proof out of thin air.


But I’m in a more hopeful mood tonight, so I’m gravitating to the endings of the past and present storylines. In the present, Hank confesses to Britt that he knew all about Katie’s cheating, and insists that everything would’ve been okay if Britt had just listened to him. It’s an inversion of the situation Hank found himself in with Gustafson three years ago, where Hank was unmanageable and wouldn’t listen to anything Gustafson had to say. Now, understanding just how shitty a partner he was, Hank tells Gustafson, “I know I owe you an amends.” (And Gustafson is honestly touched by the gesture.) Then we go back three years and see Hank letting Britt out of jail, passing along his card for future use. Britt tells Hank that he hopes he catches the rapist, and Hank passes along some words of comfort for all who need healing:

“We will. In time.”

Stray observations:

  • Remember back at the start of the series, when Hank funneled all the money that he and Britt made into buying Gretchen’s house, and then told a pissed-off Britt that he could live there too? Funny how things go, huh?
  • Among the other fun sights of the “Three Years Earlier” world: Gustafson in plain-clothes, and Gustafson going out to smoke a cigarette.
  • Hank: “He’s wearing dark clothes!” Britt: “Lots of people do; it’s slimming!”
  • “So she blogs. Do you Tweet?”
  • “You’re the worst sponsor ever.”