Southland: God’s Work – A Review And Recap

Southland: God's Work

Cops are often asked if they believe they’re doing God’s work. Officer Ben Sherman is just trying to do the job without losing his soul.

All cops burn out. That was the message delivered in the pre-shift briefing, or “muster” as it’s called in some departments. But, no matter what you call the meeting, the message remains the same. It’s a tough job that can wear you down. Down to the core if you’re not careful. All that built-up tension and stress has to go somewhere. After all, you shake the soda bottle, and you shake it, and you shake it, and then when the top finally pops off…well, we all know happens. And it’s a mess.

Speaking of a real mess. Ben Sherman reached that rookie fork-in-the-road and definitely went in the wrong direction, taking a left when the scarecrow pointed right. And Ben’s unfortunate choice has led him down a very lonely and dangerous road called “I can save the world all by myself.” Had he chosen, instead, to go right as the dimwitted talking mattress had suggested, by now Officer Sherman would have been a well-adjusted and productive police officer who still shines his shoes and polishes his badge daily, much to the delight of his superiors.

Instead, we see a rookie who’s speeding down the road to unemployment, and possibly wearing handcuffs. His shoes are scuffed and the sheen is fading from his badge. It happens. Officers often find themselves standing at the fork in the road, forcing them to make a decision between left and right. But all they have to do is listen to the scarecrow inside their head. He always knows the right way. Never buck the scarecrow.

This week, actually, we see each of our teams—partners—facing that fork in the road, with each of them up against different, potentially badge-dulling decisions.

Cooper’s guts are churning over the issue with Tang. She covered up something that really needed no cover. He can no longer trust her. But the worst part of it all is that he hasn’t come forward with the truth, and that’s what wearing the badge is all about. That’s really what’s eating at John Cooper. It’s his own integrity he’s questioning, not hers. He already knows what she’s all about.

Using a lie—almost killing an innocent person and then covering up the act—to advance your career. Yeah, that’s disgusting.

Cooper is later seen with his sponsor, who asks him, “Still thinking about it (the drugs and his addiction)?”

Cooper responds, “Every minute of every day.”

A pause.

Cooper asks, “Ever get over that?”

Sponsor. “No, but it gets easier.”

How true. Drug addiction is not like a cold. You don’t get well after you fight off the sickness, you just don’t use drugs. But you’ll always want to.

Michael Cudlitz does a wonderful job of playing the troubled John Cooper. If I didn’t know better I’d think he’s really a reincarnated drug-addicted veteran cop. There are parallels between his character and some real life cops that are, well, they’re simply uncanny.

Lydia and Ruben catch a case where a pregnant nanny fell to her death from an upper tier in a parking garage. The case was unusually weak for this series, with no real closure for the viewers. But the scenes weren’t about the case. Instead, it was yet another incident designed to further the storyline regarding Adams’ pregnancy. And we did learn the father’s name this week, Terrell, and that Papa “T” is a married man.

I still say this particular storyline is a slight hurdle for the show. It slows the episode to an almost standstill every time we see it. Yes, I know that female officers do get pregnant and they do have to work around the pregnancy while continuing their careers. But that’s in real life, why insert that into what’s always been an extremely action-packed TV series. Still, Regina King is a fantastic actor who does a great job with what she’s given. Don’t get me wrong, the writing is solid. Excellent, even. I’m just not a fan of the direction they’ve given Lydia to travel. Any other show, yes. But not for Southland. However, some viewers may love these scenes and what they bring to the show.

Tell you what, though, I have a perfect scene in mind for Lydia. Cheo, you listening??

Sammy and Ben – Ben’s traveling down the “save the world” path and he’s dragging Sammy along with him. However, Sammy’s only there to pick up pieces and clean up the mess Ben’s leaving in his wake. In fact, Ben’s on such a destructive path (beating up/assaulting a pimp, punching a teenage girl, sleeping with every badge bunny with a pulse, etc.) that Sammy’s forced to give him the “I’ll pull you to safety but stop kicking while I swim,” speech.

During Sammy’s speech, he pointed out the things an officer stands to lose by not following the rules and living up to the standards that go hand in hand with wearing a badge.  He said, “I’ll back you up punch for punch, bullet for bullet. But I’m not going to give you my house. I’m not going to give you my pension. And I’m not going to give you my freedom. Don’t ever do anything like that again.” So you see, police officers have a lot more to lose than just a job when they break the rules. One wrong move and they could lose everything.

And let’s not forget the stellar performance by Ben McKenzie. He’s truly bringing us a very complex character and he’s delivering him to us in large servings. Great, great job.

Compelling moments during this episode:

– The woman/rape victim realizing she’d shot a man who was simply trying to give her the set of keys she’d dropped. He was not stalking her.

– The teenage girl forced to work as a prostitute to survive.

– Tang using her “shooting gone wrong” to impress the panel during her promotion-to-sergeant interview.

– Sammy facial expressions. No words could have better described what he said to Ben with that face.

– Dewey’s comment to Tang – “If you can live with it (the shooting and the lies) nobody can stop you.”

– Cooper looking on during Tang’s sergeant interview.

– Sammy and Ben searching the vacant house. They both took a glance down before climbing the stairs. No tripping. No noise. Never give away your position.

– Sammy’s favorite line, repeated by Ben, “Who wants to go to jail; who wants to go home? We’ve all said that at least a thousand times, and it usually produces excellent results. There’s always someone who’d rather give up the goods than to go to jail.

Southland is definitely a character-driven show. I think you could hand this cast a handful of furniture store going-out-of-business-sale flyers, telling them that’s the script for the next episode, and they’d turn those few silly words into a gripping, compelling story that would keep us all coming back for more.

I’ll say it again, this is the best, most realistic cop show to ever hit the TV screen.

*     *     *

Registration for the 2012 Writers’ Police Academy has officially begun.

Space is limited to the first 150 people to sign up.

You don’t want to miss this action-packed weekend. Besides, where else could you go to play cops and robbers with Lee Child!

17 replies
  1. Samantha Navrro
    Samantha Navrro says:

    LOL Lee! I get ahead of myself and forget to proof read.
    Thank you for taking the time to write these reviews and all of the other articles too. I wish more people read them. I wish people weren’t so ignorant of the legal process.

  2. Kate Fish
    Kate Fish says:

    I always look forward to reading your recaps. Living in Germany our channels are nowhere near of having shows that well written, researched and acted. So thanks Southland- for the ‘entertainment’ and thank you for your recaps! Greetings from sunny Germany

  3. Emily farnham
    Emily farnham says:

    As usual an excellent recap and very inciteful review. Love the police insight you give. Lta. Ems

  4. Samantha Navarro
    Samantha Navarro says:

    Alex- I Aldo think Vooper needs to step up and apologize to Ben. He put him through a lot of unnecessary pressure during their time together. I’m hoping that will happen by the season finale.

  5. Ron De Laby
    Ron De Laby says:

    Alex – Ohh, I know. I’m enjoying it for what it is, but die hard movie fans are always looking for the jet contrails in the sky in the 1880’s westerns. It’s a very entertaining series. I guess I’m looking at it more from a writer’s perspective to preserve reality as much as possible.

  6. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Thanks for stopping by, Wayne. It’s easy to review TV shows when they’re really good or really bad. Fortunately, the cast of Southland makes this show very good. You must be extremely proud of Shawn.

    I don’t know if Cheo will speak to me again after reading this one… 🙂

  7. Wayne Hatosy
    Wayne Hatosy says:

    Great job, Lee. Of all the recaps, I look forward to yours the most. Just as SouthLAnd is so spot on, because of all the police input, your review has the same merit, because of where you come from. I’ve met Cheo, and he is quite a talented young man. I’m sure he will respond to you, if he is able.

  8. Alex Everett
    Alex Everett says:

    Ron: First, it’s fiction; there will always be some aspect that stretches the boundary a little. That being said, I think Ben’s attack on the pimp actually fits with the character, and I’m absolutely certain that Sammy knew it was gonna go down. That’s why he was there, and that’s how he found him.

  9. Bob Mueller
    Bob Mueller says:

    Good episode. Alex makes some good points. I think Ben is still affected by what he thought he saw happening to his mother, and how that reality was destroyed by what really happened.

    Love seeing the struggle Cooper is going through, and love that he’s got a cop sponsor.

    I think I know who Lydia’s lover is. I recall her having some relational issues in the first or second season, and I think his name was Terrell. I think it happened back during the story arc where Lydia was protecting the juvenile girl who saw the murder.

  10. Ron De Laby
    Ron De Laby says:

    I’m going to go on record as saying that as exciting as Ben’s pimp punchout was I just don’t buy it. I cannot imagine any cop, no matter HOW new, taking it upon himself to get so personally involved like that. Off duty, personal vehicle left in ghetto-dweller land, no backup, risking jail time BIG time, Sammy finding him, How? Sorry. Just not realistic. Cooper’s in a quandary, he knows what Tang did, but he really DOESN’T know. We had a case years ago with a neighboring county sheriff’s deputy who responded to suspicious subjects in a gated school yard after dark. He entered the facility with his shotgun and was backed up by two female reserve officers. After some time on the school grounds he rounded a corner and was confronted by a subject who pointed an object at him which emitted a loud sound and a flash of light. He immediately fired his shotgun and killed a 15-year-old kid playing laser tag. He left the department shortly after that on a mental breakdown in spite of all of the effort made by the department and his peer group to convince him it was a justifiable shooting. It happens. Tang’s problem is that she created a problem where none existed and then attempted to capitalize upon it for personal gain. Not good. FWIW Cudlitz went to high school with my two boys. North high school Riverside, California. Small world. As for the babe who blew away the guy trying to return her keys. The reality is she probably wasn’t packing legally because it’s a rare day when a citizen can get a concealed weapons permit in the state of fruits and nuts.

  11. Alex
    Alex says:

    If there isn’t going to be any connection between Ben’s past and present, and it’s that traumatic childhood from the time his father left onward with all of the dysfunction along with the trauma that has left him with so much baggage, I’d really like to see Cooper take some responsibility for what he put Ben through last year. Those events, starting with the shooting the first day when Cooper looked the other way with Dewey, started a very difficult year. When Ben should have been learning, he spent far too much time worrying about his safety because of Cooper and how to cover for all of his TO’s issues. That took a serious toll during a very stressful time. It’s curious to see an attack of integrity now, but nothing about that.

    And since no one’s said it yet, Ben’s performance was excellent with the trademark subtle nuances that are so often overlooked. No one reels me in like that so seamlessly.

  12. SaraK
    SaraK says:

    Michael Cudlitz is the most consistent actor on this show and I also think he gets the best material to work with. Regina is terrific, but I am really sick of her story line.
    Sammy was fabulous this week; really having Ben’s back and giving him the mush needed speech he needs to hear. But even more than that, Ben needs to listen. He is going down a very, very dark path indeed.
    Such a shame we only have 2 more episodes. This show deserves so much more.

    Lee, your recap is so wonderful, as always.

  13. Samantha Navarro
    Samantha Navarro says:

    An absolutely wonderful review!
    Yes, Ben better get it together. That’s the second time he’s got the “I won’t lose my badge over you” speech.
    I like Ruben and his partnership with Lydia, but they need to make their conversations more normal- you can talk about things other than babies and being pregnant while you’re pregnant.

    Now, if I understand correctly- John is supposed to stop being Tang’s partner soon, because she was just supposed to be evaluating him, right? He wants to train boots again so he should be getting a boot soon. There shouldn’t be any big blow up, he should just be able to walk away from her if his eval goes well.

    Of course, with this being the TV show Southland, we know its not going to be a short and sweet “See ya around” goodbye.

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