Southland Review: "Under the Big Top" (Episode 5.03)
“Under the Big Top” saw one of Southland’s best characters compromise his ethics. All season long, Sammy has been under the strain of the ugly custody battle for his son. At the beginning of the episode, we learn he needs money to fix the plumbing. By the end of the episode, he’s taken stolen money to pay for it.
One thing Southland does so well is make Sammy’s decision utterly believable. Frequently on TV series, characters can behave in ways that are maddeningly inconsistent. But Sammy’s trajectory leads him precisely to this point. I’ll be interested to see what happens next because Southland is the type of show where the stolen money could become a big deal or could be forgotten altogether.
The father of Lydia’s baby tells her he’s divorcing his wife and wants a role in his son’s life. “I have loved you all my life,” he says. “This isn’t right. Not for me. And it’s not right for him.” Even Ruben, who has become an expert at keeping his opinions to himself, tells Lydia that once her son gets older it is going to be hard to explain to him why she kept his father away.
One of the things I’ve always appreciated about Southland is that, for the most part, the show doesn’t use familiar faces with its criminal cases. So unlike on say, Law & Order, you can’t just assume that the most famous face is the guilty party. That didn’t quite work with the window-breaking perpetrator, because the minute John Billingsley appeared on the scene, I knew he was the one doing it.
But Lydia and Ruben’s case was a shocker—I definitely didn’t predict that the victim was still alive. Southland had great fun with how some criminals are not so bright. There’s the guy who tried to fake his own death to get out of gambling debts, the girlfriend who thought it was a good idea to help him, and my personal favorite, the man who debated with his girlfriend which murder he was being arrested for.
The show really has driven home this season how unappreciated police officers are. After Ben tussles with the bank robber, a passenger gets up from her seat—not to help Ben or make sure he’s OK—but to gather up more of the money.
“Under the Big Top” also revisited last season’s major arc of the daughter of the prostitute Ben helped. We learn Ben has no idea how she’s doing. It was a jarring revelation—especially considering all that Ben did and sacrificed to keep her safe last season.
Every time I write about Southland, I feel I must talk about Michael Cudlitz’s fantastic performance. His scene with the man who had attempted suicide was beautifully poignant. Plus we got to see his derriere!
This week Ben McKenzie was cast as the lead in a CBS pilot in second position—which means he can only take the role if Southland isn’t renewed. And as much as I would love to see McKenzie headline his own series, I am loving Southland so much this season and hate to think of the show not continuing for many more seasons to come.