Through five seasons of Southland, and ahead of what will almost certainly be the last episode of the series, I doubt there’s much I can do to convince anyone who hasn’t seen the best cop show currently on television to watch. But you should. Southland knows how to make amazing, compelling drama centered around characters we are heavily invested in without being overly sentimental, without resorting to manipulative storylines, and without introducing shocking twists and deaths. It’s essentially a slice-of-life show, a naturalistically-filmed peek into the day-to-day lives of several LAPD officers, who we become emotionally invested in. They feel like people we know, like people we respect, and we suffer their It’s not just about the characters; it’s about the job, both the futility of it, as well as the small victories. It is an amazing show.
But this post is not designed to convince you to watch. In fact, if you’re not watching, I would suggest you go no further because the rest of this post is for those of us who have been watching. It’s an appreciation post, a refresher and memorialization of the ten most devastating moments of the season, a season that is arguably the best of its run (and the fourth season, with Lucy Liu, was already outstanding). I’m going to be seriously sad to see this series go, and for losing the marvelous weekly work of Michael Cudlitz and Regina King, both of whom are long overdue for Emmy recognition. They, in fact, make up the bulk of the series’ most devastating moments.
10. Episode 9, “Chaos” — A gangster, Stroke Face, leaps to his death after Sammy and Ben pursue him for a crime he didn’t commit (in fact, Ben had arranged the crime, which may saddle him with so much guilt that he explodes in this year’s finale).
9. Episode 8, “The Felix Paradox” — The moment we realize that Ben Sherman, and not Stroke face and his gang, is behind the vandalism of the house of Sammy (Ben’s partner), which Ben arranged in order to steal a tape that contained information that would implicate Ben in a lie (a lie, by the way, that was made on Sammy’s behalf).
8. Episode 5, “Off Duty” — Lydia has a heavy, emotional conversation with a death row inmate that she put away, who is about to be executed. After the man gets deep inside Lydia’s head, toys with her emotions, and breaks her psyche right open, he eventually reveals the location of the bodies of other people he had killed before he is executed.
7. Episode 6, “Bleed Out” — Cooper climbs under a bus and stays and talks with a woman who had been run over by the bus until the paramedics can remove her. It’s heart-wrenching. You don’t know if she’ll live or die, and if she does live, she’s f***ed. Cudlitz is outstanding in this sequence.
6. Episode 2, “Heat” — When a gunmen begins shooting at Cooper and Officer Steele, Steele cowers behind the patrol car, unwilling to risk his life for what he only considers to be a job. A scene later, after Cooper has shot and killed the gunmen, when Steele says that the job “isn’t worth fighting for,” Cooper quietly removes Steele’s badge, says, “You don’t have to convince me,” and walks away.
5. Episode 7, “Heroes” — Cooper makes the mistake of visiting his estranged father in prison on his death bed. Cooper’s father is only in prison because he raped and murdered Cooper’s girlfriend when he was younger. Instead of apologizing, however, Cooper’s father blames it on Cooper, saying that it was his fault that his father raped and murdered his girlfriend because Cooper was gay and couldn’t give his girlfriend what she needed.
4. Episode 3, “Babel — This is exactly what makes Southland one of the very few shows that could pull off a school shooting without being sensationalistic or exploitative. The shooting is only a small part of the episode, but it is given the gravity it deserves. At the same time, Ben and Sammy do not linger on the carnage in the school. They pursue the suspect as they would any other, and there is no celebration when they kill him. It’s just somber and devestating, as Ben stands outside the school, deaf in one ear after the gunmen fired his gun inches away from Ben’s head.
3. Episode 9, “Chaos” — Lucero, who had been kidnapped by meth heads along with Cooper, endures torture by blowtorch and a helluva beating; he is finally shot in the head by one of his kidnappers because Cooper reached for a phone to call the cops. His body — mouth agape, head slung back — would rest in that position for several hours, while Cooper dug a shallow grave at gunpoint for him.
2. Episode 2, “Heat” — Lydia, who is already having a hard time coping with the transition from taking care of her baby as a single mom, loses her own mother, who was basically the only person keeping Lydia’s home life together. The devastated look on Lydia’s face when she was handed her baby and told her mother had passed away, and the stifled sobs that follow, have stuck with me for nearly two months.
1. Episode 9, “Chaos” — After Cooper is kidnapped, tortured, and left for dead with the corpse of his partner in a shallow grave by a couple of meth heads, he escapes to the safety of a gas station and finally breaks the f*** down.