Southland: Underwater – A Review And Recap

Southland: Underwater

Cops routinely find themselves under water. The best manage to keep their heads above the surface. But even for a strong swimmer like Ben Sherman the undertow can be tricky.

Ben finds himself in a situation where he’s surrounded by a large group of unruly young people. There’s bumping and shoving and name-calling. Things begin to get out of hand. He’s pushed by a young woman who he immediately places under arrest. Then, suddenly, another woman slaps Ben directly in his rookie face. What’d he do? How’d he react? Well, we had to wait until later in the episode to find out, but I, for one, knew exactly what he’d do. Yep. Been there, done that…sort of.

It’s an eye-opening moment for a young police officer when he’s assaulted for the first time. Sure, he trains and trains and trains for that moment, but nothing could prepare him for the shock that comes with being on the receiving end of a hearty face-slap, a punch, or a big ‘ol cheek-splattering wad of gooey saliva.

I remember that day, my “first time” and remember it well. I’d been on the streets, still very much a rookie, for approximately six months when I arrested a very petite young woman for a drug offense. She looked quite timid and sweet. Her hair was silky and she had eyes like a doe deer. Her hands were tiny. Her voice, soft like velvet. And her cheeks were rosy, like those of a China doll. And I recall thinking that, stupidly, I’d remove the cuffs while I questioned her. After all, what could that frail woman do to a big guy like me. Well, let me tell you, that sweet little doe-eyed %&^*$ slapped me into next week the second the cuffs came off. There was no pain, just a lot of really bright, white light and a ton of shock, surprise, and hope that no one saw her do it. Then came the swearing and spitting. Lots of spitting. She was doing the spitting but it was I who was doing the most cussing.

But it doesn’t end there. After that first shocking moment comes the next sweet little woman, or innocent liitle boy, a drug user down on his luck who robs a store to feed his kids and his habit, a poor elderly lady who shoplifts so she can eat, a drug crazed man who assaults his own parents, hungry kids, starving animals, guns, knives, a little girl…raped, murder after murder after murder. Mutilated bodies. Crying children…and yes, you soon find yourself underwater, struggling to keep your head above the surface.

There’s a new tough-as-nails captain this week, a captain who comes across during his welcome-to-my-shift-speech as wanting to kick ass first and take names later. But his ideas are sound ideas. They’re just plain good, old-fashioned police work—get out of your cars and walk, meet and talk to the people in your assigned areas, squeeze your snitches for information. Being proactive is what it’s all about. Don’t sit back and wait for crimes to happen. Stop them before they start.

The captain also passes out McDonald’s job applications to everyone, stating something like, “Each time you screw up fill out a line on your application.” He’s telling his troops that after a few goofs they’ll be needing new jobs because he won’t put up with many mistakes.

Lydia is called to work a hit and run case where all the team has to go on is a severed hand that’s still attached to a very expensive purse. After tracking down the suspect’s car, Detective Adams makes a gruesome discovery—body parts, including the head of the deceased, embedded among the radiator, water pump, and other mechanical parts located beneath the SUV.

Turns out the driver, a well-to-do citizen, had been driving drunk and claimed he thought he’d hit a coyote. He was promptly arrested and placed inside a patrol car where he immediately began to cry, the normal display of remorse that comes with a suspect’s realization that jail is in the immediate future. Funny how that remorse normally doesn’t appear until the cuffs go on.

Sammy and Ben decide to take the Captain’s advice and shake down a hooker for information, using a crack pipe they found in her purse as leverage to prompt her into cooperating. She gives up a little information and they allow her to go on her way.

I’m nearly convinced that these guys were cops in previous lives because the attention to detail in this show is incredible. Yes, that’s it’s done on the streets. It’s a day-in-day-out process of trying to stay one step ahead of the bad guys. And you do it by talking to people. Squeezing the snitches for information. and, as Lydia’s new partner will soon find out, by telling a few lies to get the information you need.

Lydia and Ruben, her new partner, are investigating a murder, an investigation that led them to home of the suspect’s grandmother, played by Marla Gibbs (Sorry, but I cannot see Ms. Gibbs without expecting to see George Jefferson come strutting around a corner. She’s a fine actor but she’ll always be Florence Johnston to me. But she looks fantastic, especially since she now 80). Hey, weren’t those two on 227? And wasn’t Adams’ character’s name Brenda on that show? A nice injection of humor, since “Brenda” was the name this little old lady kept calling Detective Adams.

Ruben appears a little shocked to learn that detectives sometimes must present a bit of false information when working a case. Still, he finds himself in a position where he might have to pull the trigger on the murder suspect, another unfortunate and unpleasant aspect of the job.

But Lydia solves that problem in a hurry by tackling the guy, an action that sends them both into a swimming pool (you see the ongoing theme, right?).

Ben appears to be a little on edge in this episode. Things just aren’t going his way. And that bit of bad luck continues when he chases a bad guy into a back yard where the thug swings a baseball bat, trying to hit a home run with Ben’s head. This scene is a familiar one to all street cops—a suspect hides inside a house, the homeowners and everyone inside tells the officers they haven’t seen the guy and they don’t know him. Then the guy pops up and runs. It’s like hearing a politician tell a lie…happens every single day.

Cooper and Tang (Lucy Liu is a great addition to this show, by the way) find themselves on the receiving end of the “odd” situations this week. We all have them, too. You know, the “Elvis-is-hiding-behind-the-cheesecake-in-my-refrigerator” type of calls.

1. The new partners roll up on a flaming pedestrian who’d ignited while smoking meth and watching porn in the back room of an “adult” store.

2. They roll up on a nude guy jogging along the sidewalk. Tang tells the guy it’s illegal to do that in the city, but it’s okay to run naked on the freeway. So he thanks her and heads onto an on-ramp. Tang turns to Cooper and says, “He’s CHP’s problem now.”

This scene may have seemed a bit silly to non-cops, but “back in the day,” and I’m not saying it’s right, I know of a few times when officers transported “unwanted problem people” to the next county and simply dropped them off.

3. A guys steps in front of Cooper and Tang’s patrol car and shouts, “I’m not going back to jail.” When Cooper steps out of the car the man tackles him. Tang jumps to Coop’s aid and begins to wail on the guy using her ASP (expandable baton). But it has no effect on the wild man.

Backup arrives (Dewey) and promptly deploys his Taser. The three of them finally subdue and cuff the guy.

Another realistic scene. I can’t tell you how many times cops are placed in this position, fighting to gain control of very strong and powerful people. And it sometimes takes two or three or more officers to subdue a combative suspect.

– Ben and Sammy respond to a call where an elderly woman fired a shot at her neighbor. When the officers approach the front door Ben thinks he sees a weapon and yells, “Gun!” and the two beat a hasty retreat to the safety of their patrol car. The woman fires a couple of rounds through the window and a standoff begins.

Captain Rucker arrives and he’s there with a plan. He pretends to be a preacher and approaches the door holding a Bible over his head, quoting scripture. But she’s not buying it, so Ben grabs the woman’s cat and offers to give it to her in exchange for her gun. She pretends to agree and lays down her rifle, but pulls out a secondary handgun. The captain promptly gives her a blast from his shotgun, terminating the threat who, by the way, was wearing body armor.

Several years ago, I was faced with a similar situation. I was at home watching TV when I suddenly heard shouting outside. I opened the front door and saw three patrol cars, lights flashing, and five or six uniformed officers crouching down behind them. Now, my across-the-street neighbors were elderly. Very nice people. So I was a bit puzzled until I saw the man on their front porch who was aiming a revolver at the man who lived there. A closer look told me that the suspect was actually the homeowner’s son, a guy I knew to have a pretty bad drug problem. Later I learned that the son had come by and asked for money, and when his parents refused he pulled the gun and began making threats.

Well, I knew the son, had encounters with him in the past (a few minor arrests, etc.) so I walked over to patrol officers to see what I could do to help out. By the way, I was wearing shorts, a t-shirt, and no shoes. I was in for the night. Comfortable.

Anyway, I called out to the guy. He promptly told me to F-off. And that really didn’t set well with me. Neither did the look of terror on the old couple’s faces. So I did a dumb thing. I walked up to the porch and headed straight for the suspect. He started to turn toward me but, before he even realized what I was doing, I, well, let’s just say only a second passed before I had the gun and he was lying on the porch floor. After it was over I realized what a totally stupid thing I’d done. Hell, I didn’t even have a gun with me.

The point I’m trying to make with this anecdotal babble is that the things you see on Southland, no matter how “out there” they seem to you, are quite real. This stuff happens in real life. While you’re at work or at home sleeping, cops are doing what you see on this show.

And that, my friends, brings us back to Ben and the young woman who slapped him. Well, Ben, feeling overwhelmed by the crowd that was closing in on him and, because the woman had landed a blow to his cheek and to his ego and, because he’d never experienced this before, well, he punched the woman squarely in her face. Right on the snoot with a closed fist.

The scene was captured on video, of course, and Ben is called into the captain’s office to explain his actions, and Sammy defends him.

Outside, Ben thanks Sammy for sticking up for him. Sammy, the experienced cop, says, “You always have your partner’s back…” Ben smiles. But Sammy then completes his statement. “…even when he’s wrong. You kinda lost your cool. We don’t fire back because we’re mad, we fire back to save lives.”

What a powerful and very true statement. Saving lives is the name of the game, no matter how hard you have to paddle to keep your head above water.

Yes, Ben has filled in the first line of his McDonald’s application. But we all do. We’re human.

* This is the best darn cop show to ever hit a TV screen. And all I can say is, “You go Cheo Coker. You write one fine police story.” The same goes for the all the writers. And my hat’s off to the crew and directors as well. And a big nod to the actors who go above and beyond to show their audience a side to police work that’s not usually seen…the truth.


24 replies
  1. Betty Hechtman
    Betty Hechtman says:

    Thanks for your take on Southland. I was really curious how a police officer would view the show. Personally, I find the show reviting and thought it seemed very real. It helps that I live in L.A. thought not in the part where they film.

  2. Ron DeLaby
    Ron DeLaby says:

    Roger that on the green shotgun being a beanie. This is about the third or fourth attempt to replay Southland. In my area (jawjuh) the program played a couple of episodes and disappeared only to revive a few months later.

    I agree that this year’s version is light years over the original. In the first series practically every Joe Wambaugh cliche ever written was used. It was almost as though they had no input from LAPD at all. Now we are into the gritty life of street cops pretty much like it really happens. The two gang bangers who shoot and kill each other in the previous episode is a great example. Ben wants to do the right thing and protect the crime scene and LDP’s response is that of a classic battle hardened cop. I’m very favorably impressed. This is a much more believable program then Prime Suspect in which character Jane Timoney’s main claim to fame is trying to be a Frank Sinatra look alike while drinking herself through each episode and completely ignoring everything she ever learned about search and seizure.

  3. KateNonymous
    KateNonymous says:

    Not only was the shotgun green, but a later exchange between Sammy and Ben specifically mentioned the beanbag.

  4. Bob Mueller
    Bob Mueller says:

    I think the changes in Ben are exactly in keeping with what he is at this point: a one-year “veteran” cop. He’s entering the danger zone WRT LOD deaths: a lot of deaths occur to 18-24-month officers. They’re starting to get out on their own, and think they’re bulletproof.

    Lee, LDP is just me being lazy. I like to abbreviate. 🙂

    Cooper got a new partner because Ben completed his training. That’s why Sherman is with Bryant now. I suspect part of Ben’s coolness toward Cooper is that Cooper still treats Ben as a boot, not acknowledging that he’s now a Patrolman 2, and not the fresh-faced academy graduate he was when Cooper met him. I also suspect “something” happened during Cooper’s drug rehab, surgery and physical rehab that we haven’t heard about yet.

  5. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Steve – Good recap. Thanks.

    Basil – Thanks for the information. You’re right, I did forget to mention it. In my week defense, though, I had a million pages of notes and a short time to get the blog online.

    Thanks for all the comments, everyone. It’s great to hear your thoughts and opinions about this fine show. Please show your support for the show and for this site by sharing our link to everyone you know – FB Twitter, your own blogs, etc. Thanks again!

  6. Steve
    Steve says:

    Jon I will try to help you out…

    Cooper was Ben’s training officer when Ben joined the force. He gave Ben the usual rookie hazing, but was a firm and effective mentor until his drug problem got the best of him. He developed the drug problem because he needed increasing amounts of medication to deal with the pain from his bad back. Near the very end of last season, Cooper was so stoned on painkillers on the job that he was useless. Cooper and Ben took a call that required chasing a criminal, and Cooper was unable to provide back-up while Ben was engaged in a life-or-death fight with the bad guy. The criminal fell to his death and Ben survived the fight, but he was so angry and disgusted with Cooper that he told him he would turn him in if he did not get help for himself. Cooper got his back fixed and completed rehab, then came back to the force with a new partner.

    So, my guess is that Ben is angry with Cooper for not thanking him for saving his career/life, and not apologizing for almost costing Ben his life.

  7. Jon Michaelsen
    Jon Michaelsen says:

    I began watching Southland based on reading everyone’s comments when the new season began and I must say – I really enjoy the “gritty” and realistic tone the show takes; Can someone update me quickly what happened between Ben and the his former partner? Why the falling out? (I’ve never watched the show until this year).

  8. Basil Yeo
    Basil Yeo says:

    Lee, hello from Singapore!

    I absolutely love your writing and your analysis on SouthLAnd week after week, but I think you might have missed something out with regards to the realism and the respect this show and its creators have for the men and women of law enforcement.

    The mention of Randy Simmons, the first LAPD SWAT Officer killed in the line of duty, giving an inspirational talk at a school as the reason why Anawalt’s partner joined the department, was a really nice touch!

  9. Patty
    Patty says:

    Thank you for writing the recap. I don’t have cable, can’t watch it legally online and TWOP isn’t writing recaps. I’m going to read your recaps regularly.
    This is the best police show I’ve ever seen. Terrific writing and acting.

  10. RebeccaJ
    RebeccaJ says:

    I’m seeing changes in Ben’s character from the previous seasons. In the first season, he was serious about wanting to help people and in what seems like a short time, he’s angry and short tempered and seems torn between doing the right thing and giving into the ‘ignore it’ attitude of co-workers like the Lucy Liu character and Lou Diamond Phillips character last week.

    I’m also a little confused about his attitude toward John. He had enough respect and concern for him last season to take him to rehab and now he’s just angry with him.

    BTW, I’m seeing the bits and pieces of things from ‘real life’ news stories like the slap and the woman being on the car grill, and I don’t know if I necessarily like it. It seems like the writers are ‘cheating’ almost.

  11. Dave Fowler
    Dave Fowler says:

    It’s unclear if Captain Rucker is the new station captain (a Captain III) or the subordinate patrol captain (a Captain I), but I assume the latter.

    And yes, he used a beanbag round, as the shotgun was painted green.

  12. Rusty Fairbanks
    Rusty Fairbanks says:

    Every show seems to have one outstanding punchline. Last night’s (for me) was “We serve and protect…and kick ass.” The Watch Sergeant used some version of it early in the show, but it was more effective later when the cops on the street used it. As for that moment when our young rookie hit the female with attitude, I immediately thought the writers took that from the real-life situation that made the news last year in Seattle. Good show.

    And I, too, think Tang’s character is close to what I and other female officers/deputies experienced “back in the day.” Loved the way she piled on – and how ineffective a smaller person can be against a mountain.

    Thanks for the revirw. I always love your take.

  13. Claudia
    Claudia says:

    What hooked us on this show was a scene in the very first episode where the cops stop a smartarsed young man. The young man looks up at the cop and asks: “Do you know who my father is?” The cop says something like: “No. But if you ask you mom she can probably tell you.”

    We agree with your take on this show.

  14. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Yes, I believe he did use a beanbag, which clearly would be an improper choice when faced with an armed suspect.

    I’m sure we’ll hear about LDP’s condition very soon. You must be watching the celebrity cooking show with LDP on Rachael Ray’s team… 🙂 For those of you who haven’t seen the show, LDP is what Ray calls Lou Diamond Phillips.

    Angie, I believe you’ve reinforced the point I’ve been making all along – the show is so realistic that you feel as if you’re watching an evening newscast.

    SaraK – Thanks. I’m glad you’re enjoying the reviews and the show.

  15. Bob Mueller
    Bob Mueller says:

    Angie, that’s the way it is in the real world. Lots of times there’s no immediate resolution. It may come weeks or months down the road. It does seem surprising that no one talked about LDP’s character, especially since the front of the station was still dinged up.

    Lee, didn’t Rucker use a beanbag round on Grambo? Seems like I saw green furniture on the shotgun. Isn’t that in violation of LAPD use-of-force guidelines? I remember my old UOF policy said not to meet lethal force with LTL.

  16. Angie
    Angie says:

    I feel like I am watching either an episode of Cops or the evening news. I don’t care for the way the stories hop around. And some have no resolution like with Lou Diamond Philips character. It seems you can watch one episode, skip a couple, and not miss anything. I will continue watching, have been since day one when it was a better show. I just feel that this season hasn’t been as good.

  17. SaraK
    SaraK says:

    Fantastic review and recap. I love your personal experiences woven into your commentary. The show is so fabulous, but your point of view makes it even better. Thanks!

  18. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Steve – All good points. Maybe someone from the show will see this post and give us a few details.

    Audrey – Maybe I’m seeing Lucy Liu in a different light. I see a few former co-workers (police officers) in Liu’s portrayal of a female patrol cop.

  19. Steve
    Steve says:

    Good show as always, but it would have been nice to have had at least a brief explanation as to why Captain Rucker was now part of the squad. You’d also think there would have been a little chatter about the station-house shooter from last week. How is Lou Diamond Phillip’s character doing, and who was the other person that got shot? I know that this show likes to “live in the moment,” but there needs to be some continuity from episode to episode.

Comments are closed.