Most cops manage to stay sane despite the chaos all around them. But in their hearts they know…everyone has a breaking point.
Imagine standing knee deep in the aftermath of incidents like the recent bombings in Boston, the Newtown and Aurora shootings, or the 9/11 attack in New York City. Picture yourself trying to muster up the right words to say to someone whose whole world has just been pulled from beneath them, when the dearest, most important person in their life has been taken away in the split second it takes to pull a trigger.
Try telling a mother that her only child was raped and killed by a filthy and vile stranger. Spend a morning combing through mangled body parts and bloody debris. Step into a room where a self-inflicted shotgun blast caused human tissue and blood to rain down from a bedroom ceiling like dozens of leaky bathroom faucets. Reach down to the hot pavement and pick up a four-year-old’s limp and lifeless body, the result of a drunk driver who claims he didn’t see the girl riding her tricycle.
Are you with me yet? Okay, now imagine that you have one person…only one person in this entire world…with whom to share your thoughts and emotions regarding the devastation you deal with on a daily basis—the dead kids, mutilated bodies, rape victims, suicides, blood, tissue, and tears…lots and lots of tears. Heartbreak beyond belief. The tears and gut-wrenching sobs never, ever end.
So you talk to your partner. You share your thoughts, your emotions, and your soul with the officer in the seat next to you. This is the guy, or woman, you’re with eight to twelve hours a day, maybe more. You eat together, laugh together, and you see the world around you, together, as it slowly comes unglued.
You know your partners kids and they know yours. You know their wives and husbands. Your lives intersect and intertwine. Hell, you’re almost one being, with two heads, four arms and four legs.
You train together. You move in unison when at crime scenes. She goes one way and you go the other, without ever speaking a word. You just know who’s going to do what, and when. You are a team. A partnership. You have a bond, and while it’s not a romantic love, you love your partner sort of in the way best friends share a connection. But a cop’s bond with his work partner goes a bit deeper, because you absolutely, without a doubt, trust your very life to the person sitting in the shotgun seat of your police car.
You totally and unequivocally trust your cop partner. You have to, or the partnership won’t work. So all is well, until…
Chaos shows up, which is often followed by a reckoning.
My former detective partner unexpectedly passed away just a few weeks ago. We’d been friends for a long, long time. Over 40 years, actually. And, when I heard the news of his death it felt like a huge blow to my gut followed by a heartache like none I’ve ever experienced. But my friend’s death was due to medical issues, which was far different than the way we saw Hank Lucero die.
Hank’s partner was there with him when he was murdered. And, like the team they were, Hank and John Cooper were physically chained together when Lucero exhaled his final breath. On purpose or not, that symbolism—partners bonded together till the end—rang true to police officers all across the country.
The ordeal Cooper and Hank endured was traumatic, to say the least, and that’s why the LAPD placed Cooper on paid leave. And when he returned to work, he was assigned to “desk duty,” without a gun on his side. And that’s a traumatic experience within itself.
A cop’s weapon is like an extra appendage. It’s a part of them. And to have it taken away is like sectioning off a piece of their soul and holding it above their heads like a carrot on a stick that’s just out of their reach. The empty holster is a symbol to all other officers that you’re sort of tainted. There’s something wrong with you. You’re not as good as your fellow officers. In fact, it’s demeaning as hell. That’s why officers who are involved in shootings are issued a spare weapon while theirs is making its way through lab testings and comparisons.
So that’s where Coop’s head is at the very onset of the episode. He felt he was ready to return to full duty, but his superiors didn’t agree. This is also where we, as viewers, were treated to the start of some pretty darn good acting. Michael Cudlitz said just as much with his eyes and facial expressions during this episode than many writers are able to accomplish in 80,000 words, or so (an average novel). We saw, hurt, anger, fear, sad, lonely, disappointment, and a lot of “I’m so tired I don’t know if I can take another step in this world.”
The same was true for Shawn Hatosy and Ben McKenzie when the situation between them reached the boiling point. Sammy, as we all know, can be a bit dramatic at times. But he’s the cop I want in the shotgun seat of my patrol car. He’s a stand up cop when it’s time to circle the wagons. He’s not afraid to go toe-to-toe with the biggest, nastiest, meanest thug on the street. And, he’s a cop who’ll back his partner to the end, if necessary. Ben, on the other hand, is fighting a personal battle with himself. The world is all about him. Sure, he’ll duke it out with the best of them, and he’ll dive in no matter the odds. But at the end of the day, there has to be something in it for him, and that usually involves a female.
Ben is a bad cop. He’s so dirty his vile stench oozes from the TV when he’s on camera. However, as nasty as he is, it’s a reflection of a fine acting job by McKenzie. He’s pretty darn good at being pretty darn bad.
The fight between Sammy and Ben was inevitable. We all knew it was coming, but it was somewhat nail-biting to witness. I don’t know about you, but these actors are so good at what they do it was sort of like watching two of my best friends exchanging blows. Still, I wanted to see Sammy land a blow that would’ve sent Ben to the dentist holding four or five of his pearly-white teeth in his hand.
Hatosy, too, is an unbelievable actor. I can’t wait to see him in his new role, although, I’d rather see him back in this one next season.
Dewey. What can I say? We’ve seen this character run a full gamut of emotions, from anger to kick-in-the-gut sorrow. He’s been obnoxious, boisterous, and a general pain in the ass, but one thing’s for certain, he’s a tough-as-nails-cop who absolutely adores John Cooper.
C. Thomas Howell has been a key player this season. He’s provided light breaks in the action when we need to take a breath, and he’s pushed us to the edge of the cliff when we needed to feel the suspense of a moment. Howell is a class act, and Dewey is a cop’s cop who ain’t afraid of nuttin’.
Lydia… Regina King is brilliant at whatever role she plays, but she breathed a life into Lydia Adams that I don’t think anyone else could’ve done. King is another one who tells a story with her eyes, and last night was a perfect example, from worry over her son, to Ruben hitting the tweeker while in pursuit, to showing pure love and affection for Russell. Those two together again was inevitable, and if there is a season 6, which is a long stretch, I hope she’s finally able to be at peace in a life with someone who cares deeply for her, and that someone should be Russell (we saw it in her eyes).
King said I’d be blown away by this episode, and she was right…I was.
Anthony Ruivivar (Hank Lucero) was only on the show for a short time, but he made his presence known and he did so quickly. He was a perfect partner for Cooper in an opposites attract kind of way. And, the final scenes he played as hostage to the two meth-heads were truly fantastic. We all felt his pain and fear. Ruivivar made sure that we did. There was no overacting, which many people have a tendency to do in these scenarios. Instead, Ruivivar connected with the viewers’ emotions in a way not many are able to pull off effectively.
The “Tweekers,” played by Tobias Jelinek and Ryan Dorsey, were superb in their roles. I’ve dealt with a lot of meth users over the years and these two guys, well, lets just say they should immediately head to the nearest rehab facility. Their acting was that spot on. By the way, Dorsey has expressed his wishes to receive only a warning ticket from me should we ever meet on the highways. I’ll see what I can do.
Gerald McRaney (Hicks, Coop’s former TO) was another building block in this tower of cop shows. He was there to help Cooper prepare for his soon-to-come reckoning. There’s not a lot I can say about McRaney that I haven’t already said. I’ve been a fan for a long time. He’s appeared on many of my favorite shows over the years, including Major Dad and Designing Women, and now Mike and Molly. He’s married to Delta Burke, and who didn’t think Burke was hilarious on Designing Women? So we know he has great taste, and to appear on Southland reaffirms it.
Ruben was in fine form last night, especially during the arguments with the arrogant RHD detective. Ruben has been a good partner for Lydia, and they worked well together. He preferred to work “by the book and guidelines” while Lydia worked off instinct and reading people. Actually, they sort of reminded me of me and my former partner. He liked to stick to the textbooks and loved paperwork. I, on the other hand, preferred to get out of my car and talk to people, walk the neighborhoods, and sit on front porches having conversations with the citizens, getting to know them and the problems they faced and dealt with on a daily basis. And I absolutely hated paperwork. Funny that I now write…
A quick word to LAPD Chief Beck…thanks for opening your doors and welcoming TV viewers to the LAPD. I think the Southland cast portrayed your department in an excellent light. Also, please know that law enforcement officers all across the country have you and your officers in our thoughts and prayers. You’ve all been through a lot lately. Unfortunately, so have many other departments. It never ends, unfortunately.
*Boston, we’re thinking about you, too.
So we’re now back to Cooper and that dramatic final scene. He’s trying to sleep and hears the neighbor’s generator fire up. His ex is asleep (did you notice the earplugs she’d stuck in her ears so she wouldn’t be kept awake by the machine’s rumble?), so he goes out to “take care of business.” What happened next simply oozed with symbolism.
For five years we’ve watched John Cooper go about his daily life. He’s a mentor to new officers. He’s the rock that supported the veterans. He was the guy who helped his former training officer get his own life back on track. Coop was the man they all respected. He’s a good cop who cares about every single person on his beat, from the crack-heads to his sergeant, and beyond.
He’s also a gay man in a largely heterosexual profession who just happens to be a drug addict with a network of personal and physical troubles that would break the backs and souls of most men. But Cooper shoulders it all. He’s held the weight of the world on his shoulders until the chaos in his life finally pushes him to the “breaking point.” And the man outside Coop’s ex’s house just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. He was in the way when Cooper’s spirit finally broke.
And how ironic was it that John Cooper was shot by people wearing the very uniform and badge that he loved so much for most of his life. The LAPD was indeed his life, and it’s quite possible that it was the LAPD that ended John Cooper’s life.
If last night was Southland’s goodbye to all of us, then that’s certainly sad, because we’ve all grown to know and love the characters and actors who opened their souls to us for so long. It’s a rare and special thing for TV characters to touch the lives of so many in so many ways. Through their Tweets, emails, Facebook messages, and personal appearances, these fine actors have become beloved friends to many.
So, if last night was Southland’s “End of Watch,” you should know that your fans were there for you until the screen faded to black for the last time. Me, I re-lived an entire career—the good and the bad—, one hour at a time, each week, over the past five years.
For now, we’re all hoping to hear this again next year. We’ll keep our fingers crossed.