Southland: Under The Big Top – A Review

Southland: Under the big top

They say that working for the LAPD is a ticket to the greatest show on earth. But it isn’t always easy to get to the front row.

If you’ve ever been to a large circus, those with three rings of action all going at once, along with trained horses, camels, and elephants circling the perimeter while high-stepping, dancing, and prancing, then you should be able to picture what it’s like work as a patrol officer in any one of America’s cities.

A typical eight or twelve-hour shift sends officers responding to call after call after call. While some are quite serious, others barely rate a response from emergency first responders. But, officers go and they do what it takes to close the file, even if that means conducting a brief “hand-holding” session to calm the fragile nerves of a frightened elderly person with failing eyesight and a limited ability to hear. Of course, the next call could be an ax murder or the bombing of a public building, which sends officers into “high-alert” mode, switching personality and demeanor instantly, from calm and cool peacemaker to real-life action hero who runs into gunfire in order to save lives and protect the innocent.

It’s that sort of circus that plays out day after day, night after night, 365 days a year, in every city, town, village, county, and state across our vast country. Officers everywhere respond to one call after another, practically nonstop, darting from street to street, zig-zagging from neighborhood to neighborhood, and often without so much as a spare moment to enjoy popcorn, peanuts, or Crackerjacks.

Last night’s episode of Southland was, of course, typical Southland, with actors portraying police work in its true form—raw, gritty, and not a single tick short of emotional.

– Ben’s new girlfriend, “Teacher Brooke” may be just what Ben needs to reel him in, back to a lighter side of life.  In the scenes where she appeared with him, the skies above actually seemed brighter. And she’s lasted longer than Ben’s typical single night “notch on the bedpost” date, so that’s a good thing. However, the idea that Ben has accepted a role in another TV series doesn’t make Southland fans feel comfortable about seeing a season 6 in the lineup. We’ll see.

– Sammy is grasping at straws, doing whatever he thinks will help him in his quest to hang on to parental rights of little red-headed Nate. But a court evaluator’s inspection of the home isn’t too favorable. She cites a hot water issue that needs immediate attention and tells Sammy to find the money to take care of it. I’m sure she had no clue that in a few short hours he’d do just that…”find” some extra cash. Sure, it was stolen loot, but Sammy’s thinking it’ll spend just as easily as any other cash. I did, however, think the writers could have come up with a better problem than water that’s too hot, because all Sammy would have to do to correct the problem is to turn down the temperature on the hot water heater. Cost…$0.

Gas water heater thermostat control. Electric heaters also have a similar control.

– Lydia. Poor, dear, Lydia. The father of her baby suddenly wants to play Father Knows Best and be a part of the child’s life. Well, he didn’t want to when things were going well at home. However, now that his current wife has discovered what a “ho” he really is she wants a divorce. So he goes running back to Lydia, spouting, “I’ve always loved you.” Well, it sure looks as if what he loves is not being alone, which seems to be a discreet back-story in this episode. And, for whatever sad or unfortunate reason, many real-life cops often find themselves in lonely, desperate situations.

Loneliness can be a very real part of the territory that comes with an officer’s job, a job that many civilians complain about, know nothing about it, yet, wouldn’t do it themselves. Especially for low wages and crappy hours. Just last night in Savannah, Ga., officers were forced to engage in a shootout with a suspect after a long, high-speed pursuit. One officer, a female officer, was wounded by the suspect’s gunfire. Starting salary for Savannah officers…a little over $15 per hour. Garbage truck driver in the same area, $16.90 per hour.

– Dewey is conducting a welfare check (officers are often called to check on people who haven’t answered phone calls or their door(s) when family and/or friends try to contact them—welfare checks). So, in the course of looking for the “missing” person, he, Cooper, and Hank discover a vat of stewing human remains (bones, etc.). And, they believe that someone possibly murdered homeowner, Ted. They call in the detectives to begin an investigation. Lydia and Ruben catch the call, and set out to do a bit of clue and fact-finding.

Turns out that Ted faked his own death only to turn up later in the show. Of course, Lydia and Ruben arrest him and he immediately argues that it’s not illegal to fake your own death. Well, it is…sort of. An adult certainly has a right to disappear, but cannot change his/her name without doing so legally. And, pretty much anything you do to cover your tracks would be illegal as well (fraud). And, to stage a false murder is against the law.

– Cooper and Hank seem to catch more than their fair share of odd calls, from a man butchering a goat in a bathtub, to another man using a slingshot to break storefront windows. The glass-breaker told Coop, after he was caught in the act, that he did it to feel “new,” since his life had become stagnant. It was a thrill for him to do something exciting.

An argument between a prostitute and her pimp/boyfriend occurs at the rear of Coop and Hank’s patrol car. During a pat-down search for weapons, Coop and Hank joke around, sounding a bit like game show announcers. Well, yes, officers do sometimes joke around like that. Dumb? A bit silly? Sure, but it helps to offset the extreme seriousness that comes with the job. You absolutely cannot talk about dead bodies, wife beaters, and child abusers all day, everyday. If so, a lot more officers would probably drive down a dead end road to stick a gun barrel against the roof of their mouths. Ya’ gotta laugh sometime.

Cooper and Hank also respond to a call where it’s believed that an elderly man has committed suicide. Cooper finds the guy sitting outside, with a slight bullet wound to the side of his head (he chickened out at the last minute—not uncommon). The man tells Cooper that his wife is no longer around and the deafening quiet of an empty house is more than he can bear. He misses her and the sound of her footsteps as she moved from one room to another. Familiar sounds are comforting. In true cop style and humor, Cooper suggests the man install carpet. Great line.

Ben and Sammy respond to a “211” call. I’m not from LA, but I assume a 211 is code for a robbery, possibly even a silent alarm relating to a robbery/hold up. They spot the car involved in the crime and begin a pursuit (I believe this was bases on a real case). The driver of the car starts tossing wads of cash out of the window, which brings dozens of people into the streets to snatch up as much of money as they can possibly grab, a tactic to slow the pursuing police car. While in pursuit and dodging money-grabbing people, some folks toss “liquids” at the patrol car, soaking both Ben and Sammy. Typical of people who hate cops. I’ve had citizens pelt my car with rocks and bottles as I drove through not-so-nice areas of the city. I’ve also discovered bullet holes in fenders. That sort of thing just makes you feel absolutely unappreciated and unloved. But I’m certain the little darlin’s mean well. Bless their hearts.

Okay, back to Sammy and Ben, who’re now in foot pursuit of the robber who’s still tossing cash around like confetti. Ben chases the guy onto a train, but Sammy didn’t make it inside before the doors closed and the train pulled away. Ben is forced to confront the guy one on one. He has the guy cornered and orders him to the ground with his arms out to either side. That’s the correct procedure. After that, though, this one fell apart.

Ben had the guy down on the floor, with his head toward Ben. Wrong. The guy should have been made to face away from Ben. And what happened next was quite predictable. Ben had to step across the bad guy’s outstretched arms, and the crook took advantage of the weak, exposed moment. He grabbed Ben and the two went at it like MMA stars in the octagon.

Ben, however, did what any fit cop would’ve done…he fought like his life depended on it, and it did. In those situations you do whatever it takes to survive. If that means to bash the guy’s head against every wall, floor, ceiling, and railing in the place, well, then, so be it. The name of the game is to SURVIVE to live another day.

When the scuffle was over and Ben snapped the cuffs in place, he made his way to a seat and and practically melted into it as the train’s passengers sat there staring at him in near disbelief at what they’d just seen. I can assure you that Ben’s reaction was quite normal, and he played the part superbly. After a serious battle to gain control of a combative suspect, especially when you’re alone without backup, it is extremely taxing on your nerves and muscles. You’re suddenly very weak as the adrenaline rush dissipates. Your legs and arms feel like rubber bands. Your hearing is dull, and your eyesight a bit dim. Hands tremble and breathing is slow to return to its normal state. You feel your heart thumping against the inside of your rib cage. And all you’re thinking at the moment is…I survived.

As usual, we see the Southland officers at the end of their shift. The excitement is gone, the nerves and adrenaline in check, and calm has been restored. The job is over and behind them, until tomorrow.

Sammy calls the plumber to let him know to start work on his hot water troubles. He’s suddenly found enough cash to cover the cost. Unfortunately, the cash he “found” was from the robbery earlier in the day. Sammy had apparently joined the crowd, doing a little “cash grabbing,” himself. This act just may come back to bite him on the rear, especially if the plumber does his banking at the place from where the money was taken. Oh what a tangled web we weave when little Sammy practices to deceive.

It’s business as usual with Cooper. He’s home alone, having a drink when he discovers the slingshot the suspect used to break the storefront windows. So, for kicks, he uses it to fire something at an empty bottle, breaking it. Coop lets out a little chuckle. Maybe the act of breaking glass is a bit exciting after all. At the very least, it delivered a smile at the end of very long day, and the beginning of what would surely be a long, lonely night in Southland…

Oh, Coop’s opening shower scene. I’ll say this about Cudlitz, he has real talent, and guts. There aren’t many actors out there who’re are both willing and able to smile twice at once—one horizontal and one vertical. No “butts” about it…

*By the way, this week was the second time in as many weeks that some officers around the country took offense at the opening voice-over. I was swamped with messages about it. To imply that the LAPD is the greatest department (show) on earth is insulting to officers everywhere. I believe I’d think twice before offending police officers a third time, since they’re a large part of the show’s following. I’m just saying.

14 replies
  1. BriteRanbew
    BriteRanbew says:

    Ben really does need someone that is strong to ground him because more often than not, those demons come out to haunt him. Brooke earned major points by approaching him after their in class demonstration and getting his card so she could call him if she had any questions. They’re definitely cute together and I hope it works out. I watched a preview for next week’s episode and it looks like it’s going to be a good one. Then again this is Southland and I don’t expect anything less. *Advertisement removed*

  2. 1015 Adam Henry
    1015 Adam Henry says:

    Just a quck note on the patrol units and nod to details and accuracy. Emergency vehicles in California requre a constant burning red light in the front and flashing ambers in the back. Noticed the lightbars on the show do not do that.

  3. MG
    MG says:

    Is there *any* reason you could think of for Sherman to do what he did? I mean, he ordered the guy, who was already facing away from him, to turn around. That just seems weird to me, that he’d deliberately set up a dangerous situation for himself.

    It would have almost been better had the guy already been on the ground and then Sherman moved in. Still a mistake, I’m sure (especially given the confined space where it’s not like he could have just walked around or something) but a little more understandable at least if he was rushing it. I would suppose though the proper procedure in that case would be to order the suspect up (just on his knees maybe?), turn around, and get back down?

  4. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Sorry for my delayed response, everyone. I’ve been traveling today and just arrived at my destination and finally settled in after a long day.

    The “water’s too hot” issue was brought up when the court evaluator was in the home. I did hear the mention of the pipes being too close together but chose not to pick on every single thing in the scene. All new construction must pass an inspection by a qualified building inspector, including plumbing before it’s covered by drywall, etc. A certificate of occupancy would not be granted without the pipes and wiring meeting code standards. Besides, how would the evaluator know if pipes were too close together (if there was such a thing)? Did she remove the portions of sheetrock covering them? Did she pull on a pair of coveralls and crawl under the house? Not hardly.

    RMW – No matter the intention of the voice over comment, it was taken by many as pertaining to the LAPD, and as a second jab at indicating the LAPD is superior to other departments. Had the first comment not been made, the disappointed officers might be more forgiving. I think there was a lot of popcorn and nachos tossed at the TV last night.

    Jay, I’m sure Ben would have appreciated any and all help. I know if I was getting my butt kicked I would certainly welcome the assistance. However, if the situation were to come up, it would a smart idea to let the officer know you’re there to help. To simply dive into the tussle might cause the officer to believe you’re there to help the bad guy, which might escalate his response to the threat.

  5. Jay S.
    Jay S. says:

    In the fight with the robber, would Ben have wanted any of the citizens watching to intervene on his behalf, or do the police feel that would make the situation even more dangerous for everyone involved?

  6. Bill B.
    Bill B. says:

    Ben actually mentioned today on his Twitter account that the other show would take second fiddle to SouthLAnd were there to be a 6th season. He would do both, but SouthLAnd would still be his primary series.

  7. RMW
    RMW says:

    As always, I loved reading your review, which has become a day-after tradition for me.

    One quick comment regarding Sammy’s plumbing expenses. It wasn’t the hot water that was going to be the expensive bit. At one point, he mentions to Ben that he was told that the “pipes are too close together” or something to that effect. I assumed that the problem was a possible hazard should the kid get his head stuck in them, but I am not really sure what the issue would be. Whatever it was, Ben seemed concerned (pissed even) that his bathroom followed the same design.

    Also, while last week’s voice-over did single out the LAPD, to the ire of many LEO fans of the show, I believe in this case, “greatest show on Earth” was meant to signal its circus interpretation (a theme visited several times in the series, particularly by Coop) and didn’t indicate a superlative applied to specifically Los Angeles-based police work. I think this show has too much respect for cops in general to try to make that distinction.

  8. dlwater
    dlwater says:

    There have been some members of the “Southland” cast who have appeared on the show “Longmire” on A&E. Shawn Hatosy and C. Thomas Howell being just two of them.You might want to check it out, it’s a good show. By the way, another good episode.

  9. Pat Marinelli
    Pat Marinelli says:

    Great review. I also realized Sammy could lover the temperature on the water heater. lol I knew when he didn’t make the train with Ben that Sammy would end up with money.

    I did love the ups and downs of an officer’s shift that this weeks episode showed us.

  10. Bill B.
    Bill B. says:

    Yep, 211 is the California Penal Code that deals with armed robbery. The chase with the suspects throwing money did indeed happen here a few months back. Started as an LASD (sheriff) pursuit and ended up down in South Central, LAPD’s hood. The suspects were tossing money to impede the pursuing officers, but more than a few people in the neighborhood viewed them as “Robin Hood”. It was a pretty faithful recreation, actually. I was holding my breath when Ben ordered the suspect to lay down facing him, because I knew it was the wrong procedure. Another great review, Lee! I always look forward to them!

  11. Symanntha Renn
    Symanntha Renn says:

    Great review as always. Sammy made a remark about how he doesn’t think the bank had time to mark the money, but don’t they always know the serial numbers of the bills that they have? I hope he doesn’t get caught!

  12. Claudia McRay
    Claudia McRay says:

    The DH made the comment that Sammy should just lower the temp on the water himself. Duh! Was it just me, or did anyone notice there didn’t appear to be safety plugs in the electrical socket within eyesight when Sammy and the red-headed child sat on the floor?

    Ben? Another show? Which one? He can’t leave!

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