Southland, “Failure Drill”

Southland is one of those series that I watch every single week and really, legitimately adore, but can never find the time or desire to actually review on a regular basis. A lot of the series I regularly review — from Supernatural to The Good Wife to White Collar — are procedurals, but for whatever reason, I can still find a lot of things to say about them consistently. With Southland, the task is a bit more difficult, even if it shouldn’t really be. I think part of that struggle comes from the fact that so many of Southland’s best moments are emotionally wrenching in a way that doesn’t fit with written description. I could sit here and talk the fantastic work Shawn Hatosy or Ben McKenzie are doing every week this season, but it wouldn’t really do them justice and I’d just be stuck writing about the more procedural elements.

Thankfully, I have some more free time this week and I thought it’d be nice to check in on the series with “Failure Drill,” the penultimate episode of the third — and hopefully not final — season. As usual, this is a pretty great episode, primarily because it focuses so heavily on Ben Sherman and John Cooper. As Cooper’s condition continues to deteriorate, he has become less effective at his job. He’s taking too many pills, he’s falling asleep in the patrol car, he’s volunteering for stupid assignments and he’s making horrible decisions. It’s not pretty. What I like about this story and these scenes is the subtlety at which they’re handled. Most police procedurals would have had their drug addicted character make a massively disappointing decision, probably killing someone or something like that. It would be played for major dramatics, there would be a huge cover-up and THINGS WOULD NEVER BE THE SAME.

But here, John’s decisions, while still terrible, aren’t too harmful in the end. He’s messing up just enough for Ben to finally forgo the mentor-mentee relationship and forcibly ask John about his personal state. From the beginning, these two men have a conflicted, but compelling relationship and the final two scenes between them show how the dynamics have changed. John is used to yelling at Ben for making stupid mistakes and generally being a young gun, but now, the shoe is on the other foot. Ben is only a few days away from getting his own car and he’s confident in his abilities and his place as an officer. In that case, Ben ends up being the one doing all the lecturing and yelling and the audience can totally see how that shifting dynamics is present. John knows he’s messed up, but he can’t bring himself to do anything about it. That means admitting defeat and probably losing his job and obviously, that cannot happen. There’s really no case or work narrative for these guys, they’re just bouncing around all messy-like — and it’s glorious.

In other Southland news, Lydia and Ochoa find themselves in one hell of a dangerous situation, where Ochoa ends up being injured with glass all in the side of her face. I don’t really remember the case that led the two female detectives to the factory-like place where a madman was shooting people up for little reason, but it doesn’t ultimately matter because the sequence was just fantastic. Southland never quick edits or pulls away from intense moments, instead it lets them breathe and continue onward until both the characters and the viewers at home can’t breathe anymore. I can’t remember a better “action” sequence on the series than this one, with Lydia moving slowly through the building, saving people (including her partner) and ultimately shooting the assailant right in the forehead. Regina King always gets some great emotional moments to play as Lydia, but the series also isn’t afraid to let her be a flat-out badass too. Greatness.

Next week is the final episode of Southland this season. You should watch it. Please.

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