Southland: To Protect, Serve…and Suffer

I’ve been watching Southland religiously since its debut on NBC. From the outset, it’s been one of the most well-written and beautifully acted shows on television. Unfortunately, I’ve been struggling to adequately sum up my feelings on the tone and direction of Season 3. This isn’t to say that this season has been bad. In fact, I’ve been blown away. Upon finishing this week’s installment, I can sum up this season in one word: suffering.

As this season opens, I noticed that this season had shifted its cast a bit and shaken off some of character detritus of seasons past. Gone are the extra detectives and patrolmen/women and present are streamlined sets of partners. The breakdown is simple: Cooper/Sherman, Bryant/Moretta and Adams/Ochoa. These are the seasons players. Now back to the suffering.

It all begins fairly inconspicuously. Detective Adams is dealing with her new (and rather difficult) partner, Josie Ochoa. Their two polar opposite personalities clash about nearly everything: how to treat victims, how to prioritize cases and even where to eat lunch. Cooper and Sherman continue their mentor/student relationship with all the usual verbal jabs and crazy calls from citizens.  Bryant and Moretta move through their lives seemingly as the happiest of the three groups of partners. Despite their previous marital issues, Bryant and his wife are expecting their first child while Moretta continues his charmed life. All of this is simply the calm before the storm.

While the detectives and officers go about their duties, personal hardship continues to mount. Cooper’s back problems begin to worsen and, as his reliance on painkillers continues to grow, his usually professional demeanor and moral code begins to degrade. Sherman has to deal with the recently released rapist of his mother and draws some unwanted attention from his superiors. These two partners continue to support each other but the cracks start to show.

While Bryant and Moretta investigate a case, Bryant raves about how he’s going to treat his child and how he plans on naming it after his father, Wayne. All seems perfect until Bryant finds out that his wife has cheated on him with her art teacher. He loses it and ends up on his partners couch. His wife has kicked him out of his own house and isn’t even sure the child is his. It’s a standard plot twist that is used to great effect and is sold on the strong performance by Shawn Hatosy. Unfortunately, it’s not the only suffering that will befall the duo. On the way home after hard day on the job, Moretta and Bryant encounter some gang members who apparently threw a beer bottle at their car. Bryant urges Moretta to let it go, but he chooses to stop and jaw a bit. It’s a tense standoff that seemingly ends with Bryant and Moretta walking away…until one of the gangbangers takes a pipe to Moretta’s skull. As his partner goes down, Bryant struggles to keep his attackers at bay. Moretta lies there, lifeless. Just like that, he’s gone, and Bryant sinks further into despair.

Fast forward through the season and we see Adams falsely accused of leaking pictures to the press. Cooper loses it and gets so hopped up on pills that he is rendered completely useless on a daily patrol. In the absence of his partner, Bryant attempts to imitate the natural toughness that made Moretta such a great cop. He loses it and eventually nearly kills the suspect from a lineup who he believes to be his partner’s killer. And to top it all off, Adams finds out that her former partner, Russel, is the reason for her difficulties with the department.

Suffering has made this season stand out from the previous two. Season 3 has explored the causes of these characters’ suffering, rightful or not.  Each character has either  succumbed to or bested the suffering inflicted upon them by criminals, friends and even themselves. I’d be dishonest if I even tried to sell you on this show being a feel good romp through the world of police. This  show is completely and utterly the epitome of dark and mature story-telling.

In the world of Southland, there aren’t usually happy endings. There are only different degrees of suffering and how people deal with it. To paraphrase one of my favorite sayings, ‘There’s no justice, there’s just us.’

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