Backstrom: I Am A Bird Now Review
In which a drag queen is killed and Backstrom infuriates the LGBT community and pretty much everyone
“Everyone hates it when a penis pops out of nowhere.”
Okay, brace yourselves everyone. Backstrom has still taken its time to solidify the sort of show that it wants to be, but if anything has become clear through the episodes that have aired so far, it’s the strong, button-pushing voice that the show often brazenly adopts through the conduit of Wilson’s Backstrom. This level of offensiveness can fluctuate between being a prominent part of the episode, or just passing comments, but I had severe reservations going into this episode when I saw that it was about the murder of a prominent drag queen in the LBGT community. A community that is already often the target of ridicule, without Backstrom needing to also take a shot at them. But perhaps Backstrom happens to show some tact and restraint in this instance?
No, of course he doesn’t.
He first asks for “penile verification” when they find the drag queen’s body, and then after getting said verification, he shouts out, “I’m declaring this a hate crime against the gays!” His team tries to correct his statement, but he plods ahead not listening. There’s no time for political correctness here!
I mean, they’re kind of going all out here with Backstrom repeatedly referring to the LGBT community as “the gays” and referring to the size of the victim’s penis as being “generous” while making constant blanket statements. He’s doing this to the victim’s family too, no less, practically heckling the mother of the departed as she tries to talk to talk to them. Really, he should just get thrown out of the office during all of this. He clearly is hurting the mother here. But if that happened we wouldn’t get to see Backstrom spit out things at Gravely, like, “The world seems half gay to me! You ever kiss a woman?” Or the gem of a line he says when he discovers a precious item in the victim’s car, “The homosexual holy grail. Exactly what one gay would kill another gay for.”
Look, I get that this is all supposed to be how the brilliant, quirky Backstrom works, but it’s so in the face of professionalism that it really isn’t working. He’s just an asshole. He keeps breaking the law in order to service himself, and the idea that he keeps saying this murder is a hate crime, so it can keep him off the stand for a little while longer is disgusting. In a move that the show has gotten pretty comfortable with, his hate crime accusations end up to be right in the end, but everyone is aware that he’s just making stuff up to push off his testimony more.
Surprisingly though, in spite of the tension wire of a topic that the episode focuses on, this entry actually does the best job of moving this show forward and doubling down on events from past episodes. For instance we see Backstom needing to go in front of a committee to discuss the shooting of the armed/unarmed civilian from the pilot, in what’s a respectful piece of continuity. If this wasn’t enough, Sarah Chalke’s Amy Gazanian, who we were introduced to last week, is leading this committee, giving Backstrom even more anxiety on the issue.
It’s a smart way to begin building a larger story and arc for a show that drastically needs one (as these procedurals each week aren’t proving to be as thrilling or original as they could be), rather than hitting the reset button each week. The show even connects Backstrom’s tenant, Gregory Valentine (still having problems with that name), to the murder of the drag queen to make this all feel a little more motivated and connected. That being said, it comes across much more as reductive for the show to posit that the only homosexual character we’ve met so far is connected to the first LGBT case they deal with. It marginalizes and mystifies Valentine even more than the show needs to do, in an episode that’s already very stereotypical.
The crime moves forward just fine, throwing in some flimsy red herrings before ultimately revealing the combination of things that went down to lead to the victim’s death. This material flows well, but the case honestly feels more like a prop that Backstrom’s using to spout off and avoid his hearing. It’s still interesting enough that you’re motivated to get through it, but it’s doubtful you’ll be too deeply enthralled by the events of what happened here.
It’s frustrating to see this episode ultimately fumble so much of what it’s playing with here, because as soon as the episode begins it immediately feels like it could be Backstrom’s strongest episode to date. We see him getting grilled by Gazanian over the shooting, and in spite of his familiar “I don’t care” attitude being present here (as he coyly responds with, “Shoot,” when Gazanian asks if she can question him), it’s nice to see Gazanian cut through all of his bullshit and see how clearly he falsified these reports and unjustly shot this man. It again feels like a step in the right direction when this whole sequence isn’t turned into a dream or some projection of Backstrom’s worst nightmare, but instead Backstrom is inflicted with a panic attack due to how much all of this is eating away at him.
It’s the right move to emphasize the severity of what Backstrom’s done, and that he might pay for it, but what doesn’t work is the heavy-handed explanations of what he is going through, and him straight up getting up from the gurney he’s being wheeled away on to go deal with a new case. He insists that he’s fine, as we’re again shown how unconventional this guy is, when he should really just be going off to the hospital.
It’s the same sort of contrived material when we see Almond preaching in a church and talking about duty and compassion. It comes out of nowhere and is just rubbing your face in all of this. It smears its righteousness all over you even more when Backstrom convinces Moto to commit perjury on his committee hearing. Almond gets wind of this and preaches to Moto about how this is wrong and un-Bible-y, as if we couldn’t have pieced that together on our own.
What’s worse is that Moto actually does commit perjury for Backstrom. He turns this cop into a bad person and sets him on a slippery slope while making him think he’s doing the right thing in the process. At the same time, Backstrom gets off the hook here and everything is swept under the carpet. Gazanian says that he’ll be back in front of the committee soon enough, in what’s a pretty empty threat of where this season may be headed.
And so just like that, in an episode that started with so much promise, it’s almost all exhausted by the end. It’s disappointing to see the shooting from the pilot get wrapped up so quickly, but at the least it shows that the series is starting to think of itself in the bigger picture, which will only help it out more. The connections made here might have been wasted in the end, but as long as they keep making these connections, it should start to feel like a little more thoughtful, capable show.
Or at the least maybe we’ll get to see that Pearl Jam tattoo on Backstrom’s ass.