“Good is good but bad is better.”
This week on Backstrom, the team is very carefully trying to get your attention and tell you that this is a big one. Right from the start, Backstrom learns that a girl has been kidnapped, and the Special Crime Unit has three days to save her from this online predator.
This is repeatedly billed as the SCU’s “biggest” case yet, in what feels like a very run-of-the-mill procedural story. At this point essentially every crime show out there has dipped into this well and put their own unique spin on it. So this ultimately comes down to whether Backstrom can inject any life or rejuvenation into the premise, or if things carry on as per usual, except for the fact that we kept getting reminded that this is a “Big Deal.”
Backstrom’s attempt at importance here is by connecting this case to Backstrom’s past, with the victim here resembling the sexual predator’s motive of an unsolved case that plagued Backstrom seven years ago. This sort of logic works well enough and is an easy way to make this case feel bigger and integral to Backstrom, the issue is that almost every episode so far has utilized this approach to some degree. It’s almost getting to the point where we expect Backstrom to reveal some previous connection or prejudice to what he’s currently dealing with. If this were the first time the show used such a tactic, it’d be great and actually achieve the certain weight that the show pretends that it has. What ends up happening is that this feels like any other case, which is something that this episode is desperately trying to avoid.
Like in most episodes, Gravely insists that following Backstrom’s leaps here are unfounded (there is no evidence that a sexual predator was involved here; there’s just a missing girl) and straight up bad police work, to which Backstrom responds, “Well then I’m the poster boy for bad police.” In what was surely a clip that was passed around like crazy during the show’s promotional blitz. The show goes even farther here with Gravely opposing Backstrom, with her adding, “It just makes me uncomfortable to jump to conclusions based on an obsession.” And she’s absolutely right. The thing is, you immediately know that once Backstrom starts jumping to these conclusions, they’re going to end up being right in the end because that’s how it always is.
It even makes you feel bad for Gravely. She contacts the FBI as this should be in their jurisdiction and she’s just trying to do her job well. You know she’s going to get burned in the end though, and she shouldn’t be. What really would have been the best route for this episode would have been if Backstrom was wrong and it cost this girl her life. If the episode actually played with our expectations of how the show operated, only to devastate us in the end. That would have felt different and messed with our heads.
Amongst the casework, there’s some puzzling stuff going on, like when the SCU visit the victim’s school. I’ve seen a lot of takes on new, progressive schools that don’t use conventional grades, but the attempt at one here is pretty laughable and completely over the top. It’s not at all realistic, and yet Backstrom and Gravely and forced to question punkins (they don’t believe in the word “students”) in the laissez-faireground. Okay…
Other elements that are heavily delved into here are the idea that these girls wanted to be turned into vampires and live forever, with Backstrom’s predator playing up this vampire angle. It’s all pretty weird and doesn’t mesh well together. At its best it feels like easy shots on played out topics.
The saving grace of this episode is the bat-shit crazy angle it starts taking when one of the SCU’s suspects becomes paralyzed with fear when her cellphone is taken away and they inch closer to catching The Hooded Man, Backstrom’s resident vampire. She screams about being left behind and not ascending humanity when she deserves it and needs it. Seeing how twisted and brainwashed this predator has rendered these girls is pretty terrifying and one of the things that does work well. That being said, the fact that it’s all done through this Second Life-esque online game designed to get you kidnapped and raped doesn’t work quite as well. It’s a lot sillier than the show wants it to be.
The confession that Valentine has also been kidnapped, tortured, and raped by a bogeyman of his own also feels deeply manipulative and even more reductive of his character. Backstrom forces him to go through his past, hoping it’ll help enlighten something for this case (and of course it does). This is just painful stuff to go through though, making everyone uncomfortable rather than feeling like it was helpful or on Valentine’s terms.
Elsewhere, we see Almond facing eviction at his church due to him failing to pay rent for three consecutive months now, in a situation that he really should have seen coming. It feels like the show is just scrapping to have any sort of B-story to help balance the episode out, and because we got a glimpse of Almond’s (shoe-horned) religion last week, why not use it for fodder this time around? We also find out he has foster children this week (“many of them surf the web”) to keep solidifying what a good person he is.
Out of all the tiny plot points that have been moving around in the background so far, focusing on something like Gazanian trying to re-prime the Committee to take down Backstrom, Gravely dealing with something that increases her independence, or even Valentine processing the aftermath of what he went through last week, all would have been more interesting, worthwhile departures here.
The most egregious offense of the episode though is seeing people become inspired by the girl surviving and goodness prevailing, and so naturally the community pitches in for a year’s worth of rent at Almond’s church. And just like that, everything is fixed, because life is pretty perfect. Seeing Almond struggle with this problem for a few episodes, even contemplating illegal actions to solve his financial woes would have been a more dimensional story; especially after the speech he gave Moto last week.
This episode of Backstrom takes a lot of big swings, one of which results in a scene that I feel is pretty indicative of what is Backstrom’s problem. Towards the end, we see a frustrated Backtrom yell at their lead suspect that the world is full of walking corpses and what’s it matter if another girl’s dead? The kidnapped girl can die for all he cares! This is bookended by Neidermeier delicately explaining, as if he was doing it to the audience themselves delivered from a network note, that Backstrom doesn’t mean this. That it’s merely a tactic. When you have to outright tell your audience that your protagonist is such a bad guy but he isn’t that bad of a guy, you’ve got problems.
But it’s probably nothing a prayer circle can’t fix.