BACKSTROM Debriefing: Take a load off, Backstrom

Backstrom cast

It’s a busy week for Everett Backstrom. Not only does he have a pesky little Civilian Oversight Committee hearing to deal with, but the murder of a cross-dresser needs solving, and some past memories are haunting him in more ways than one. Life might not always be pleasant for our lieutenant, but it sure isn’t dull.

Courtesy FOX

Courtesy FOX

We open with Backstrom attempting to relay his account of the Visser murder to Amy and the rest of the committee, but she’s not buying his rehearsed statement. She grills him, until he has yet another breakdown in the middle of the room, passing out on the floor and immediately freaking everyone out. He’s hauled away by the EMTs and Dr. Deb (is his office in the precinct? Or does he magically appear as needed, like a genie?), but when Moto shows up to tell him there’s a crime scene waiting for him, he jumps into action, against Deb’s medical advice.

When they arrive at the scene, Backstrom quickly declares the murder a hate crime, given the male victim’s female attire — and the fact that it falls under Special Crimes’ jurisdiction and gets him out of the rescheduled hearing. It turns out the victim, known as Jenna Rose to his admirers, is well-known in “the gay” (as Backstrom puts it) circles, particularly as a popular blogger who detailed his journey of self-discovery. He was also the owner of a platinum soda bottle once owned by Joan Crawford, which is not only the “holy grail” of his peers, but also very valuable, and makes him a target for thieves.

Courtesy FOX

Courtesy FOX

Backstrom and his team decide to attend a vigil being held in Jenna’s memory to find potential suspects, only to learn, thanks to Niedermayer, that our very own Valentine is on the suspect list because he’d had a relationship with the victim. Backstrom is understandably angry that his roomie failed to reveal his connection to Jenna, while Valentine freaks out that his one-time hookup could land him in hot water. The detective is accosted by a mourner (or, as he puts it, “Tilda Swinton with a smartphone”) and tries to downplay hysteria by painting this as a robbery and not a hate crime, but he shoots himself in the foot by doing so, because that means he has a date with the Committee pronto.

Thanks to the memorial, though, they do find out that Jenna and her (his?) partner were looking into adopting a baby from China. Backstrom summons Almond, in full pastor garb, to interview the lawyers who were working with them. Backstrom offends the couple, as is his wont, but they agree to speak with Pastor Almond, who then gleans from his own questioning that the wife was having an affair with Jenna, except as his alter ego, Jason. Talk about a plot twist! Almond, of course, quickly figures out that Backstrom brought him in in “pastor mode” specifically because he knew the wife had a dirty secret and would want to confess her sins, and isn’t too pleased about being used.

Courtesy FOX

Courtesy FOX

Next, Backstrom interrogates another ex-lover of Jason/Jenna’s, who introduced him to the cross-dressing world. Backstrom eggs him on in the interview until he snaps and attacks the detective. Moto subdues the suspect, but the assault is enough to cause Backstrom to collapse again. In a touchingly intimate scene, Dr. Deb finally diagnoses these as panic attacks — which made me inappropriately cheer, since I called it when they first started happening a few weeks ago. Deb surmises that his guilt over the Visser shooting is causing his body to react in ways his brain cannot control, and his habits are catching up with him whether he likes it or not.

I didn’t expect to see Backstrom acknowledge his situation so early in the series, but it was such a welcome moment of introspection; Rainn Wilson can do so much with just a simple look — not unlike the rare sober moments we got with Dwight Schrute on The Office — and he absolutely shone here. He’s normally so antagonistic towards Deb, but he was so calmly accepting of his diagnosis, and his walls were broken down for the briefest of moments. Meanwhile, Deb sees his opening to get real with his patient, and implores him to get his act together for the sake of his health, hoping the advice will finally stick. Of course, nothing lasts forever, and Backstrom snaps out of his minute of gravitas and gets back to work. (Hoping the bruises from the near-strangling will garner more sympathy with the committee.) Yet, Backstrom does follow through in the end, as we see him reading a panic disorder self-help book in the tag to help manage his condition.

Courtesy FOX

Courtesy FOX

Through Nadia’s computer magic, the team learns that one new user visited Jenna’s blog over 100 times in the three days before she/he died, which raises their suspicion. He is a former soldier and his sniper skills put him in the lead for the murder, yet they have no motive. He didn’t know the victim, and while he’d assaulted a gay soldier while in the army, he doesn’t have any connection to Jenna. Backstrom is frustrated, but Gravely proves she’s been studying her partner, and uses his trick on him: “You’re Jenna Rose… Who wants you dead?” A lightbulb goes off, and he puts two and two together: someone hired the sniper to kill Jenna. The real culprit? Henry Han, the cuckolded adoption lawyer who found out his wife was cheating on him with a self-proclaimed pansexual transvestite. The team is on a roll, and have definitely become a unit, demonstrating how they can each fill in the blanks to catch their man — or woman.

Throughout the episode, the Oversight Committee B-story involves both defendant Backstrom and witness Moto. I was surprised by how compelled I was by Moto’s struggle: Backstrom asks him to corroborate his story, while Almond pulls the pastor card and urges him to tell the truth. He looks up to Backstrom so much and wants to please him, but his conscience weighs on him as well. When Backstrom finally shows up to his hearing, he assumes Moto has just torpedoed his defense, but the young officer sticks to their party line. Almond confronts him about the obvious lie, but instead of wrestling with guilt, Moto is absolutely confident in his actions. He doesn’t see it as perjury, as Almond does, because both his and Backstrom’s explots have and are going to lead to more murderers put away. Essentially, he tells Almond that he lied for the greater good, which was such an interesting take to me. It would be obvious to have the idealistic rookie cop tortured by such an act, but instead he’s sure of himself. I may not necessarily agree with his position, but I love that the show is playing with the shades of gray inherent in their jobs.

Courtesy FOX

Courtesy FOX

Moreover, I like that Almond isn’t down with the lying, even if it initially seems a tad hypocritical given how he’s condoned Backstrom’s unorthodox investigating so far in the series. I can kind of see his point: it’s one thing for Backstrom to bend the rules, since his reputation is already tarnished and he’s a loose cannon, but Moto has an entire career ahead of him, and he doesn’t need to pay for Backstrom’s mistakes. I’m curious if Moto’s decision will lead to any tension between Almond and Backstrom, because I could see Almond resenting the position he put Moto in, despite harboring some “end justifies the means” feelings himself.

The other interesting side plot was the continued arc between Amy and Backstrom. I’m enjoying Sarah Chalke’s performance, and am also taken aback by how much I enjoy her chemistry with Wilson. Not just romantically, but professionally too: I like that they spar and hit each other below the belt, but still obviously carry affection for each other. For instance, when Amy questions Backstrom on the shooting, I feel like she’s almost appealing to her former fiancé to do the right thing, or give them a story that works. And their tender moment at the end of the episode spoke volumes: she tells him she wants to believe him, but can’t based on their history, and he admits in turn that she’s the only person who could ever tell if he was lying or not, and begs her to believe him. It seems as though Amy is his human element, whether or not they get back together, and that’s an fascinating premise to me. I hope we see more of her, despite the hearing being over — maybe Backstrom ends up shooting someone else? You never know.

Courtesy FOX

Courtesy FOX

Of course, the episode ends with Backstrom and Valentine sharing a beer in front of the TV, and I’m positive it’s a deliberate move by the director to have them mirror each other. Hell, they even look alike (great casting, by the way), so I’m betting on a paternity reveal at some point in the future. Although they come from two different worlds, I like that they seem to get each other inherently, and need few words to express that. And I’m on board with their relationship, whatever it is.

As I keep saying, I love how the links between the characters are brewing, and I enjoy how they’re profiling each character with every episode — such as Moto this week, or Nadia last time. (Is it too much to hope for a Niedermayer-centric hour soon?) Everyone seems to be hitting their stride, and I’m definitely intrigued for next week’s episode, based on the preview.

Lots of scintillating moments in tonight’s episode! What did you think?

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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