A review of last night’s “Southland” season finale coming up just as soon as you succumb to the charms of my pimp-mobile…
“Just get me back out there.” -John Cooper
I went into “Reckoning” knowing that – given the ratings and the fact that all the leads save Michael Cudlitz had signed on to do pilots for next season – it was very likely to be the last “Southland” ever, but hoping against hope that the show would continue.
Coming out of “Reckoning,” I found myself not only at peace with the idea that this was the end of the series, but almost preferring it to the idea of continuing from that.
If “Southland” is improbably renewed, then “Reckoning” is just a collection of cliffhangers to be undone next season. Maybe Sammy keeps his mouth shut (since he’d be implicated in the process of turning in Ben) and he and Ben wind up with new partners (perhaps Ben makes detective and Lydia gets stuck with him). Maybe Cooper survives his wounds and returns from a long medical leave having to prove himself all over again to a department that thinks he’s crazy. (Given some of the crap we saw Dewey pull in the early seasons while remaining on the job, I can see them working around what Cooper did here.)
But if this was the end of watch for “Southland,” then “Reckoning” is the perfect, uncompromising conclusion for the series. This was always a dark show about the enormous toll the job takes on the men and women who have it. While it’s sad and depressing to think Cooper felt so alone and in pain that he would go for a suicide-by-cop, it also feels absolutely right to both the themes of the series and the story of the man who turned out to be its central character. Even without last week’s horrific ordeal, there wasn’t likely to be a happy ending for John Cooper. He’d built a life that was too rigid and isolated for that, and all the Cudlitz/Gerald McRaney scenes prior to the finale were foreshadowing a bleak, bleak future for him.
And a lot of “Reckoning” felt like a concluding statement from team “Southland.” Not only were Lydia and Ruben temporarily put in uniform – a tacit acknowledgement that the uniform cop stories were the show’s greatest strength – but Russell played a prominent role in these last few episodes (as perhaps a better personal partner for Lydia than he was a professional one) as a nod to the show’s origins on NBC and we returned to the LA River, which has been the site of some memorable moments from the series (notably one of Dewey’s most public screw-ups). We got some more grisly, unglamorous action, whether Lydia and Ruben running over the body or the clumsy brawl between Ben and Sammy. Lydia gets something of a happy ending, but she’s always been the one character on the show with her act together, and who’s satisfied doing exactly what she does. (It would have been surprising if she’d wanted the recognition Ruben got.) Ben completes his transformation into the kind of cop he would have despised back in the early seasons.
This was “Southland,” the episode seemed to be saying over and over. This is what we were about, and how we were about it. And because Cooper emerged over time as the embodiment of what the show was about, I can think of no better ending (even if it’s a depressing one) than him lying on the ground, staring up at a light in the sky that comes not from Heaven but an LAPD airship. Here lay a man who put everything he had, and everything he was, into the job, until he had nothing left but his life itself – and then he decided the job should take that, too.
If this was it, rest in peace, John Cooper. And rest in peace, “Southland.”
And if this somehow wasn’t it? Well, I wouldn’t complain that much about getting to watch Cudlitz, King, Hatosy and McKenzie at work for another year, even though this feels like the proper conclusion.
Some other thoughts:
* If this was the series finale, ideally I’d have liked to see one last Cooper/Sherman scene, but I imagine it would have been hard to insert in the middle of what both men were going through here. And their encounter at the bar earlier this season was kind of perfect in the utter lack of connection the two felt for each other.
* Michael Beach becomes the final John Wells family repertory player to pop up on “Southland” as the glory hound detective from RHD.
* Lots of great little touches in Cooper’s bumpy return to work, like the way he put his hand on Dewey to simultaneously thank him for sticking up for him and, once again, tell him to cool it. The visit from Lucero’s widow, and her desperate need for Hank to have been gay, also nicely set up the later scene where Cooper’s ex took away John’s last dream by telling him she didn’t want a baby with him, anymore. After that, is it any surprise he acted the way he did in the alley?
* Christopher Chulack directed both the finale and last week’s amazing “Chaos,” and he sent the season (and possibly the series) off right. In “Reckoning,” I particularly liked the use of light throughout: the sun reflecting on Cooper’s face as he listened to the dispatcher’s salute to Lucero, Cooper’s ex being seen through the light playing off the screen door as she gives him the devastating baby answer, and, of course, Cooper reflecting the flashing lights from the patrol cars as he realizes the situation he’s in and what he can do about it.
What did everybody else think? Did “Reckoning” make it easier or harder to accept the series’ possible cancellation?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com