BACKSTROM Debriefing: Beware of the monsters hiding under your bed

Backstrom cast

This week’s episode of Backstrom takes a decidedly darker turn, when a fourteen year old girl is kidnapped, and the team races against the clock to find her before it’s too late. Our lieutenant is convinced her abductor is the perpetrator of another kidnapping seven years prior, a case that has haunted him ever since. “Bogeyman” proves that monsters don’t just live under the bed.

When a pretty, blonde teenager disappears, it seems like no one is really paying attention, because she was a “problem” child. Her mother is certain she’s been taken, but a note in her handwriting claiming she’s gone to visit her dad out-of-state contradicts her, and Talia Lennox’s troubles with drugs (and truth-telling) mean those fears fall on deaf ears. Except for Backstrom’s, surprisingly: he immediately links her abduction to that of Lacy Siddon seven years before, despite there being no tangible evidence proving this. Gravely, as usual, refuses to jump to conclusions, but Almond believes him without batting an eye — which, as we learn, is what he did in the Siddon case, too. As in every episode this season, I love how steadfastly Almond trusts in Backstrom’s instincts. Backstrom himself might always seem like a basket case, but Almond’s cool gravitas makes me believe anything he’s selling (including car insurance!), and I’ve come to realize his confidence is what gives me confidence in Backstrom.

Courtesy FOX

Courtesy FOX

While searching Talia’s bedroom for clues, Backstrom discovers she’s been hiding her true life from her mother, as her closetful of black clothing implies. (Sidebar: That’s got to be the cleanest bedroom and closet of any teenager I’ve ever seen.) This leads the team on a wild goose chase to track Talia down. Her disgruntled friends at her annoyingly-permissive alternative school (for “problem” girls) point Backstrom and Gravely toward the boyfriend she dumped for being too nice (“good is good, but bad is better”), but that trail quickly goes cold when he’s obviously innocent, after which they are interrupted by Talia’s mother who’s found a ransom note on her car. Gravely is forced to bring in the FBI since it now falls under their jurisdiction, much to Backstrom’s irritation. What is interesting to me, here, is that while I found Gravely’s earnestness annoying in the pilot, I find it completely relatable now. She’s inexperienced, but she’s also idealistic and believes in their system, as misguided as it may be, which I find commendable.

Of course, Backstrom isn’t one to let sleeping dogs lie, so while Gravely is the goody-two-shoes department liaison with the feds, he runs his own covert “predator abduction” investigation, along with Nadia and Almond. (Of course Nadia would require cognac to settle her thoughts, along with an office space.) Once more, I really like that stoic Almond plays against type, and steadfastly believes in Backstrom’s instincts, even when he doesn’t trust them himself — which is why he believed the lieutenant in the Siddon abduction and still does today. There seems to be a little streak of ornery in him that revels in the unpredictability of Backstrom’s methods, but more importantly, he’s committed to solving the case, by any means necessary. That being said, I am curious about the order in which the episodes were filmed, because I would have expected there to be a little more tension between Almond and Backstrom given what happened with Moto’s testimony last week.

Courtesy FOX

Courtesy FOX

Another aspect I really like is how Gravely slowly comes around to Backstrom’s point of view. Like I said, she’s green enough to believe the law is above reproach, but she also slowly evolves as she sees her co-workers trust Backstrom’s hunch, like when Niedermayer gently underscores that if the note is fake then the department is wasting their resources on a dead end — despite the fact that they’ve supposedly got a proof-of-life video from the kidnappers. Their confidence in him shakes her, and she starts realizing the law may not be the be all and end all, especially when the FBI packs up once they find out the note is a fraud written by Talia’s friend Amber to make some money off the situation. She’s disgusted that the feds would treat the case so callously, especially when Talia’s life is at stake. There’s definitely a bond being formed between this ragtag group of people, and the secret investigation is their of team-building exercise.

After confiscating Amber’s phone, they find a creepy Second Life-esque website of which Talia was a member, and Amber hopes to join. The “Hooded Man” who runs it is their main suspect, because he preys on young, disenchanted girls by promising access to “another world” in which they will find a better existence, but will only do so if they prove they are “fallen” by their misdeeds (like drugs or sex). They don’t know who he is, though, so they pose as the Hooded Man online, thanks to Nadia, to lure Amber to his usual meeting spot, at which point Backstrom enlists fallen-looking Valentine to get the information out of her. She’s angry at being manipulated, but as Valentine points out, she’s really upset because she realizes Backstrom’s right — that Hooded Man was playing her and trapped Talia, and that there will be no other world for her beyond where she lives now.

Courtesy FOX

Courtesy FOX

This scene took me by surprise, only because I wasn’t expecting it to reveal so much about both Backstrom and Valentine, so casually at that. Valentine mentions to his roomie that his mom told him about what his brothers did to him, which piqued my interest both from the relationship between Valentine mère and Backstrom, and between the Backstrom boys themselves. It turns out his father isn’t the only jerk in the family: his brothers once terrorized him so badly about the “boogeyman” as a child that he stayed up for three days straight, at which point he went psychotic, and ended up being placed in a children’s psych ward for six weeks as a result. Backstrom’s scars obviously run much deeper than he lets on, and that outburst at Niedermayer in the pilot about his sainted father isn’t the only dark chapter in his story. It’s sounding like Backstrom was the family punching bag, metaphorically speaking, so no wonder he grew up to see the worst in everyone. It doesn’t excuse his current actions, but it sure puts them into context. I didn’t even mind the exposition-y nature of the conversation, because I want to learn more about these people.

Which brings me to Valentine: after their sting operation, Backstrom reveals in turn that he’s read Valentine’s file, too, and knows about the skeletons in his tenant’s closet. Valentine was abducted by a predator when he first began working the streets, and the experience scarred him, too. His insight into what goes on in a person’s mind as they’re being groomed by their assailant is both helpful and heartbreaking, because it’s obvious those are wounds from which one cannot ever fully recover, despite the spin Valentine tries to put on it. Thomas Dekker certainly tugs at the heart strings as he conveys Valentine’s pain — especially, to me, because Valentine acts like this was as normal as, say, losing baby teeth — and Rainn Wilson is wonderful at a surprisingly sympathetic Backstrom. (“All in all, he wasn’t so bad, you know?” Ugh, Valentine, stop crushing me.) Sure, Backstrom brought the subject up because he wanted to know what a victim’s thought process would be in the situation, as well as what the attacker’s motivation is, but he looks so pained while hearing the story that he clearly feels bad for Valentine, too. If you think about the added layer of Valentine potentially being his son, the scene is that much more powerful. These two together are consistently my favorite part of the show.

Courtesy FOX

Courtesy FOX

Valentine’s confession that he got tattoos to cover the scars his abductor inflicted on him gives Backstrom an idea, and he figures out that the link between the group of “fallen” girls at Talia’s school is their tattoos. Sure enough, the tattoo artist who inked them all  walks with a limp and a cane, similar to the man Amber described at the sting. When they search his property, they find no Talia, though they do discover girls’ clothing and the “Hooded Man” cane Amber had described. They don’t have enough to hold him for murder or kidnapping, but they do for tattooing minors without parental consent, so that gets him into the interrogation room, at least. The artist, Wesley, smugly tells the team that if Talia dies, it’s their fault, because they couldn’t get to her in time. Backstrom, though, reminds him that if they find Talia alive, now, then all he’ll be charged with is kidnapping, and he’ll still live. But, if she suffocates as a result of his neglect, then he will be charged with murder, too, and will face the death penalty. Oddly enough (for a psychopath), this rattles him, and he ends up marking where he’s hidden Talia on his property, in what seems to be a sort of makeshift well.

Courtesy FOX

Courtesy FOX

When the police return to the premises, Backstrom isn’t hopeful. They lift up the grate and finally find an unconscious Talia — along with Lacy Siddon, the previous victim who’d been presumed dead, and a baby. They’re all still alive, incredibly, and Backstrom immediately collapses in relief, and shock, as soon as her hears confirmation. Again, this is some wonderful acting by Wilson, particularly since he has no lines in this scene, and demonstrates everything through his actions. I admit that this part confused me, though, the first time I watched it: I had assumed Lacy was dead, as they’d been saying, so when they finally found Talia underground with her, I didn’t understand how Lacy’s body could be so well-preserved seven years later. Of course, once the rest of the scene played out, I realized the writers were going for more of a ripped-from-the-headlines approach with the captives forced to act as the perpetrator’s wife, and it made sense.

In the end, the girls are reunited with their families, and they along with the whole team (minus Backstrom) give thanks at Almond’s church, which is newly spared from eviction thanks to the community’s generosity. He gives a glowing sermon about evil coming in all shapes and sizes, but adds that, “good can also confuse us in comportment and appearance,” as we focus on Backstrom passed out at home after an obvious post-case bender. Now there’s a tagline for this show if ever there was one. Frankly, after all Backstrom has experienced, professionally and personally, it’s no wonder that he has to drink himself into a stupor. (Not that I’m advocating that coping mechanism, but it makes more sense now beyond being a belligerent drunk.)

Backstrom_Ep107_45pt_0046_hires1All in all, this episode was much heavier than I’ve come to expect from this show, which is an intriguing change of pace. Kidnapping is a scary enough topic as it is, but the numerous references to the raping and torture of young women were jarring, though welcome in that they didn’t sugarcoat what typically happens in these cases. I appreciated the effort, because it breaks from the norm, but I’m also thankful the show doesn’t seem to be veering into Law & Order: SVU territory, either. I’m continually impressed with Rainn Wilson’s range as Backstrom, and the depths added to his character every week. Backstrom might still not be charming, but he’s got layers, which might be more important. I’m also glad we’ve learned more about Valentine, because I enjoy his presence and his chemistry with all the other characters on the show. Moreover, the cast a whole is gelling so nicely, and I love watching them become a loyal team — whether it’s Gravely listening to Niedermayer, or Backstrom relying on Paquet, or Almond leading the pack, or all of them sleeping in the office to be ready as soon as they get a break, they’re definitely proving that they’ve become indispensable to each other in these few short weeks together.

Other odds and ends:

  • I saw a few episodes of The Fall recently, so Amber’s outburst that “Minus” is the only person who could ever understand her, or that the world was misunderstanding him, reminded me a lot of the babysitter who falls for Jamie Dornan’s serial killer on that show.
  • Though it felt quite heavily like exposition, I liked how Almond informed the team and the audience about how the Lacy Siddon case seven years ago is the one that “broke” him and kicked him out of Special Crimes, until the pilot. And that Cervantes was the one who found him holed up after a bender, when they thought they’d failed Lacy. Oh the tangled webs the show is weaving!
  • You know your show is shot in Canada when the guest actors pronounce French terms correctly. (“Environs.”) That being said, was that principal a quack or what?!
  • Niedermayer having to explain “coitus” and “intercourse” to 16 year old Claudio is made of win.
  • Of course Nadia knows the only internet café in town in which users remain unidentifiable! And refuses to explain why she’s used it herself!
  • “That’s hours of bonding down the drain.” Gravely, I admire your snark.
  • “I’m not sure I appreciate your parenting skills.” Detective Almond, dropping truth bombs all over the place.
  • Again, I really enjoyed Backstrom and Valentine teaming up for their sting operation. Maybe the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree, after all?
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.

One Response to BACKSTROM Debriefing: Beware of the monsters hiding under your bed

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