Cops are supposed to hold the line between chaos and civilized society. Every now and then chaos gets the upper hand.
Chaos and police work go hand in hand, like chocolate and peanut butter. And that bit about chaos sometimes getting the upper hand, well, it happens no matter how many defenses you set up to prevent the disorderly mess. It happens. And it seems to happen most often when your guard is down.
A natural enemy of the police, chaos is quick to escalate and spiral downward at blistering speeds. What often begins as a routine nuisance call can rapidly devolve into misery, pain, confusion, and even death. Such was the case when a former sheriff’s office captain of mine just happened to be passing by an address where deputies had been dispatched to a “something’s-wrong-with-my-adult-son” call. The captain knew the family personally, so he stopped to see what he could do to calm the situation. Bear in mind that this captain was a big man. I don’t mean he was obese. I’m talking big as in muscular, tall, and the size of two pro football linebackers combined. To top off his impressive stature was the fact that he was nearly Superman-strong—the guy you want as back up at a fight call. Any fight call.
The captain found the adult son, who, by the way, probably weighed 140lbs soaking wet while toting a bowling ball in each hand. The man paced across the backyard lawn, back and forth, side to side, like a caged lion. He was muttering to himself and to an imaginary person who was apparently walking beside him, step for step.
The pacing, mutterings, and imaginary conversation partners are all clear signs that a subject has officially stepped off the end of the crazy pier and into wacky-waters well over his head. The captain, however, assumed he could handle the wiry man and walked straight up to him, with chest poked out and biceps in full bulge mode. Intimidating to the average person? Sure. But not this time. The wild-eyed, babbling little guy instantly tore into the captain like the spinning, drooling Tazmanian Devil on the Bugs Bunny cartoons.
Within seconds, the crazy man went for the captain’s pistol. So, now the captain not only had to try to keep the guy from literally scratching out his eyes and biting off his ears, he also had to use one hand to maintain control of his weapon. Didn’t work, though. The suspect actually tore the leather holster from the captain’s gun belt. Tore it. Ripped the thick leather like it was no more than a sheet of notebook paper.
Fortunately, the captain was able to grab his Beretta 9mm and toss it onto the roof of a storage shed, out of the suspect’s reach. That’s when the real fight began. But size did not prevail. The little guy, as they say here in the south, opened a can of “whup *ss” on the captain. Finally, more deputies showed up and, as a group, were able to pin the gyrating, wiggly man to the ground. However, as if chaos hadn’t already done enough, during the struggle one of the deputies had placed a knee on the suspect’s neck, and it wasn’t until the man went limp that the deputy realized he’d shut off the blood flow to the man’s brain. The wild man died…right there, beneath the pile of panting, exhausted deputies. By the way, this was well before Tasers, and pepper spray.
The entire situation with the captain and the suspect, including the time the responding backup deputies spent there, had lasted only nine minutes. From zero to chaos…ten seconds. From chaos to death…eight minutes, fifty seconds.
So, yeah, Chaos was an excellent title for this episode of Southland. Very appropriate, indeed.
Many readers of this blog are often called upon to speak at large gatherings—writers conferences, police conventions, film festivals, award ceremonies, etc., and we all know it sometimes feels a bit safer and relaxing to have a podium or microphone standing between you and your audience. Even a small, simple laser pointer offers a bit of a barrier between the speaker and the listeners. These props also provide something to do with your hands that at least appears useful.
Imagine, for a moment, not having those safeguards in place. For some, the lecture or speech would be a bit tougher to present, right? How about this, try giving one of the best performances of your entire career while wearing nothing more than a pair of boxer briefs, socks, and a t-shirt. How well do you think you’d perform in that situation? And, for goodness sake, what on earth would you do with your hands that didn’t look disgusting?
Well, that’s exactly what Michael Cudlitz (John Cooper) did last night. He delivered one of the best performances of his life while in his underwear, and without a single place to put his hands. Not one that would have been considered appropriate, that is. Anthony Ruivivar (Hank Lucero) also spent most of the episode in his boxers.
Those of you who also follow my reviews of Castle know how I feel about TV cops losing their guns to the bad guys, and you know how tired and cliche’ I think it is to have the crooks kidnap the cops. I do. I despise those scenarios. They’re normally silly and extremely unrealistic. The actors seem to overact and the writers seem to overwrite, hoping to make the scenes work, but they rarely do.
However, the performances we saw last night were absolutely stellar. We saw Hank leave his partner alone with a criminal while he nosed around the crime scene. Big mistake. Secure the guy first and make sure your partner is safe while he cuffs the thug. THEN have a look around. If not, you’re leaving the back door wide open for chaos, and that’s what we saw unfold…quickly, too. More about this in a second. First, let’s address Cooper coming out to Hank.
The “coming out” party was very “Cooperesque,” with John doing something all writers have drilled into their creative minds…show, don’t tell. Hank constantly makes homophobic comments to Cooper, so Coop took his narrow-minded cop partner to a gay bar to make his point that being gay isn’t some kind of dirty disease. Hank calls Cooper a faggot, which makes for a silent ride during their next shift. This was the first sign of tension in the episode.
Next, they’re kidnapped by two “wired” copper thieves (how ironic that two men stealing copper electrical wire were both “wired” on meth). And this is where the tension really took off and never let up, even as the show faded to black at the end. The intensity of this show continued to build, with each scene adding to it, like a snowball rolling down a mountainside. Eventually, there’s going to be an avalanche.
Sure, Ben and Sammy experienced their own difficulties, including when Sammy chased Strokeface to a death by rebar. Of course, the death really should fall on Ben’s shoulders, since it was he, not Strokeface, who was responsible for the break-in at Sammy’s place. And then there’s Brooke, the psycho, girlfriend who promises to get even with Ben for breaking up with her over another woman. And, speaking of the other woman, she’s the sister of a guy who breaks in houses and steals for a living. Oh what a tangled web Ben has woven for himself, and for Sammy.
And still the snowball named chaos rolls…
Lydia and Ruben join the search for Coop and Hank. We saw the two detectives enter the crime scene and, as they did, both gave an officer their names. The officer then recorded their names onto a “sign in” sheet, which becomes part of the official report. This is so investigators, attorneys, etc. know exactly who visited the scene and at what time(s).
Dewey overhears an officer comparing Coop and Hank’s disappearance to Joseph Wambaugh’s story of The Onion Field, the nonfiction tale of two detectives who were kidnapped by criminals. One of the abducted officers was murdered during the incident.
Joseph Wambaugh is a former LAPD officer/detective-sergeant who is also the bestselling author of both fiction and nonfiction books, including The Choir Boys and The Blue Knight. In 2012, Sgt. Wambaugh was kind enough to donate one of his signed books to the Writers’ Police Academy raffle.
Dewey confronts the officer who voiced the Onion Field comment and then vows to find the two missing officers. After all, Coop has saved Dewey’s butt more than once.
Ben’s concerned that Coop and Hank are missing. The worry on the faces of all of the officers is apparent. Two of their fellow officers are missing and that’s never a good thing.
Cooper and Hank are at the mercy of two meth-smoking bad guys who, by the way, played their roles quite well. The attention to detail by the director and camera-person was superb, as well. For those of you who don’t regularly hang out with meth users, what you saw last night was typical. The more they smoke, the more paranoid, hyper, and often violent they become. At one point we saw one of the men scratching at the back of his head and neck. In fact, he scratched so much and so hard that he drew blood. This, too, can be typical of meth smokers. They often feel as if bugs are crawling across, or under, their skin (“crank bugs”), which makes them scratch, and scratch, and scratch. This is why meth users often have many open sores on the body, especially on the face, neck, and arms.
As if the tension in this episode wasn’t already over the top, one of the meth-heads shoots and kills Hank. The two wacked-out crooks then order Coop to dig a grave. When he’s finished he’s forced to drag Hank’s body to the hole where one of the kidnappers hits Coop with a shovel, forcing him into the hole with his dead partner. Bad guy number one flees, leaving bad guy number two to finish off Cooper. He fires a shot but misses, and then speeds off in his vehicle.
Coop then runs until he reaches a convenience store where he pleads with the clerk to unlock the door and let him inside, repeatedly telling her, “I’m a cop,” until he finally collapses to the ground. Understandably, the clerk may not believe him, since all she’s sees through the glass is a dirty, bleeding man in his underwear and socks, who just happens to wearing a pair of handcuffs.
This was a nail-biting, heart-thumping episode where a million words were said with mere facial expressions and gestures. The acting in last night’s show was nothing short of sensational. Cudlitz should immediately head to the red carpet this morning to await his Emmy, because if there ever was a performance that deserved the award, his last night was it.
Of course, we can’t discount the others, either. Hatosy, King, Sherman, and C. Thomas Howell were each brilliant in their roles. Even the meth heads were superb. In fact, there is no doubt in my mind that this was the best episode of Southland we’ve seen to date. And that includes the one where I wrote those same words just a week or so ago. Rarely do we see a television show that gets better and better each week. But this one does. Kind of like the chaos snowball, in reverse, the Southland avalanche rolls and rolls its way to the top.
In my opinion, Homeland has just taken a backseat to Southland, and I was a member of the judging committee that once selected Homeland to win an award as the best mystery/suspense TV show. Yes, Southland is that good.
But, next week is the finale…the last show of the season and possibly the last episode of Southland, ever. Whether or not the show will be renewed is up in the air. Everyone in the know is extremely tight-lipped about the show’s fate.
What we do know is that Ben is in over his head. Sammy’s losing his head. Strokeface’s head was impaled by steel bars. Lydia head is all mixed up inside. Dewey’s head is spinning with worry for Cooper. And Hank was killed by a shot to the head.
Me, well, my head still hurts from all the tension in last night’s episode. After all, I was right there with the cast, fighting, struggling, worrying, and frantically trying to rescue Coop and Hank. I tried. Really I did.
How about you? What did you think of the episode? And, do you think Southland should be renewed for a 6th season?
*By the way, if you heard Lydia mention the term “keeper” and would like to know what it is, please click this link to one of my earlier blog posts.