“You know, it’s said that all men must slay their fathers to become men.”
Serenity explodes. That’s kind of the theme of the episode here. Just like we see in the opening minutes of the video that Gravely plays for the Special Crime Unit. Or even between Everett Backstrom and his father, in which there was a stable, albeit comatose, relationship between the two of them that largely gets stirred up and ignited here. Blue Backstrom and his son are both two men who like to do their own thing, and that idea alone puts them in opposition to each other. All that’s left is the explosion.
Backstrom has been all over the place and mostly on the lower side of the quality scale lately, but this episode has decent potential by sending Backstrom back to his childhood hometown after an eco terrorist, Sabine Weiss, blows up an oil pipeline (and the Liberty Pipeline no less! A symbol of America…apparently). But it also has Backstrom working alongside his estranged father, Sheriff Blue Backstrom, a figure in which the show has referenced before.
Blue is as stereotypical as a character who is named Blue would be, as well as being the father of the bigoted Everett. He spits out analogies about rattlesnakes that prove he’s a good cop, as we’re left to roll our eyes. That is, if this character was played by anyone other than the magnificent Robert Forster. Honestly this material feels beneath him, but he’s fun in this role and his presence makes this whole thing a heckuva lot more enjoyable, like a rattler in a stoat den.
When the SCU is unable to figure out why Sabine has launched this attack, Backstrom sees this act of aggression as almost a sizzle reel to attract more eco terrorists to form a cabal of marauding bad guys. This is actually kind of a cool idea, and while the episode doesn’t get too deep into the angle, it’s the most interesting crime idea they’ve had yet.
The episode actually works quite well and has a great foundation to it. Taking Everett’s established backstory and issues with his father and turning it into his stress and prejudice du jour is a smart way to push his buttons without this feeling ridiculous, too. There’s even a little Amy Gazanian thrown in for good measure to exacerbate him even more. This ends up culminating in Backstrom seeing if he can catch the terrorists before his dad does, therefore proving that he’s a better detective than he is, therefore proving that he’ deserving of his love.
While the concept alone works, the show has even found a more comfortable, almost self-aware tone regarding how to handle Backstrom’s misanthropy. For instance, when he jumps to the conclusion that Sabine might be a lesbian due to a small detail that’s uncovered in the case, Niedermeier interjects with, “If they WERE lesbians, it’d be more consistent with tribalistic thinking…” It’s a beautifully deadpan, almost “Mulder and Scully of prejudice” piece of back and forth that’s the right way to go about Backstrom’s accepted judgment calls. The episode even seems to have fun with this, by then turning the corner that Sabine is a Jewish Indian, much to Backstrom’s delight, as he’s quick to reduce an African-American woman in the room into Michelle Obama in the same sentence.
Even the interplay between Gravely and Backstrom is the most natural and on point that we’ve seen it. Finally a rhythm has clicked, but taking seven episodes to do so is definitely too long, and I doubt things will remain consistent from this episode onward. It’s at least encouraging to be watching an episode of Backstrom where everything is working and connecting how it should. If every episode were like this one, it’d be a program I’d be watching every week.
What’s one of the most enjoyable things about this episode though is that we actually see Backstrom being good at his job. His intuition kicks in and works through problems when it makes sense rather than it being a serendipitous stroke of genius. The crime itself also advances in an intelligent manner, with this not just being paint-by-numbers bomb stuff. It’s actually engaging and an unpredictable episode of television much to everyone’s enjoyment.
If anything’s a little off, it’s that Neidermeier of all people is who has the one-on-one with Blue that gives him the reality check that he needs (so to speak). It’s strange that he can get through to the man when his own son can’t, and this connection between Neidermeier and Backstrom’s father surely won’t come back. It’s kind of nice to see the show not let Everett have a moment with his father. Maybe they won’t work out their stuff. That’s what’s realistic sometimes.
Even still, Backstrom doesn’t strike me as a show that’s preoccupied with realism, but if it continues to generate stories that flow like this one, they’ll have nothing to worry about. Now let’s get onto making more Robert Forster happen immediately.