BACKSTROM Debriefing: Forget it, Backstrom, it’s Chinatown

Backstrom cast

Apologies for my tardiness, everyone, but I’m finally back to talk about Backstrom. I’m a little behind, but better late than never, right? (One of these days, I will have a consistent schedule. Today is not one of those days.)

We’re back to another lighthearted foray in “Ancient, Chinese, Secret,” after the Bogeyman paid us a visit the week before that, but that doesn’t mean it’s light on the character development. We find out some surprising secrets about Paquet and Niedermayer, while the rest of the cast rubs off on one another more than they realize.

Courtesy FOX

Courtesy FOX

The team investigates the murder of a Chinese fortune teller, who made more than his fair share of enemies in the community. Backstrom is immediately skeptical of his purported abilities, which leads him to a merry-go-round of suspects who all had their own beef with his claims to fame, or infamy. First, an angry reviewer fits the bill, blaming Davis Gu for his girlfriend dumping him. Then, a rival psychic named Lady Mah takes the lead, but they figure she’s nothing more than a scam artist. Local illegal gambling impresario Dominic Chan is next at bat, when the Sunshine Division discovers he was consulting Gu, but he’s nixed when it’s discovered that the two were running a con together in which Gu would advise clients they were lucky, then nudge them towards Chan’s gambling dens to find their fortune. Another rival fortune teller, Jimmy, ruffles more than a few feathers when his predictions are eerily accurate (including a major secret for one of our characters!), which gives him a plausible motive. In the end, though, the two initial suspects are the culprits: Chan hired the angry reviewer to kill Gu, after Jimmy predicted that Gu was about to betray him. Oh the scandal!

Courtesy FOX

Courtesy FOX

The case was interesting as it was to me, but what I really loved about this episode is the further development of the secondary characters, namely Nadia and Niedermayer, who are quickly becoming my favorite crime-fighting nerds. First of all, we learn that they have indeed become a couple on the sly — though their covertness is not as successful as they’d like to believe, according to Gravely. (As an aside, Gravely’s reaction to their flirting is basically mine anytime I’m caught in the middle like that, so points to her.) I wondered if they were heading in that direction after they sat together so cozily at Almond’s church service last episode, so it’s exciting to see those suspicions confirmed. (Though I do wonder if this is another by-product of the season being aired out of order so far?)

Courtesy FOX

Courtesy FOX

Granted, it’s a little frustrating to have missed the beginning of their romantic relationship and to be told, all of a sudden, that they’re in an established relationship, but I’m not too picky about it if it means they can act as adorable as they do here. I hope that the blanks are filled in in the next few episodes, because it feels “unfinished” right now, yet I’m willing to ride it out. I can’t explain why I am cheering so hard for this couple when they’ve hardly had any screen time together, but they’re so charming — perhaps it’s because they’re both rather guileless, compared to some of their more cynical co-workers. They’re dorky in their own ways, but they seem to get each other, and I really appreciate that.

Courtesy FOX

Courtesy FOX

As if the big romantic reveal isn’t a big enough plot development in this episode, we also discover that Nadia’s been keeping secrets from us and her paramour. Admittedly, my first reaction to Jimmy’s prediction to Niedermayer that “the love of your life is keeping a very big secret” took me aback — because we’ve only just learned of their relationship and now they’re soul mates? — but it was the discovery that Nadia Paquet isn’t who she’s claimed to be that really shocked me. It turns out she is really Aurélie, and that all her prowess in hacking and book-cooking isn’t all professional. Those skills came to fruition under nefarious circumstances, and she’s now wanted by her former employer. Nadia, er, Aurélie confesses to Niedermayer that she’s in Witness Protection, though my first reaction was, “isn’t the first rule of WitSec don’t talk about WitSec?” In any case, she’s scared, because the men after her will never stop until they get her, and when they find her, she will have to run, without warning, to forge a new identity.

Courtesy FOX

Courtesy FOX

Again, I had to chuckle a little at the revelation (and if I’m being totally honest, rolled my eyes a little, too), if only because it reminded me of Brennan’s family’s backstory at the end of the first season of Bones in its absurdity. But, it also answered some of the questions I had, namely about how a highly-skilled, cosmopolitan French woman came to work for the Portland police’s misfit squad. (I loved when Nadia told Niedermayer that she couldn’t exactly pass for a “football mom” in Kansas.) It might not necessarily be the most realistic explanation, but I suppose we all need a little intrigue now and again, right? Despite the farfetched answer, I loved the scene, because Niedermayer and Nadia were so sweet together, and I could see why they work as a couple. Niedermayer’s vow that, “You can trust me,” and Nadia’s reply that, “I just did. With my life,” might have been predictable, but Kristoffer Polaha and Béatrice Rosen delivered it with so much sincerity and conviction that I couldn’t help being entranced by it.

That being said, I’m pulling a Jimmy and predicting that this is going to go sideways in time for the season finale. I’m always terrible at foretelling what cliffhangers will bring so you can take this with a grain of salt, but I’ve been watching TV long enough to know that declarations of love + revelation of Big Bad being after you almost certainly = explosive finales. If I were a betting woman, I’d put my money on Nadia disappearing out of the blue after a new threat, and the team banding together to find her and put away her pursuer once and for all next season. (Fingers crossed!) Lucky for me I have no money, so there won’t be any gambling going on.

Courtesy FOX

Courtesy FOX

Speaking of predictions, the writers handed us another doozy with Backstrom’s. Jimmy’s note tells him that he won’t live to see next Christmas. Yikes! Unlike Niedermayer and Nadia’s fortunes, this one I have no trouble believing. We’ve seen since the visit to Dr. Deb in the pilot that Backstrom is on a collision course with the grim reaper. Unlike his glib reaction to the good doctor’s advice then, though, his (and Valentine’s) reaction to this news is decidedly gloomier. They both brush it off as nonsense, but it’s obvious that it stings, to both men. I think it’s especially poignant because we’ve seen Backstrom take initiative to reverse the course, one small step at a time — even literally, here, thanks to his FitBit. He’s walking his 10,000 steps a day, he’s practicing mindful breathing in secret at the precinct, he’s making connections to his co-workers, yet according to Jimmy it’s all for naught. I’m interested if this will make him more determined to change his fate, or if he’ll revert to an even grumpier state, deciding it’s all pointless anyway.

Courtesy FOX

Courtesy FOX

As always, the heart of the show, to me, continues to be the relationship between Backstrom and Valentine. I don’t even care, at this point, if they’re related or not — they’re two peas in a pod, regardless of their blood or their circumstances. They certainly have a familial vibe whenever Valentine shows up at the station offering conveniently helpful anecdotes, and definitely do when they hang out on the barge in the closing scenes. Valentine seems to be the one person Backstrom is (relatively) honest and at ease with, and I only worry that the show will run out of ways to use Valentine believably in a story. (I like the idea that he could become their unofficial informant, though. Sure, it’s awfully fishy that he seems to have a hand in every seedy operation in the city, but again, if it’s a reason to get him on screen every week, I’m fine with overlooking it.) They obviously care for each other very much, and I definitely think Valentine is Backstrom’s “human connection,” for lack of better term. (I think I stole that from The X-Files, so I apologize.)

Courtesy FOX

Courtesy FOX

Moreover, I enjoy that Backstrom has softened a great deal over the last few episodes. He’s still a jerk, but he’s less deliberately abrasive now, if that makes any sense. His remarks are still often prejudicial and rude, which is not okay at all, but they’re fewer and further between, and he’s slowly veering towards general sarcasm. While I’d like to see his racist remarks disappear for good, I’m pleased they’ve at least been toned down greatly from the pilot. (I still think a lot of those comments are deliberate to get a rise out of suspects.) Though I liked the show when it premiered, I’m enjoying this version of the character even more, and that increases every week. The writers have demonstrated that there’s a heart underneath it all (as “Bogeyman” so aptly displayed), and we keep seeing that shell crumble bit by tiny bit.

In a similar vein, I like how Gravely is growing up, even if it comes with her increased cynicism thanks to hanging around Backstrom too much. (I enjoyed it even more when she realized who she sounded like, and politely apologized in return.) I don’t think she could do the job she does, and be with the people she’s with, without becoming a little bit jaded, yet I like that she is still inherently idealistic when it comes down to it. Nonetheless, I would like to see her role evolve a little more as a cop: sure, I like the witty one-liners that emerge in her interactions with Backstrom, but I’d like her to get a story of her own, too. She’s still very much a sidekick, and I’d like her to come into her own, to prove she can be a good detective too. I like that we’re getting insight into Backstrom’s thought process and confirmation, through Jimmy, that he is skilled at what he does, but I hope we see the rest of the team develop into valuable investigators in their own right, so that Backstrom is a little less god-like in his all-knowingness.  (Hey, at least Moto cracked the case this week!)

This show keeps getting better every week, and I can’t wait to share my thoughts about this last week’s episode, either, because there’s nothing like Daddy Issues to get me rambling!

Other odds and ends:

  • Niedermayer doing a murder reenactment! I don’t want to keep mentioning the “B” word, but it reminded me of that, too. And I loved it.
  • “Wait a minute, I have a very important question. Did everybody already do the jokes about psychics not seeing it coming? Because I don’t want to repeat anything.” HEE. My first guffaw of the night, courtesy of Backstrom.
  • Did Backstrom actually, gasp, feel contrite when he thought he misidentified Davis Gu’s sister’s ethnicity?
  • Moto: “Two worlds will collide.”
    Backstrom: “Yeah, the worlds of Moo Shu pork and my mouth.”
  • Gravely: “Word of warning you two, you’re not fooling anyone.”
    Nadia: “That’s not true!”
    Gravely: “Okay, you’re not fooling everyone.”
  • “If your mugging story doesn’t hold up in the light, you’re going to send the rest of your life in the dark!” How long has Backstrom been waiting to use that line?
  • “I have a naturally mocking face, and it was starting to give me a headache pretending that I was sincere all the time.” – Valentine on why he gave up the fake psychic business after two weeks. You guys, Backstrom looks like such a proud father at that revelation.
  • Gravely: “How can you tell [what this code is]? This looks like Chinese to me. Literally, it’s in Chinese.”
  • Nadia not understanding Gravely’s sarcasm is still adorable.
  • Backstrom on the station’s er, lax security: “Do they just let you in now?”
    Valentine: “Pretty much.” (Meta?)
  • “Well there is [motive] if you’re a gambler who’s been taken to the cleaners.”
    “HA! And in this case the gambling den is literally the cleaners!”
    This is why I enjoy the Nerdy Cop Lovebirds so much, people.
  • Gravely: “Well, people are not rational. They get angry and take revenge, even if they don’t get anything out of it. Whoa, that was so cynical. Backstrom is rubbing off on me!”
    Nadia: “Sadly, you also sound correct.”
  • Jimmy calling Gravely out on her bra woes made me laugh more than it should, because I’ve definitely been there. “Okay, that was actually what I was thinking beneath what I was thinking!”
  • Backstrom’s first “I’m you” didn’t occur until nearly halfway through the episode! That’s gotta be a record.
  • “I’m you. A lonely, depressed kite maker who would drink himself to death out of boredom if there weren’t evil people in the world trying to outsmart him.” Shots fired, everyone. (I like when people “I’m you” Backstrom back to him.)
  • Backstrom’s reaction to finding out about Niedermayer and Paquet is hilarious. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.
  • “Emphysema phallus” is the best term I’ve ever heard for a cigar. Thanks, Valentine.
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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