Every so often a TV show comes along that is so brilliant, so moving, so thought-provoking that I actually begin to feel sorry for the people who don’t watch the show. They are missing out on one of television’s best series.
I felt that way, for instance, about Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And I feel that way now about Southland. “Heat,” the second episode of the show’s fifth season, was an amazing hour of television. As the temperatures in L.A. rise, three distinct storylines unfolded in surprising, shocking ways.
Officer Mendoza (returning guest star Chad Michael Murray) is shot in what he claims to be a targeted drive-by gang shooting. Ben, wanting to help his friend, organizes a fundraiser for Mendoza’s medical bills, pesters Sammy to donate his sick time to Mendoza and makes it his mission to find out who shot his slimy friend.
But, as is often the case with Southland, things are not what they seem. Mendoza is lying. He shot himself because he’s in financial dire straits, a fact that we learn in an almost casual, off-handed way. But by the time this is revealed, Ben has already coerced gang member Dwayne into accusing a rival gang member of the shooting. The result of the lies and deception? Dwayne’s son is shot at his birthday party. The image of Sammy giving the boy his son’s plastic toy to hold on to as he lay bleeding was haunting. The storyline further emphasized how callous the once idealistic Ben has become. He seemingly feels no remorse over his role in a child being shot. Perhaps it was bravado to make himself feel better, but his reaction was still chilling. When he tells Mendoza he’s better than him, you wonder who he’s trying to convince of this fact.
John continues to train Afghanistan vet Gary Steele. Gary becomes upset when John insists that he charge an elderly veteran, who has driven onto a golf course, with driving with an expired license and that they impound his car. When they later find that the man has committed suicide, John reiterates why he handled the case that way. “You don’t have to convince me,” Gary smugly tells them. During what appears to be a routine traffic stop, they are shot at, and I feared that when Gary didn’t respond to John’s calls, he had been shot. But that is what would have happened on other cop shows. On Southland, Gary is cowering being the squad car. “It’s not worth dying for,” he tells John about the job. “You don’t have to convince me,” John tells him as he removes his badge. Officer John Cooper, who also in this episode showed kindness to a Down Syndrome girl with a crush on him and offered a lick of his ice cream to a woman who said she was paying his salary, is one of the greatest television characters ever.
Lydia is back at work and finally feeling back to normal. She’s stopped breastfeeding, so she’s getting more hours of sleep. “I’d take dead bodies over a screaming baby any time,” she tells Ruben. She even agrees to meet her friends out for a birthday celebration. But while she is out enjoying herself, her mother dies. The final image of the episode of Lydia holding her son while paramedics roll her mother out of her house was gut-wrenching.
I’ll definitely miss L. Scott Caldwell as Lydia’s mom, but killing off her character opens the show up for some really interesting storylines for Lydia. She was already struggling to fully embrace motherhood and clearly was over-relying on her own mother to care for her son. She insisted to Ruben that she didn’t need any help, especially not from the baby’s father.
On Southland, every action has an intended or unintended consequence. The lines between good guy and bad guy are more blurred than ever this season. The storylines continue to surprise me. I may start a one-woman campaign to get more people to watch this show. Won’t you join me?