SouthLAnd: Babel – A Review

Southland: babel

The LAPD serves four million people speaking over one-hundred languages. Sometimes things get lost in translation.

The opening voice-over brought to mind the night I and my captain were riding together on patrol. He was a tough old bird. A relentless tobacco-chewer with the strength of three grown men and the heart of a dozen.

During his many years of service, the captain had risen through the ranks, seeing just about all there was to see in the cops and robbers world. He been shot at and he’d shot back. He’d gone toe-to-toe with the best of them. And he’d helped the worst of them when their days seemed the most bleak. But what he hadn’t seen coming, or so I thought, was an influx of Spanish-speaking newcomers to the area. I was sure he didn’t understand a word of the language. Not one. And I was curious to see how he’d handle a certain situation that developed the Friday night we conducted a traffic stop on an older model Cadillac. A totally tricked-out car filled to the brim with young Spanish-speaking men who’d “come to town” to whoop it up after a long, hot week of working in the tobacco fields.

The captain, as we saw last night on Southland, was driving, which made him “contact,” meaning it was he who was in charge of the stop, and it was he who would do the talking. I was to serve as his backup and a second set of eyes.

“Do you know why we stopped you?” said the captain, through a golf-ball-size wad of his favorite Levi Garrett “chew.”

The blue-silk-shirted driver remained silent. The mother of pearl buttons on his cowboy-style attire glistened each time our revolving red lights made a full rotation.

“I said, do you know why I stopped you?”

Again nothing from the driver, or from either of the six similarly-clad passengers.

“Have you been drinking?”


“Step out of the car,” said the impatient captain, his voice growing louder with each word spoken.

No movement. Nothing. Just seven confused expressions.

“I guess you don’t speak English, right?

“Si. No habla ingles.”

The captain looked at me, then back at the driver.

“Well, let’s see if you habla this…”No getta outta the car-o, you ‘el going to ‘el hoose-gow. Capise?”

Well, it took precisely 20 seconds for all seven men to exit the car and line up beside it. The driver, the apparent “spokesperson” for the wanna-go-partying farmers promptly apologized, in English, explaining that until that moment, pretending to not speak English had saved them from scores of traffic citations. He said the plan also worked well as an ice-breaker with intoxicated women in nightclubs. He said they felt it was cute and sexy to help their new “hombre sexy” learn a few sweet words of English.

The captain shook his head from side to side and then walked back to our patrol car. A minute or two later he returned with a summons citing the driver for no brake lights and no turn signal.

After the man signed the summons and received his copy from the captain, the driver again apologized for the attempted ruse.

The captain’s lips split into a light smile. He said, “No hay problema. Tenga una buena noche. Y por favor, conduzca con precaución.”

He looked at me and calmly said, “My wife’s parents are from Mexico, so I learned a little Spanish to get me through holiday visits. I saw this guy in the grocery store last week, and his English was just fine when he was trying to get a date with the cashier.”

Anyway, language barriers can truly make a cop’s job quite difficult. All it would take is one misunderstood word or phrase, and lives could be lost in the midst of translation.

John Cooper, after last week’s fiasco with his “gun-shy” boot, has decided that his days as training officer (TO) are over. He’s had it. Finished. Exit stage left. So he’s given a new, seasoned partner, a veteran officer who doesn’t play the part of second fiddle that Coop’s so used having occupy the shotgun seat in his patrol car. It will take Cooper a while to adjust to not calling all the shots. And, believe me, it’s a hard habit to break, not telling your partner every move to make. However, by the end of the shift, Cooper was warming up a bit to the new partner. We’ll see how long that lasts. I’m guessing until the sergeant finds another warm body to plant in Coop’s passenger seat. Teaching new officers is Cooper’s thing. It’s what he does, and he does it well, with experience and “old guy” tough love.

Old Guy – An officer who’s been on the job long enough to see chiefs and sheriffs come and go, as well as boots who’ve made their way from rookie to stripes, stars, and bars on their collars. I realized I was an “old guy” when I saw the looks of disbelief on rookies’ faces when I talked about the days revolving red lights and revolvers.

– Ben and Sammy’s stint as puppeteers should be short-lived, especially Sammy’s. Scaring kids, I don’t think, is the object of the performance. Ben, on the other hand, seems to turn every event into an opportunity to put another notch on his bedpost, using his uniform as bait while he trolls the waters. Ben had better watch it, though, because those “fish” have been known known to bite cops on their butts, and I don’t mean affectionate love nibbles, either.

– The situation between Sammy and Tammi is a festering boil, ready to pop at the first bit of real pressure. Now Tammi’s filed an official complaint with the department, stating that Sammy assaulted her. Of course, we all know what happened. Unfortunately, we won’t be called as witnesses. Ben, however, will, and he’s already made it clear that he’ll “do what it takes” to help. Meaning, I’m sure, that he’ll lie for Sammy to help get him off the hook.

Remember, the part of the altercation that Ben saw came after Tammi struck Sammy. So, for all he knows, Sammy did assault her. It will be interesting to see which direction this goes, especially since I’m having a hard time figuring how well a red-headed kid plays in Sammy’s gene pool. Is the child really his? Who knows? I do know that this situation is becoming a bit tiresome for viewers. I’d love to see it come to some sort of conclusion so we all can move on. It’s beginning to wear on us like the Castle and Beckett “I love you, do you love me,” scenario that went on and on and on and on.

– We saw a female officer in foot pursuit of a thug they call “Roadrunner.” She was running, breathing hard, and trying to provide information to the dispatcher, all at the same time. Every officer can tell you what it’s like to hear that sort of traffic on the radio. The sentences are broken. The voice is high-pitched. Excited. And there may be a bit of fear mixed in. The sounds automatically send every officer within earshot into hyper-alert, hyper-adrenaline mode. They want in on the chase. They need to help their fellow officer. It’s what they do.

On the other hand, the pursuing officer is subject to a severe case of tunnel-vision, blocking out everything but the prey…the runner. So, yes, we do sometimes NOT notice holes in the ground, kid’s toys scattered about, tree roots, sleeping dogs, and yes, the proverbial clothesline. And, believe me, it happens. And it “ain’t” pretty when it does. Imagine hitting a piece of wire while running at full steam. Nope, not good. And, it could end a life. Tunnel-vision is a true enemy of law enforcement.

– Lydia… She and Ruben catch a murder case involving the shooting death of a young man who was supposedly killed over a drug debt. The victim came from a very nice family, it seemed, and a mother who cared deeply for her son. Unfortunately, this death would be the third son the mother had lost to street violence. And it made no difference to her why her son was killed. Didn’t matter. He was her son and she loved him.

I hear it all the time. “How can those two support their son, after all he’s done. You know killing that guy, and all.” Well, as parents, we’re not equipped with off and on switches to control our emotions and love for our children. We love them unconditionally. Doesn’t mean we don’t despise some of the things they do. But we still love them. Like Scott Peterson, the California man who was convicted of killing his wife and their unborn child. Peterson’s family have been at his side since the beginning, and I imagine they’ll remain there until, or if, the day comes when he faces his execution.

Cooper and Hank roll up on a group of men harassing what they believed to be a homeless guy. We saw Hank grab a guy and walk him to a wall where he patted him down, a search for weapons. Normally, the cops on this show conduct excellent pat-down searches, just like the best officers on the street. This time, the way Hank walked the guy back to the wall, was not good. He had no control over the suspect at all. I was actually surprised when I saw this, because it was so out of place for Southland, a show that gets even the tiniest detail right.

Cooper and Hank are driving along when Coop suddenly makes a U-turn and pulls up to a kid’s lemonade stand. I like the scenario because it showed how cops are ever-vigilant, with the entire day’s events flashing through their minds all the time. Cooper saw someone driving while holding a lime green cup, something he’d observed at other scenes throughout the day (the green cups) and had subconsciously filed away for later reference. Well, he saw the same cups at the lemonade stand, and…Bingo…he instantly connected the dots. The lemonade was causing all the weird behavior/hallucinations. A great scene.

– Hank’s statement, “I’m not brown, I’m blue,” was definitely a statement to note. Police officers come from all walks of life and all skin colors, but together they act as one…police blue.

Coop and Hank’s traffic stop where Roadrunner reaches for something in the seat beside him, was nearly textbook perfect. From the way the officers zeroed in on the classic “oh s**t look on the driver’s face (meaning he was up to something no good, or had already done something and wanted to avoid the police) to directions given while having the man step out of the car. I think Michael Cudlitz should become a police academy instructor if he ever tires of acting. By the way, Michael, the invitation for you to come to the Writers’ Police Academy still stands. It’s hard to believe that we first spoke about it three seasons ago. Time sure flies when you’re playing cops and robbers, huh?

Okay, we’ve reached the point where Sammy and Ben enter a building, the scene of a “shots-fired” call. They heard gunfire and immediately went inside without waiting for back-up. This is the way it’s done for an active shooter scenario. No longer do cops wait outside until help arrives. The idea is to save as many lives as possible, and to do so immediately. All of you who attended the Writers’ Police Academy a couple of years ago saw an active shooter scenario unfold right before your eyes, and it was a real heart-thumping situation.

Sammy and Ben discover several wounded, or dead, civilians inside, and Ben is almost shot. Sammy fires at the suspect, but he gets away only to return later to shoot it out with police. This time, however, he’s met with a volley of gunfire from several officers, including Ben, who’s still in shock from his earlier encounter.

I’ve been in a few shooting situations, including one where I and a deputy sheriff answered a shots-fired call at a jam-packed nightclub. He’d called for backup but all other deputies were tied up on other calls. I was working an undercover drug operation in the city, so I stopped what I was doing and headed out to assist. When we pulled into the parking lot (separate vehicles) we immediately saw people running in all directions. We also heard the sound of fully automatic gunfire inside the building. We called for backup and then headed toward the building. We’d only gone a few steps when the shooter stepped outside and fired three or four bursts in our direction. We took cover behind one of the cars to give us time to regroup, swallow hard a couple of times, and devise a plan. Well, the only plan we could come up with was that we had a bad guy to arrest before he hurt someone else. Long story short, after dodging several more rounds, we were able to get the guy to surrender after much shouting on our part and shooting on his. Fortunately for us, the dummy was a really poor shot.

After all was said and done that night, I realized that my hearing must have chickened out and remained behind the car at the precise moment of our charge toward the shooter. I say so, because I still don’t recall hearing a single sound until I placed my cuffs around the man’s wrists. That ratcheting sound, however, seemed as loud as a bowling ball rolling down a set of wooden steps. And, I believe, that was what Ben was experiencing after the shotgun blast most likely burst his eardrum. The mixture of fear and adrenaline definitely slows time and dulls the hearing. What it doesn’t do, however, is improve marksmanship or reflexes, which explains the high number of rounds fired by police at some shooting scenes.

And, finally, we end with Lydia snapping a photo of her holding the baby. Does her smile indicate that she’s going to overcome the difficulties she’s been experiencing as a new mother? Did the woman who lost three sons to street violence have a life-changing impact on her? Maybe so.

Oh, yeah, let’s not forget Dewey, who was classic Dewey…obnoxious, rude, and insensitive. And the citizens of L.A. let him know it by tagging his patrol car and flattening the tires. When officers treat people with respect they normally receive respect in return. Believe me, folks. This is true in real life. C. Thomas does a great job in this role of portraying “how not”  to behave as a police officer.

And, the retired TO (training officer), played by Gerald McRaney, was a soothing voice to his former boot’s fried nerves. Coop, like all “old guys,” have seen the times change. Recruits seem to get younger every year as our patience grows shorter. Knowing that retirement, the end of a long career, is just around the corner, is a feeling like no other. It tugs and pulls at your gut, and it scratches at the inside of your skull. It’s indeed a tough pill to swallow, especially for a cop who’s dedicated his entire life to serving others.

Gerald McRaney

And there was no better person to put it all in perspective than Major Dad himself (Detective Hicks, ret.) when he said to Cooper, “One day you wake up and realize you’re the last of the Mohicans around. New kids and new ways of doing things makes you about as useless as t**s on a bowling ball.”

“What do you do then?” Cooper asked.

“You buy yourself a used hole in the water (referring to his boat, where they stood near a gaggle of other gray-haired retired cops),” said Hicks, “and kick back and enjoy.”

Well, I’ve been “kicked back” and so-called “enjoying” for several years now, and I can assure you that not a single day passes without my mind drifting back to the job. And I doubt that Cooper is the type to forget. I know McRaney is not someone to kick back either, since he still serves in the reserves. As they say, once it’s in your blood…

You know, this show is packed so full, especially for a one-hour episode, that there’s no way to cover it all. So I’ll close by saying again that SouthLAnd is hands-down the best cop show on TV today. And that brings me to the premiere of Boston’s Finest that aired last night.

Many of you have asked me to write reviews of that show too. Well, I watched part of it last night, and, having lived in Boston for a few years, it held my interest merely because of the scenery. Boston is a cool city, and the police officers there are top-notch. But it’s just not my thing to watch an officer having breakfast with her crackhead sister, visiting family members, and doing other mundane tasks between scenes showing police responding to calls. For some reason, images of Honey Boo-Boo’s mom and the Gator Boys flashed before my eyes during these scenes. Sure, some of the calls were interesting and exciting, but overall this was a yawner for me. I’ll try to watch again next week, so we’ll see how it goes at that time.

In the meantime…”Light ’em up,” Southland!

*Babel – a scene of confusion, noise, and sounds…



22 replies
  1. Susan B.
    Susan B. says:

    I’m so happy to have found this blog,great reacaps…I am such a fan of Southland and I wish more people knew about this show. Regarding Lydia…Terrel’s wife accused her of sending pictures to Terrel and she denied it, but then snaps a photo of herself and the baby at the end…interesting. I like Coop’s new partner, I hope he sticks around a while.

  2. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    anonemiss – There was no criminal intent, therefore, no charges. The people harmed could, however, sue the juvenile’s parents for damages.

  3. anonemiss
    anonemiss says:

    Regarding the spiked lemonade, I was certain that Coop will handcuff the kid, but then nothing happened, no resolution of that situation at all.

    What would be the consequences of a child selling a spiked home-made drink and causing harm and injury?

  4. Basil
    Basil says:

    Great review as always Lee. There were also two occasions in this episode which mirrored Unknown Trouble, the first episode of the series. The first in the opening scene where Ben is in a state of shock/distraction after a shooting and is not able to hear someone shouting towards him, and the second when Cooper met his former FTO, who was responsible for the words “Look sharp, act sharp, be sharp” that would eventually be muttered to Sherman on that first episode as well.

  5. dlwater
    dlwater says:


    I have heard people complain about the relationship between Sammy and Tammy, how it makes them uncomfortable. Well, it should! Just as the violent relationship between the cops and the criminals is unnerving, so should the relationship between a man and a woman when the love has died. What we have to understand about Sammy, I think, is that he is not good at being alone, which brings me to my point. I think Sammy knows that Nate is not his. I even believe that Sammy tampered with the DNA test! Why? Because he is afraid of being alone. Sammy is not like Ben, Ben flirts in his sleep! But Sammy has always been a “one woman” man. I would have to go back and watch earier seasons, but I believe Tammy is the ONLY woman he has been with sexually. You could put Sammy in a room, alone, with a group of Victoria’s Secret models, in various stages of undress, and nothing would happen! If Sammy is your man, HE IS ALL YOURS! You never have to worry about him straying, he is devoted. The probelm comes when you no longer want to be in the relationship. Sammy cannot let go.I believe he tampered with the test so that he could hold on to Tammy and she went along with it, even though she knows he’s not the father too, so that she could get his money. But Tammy is getting tired of the game, she wants out. When this whole thing comes out, I don’t think Sammy will be able to handle it. I would suggest buying him a dog, but really, Sammy needs another heartbeat in his life. He may try to jump into another relationship right away, which would be a mistake. Whatever he does though, it wont be pretty. Anyway, this is just my theory.

  6. Ron Estrada
    Ron Estrada says:

    What strikes me is how drawn into Lydia’s situation I’ve become. With all the mayhem of South Central, I find myself more stressed about her than anything. I cannot imagine the pressures of a single mom, let alone a single mom who is a homicide detective in one of the busiest districts in the U.S. How in the world is she going to pull this off? I hope the writers are kind.

    Sammy is wearing on me. He’s clearly out of touch with reality. Yeah, his wife is no princess, but you just don’t behave that way, especially when you’re wearing the uniform. Seriously, is he going to spend the entire season bitching about his ex? How’d you like to be his partner?

  7. Don Betke
    Don Betke says:

    Ben did say “Nickerson”. I think asking for a quick resolution to the Sammy and Tammi scenario is wrong, in realtime, situations like that never resolve themselves quickly. I know in TV time it happens, but that’s what makes this show a cut above the rest.

  8. Ellen
    Ellen says:

    I do believe what Sherman said was “…Every call today is Nickerson”. Referring to Nickerson Gardens.

  9. Jay 3
    Jay 3 says:

    I was watching the community center scenes with different eyes after Newton and I hope many others were. I thought the approach had shades of the Butch and Sundance scene from an earlier season, another totally silent look to draw viewers in.

    I don’t agree about the comment of Ben taking things for granted. The show’s writers seem to have forgotten about his background, not at all what his peers or anyone who meets him assumes. Anyone who knows a little, stops at where he grew up and makes the wrong assumptions and misjudges jumping to erroneous conclusions. They forget how he grew up and what happened to him and his mother after his dad bailed to go play house with his other family from his double life. I thought that was supposed to be significant and the assaults were major motivators for making such an untraditional decision to be a cop considering his education and options. Just because he grew up in a top zip code didn’t mean he had the important things like family and security. He seems to have been on his own, left to deal with his mother, and driven to make a difference. That doesn’t come from taking things for granted. He knows very well what should matter and it’s not trappings.

    I also didn’t see him using the puppet show as trolling. I thought he did his job very well, something I couldn’t say for Sammy either by not paying attention or by fumbling and scaring the young children. It was the teacher who approached Ben, not the opposite. No, he didn’t turn her down, but he didn’t make a big display out of showing open interest even after giving her his card, which could have been used for professional reasons even if that wasn’t her real reason.

    I didn’t think that the graze past Ben’s ear was the first close call Ben’s had. That would have happened his first night when Dewey didn’t let him search the banger and Cooper watched and then turned away and let it happen without overruling Dewey and stepping in. We also saw the robber who killed himself after the bank robbery and that was face to face. There was the graduation day chase and nasty battle ending in the perp’s fall when Ben was left on his own with Cooper under the influence as had become the norm. How many during that first year with someone not fit and using drugs? There have been others since then, but only a few episodes and not much time to show scenes when time’s spent on the Tammi types. What I’m getting at is that I think in only a year or so, Ben’s had plenty of times when he’s been compromised in a life or death situation. That wouldn’t lessen the impact, because it’s the ultimate in shaking anyone up.

    I totally agree about how tiresome the Sammy and Tammi scenario has become, but I thought that after the first scene I saw them in back in the show’s pilot. With such short seasons and nothing close to a guarantee about renewals, I’d like better prioritizing.

  10. Stefan
    Stefan says:

    Either my hearing is twisted, or Ben uttered the following while approaching the household in the BBQ scene;

    “Feels like every call today is n—ers… S**t.”

    No review mentioned it, so I’m probably wrong, but if it is… then ‘Southland’ just became the ballsiest show on television in how they’ve treated their main character. Ben catches himself, but not quickly enough.

  11. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Good points, Kate. I know I went through a custody battle while working rotating shifts as a patrol officer. It was a tough ordeal to go through, but I prevailed and it worked out wonderfully.

    I think you’re right about Ben, too. We’ll see how it goes. Near death can definitely be a attitude-adjusting game-changer!

  12. Kate
    Kate says:

    Sammy is a great character, rapidly rising in my list of “favorites” to be evenly tied with Cooper. He’s becoming the moral compass of the show. Additionally, the custody fight with Tammi is a good display of the barriers men face when they try to fight for the right to be with their own children, and how even despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary, the deck is often stacked against them. His despair is palpable, and its good storytelling.

    Ben’s reaction after his almost-lights-out moment was really interesting. My take was that his reaction was both to the “oh my god I almost died” moment, but then with the hearing damage that followed his possibly wondering if his days of being a cop were about to end just as they were beginning. He’s been given a lot, and he’s taken it for granted, perhaps this is something that will help steer him back onto the right path.

  13. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Sammy is an important character, and I think Shawn Hatosy does an excellent job of portraying a police officer, even better than some in real life. I do believe, however, they need to move the thing between he and Tammi along a bit faster. The rest of the show moves along extremely quick, which makes this part of the story seem to slug along at a…well, a slug’s pace.

  14. Alex Everett
    Alex Everett says:

    Claudia: I don’t think Sammy should go anywhere; he’s a good character, and a good foil to Sherman.
    Tammi, however, is a different story. I think in any television show, you need characters that you don’t like to root against; in Southland, Tammi is the one dedicated character that no one likes, so she serves a valuable role. But there needs to be a comeuppance, and I get the feeling that it’s coming up.

  15. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Rogue – Sorry, I don’t agree about the lack of control being intentional. It was poorly executed by the actor. There was nothing correct about it. Actually, the actor playing the part of the bad guy seemed to try and help the “officer” by holding his hands together behind his back. Just would not happen like that in real life, especially after catching someone who’d tried to run.

    Sure, there are tons of stories like the one we saw on Boston’s Finest. I’ll write something about them someday soon.

  16. RogueIce
    RogueIce says:

    Good review, as always!

    Referring to Hank’s lack of control over the suspect with the homeless guy: perhaps it was an intentional lapse on their part? Officers aren’t perfect, of course. And he seemed to have adopted a relatively casual attitude at that point. So maybe he was legitimately just being sloppy. The sort of thing that an officer could get away with a hundred times…until the day they don’t. I think that just adds to the realism and immersiveness: these officers aren’t shooting a training film, they’re out there doing what they do. And sometimes, they get sloppy. One just hopes those lapses of attention don’t end in tragedy.

    RE: Boston’s Finest, I have to agree with you on that one. I know COPS used to get into the family lives during their episodes, and I’m sure there’s a good reason they dropped that. It just isn’t as interesting, much as it does help to humanise the men and women in blue.

    Did you at least get to the part where they apparently spilled water on the patrol car’s lights/siren controls? I thought that was pretty hilarious. Any stories you could share about the times when your equipment screwed up in a funny way, whether it was your own dumb fault or not? 🙂

  17. Melanie Atkins
    Melanie Atkins says:

    Loved both the episode and your review, Lee. Nice job. It is a great show. I record two other shows at nine p.m. on Wednesday nights (Nashville and Chicago Fire) but always watch Southland whenever it’s on. It’s the best of the bunch!

  18. Rusty Gagnon
    Rusty Gagnon says:

    Your review/evaluation of both shows shown last night are “spot on.” I just wish Southland wa shown earlier. I don’t have a recorder and by 10pm I am fighting to stay awake. But – I have to watch, even reruns. One of the best shows on TV.

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