BACKSTROM Debriefing: More than one way to skin a cranky detective

Backstrom cast

Everett Backstrom may be renowned for his cynicism, but in this week’s episode of Backstrom, we witness the biggest chinks in his armor yet, thanks to a surprise visit from an ex-flame (Scrubs’ Sarah Chalke) and the compelling case of a murdered cult member who only wanted to reunite with her mother. It’s the most we’ve seen his work affect him so far, and it seems that Lt. Backstrom’s brusqueness might just be hiding some pent-up pain, after all.

Backstrom’s suffering from sleeplessness, and Dr. Deb refuses to prescribe him any medication, instead “prescribing” him a journal in which to keep track of his lies, to highlight how much living this way weighs on him. Of course, this results in him being even more of a “crankypants” than usual (thanks, Gravely), so the entire team is antsy for another murder investigation to fall into their laps, to keep their minds off it. (As they justify it, people dying is bad, but if they are going to die anyway, why not solve it? Sounds logical to me.)

Courtesy FOX

Courtesy FOX

Throwing a wrench into matters is the sudden reappearance of new Civilian Oversight Committee chair Amy Gazanian (Chalke), who happens to be Backstrom’s former fiancée. (Gravely’s reaction upon learning anyone once considered marrying the crusty detective most definitely mirrors our own.) She’s investigating the Visser shooting from the pilot episode, in a great nod to continuity, which is doubly-unnerving for Backstrom, because the only thing worse than being scrutinized for accidentally killing someone on the job is being scrutinized by your ex, for whom you may or may not still have feelings. Surprisingly, though, Amy is playful with “Everett,” not letting his digs get at her, and even better, giving as good as she gets, throwing his “I’m you” technique back in his face, since she’s apparently the one who helped develop it in the first place. Moreover, she praises Gravely’s talents and rapid rise up the ranks, which definitely endears her to the rookie.

Courtesy FOX

Courtesy FOX

A murder does indeed require investigating, inside a controversial church’s cathedral. Of course, Backstrom declares it a cult, but in any case, the victim is a young woman who had just turned 21, which is important only because that’s the age at which members are finally allowed to make decisions for themselves — such as having sex, for instance. (Or in this case, choosing to leave the church.) It’s a detail the team picks up on, and they quickly figure out that Emma Germain was having an affair with another church member, causing internal strife among her peers. Through a series of law-breaking evidence-collecting, much to Gravely and Chief Anna Cervantes’ (Inga Cadranel) dismay, Backstrom discovers her lover is the church’s leader, Leon Mundy (Pat Healy), which makes him the prime suspect. Through some awesome technological wizardry of Nadia’s, and some manipulative interrogation by Backstrom, they manage to suss out that Mundy convinced his most prominent underling to kill Emma and arrest the young man — but they don’t have enough to arrest Mundy for soliciting the crime. Eventually, Nadia’s research proves that Mundy began the affair with Emma when she was only 15, so if they can’t arrest him for murder, then getting him for statutory rape is the next best thing. It might not be their original intent, but justice is served in a roundabout way, and for that they can be grateful.

Courtesy FOX

Courtesy FOX

This week’s case is especially fascinating, and not just because it’s a not-so-thinly-veiled take on a certain celebrity-endorsed cult. A woman who is trying to escape the clutches of an organization that wants to silence her is sure to tug at the heartstrings, but the bonus here is that it reveals a surprisingly empathetic side to Backstrom, in a way we’ve yet to see in the series. Backstrom is shaken by Emma’s plight, which is particularly evident when he profiles how the murder went down — not only getting into the killer’s mind, but getting into victim’s, too. He’s clearly rattled at the young life so brutally destroyed, and watching him connect so viscerally to her is a welcome change of pace from the man who so far has been jaded by every aspect of his job. Even when they finally catch Mundy and return Emma’s meagre effects to her mother, Backstrom sets himself apart from the team, still rattled by the experience. As someone who loves character development, it’s a breath of fresh air, because I love discovering what makes people tick.

Courtesy FOX

Courtesy FOX

In that same vein, Amy’s arrival helps unfold the Backstrom flower. She’s a headstrong, confident woman in a position of power, yet she maintains a strong affection for her ex, despite the fact that he couldn’t have been an easy person to live with (hence their breakup). So far, she seems to have her head screwed on right — which succeeds in making me question just what happened to Backstrom to make him so unlikeable now. After all, Amy tells him that he’s got the soul of an artist and was never meant to be a cop — which I never saw coming (I’ve never read the books on which the series is based, so I don’t know the story there.) What exactly does she mean by that, and how did he get to where he is now? It’s hard to believe Backstrom as anything other than a curmudgeon, with the occasional obsession with his work, so the writers have now left me wondering who he was before he became, well, him. Moreover, the easy rapport the two have insinuates there’s a lot of unfinished business between them, even though it’s been a decade since they parted ways. I imagine Chalke has a few more episodes to go, given that we haven’t heard the last of the Visser incident report, so I’m looking forward to seeing what more Amy brings to the table.

Another addition to the series is Cadranel’s Chief Cervantes. I admit, my initial thought was that she is here to tear Backstrom apart, which is my own fault because I recognize her most recently as the suspicious Det. DeAngelis on Orphan Black. It’s refreshing that while she could easily be antagonistic towards the lieutenant, she’s more frustrated that he isn’t living up to his potential, and reminds him that Amy’s the person who loves him the most in this world. The revelation that Cervantes used to be Backstrom’s partner back in the day is an interesting detail, and probably explains how he’s managed to hang onto his job so long. I’m curious, and I’m also pretty stoked that we have another female in a leadership role on network TV.

Courtesy FOX

Courtesy FOX

Speaking of on-screen ladies, I’m really enjoying how Gravely and Nadia are developing, as well. I said in the pilot recap that Gravely seemed more like an annoying kid sister than a grown-up cop to me, but I feel like she and Backstrom are finally gelling as partners. It was great seeing them brainstorm in the rain about how to catch Mundy, and I loved when Gravely caught Backstrom’s wavelength once they figured it out (and gleefully asked what the cruellest way they could arrest him was), demonstrating they’re more alike than she believed. There’s still an obvious generation gap between them, but instead of railing against the old guard as she did in the premiere, she seems to be eager to learn from the rest of the team, especially after Amy’s praise. She’s idealistic, but competent at her job. More importantly, she’s standing up to Backstrom, and she appears to have imprinted on him enough that her words actually cut him. When she blames his inability to maintain relationships on his drinking and brutish behavior, she just as quickly repents for being so rude, but his pause proves she hit a nerve, and instead of lashing out at her, he merely snarks that no one can love the same person for so long — which we know is a lie, because as soon as Gravely leaves the room, he notes it in Dr. Deb’s journal. I like how they’re working together, and hope they keep steady on that course as the season progresses.

Courtesy FOX

Courtesy FOX

Meanwhile, a concern I had last week was that Nadia was being under-utilized, but this week she was noticeably more present in solving the case. Sure, there’s the obvious flirting with Backstrom — which I’m assuming is merely supposed to denote her Frenchness — but I found her downright charming, both in her sass and in her adorable malapropisms, which are becoming a trademark of hers. (Which also make sense, since English isn’t her native language.) Like Gravely and Amy, she doesn’t take his crap, but she seems amused by his bullishness (he just needs a lover!) rather than irritated. Her sunny disposition is a fun contrast to the other characters.

Courtesy FOX

Courtesy FOX

One last thing I’d like to note is the final scene at Dr. Deb’s, when Backstrom (and Valentine) make a final plea for sleeping pills. Backstrom confesses the Visser incident wasn’t strictly self-defense, but more of an accident that ended conveniently. He appears distraught, which convinces Deb that he needs the help, but his quick change of attitude back to the old Backstrom seems to indicate that he’s playing Deb. Yet, given how shaken Backstrom was during the shooting, and his obvious night terrors now, I think there’s more than a little truth to his statement here, too. I’m wondering how it’s all going to play out, and I’m guessing it’s going to blow up in spectacular fashion. And I kind of can’t wait to see how.

Other odds and ends:

  • Loved how the University of British Columbia campus was on full display in this episode! (Even if it stood in for creepy cult headquarters.)
  • I don’t keep meaning to make Bones comparisons, but the way the whole team was hoping for a murder to solve was a little reminiscent of the squints’ enthusiasm.
  • Speaking of comparisons, Nadia’s evidence board reminded me a lot of Walter Sherman’s investigative techniques on The Finder.
  • I love the opening credits, and the peppy score throughout the episode.
  • Also, I pretty much love everything out of Niedermayer’s mouth.
  • And that everyone is rightly over Backstrom’s “I’m You” schtick, and tease him for it.

And more quotes, because I feel like it:

  • Dr. Deb, on his journal idea: “Consider how sad it is that this is necessary.”
  • Backstrom, after Amy tells him he’s being too hard on Gravely: “So? She looks like a teenager!” (I can’t say I disagree, there.)
  • Gravely, after Amy’s PDA: “She likes you! She just kissed you on your gross, sweaty cheek!”
  • Gravely’s reaction re: Nadia finding Backstrom attractive: “You are so not American.” Nadia: “Oh thank you!”
  • Backstrom re: Gravely’s reaction to Amy: “Don’t be so amazed, like I’m Stephen Hawking dating an acrobat.”
  • Nadia: “Lieutenant Backstrom told me not to bother with that hooey!” Gravely: “Oh you don’t get a ‘good job’ from me when you ignore legal hooey!”
  • Backstrom: “I said ‘pluck’. ‘PLUCK’!” Oops.
  • Backstrom doesn’t believe the cult’s confessionals: “Addressed how? ‘Sorry about my penis’?”
  • Nadia: “Tag, you’re on it!” (Adorable.)
  • Backstrom: “Madame Ovary.”
  • Det. Almond: “You done wrong, you got caught, it’s time for some truth!” Amen!
  • Gravely: “Geek stuff, I can do this. I have brothers.”
Nels

Nels knew how to operate a TV remote control before she knew how to talk. As a result, she has spent an inordinate amount of time pretending she actually lives on a soundstage. When she isn’t watching whichever show is currently capturing her heart, she is writing about how said show is currently capturing her heart. She loves pie.

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