Southland: Heroes

Cops are trained to stay in control, but sometimes even heroes feel helpless.

Sure, they’ve been punched, cut, stabbed, slapped, punched again, spit-on, kicked, bitten, and shot at. But they’re survivors. It’s what police officers are taught to do, and they always come out on top, and they always save the day…well, almost always.

Unfortunately, there are times when a cop’s best just isn’t good enough, and people suffer, or die. Sometimes luck doesn’t come their way. And all the training and experience in the world can’t stop the daily chipping-away of the heart and soul that comes with the job.

Cops know they’ve saved dozens in the course of their lifetimes. But it’s the ones they couldn’t protect…those are ones that stand out the most. They crush the spirit, and they eat away at emotions. And not being able to save everyone is a gut-wrenching feeling of helplessness that’s like no other in this world. Yes, even heroes feel helpless at times. But they hold it inside, maintaining control. Because that’s what cops do.

Like yesterday, when the two-year-old child in Bryan County, Ga. who wandered outside and was brutally mauled and killed by seven pit bulls. An adult at the house fell asleep and was unaware of the situation until it was too late. That’s a scene that the responding officers  will forever have etched in their minds. And it will chip away at the shell surrounding their hearts. I know how they felt when they arrived at the scene, because I’ve witnessed similar incidents. Even though there was no way possible of predicting what was to happen, they’ll feel helpless because they weren’t able to save the toddler.

Maybe the motto should read, “To feel absolutely helpless when not fully able to protect and serve.”

After watching last night’s episode, I posted a comment on Facebook that read, “John Cooper wears the weight of the world like a finely tailored suit.” I made the comment because Cooper is stretched nearly to the point of breaking. In fact, most people would have snapped long before now if faced with the challenges and hurdles Cooper encounters as part of his daily routine.

Think about it. How would most people cope with being a mostly-closeted gay man working in a mostly anti-gay job, who’s surrounded by daily death and destruction, and the worst people life has to offer. His dying father despises him so much that he’d raped and killed Cooper’s girlfriend. And Coop’s mentor and friend is suicidal, suffering from relentless loneliness. All this while having to protect and save the world. And Coop does it without exposing the cracks in his armor. Yes, I’d say John Cooper does indeed wear the weight of the world, and he does it quite nicely.

The man who breathes life into John Cooper is Michael Cudlitz, an actor who delivered one of his best performances last night. The scenes with his former TO, Hicks, played by Gerald McRaney (Simon and Simon, Major Dad, and currently the Chicago police captain on Mike And Molly), were absolutely stellar.

Hicks is drowning, and he’s going down fast. His airways are filled with sorrow and loneliness. He’s suffocating with each shallow breath. He’s a retired, widower cop who misses the job and his wife. He feels that his purpose in life has passed, a sentiment shared by many retired and former police officers. Unfortunately, to cope with life-after-cop disease, Hicks has, like many others, turned to alcohol to dull the pain. However, being the handy-dandy depressant that it is, booze has only served to enhance the effects of his rapid journey to the bottom. Cooper takes a stand and vows to save his friend from self-destruction, reinforcing his determination by saying to his old friend, “You are not going out like this, old man. I’m not letting you…I’m not letting you.”

Hicks wasn’t the only burning hurdle he had to clear last night. His sexual preferences are slowly being introduced. His dying father has only words of hatred for Coop, the last words he’ll have to remember his father saying. Although, Coop leaned over to whisper a few words of his own into his father’s ear. Were those words of hate, or did he tell his father that he loved him in spite of his evil? Only Coop knows.

Cooper, still in “save the world mode,” listened as Dewey’s cop-daughter, RayAnn, told the story of how Dewey had once gotten drunk and beat her mother. RayAnn vowed to be a better cop than Dewey could ever be. Perhaps, it is John Cooper she plans to mirror.

And then there was the little boy who was in danger of electrocution. Somehow he’d gotten stuck in a large pool of water that had filled a section of a city street. A downed electrical line made rescue impossible. The child was safe from electrocution as long as he remained standing on a plastic toy (plastic doesn’t conduct electricity. water does). First, Cooper saves the boy’s mother by stopping her from rushing into the water. Next, Coop drives his patrol car into the water and rescues the child.

Well, this is technically possible, as long as the electrically-charged water is at a depth that doesn’t contact any metal car parts. Once it does, the car immediately becomes a conductor of the electricity. That would mean the water could not be at a depth that would touch the metal wheel parts (only the rubber tires could be touching the water). As we saw last night, though, Cooper’s patrol car wound up in water that was definitely in contact with metal parts. Therefore had he or the child touched any part of the car that was made from metal, which they did, they’d have been instantly shocked and/or quite possibly, killed.

Still, this a was scene that showed Cooper once again putting his own safety at risk in order to save someone. But, please don’t try this should you ever face a similar situation. The results are rarely successful.

Ben and Sammy. Now there’s a partnership that shouldn’t be. They’re each dueling with private demons, and their personal lives have begun to affect their police work. They’re both fine officers, when apart. It’s when they’re together that attracts the dark clouds that seem to like the spot above their collective heads. And, when they’re apart, the ominous clouds divide like an amoeba, forming separate trouble-filled cells above each of the two cops.

Ben seems to thrive best when living on the edge. He likes the dark side. He craves action and excitement, and being with a gangbanger’s sister is just what the voodoo doctor ordered. Yes, he loves the bad girls and all the drama that comes with them.

I’ve heard numerous comments over the years that Ben McKenzie is much too “pretty” to play the part of a bad-ass cop. Well, his performance last night should erase those thoughts from the minds of any Doubting Thomas’. The scene where he stood up to his girlfriend’s brother was absolutely fantastic. His nose-to-nose stance combined with a very believable “I’m going kick your a** if you so much as blink” posturing was also on the money. That’s how it’s done in the street, folks. I’m thinking Ben McKenzie has exchanged a punch or two in his day. If not, it was only because his menacing nostril-flaring caused his opponents to back down. Command presence definitely works in more than one kind of situation. Great bit of acting, Ben.

Sammy has changed, and he’s done so with us watching. His love for his kid, Nate, and the rejection he still feels when Tammi left him, are slowly eating away at his core. He’s eroding from the inside out. Still, somewhere in that pot of roiling emotions, he knows the difference between right and wrong. And he prefers to be on the side of “right.” But he’s dug a hole and doesn’t know how to climb out. However, he, like Cooper, has a few flaming hurdles to overcome, such as his lie about the camera to the IA investigators. He wants to come clean, but Ben encourages him to let it go and live with the lie. Sammy, on the other hand, is basically a good cop who merely wants to right a wrong. Doing so, however, could cost both he and Ben their careers.

Sometimes I wonder if Sammy clings to Nate (his son) because he’s a reminder of his old partner and friend, and that being close to the boy eases the pain of Tammi leaving him. I’m not so sure he’s over Tammi, but one thing’s for sure, he feels rejected and a bit less of a man because he couldn’t hang on to her.

Shawn Hatosy has made Sammy what he is—a strong character with many layers. Sammy is a guy you’d want as a friend. He’d be there for you, always. He’d be a great family man. He’d be a fantastic cop. It’s his compassion that makes him do the goofy things he does. I’m convinced that Hatosy brings his real-life emotions to the set, and that’s why he is so darn convincing in this role. His sense of humor is evident when he spouts off lines such as this one from last night. “A bulletproof vest wears Chuck Norris for protection.” I sensed that the real life guy (Shawn) thought the line was funny, and that’s why the chuckle we heard seemed genuine.

Hatosy’s interactions with his fans on Twitter and Facebook, make them feel as if they’re part of the Southland/Hatosy family. He makes people feel as if they’re chatting with the off-duty Sammy who’s hanging out with friends until it’s time to put on the gun belt and badge. Cudlitz is the same. Actually, most of the cast interacts with their fans, even C. Thomas Howell (Dewey). And that’s a big part of the show. Actually, I could see this turning into a cult-like following.

Lydia and Ruben certainly make a great detective team. They feed off one another well, and they’re just different enough to bring a varying perspective to each case they receive. A great pairing like this one goes a long way toward solving cases. If partners are too much alike they could develop a severe case of tunnel-vision, which, all to often, can lead to nowhere.

Lydia seemed like she had all the wind back in her sails this week. Sharing “baby time” with Terrell was a much-needed break for her, and the time apart definitely recharged her rapidly-dying batteries.

Lydia reminds me of me in many ways. I, too, was the detective who’d take the time to lift the corner of a sleeping homeless person’s blanket to examine his shoes. Yes, if there was a haystack and someone told me there was needle in there somewhere, well, I was going to dismantle the thing one straw at a time until I found it. I wasn’t a big fan of paperwork and would eagerly pass it on to someone else who was willing to handle that end while I did the legwork. Lydia seems to like the legwork as well, while Ruben appears to prefer dotting I’s and crossing T’s over trekking through the woods searching for bullet casings.

After witnessing the results of Regina King’s directing abilities, I have to admit, I now see her differently. Well, perhaps differently is not the proper term, because her camera work in the episode she directed was a true reflection of how she portrays Lydia Adams. She’s meticulous and driven toward perfection. We all know the budget for Southland is pretty low, especially for a show of this magnitude and quality, but King took it to another level by using her instinct and drive, and that’s what I see in the Lydia King character—fantastic instinct and unwavering drive. And that’s a reflection of Regina King.

Finally, I’m sure you’ve all noticed that this review is a bit different than my normal fact-checking mission about the police procedure on the show. And I fault the actors, writers, producers, directors, and crew for my deviating from the norm. You see, they all do so many things right that it’s nearly impossible to find something wrong to point out.

Southland is a remarkable team of dedicated people who come together to deliver their best each and every week. And, finally, they were officially recognized by receiving a Peabody Award, an award presented only to the best of the best.

Well-deserved, guys.

  1. Dorothy Wilson
    Dorothy Wilson says:

    I am a big fan of Southland and cannot tell you how great it is to read your reviews before I watch my tivo copy. I have been sort of close with law enforcement over the years with a boss who was ex-FBI, a niece who was US Marshall(deceased) and a nephew who recently retired as a sargent from police force in MI. I have great respect for all you guys who lay your lives on the line everyday so the rest of us can have some peace of mind. I wonder tho where we are headed with these gun carry laws of today, reminds me of the wild west where everyone should carry just to survive. What do todays cops think about it?

  2. Stephen
    Stephen says:

    Lee,

    Just started reading your blog a few weeks ago! Always look forward to watching Southland so I can go on and read your blogs after. I will say the last episode was such a tear jerker at the end. I think as a retired cop like yourself, that must have had a much larger impact on you. I myself graduated with a criminal justice degree and am pursuing police work as a career. This show really gives me the realistic insight and emotion that this job will have on me. Thanks again for the blog!

  3. 1015 Adam Henry
    1015 Adam Henry says:

    Southland for me isn’t ‘appointment tv’. But with On Demand, TiVo, etc, its not hard to miss an episode and then curse yourself for having to wait for the rerun later in the season. TNT does a fine job with the production of this series. The series is a yardstick on how the genre of the cop drama has evolved over the years and I agree, its probably the best with well researched stories based on the individual as well procedural accuracy and life on the streets. I had my doubts that Cooper would actually go as far as taking Hicks home and then locking him up in hopes of sobering him out. Cooper has enough common sense to take him to the hospital for 5150. Lucero in the real world would either have said something or put in for a new partner. Bryant would have made the kid eat glass at Chickee Baby, but wouldn’t do it in front of so many wits. With the exception of Sherman almost going toe to toe with Elena’s bro, the Shakespearan monolougue between Hicks and Cooper at the end pretty much still says, ‘its Hollywood folks’ and call it evening after that.

  4. Pat Brown
    Pat Brown says:

    I’m a huge fan of the show even though I haven’t seen any of it past part of season 2. It’s frustrating as hell and I see it vicariously through your reviews. LOL

  5. Joyce Faulhaber
    Joyce Faulhaber says:

    Thank you again, Lee, for your interesting insight and perspective. I’m so glad I found your website with your reviews of Southland. Given your experience, your reviews add an additional dimension that I would not have otherwise. Your review of the “Heroes” episode was really incredible! I second Becky’s comments. This may sound strange, but I frequently find that after watching an episode of Southland, I almost need a debriefing period, a time to process what I just experienced while watching Southland. Perhaps even more so after watching the “Heroes” episode. I think that is why I really appreciate reading your reviews, such as yours. It confirms some of what I am thinking but also offers a different perspective and a deeper meaning as well, which only adds to the whole experience.

    I was interested to see you had commented on Facebook. Your observation of Officer John Cooper was very interesting! Your review of this weeks episode was also featured/acknowledged on the Southland page of Facebook (you probably already knew that). I added my comment of appreciation as I have noted here.

    Southland also received several congratulations on Facebook, as you noted in your review, regarding being recipients of a Peabody Award. I, as well as others I’m sure, have been emailing TNT in support of Southland and for TNT to renew Southland for at least another season. As one TV critic I emailed noted, we don’t really know what will influence TNT’s decision, so the only way is to let them know directly how we feel! I mention this in case any of your readers would be willing to email TNT as well. The more the better and it can’t hurt.

    One last item, I left a comment regarding your “Bleed Out” review. It was also long (I’m sorry) but I did have a question for you at the end of my comments. I’m sure you are very busy and if you decided not to respond, I understand. However, if by some chance you did not see it, if you have time, would you mind reviewing my comments and taking a look at my question? I would be interested in your thoughts. Thank you for your time.

  6. Becky
    Becky says:

    Lee – Another amazing review. I cannot believe I did not find your blog earlier!

    I agree with many of the points you made above about the quality of the acting and direction of this show. I have been a fan since it aired on NBC and while I was initially disappointed to see it moved to TNT, I now can’t imagine it anywhere else. The smaller budget and increased creative freedom that came with the move made the show even better. I appreciate the focus on a smaller group of characters, as I feel I’ve gotten to know John, Ben, Sammy, and Lydia much, much more as a result. Each of the actors that play them are phenomenal – and the secondary/guest cast members are amazing too! The speech by the prostitute brought me to tears; I had to remind myself that she was only acting.

    It would be a mistake for me not to express my agreement with your assessment of Michael Cudlitz’s work in this episode. From the scene with his father to the dialogue with his old FTO, Cudlitz is able to bring a complexity his portrayal that I have not seen elsewhere on TV. He is a master of subtlety and is brilliant without words. A fine, fine actor.

    The cast of SouthLAnd is such a delight. Each one seems genuinely down to earth in the interviews I’ve read/watched, and couldn’t be happier with the communication many keep with their fans on Twitter and Facebook. This likability carries with them in the roles they portray, making it very difficult not to love them.

    Again, great review Lee. Cheers.

  7. Pat Marinelli
    Pat Marinelli says:

    Finally got to watch the episode on DVR. Oh, what a fast paced show. What acting! It just amazes me how much emotion and action is put in 40 minutes of programing. Thanks for another great review, Lee.

  8. Bryan
    Bryan says:

    Love the show and love your blog – thank you for putting in the time to share your input. Appreciated. I live in LA and am finding it interesting to see a number of events I remember happening here in LA or elsewhere being reenacted on the show. They are re-written some to have their own version.. The scene with the electrical lines down in the water happened in Burbank I believe last year – here is a link to that

    http://articles.latimes.com/2012/aug/24/local/la-me-0824-electrocution-20120824

    the episode where Sammy stopped a gunman in Hollywood a week or two ago was likely inspired by the following

    http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2011/12/hollywood-shootout-gunman-calmly-targeted-drivers-pedestrians.html

    here is a link to the cake decorator refusing to make a cake for little Adolf from a couple seasons ago

    http://womensissues.about.com/b/2008/12/18/no-cake-for-you-adolf-hitler-shoprite-refuses-birthday-cake-order.htm

    I also work at a Network that airs Cops the TV show- and I’ve seen a number of scenes on Southland that were likely inspired by events there.
    I also want to mention to fast turnaround from shooting this show to the time it goes on air. I was driving home from work one day and crossed Yucca and Argyle and noticed a staged car accident on Yucca. Two weeks later, there was a car chase on Southland that ended in that same place. So, for a show that uses so many location shots, props to them for getting it to air so fast..
    thanks again Lee

  9. Geoff Lin
    Geoff Lin says:

    yeah. With standards like that, even cable isn’t immune to low-brow things. It’$ got to be $omething. Not $ure what it i$…

  10. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    But, Geoff…Honey Boo Boo and a bunch of old coots poking through rocks and rubble to catch rattlesnakes? Snaggle-toothed yee-hawers catching catfish with their bare hands? Those shows receive good ratings. What in the world has this world come to when that’s considered as entertainment?

  11. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Mack, I’d gotten so long-winded with this piece that I simply omitted the part about the hooker. It was a tear-jerker, yes, and the streets are full of those stories that the everyday citizen never sees or hears about. The same for Dewey’s situation with the chicken bone. All cops deal with these sorts of things, some just handle them better than others. It’s a tough world, believe me.

  12. Geoff Lin
    Geoff Lin says:

    I do believe that NBC regrets pulling the plug on this series. But, I also believe that the series would have been limited in its artistic visions and commitment to a starkly honest dramatic portrayal of police officers. In short, I don’t think the series would have went beyond another season if they stayed.

    With it being on cable TNT, even with a more limited budget, it allowed them to commit to the realism and complexity that people expect of this show. I think if it were to stay with NBC or any other major network, there would have been more things that would have influenced the development of the episodes (and likely not in a good way). I often feel that the games that the major network play involves a lot of pandering to the public at large in order to have a greater premium on advertising space. What gets compromised or sacrificed? The art itself, stark realism, contemporary controversial topics, smart dialogue, etc.

    Perhaps it might be a good thing that the show doesn’t enjoy mass appeal of the public at large. I think what really counts is that it appeals to those who have a higher expectation for drama and character development, those who have had prior experience working for the government, and anyone who appreciates that the show can be a deep conversation piece.

  13. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Good insight, Jay, and an excellent memory I might add.

    There is an obvious difference, though, in the way you and I watch the events unfold on this show. I watch as a former patrol officer, former detective, former IA investigator, former academy instructor, former FTO, former supervisor, etc. I’ve worn all those hats and shoes, therefore I’m sort of watching the show through the characters’ eyes as they go about their daily routines as police officers. I’ve sort of been there and done that, experiencing what some very talented writers have penned for the Southland cast to bring to life.

    A viewer doesn’t have to be a Cooper fan to appreciate the superb job Michael Cudlitz does each and every week. The same goes for the rest of the cast. Stellar actors, all of them.

    And I certainly don’t mind saying that I am indeed a fan of each and every actor on the show. Sure, I like some characters more than others, but that’s something else that’s very real about this show. It’s designed to give us the opportunity to pick and pull for our favorites. And, as it is in all police departments, there are some officers who are downright obnoxious, but those are sometimes the cops you want as your backup.

    Anyway, sure, there may be early holes in the ongoing storyline that should have been filled, but the show has evolved so much during the past couple of years that to do so would have involved bringing back some of the earlier cast members, and that can’t happen.

    What we see today is definitely not the same show we saw in seasons 1-3. And I think that’s a good thing, because this show takes a backseat to no other of its kind.

  14. Mack
    Mack says:

    The scene with the retiring hooker was a “rip your heart out” moment. It put her in an entirely different light for me. Ben and Sammy came to laugh but Sammy at least was moved by her sacrifice.

    Lee, you didn’t mention this, but what did you think of what RayAnn said about what her father said after he struck his wife. That he was torn up because he was too late to save a child who choked on a chicken bone. It doesn’t excuse violent behavior and it gave RayAnn the resolve to become a better cop.

  15. Jay 3
    Jay 3 says:

    Not a Cooper fan by a long shot, although the reviewer most certainly is. I look at the totality, mainly seasons 1-3 and see the blatant hypocrisy now as well as then, many holes, and so much unaddressed that doesn’t add up. Still wondering if he’s ever going to take responsibility for all the damage he did. Even Dewey made “amends” including to Ben and to Chickie, or apparently tried. I know that there’s confidentiality, but anyone who has a sponsor should be part of a program that would include more and also brings up the issue of should he ever have been allowed back training anyone after what happened with Ben, regardless of who knows the extent. Someone has to have an idea based on the most bare facts. First to judge, whether it was with Chickie, Ben or anyone since, but last to step up whether to Ben, his ex-wife, Chickie, anyone he chose to compromise. Overdone with the heroism to the point of suspending belief, much like the water rescue as noted.

    Ben would have no choice with Sammy. He might not like him, can’t trust him, doesn’t approve of him, but (due to the obvious forced contrivance from TNT) is forced to be only with him and apparently is reduced to having only interactions with him or with him present, much to my dismay because of the act he has to maintain in his presence with the false bravado so as not to reveal his own feelings, rarely express an opinion and not be a target as a sort of “90210” relentlessly and dismissed as too young and incapable by someone not in a place to judge for other reasons. If Ben didn’t agree to go along with the lies, he’d be the outcast and blackballed as much as he would have been had he turned in Cooper, who apparently walked on water all along when he was a “menace” for at least a year, but put self and ego first- along with pills. Not toeing the line for Sammy would be essentially calling him a liar, which he is, but hearing the sergeant say that any investigation was a formality was a reminder of what was required, unspoken or not. The way Sammy grilled Ben on the roof was proof of the way Ben had to have been rehearsed and coached to respond, down to everything he couldn’t possibly have seen. Those answers had to be prepared by Sammy, just like any opinions about Tammi had to be fed to Ben directly by him with Ben having no knowledge any other way. Consider the source, but Ben’s in a corner with the pressure to comply and play ball or be the one responsible for the consequences if things didn’t go Sammy’s way, whatever the reality. A sudden desire by Sammy to have doubts and want to retract everything he’s set in motion might make him feel better and make the right noises, but it changes nothing. He had time to decide exactly what to do and who to involve and how far to go. That was his call from the beginning and he made the decision the minute he flew off the handle per his impulsive, volatile, short-fused MO.

    I definitely believed Ben standing up to Elena’s brother, but that was the acting and the actor. I saw the character as posturing out of necessity, but doing so convincingly, not because he’s been transformed, only that he’s very adept at role playing, like he’s had to become on every shift with his partner or anyone else who might pose any number of threats. It’s just a shame that Ben’s very layered character and complicated background and motives for why he’s even in this line of work have been forgotten and reduced to stories or a character who could be anyone from anywhere, not unique to the individual and the circumstances that are so compelling, no matter how much the character has to keep hidden and buried from others. When other characters are in the same position, the stories are still told.

  16. Claudia McRay
    Claudia McRay says:

    I often wonder if the idiots at NBC regret shoving this show aside. We’ve loved it since the first scene of the first show. The kid who was stopped asked, “Do you know who my father is?” and the cop answers, “I don’t know but if you ask your mom…” A fantastic hook!

    I keep wondering, though, how long it’ll be before Sammy breaks and takes Ben down with him.

    It really is too bad the awards people keep by-passing this show. Dumbass people. Michael Cudlitz definitely deserves an Emmy! or two or more.

    Thanks for another great assessment.

  17. Rusty Gagnon
    Rusty Gagnon says:

    I LOVE this show. Always feel a loss when it comes to the end of a season. Last night’s episode provided some appreciated moments of respite from the angst I felt for Hicks, played so well by McRaney. Cooper carried that wound on his lip throughout the episode as a constant reminder to us of the issue – the confrontation with Hicks and the reason behind it. Personally, I love Cooper. He’s such a good cop and human being, even with the problems he’s had in the past. And you’re right, Lee – it was either handcuffs or bagpipes. Great way to explain it.

  18. Jenn
    Jenn says:

    I have been a fan of this show since it moved to TnT. I’m always surprised at how over looked the cast, and creators are come award season every year. Just a great series.