Southland: Heat

Being a cop in Los Angeles is different than patrolling other cities. Not every officer can take the heat.

For the first time since I’ve been watching SouthLAnd, I have to disagree with the opening voice-over. Sure, L.A. is different, geographically, than other cities, but crime is crime, guns and knives are deadly weapons, and death is final, no matter where you are in the country. I can absolutely say that, without a doubt, cops everywhere want to safely make it to the end of their shifts. Sadly, not all of them do, and not just those patrolling the streets of Los Angeles.

You know, last night’s episode was one of the most intense, pulse-pounding episodes we’ve seen thus far. And I’m betting there are many of you out there who missed it, forgot about it, or didn’t have a clue the show is on. And that’s a shame, because SouthLAnd is one of the best, if not the best cop show to ever hit television. Why the network doesn’t invest a few dollars in advertising is beyond me. I’m an avid TV viewer and have not seen a single promo this season, and we’re already heading toward the third episode of a very short season.

Okay, enough rambling. Let’s get on with the show.

This is season 5, and since way back in the beginning we’ve watched Officer Ben Sherman transform from a green, wet-behind-the-ears rookie who was excited about his new job and future as police officer. Now we see a nearly contemptuous, slightly narcissistic, and hardened Ben Sherman who’s teetering on a thin tight-wire stretched high above a very dark place. One misstep and he’s likely to find himself on a free-fall to the wrong side of a cell door. Let’s hope he maintains his balance long enough to realize the direction he’s headed is not a good one.

Those of us in the business know that police officers work in an extremely structured environment. Not only do officers have departmental standard operating procedures that must be adhered to without fail, they’re also required to know, obey, and enforce the laws of their town, city, county, state, and federal law. And that is all-inclusive. Officers may not pick and choose which laws and/or rules to follow, which is where Ben seems to be struggling the most. He likes to bend the rules in whichever direction helps him achieve his personal goal of the moment. It doesn’t work that way, Ben.

Last night’s script offered more bad choices for Officer Sherman. Like the decision to confront a gang leader during a birthday party for the man’s young son. While there he uses the threat of arrest for an outstanding, but old warrant, to force the man to give up the name of someone in a rival gang who was supposedly involved in the shooting/wounding of Ben’s friend and fellow officer, Mendoza. Even this goes badly, ending with the boy shot during a drive-by as payback for snitching to the cops. Then, to make matters worse, Mendoza’s gunshot wound was self-inflicted as a means to to cash in on benefits. A real sleazebag. Ben desperately needs to find some new friends.

Sammy and Ben roll up on two women arguing, one of whom flags them over. She’s distressed and claims the other “lady” has taken money from her and then didn’t deliver crack cocaine, as promised. The “lady” tells Sammy, “I don’t sell drugs, I’m a prostitute.” After a quick eye-roll, Sammy and Ben leave the two crack whores standing in the parking lot. I cannot begin to count the number of times crack heads and meth heads/tweekers have stopped me, claiming someone stole their dope, their cash, their food, didn’t deliver the drugs even after performing oral sex, sold fake drugs, etc., and each time the dumba**’s expect the police to arrest the “offender.” Yeah, right.

Ben chases a gang leader into a courtyard. Sammy is desperately trying to locate him, and calls on the radio, which Ben promptly reaches for and turns the volume down, or off. He does so, because the radios noises and chatter are dead give-a-ways to an officer’s location. That’s why Ben turned down the volume/switched off the radio, to allow him a stealthier approach.

There’s a brief scene at the lockup where you see Ben retrieve his weapon from a locker-type group of individual metal containers. Each of those lockers are lock boxes where officers can safely store their weapons while inside the lockup, where guns are not allowed. The same is true for courthouses, booking areas, and detective’s offices. Weapons are not normally allowed in those locations.

Cooper is still stuck as FTO (field training officer) to a boot (rookie)  who’s ever ready to buck the system even before he loses his “training wheels.” He’s argumentative and insubordinate, and he’s a know it all who knows nothing about police work and why cops do what they do. Last week he was quick to tell Cooper, his FTO, the guy who can either make or break a trainee, that he basically chose the job because it paid better than most others. Well, that’s not the reason men and women pin on that badge and then wade into a city filled with scum, drunks, drug users, killers, rapists, pedophiles, and robbers. Instead, most want to help their communities and their neighbors. They want to make a positive impact, even if that means working double shifts, sometimes for free.

So what does a police officer earn as salary for dodging bullets and chasing after and protecting us from the scourge of society? Let’s take a quick look, shall we.

LAPD starts high school grads at $42,042 per year. Top pay, after years of service is around $80,000 per year. That’s approximately $22.63 per hour for newly hired trainees.

Savannah Metro Police Department in Savannah, Ga. starts their officer trainees (those with a HS education or equivalent) at a much lower $15.61 per hour ($32, 468 annually). To put this in perspective, many people who work as construction workers, bartenders, waitresses, maintenance and repair workers, all make above the starting salary of police officers in Savannah, Ga. Think one of those jobs is more dangerous that the others? Hmm… I wonder which is the most hazardous…

So Cooper and crew are definitely not in the business to get rich. They’re in it to win it because they love what they do. They love protecting people and property from harm. The good ones will take a bullet if that’s what it takes to get the job done. And Coop did just that, even though his vest stopped the deadly rounds. His boot lost it, though. Chickened out. Sucked on a PTSD lollipop. Melted down in mid-crisis and hid behind the patrol car. He’s not fit for the job. In fact, Cooper stripped the boot of his badge, and rightfully so. Thankfully, I never had to do that. Not even close, actually. As FTO, I trained some of the finest police officers ever to wear a badge. I’ve been made proud of each and every one, and every single one of them has risen through the ranks to become supervisors and top brass in departments throughout the county. They each deserve to wear their badges and they wear them well.

Shawn Hatosy deserves a another ton of praise this week for the fantastic way he’s developing Sammy. The character has many layers, and we’re seeing bits and pieces of them emerge with the passing of every episode. Of course, Ben is doing the same. Hell, they all are. Just a great, great job by the cast, crew, writers, directors, producers, and everyone else involved. Police officers everywhere thank you for depicting their chosen career with the dignity and respect it deserves.

Now, we come to Lydia, a character with more layers than a seven layer cake. She’s complex. She’s a woman. A tough, yet feminine woman who can somehow manage to look great while chasing a fleeing suspect on foot, spouting strings of obscenities that would make a sailor blush, and exchanging punches with the best of them. She’s a new mom who counts on help from her own mom to help her get through the stages of new motherhood. She’s a single mom who has no other choice…until her mother passes away, leaving Lydia standing on the front porch holding her baby, as an EMS crew wheels her mother’s recently deceased body out to the ambulance.

Life has just taken a drastic turn in the opposite direction for Lydia. Will she be able to handle it? Or will she see Ruben step in to help out. He’s another good guy who’s a knight in shining armor when he needs to be, and he can be a “I’ll-shove-a-foot-up-your-a**-” type of guy if/when the time comes.

What else is there to say about this episode that the actors didn’t show us with their actions and words? My goodness this show is superb, and I urge you to watch for the little things, not just the big picture—the overall plot and story-lines. Because I promise you, there’s one thing all these folks have in common—Cudlitz, Hatosy, King, Howell, and McKenzie—they really know how to act.

And they certainly know how to proudly wear a badge, uniform, and gun, and they that do that oh so well.

Before we sign off, let’s make a quick change to the opening voice over. How’s this?

Being an actor on SouthLAnd is different than acting in other shows. Not every actor can take the heat.

One last thing. This scene…

You’d better believe cops have that kind of compassion.

They certainly do…

 *Disclaimer/warning, whatever you choose to call it – I wrote this blog post immediately following a medical procedure where Propofol was used as the anesthesia. There’s a reason they call it “milk of amnesia,” and the errors in the above text are proof. Honestly, my heart was in the right place. My mind, however, was elsewhere.

  1. Jim
    Jim says:

    Been watching SouthLAnd since the beginning and haven’t missed one yet (thank you DVR). Having been a Hill Street and Wire fane, this ranks right with them.

    Thanks for the ChiTrib I found your blog and will visit here every week for your comments.

  2. Colleen
    Colleen says:

    Glad to learn of your blog via the ChiTrib. Thanks for your service and thanks for the blog. Glad to see Southland getting the love it deserves from one in the know.

  3. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    I agree, Bob. It would have been more realistic and just as dramatic to have the sergeant hand over the baby and then place a comforting arm around Lydia as her mother’s body was wheeled away, off camera.

  4. Bob Mueller
    Bob Mueller says:

    The more I think about the last scene, the more bothered I become. Dramatic, certainly. But knowing Lydia was coming, and was a cop, would the medics have been so calls a to cover her mom as she’s walking in? And for the shift sergeant to just hand Christopher of to Lydia then just walk away?

    This was one of the first times I’ve felt they did a scene just for the drama without trying to get the procedure right.

  5. Pat Marinelli
    Pat Marinelli says:

    Finally got to watch this episode on DVR. I also caught that Sammy gave the shot kid his son’s toy. A lot of this show was heartbreaking but it really does show what cops go through on the job. I love reading your reviews and can’t wait to see how this season turns out. I’ve been watching since Southland was on network TV and these characters have become a part of my life.

  6. Susan Paturzo
    Susan Paturzo says:

    I absolutely love your recaps, and completely agree Southland is underrated! I have been getting to know some Denver cops who would also take issue with that opening voiceover. It will be interesting to see where they take Ben because he is headed someplace seriously dark. Looking forward to next week, and I wish it was going to be a longer season.

  7. Jimmy Gawne
    Jimmy Gawne says:

    You’d think Ben would be more willing to trust and listen to Sammy, ESPECIALLY with regard to gangs. Not only has Sammy been on the force far longer than Ben, but he had who knows how many years of experience as a gangs detective.

  8. Dave Swords
    Dave Swords says:

    Okay, Lee. I just watched the rest of the show, and read the rest of your recap.

    Both were very good. I guess I’ll have to set my DVR for next Wednesday night.

  9. emily farnham
    emily farnham says:

    As always an excellent review of a riveting episode. Love the dedication of all. #southland the most underated show on tv.

  10. Dave Swords
    Dave Swords says:

    Hi Lee,

    Last night, I decided to finally watch an entire episode of Southland, and I had the same reaction to the opening line. I watched about half of it, and recorded the rest, so I won’t comment further, and won’t read the rest of the GYS today until I watch the show. But I wanted to echo your sentiments of that initial voiceover

  11. Snowprince
    Snowprince says:

    This one kinda hit home, Lee, as the traffic stop/shootout is almost exactly what happened to a couple friends of mine in Noho. The difference being they both returned fire and killed the suspect after getting hit themselves. And, like Cooper, I’ve had to recommend a couple of boots for termination, though not under those extreme circumstances. Cudlitz beautifully played without saying a word the instant transition from relief that his partner was ok to smoldering rage at his inaction. After Steele’s “I’m not a coward” rant Coop says “you don’t have to convince me”. What he DOESN’T say is “maybe you have to convince yourself”, and THAT came through loud and clear.

    Agree with you on Hatosay and the little things. One of the very subtle but poignant things that grabbed me was when he was tending to the banger’s son who’d been shot, he gave him his own son’s good luck toy to try and help calm/comfort him while waiting for the R/A.

    You said the rest better than I, but you’re spot on. Big city or small town, suspects (and sometimes witnesses and victims) can and will kill you just as dead. No difference at all.

    Great review as usual.