BACKSTROM Debriefing: Backstrom vs. Backstrom

Backstrom cast

Long-lost loves, fathers, and suspects, oh my!

There’s no denying that last week’s episode of Backstrom had more layers than you could shake a stick at.

An eco-terrorist wreaks havoc across Portland, Amy returns to lend a little moral support, and Backstrom comes head-to-head with his greatest foe — his father. All in a day’s work for the Sunshine Division  in this last week’s “Enemy of my Enemies”!

Courtesy FOX

Courtesy FOX

A known environmental protestor, Sabine Weiss, is suspected of blowing up a big-shot pipeline outside of Portland, which killed a security guard and also happens to be in Sheriff Blue Backstrom’s county. Niedermayer entices Backstrom to pursue the case by framing it as a chance for him to conquer his father for good, which lights the lieutenant’s fire. (Well played, Niedermayer.) Unsurprisingly, this leads to a bit of a pissing contest between father and son: Blue wants to assert his authority in as folksy a manner as possible, while Backstrom is determined to conquer his father, once and for all. When it’s revealed that Sabine is part Native American, they hightail it to the reservation to see if they can find her hideaway, only to be confronted by local law enforcement and the sheriff in turn, who claims he warned his son about trying to go after suspects on native land. In other words, the squad is foiled for now, and no one is more irked at this fact than the good lieutenant.

Courtesy FOX

Courtesy FOX

As revenge, to both parties, Backstrom sends Niedermayer off to babysit Blue, so that he is distracted while Backstrom goes digging into Sabine’s history to find where she is hiding. Niedermayer takes the opportunity to bridge the gap with the sheriff, seemingly disbelieving that the man he shares a sweat lodge with is the same man who infamously pistol-whipped his son as a child, but Blue is eerily matter-of-fact about the incident: he’s contrite, but also acknowledges that young Everett never snuck into his safe to play with his service weapon ever again after the incident. It’s a bit of a haunting scene, to realize how logically Blue has justified his raising of his kids, but that’s a whole other discussion.

Courtesy FOX

Courtesy FOX

Meanwhile, Backstrom takes the opportunity to chase the trail all over town. A computer nerd Sabine went to high school with now works for the same company that is involved in the computer systems for the pipeline, Klamath Electronics. Its CEO, Jim Klassen, is actually from a town whose farming industry dried up when the government forbade irrigation to save the water basin. Thus, he has an axe to grind with the government meddling in local affairs, and teams up with environmentalists like Sabine to overthrow the pipeline from the inside, undetected. He’s hiding Sabine in his home, and when Gravely finds her, she takes off, though stopping long enough to MTV Diary the situation to Gravely.

Courtesy FOX

Courtesy FOX

Eventually, the team finds out that Klassen sent his helicopter to pick Sabine up at an airstrip… on the reservation. They come to a showdown, where Sabine threatens to blow them all up. While Backstrom et al. argue with the reservation police over jurisdiction, Sheriff Blue waltzes in and claims it for himself, since in the absence of the FBI, he is the closest thing they have to federal law enforcement as a US Marshal. Just as Almond warned in the teaser, Blue employed a “divide and conquer” wild goose chase for the various agencies, so that he could come in and catch their suspect on his own. Nonetheless, he skillfully manages to talk Sabine down from her metaphorical ledge and gets her to hand over the detonator, and they all live to see another day, though he with many more accolades than his comrades.

While Backstrom is left stewing from being foiled again by his own father, Amy pays him another visit, this time at home, to check in on him, since she knows the effect Blue has on him. They spar, congenially, for a few minutes, before Backstrom takes her invitation to dinner as a romantic proposition and kisses her. Apparently, that is not at all what Amy had in mind, and she takes her leave, annoyed — while Valentine (who’d had a front row seat to this exchange) confirms he’s an idiot. Poor Backstrom, he just can’t win today, it seems.

Not surprisingly, I really enjoyed this episode, because it was chock-full of backstory. I’ll get to Backstrom’s in a minute, because he’s the most obvious candidate with all his Daddy Issues, but I was stunned at how much we learned about Gravely, too, despite her not being the main focus. We’ve seen over the past few weeks that she’s inherently idealistic, so the fact that she’s a self-proclaimed “young environmentalist” is a natural extension of that, and I found that it was woven into the story believably.

Courtesy FOX

Courtesy FOX

We’ve seen her reluctance to give into her cynical side, and that extends to this case, too — to a fault, it seems, which Sabine uses against her. She believes in the good of people and the good of their causes, and it’s not until she learns Sabine doesn’t value the sanctity of human life (since she killed her accomplice) that she realizes there are faults in their system. Moreover, Backstrom uses her eagerness against her, too, in keeping her away from their undercover sting, and once again it makes me wonder just what went down in her previous assignment that got her sent to the Sunshine Division. I’m so pleased at how fleshed-out Gravely has become in such a short amount of time, and I find myself liking her optimism more and more every week. Besides, I think Backstrom is making more of an effort to teach Gravely about being in the field, even if it’s involuntary, and I like how they represent the theme of idealism vs. cynicism, and how the two poles rub off on the other.

However, the main show is still Backstrom, and boy, did we get our money’s worth this week. Finding out his father was abusive in the pilot stopped me dead in my tracks back then, and meeting the infamous Blue Backstrom in the flesh, so to speak, was a fascinating study. While Backstrom is slowly changing — practicing stress-relieving breathing techniques, delegating work to Gravely, reluctantly relying upon his peers — it seems Backstrom père hasn’t changed a bit in the last few decades. What intrigued me is that he didn’t fulfill the tyrannical parent trope: he was folksy, down-to-earth, and charming to nearly anyone he wasn’t related to. It’d be easy to believe that maybe Backstrom The Son had duped us all, especially given his track record with the truth.

This is due in large part to Robert Forster’s easy portrayal of the Sheriff, seeming more Andy Griffith than bogeyman. Then, we got subtle hints about who Blue really is — namely, that he didn’t see anything really wrong with how he treated young Everett. Sure, he felt some remorse for hurting his son, but the bigger takeaway, to me, was that he felt the ends justified the means. There’s more than a little opportunism hiding beneath the surface, which gives us a tiny glimmer into what it must have been like for Backstrom as a child. Add to that the fact that his mother died when he was young, and he lived under the thumb of his brothers (who I assume were the apples of their father’s sun-weathered eye), and a picture starts to form about why Backstrom is so distrustful of pretty well everyone, particularly parental figures.

Courtesy FOX

Courtesy FOX

What intrigued me, maybe even more than the actual father-son dynamics, was how the other characters reacted to them. Early in the episode, Almond describes Sheriff Backstrom with professional admiration, noting how he dodged departmental in-fighting to go rogue and catch a suspect on his own. (Gee, who does that remind you of?) Yet, in their personal interactions, he barely conceals his disdain of the man. I admit I thought him joking that any man would be driven to madness if they had to raise Everett  Backstrom quite mean-spirited, given that he must have an inkling about how the lieutenant grew up, but he made up for it with his revulsion of Blue’s techniques. While other characters offer him a modicum of professional reverence, Almond assesses him immediately, and doesn’t trust him as far as he can throw him. Then, when Blue pits the cops against each other all over again, throwing his own son under the bus to get his (wo)man, Almond can’t conceal his disgust — since he is our moral compass, after all. He might not always approve of Backstrom, but I think this episode proves that he’ll always have Backstrom’s back.

Niedermayer and Amy’s reactions were interesting in their own ways, too. Niedermayer understands, intellectually, what Backstrom went through as a child, but as a sort of Renaissance Man, he’s fascinated by the relationship, and believes in the salvation of the human spirit. Ergo, Blue Backstrom can’t be all bad — not when he’s friendly with the local Native Americans and welcomed into their sweat lodges and invites Niedermayer along for the ride. But after Blue matter-of-factly states that his harsh methods stopped his son from playing with his weapon, and seems to place all the blame for their rift on his shoulders, Niedermayer questions his initial impression of the man. When Backstrom’s version proves correct, he feels sorry for ever believing in his father. I’m still not entirely sure what Niedermayer’s role is professionally — he seems to be a bit of a jack of all trades — but I don’t really care, because his wide-spanning interests delight me.

Courtesy FOX

Courtesy FOX

Sarah Chalke as Amy only appeared briefly this week, but it was enough to make a mark, too. I like how she was immediately protective of Backstrom as soon as she found out about Blue’s involvement in the case — even though her first obligation should be towards the Portland PD and the complaints filed against Backstrom by the Oxbow Reservation. I found her plea to him to drop the case because of his dad a little patronizing at first, but once we learned that the last time these two butted heads, she ended up having to bail him out of jail in the Yukon (of all places?), her insistence made more sense. She knows how self-destructive her ex-fiancé is, so she’d rather he give up before he gets hurt. Likewise, it was sweet of her to check in on Backstrom after the case was over, knowing he’d be smarting from his “loss,” though I have to admit that like the lieutenant, I also thought she was putting the moves on him when she asked him out to dinner, so I was a little irked at first at her anger towards him. Yet, considering how often they must have gone through this dance, I suppose her irritation at his assumption is warranted, too.

I think one thing I took away from this episode is that there is much to be said about the families you build vs. the families you’re born into. Or, to use Niedermayer’s terminology, the collective experience of the tribe. Backstrom’s blood relations may be cold and calculating beneath their disarming veneer, but it’s the family he’s forming with his co-workers, against his will, who seems to really understand him these days. These are among my favorite types of stories on television (and are especially prevalent on Hart Hanson’s shows, it seems), and I’m really looking forward to seeing more of it on Backstrom in coming weeks.

Other odds and ends:

  • So many recognizable guest stars in the teaser alone! Merrin Dungey (Francie!), Adam Beach and Robert Forster! Among a bevy of Canadian actors as well.
  • Speaking of which: between the setting, story and actors, I think it’d be pretty easy to mistake this episode as a Canadian import.
  • Niedermayer framing eco-terrorists and lesbians as tribes made me laugh a lot… and reminded me very much of Season 1 Brennan on Bones.
  • The computer nerd who helped Sabine out kinda looked like Paul from The Wonder Years to me, too.
  • I loved Gravely getting sneaky with the computer they “accidentally” dropped at Klamath HQ… She’s learning from Backstrom, all right!
  • Weekly adorable Nadia alert: see how excited she was when she got to go undercover! Obviously they’d send the hot French chick to loosen a suspect’s tongue.
  • Valentine being determined to take Backstrom out after the end of the case was really cute, even if I don’t see any way he would have agreed. Because unlike Backstrom’s “real” family, this one looks out for his well-being.
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: Backstrom vs. Backstrom

  1. […] when Backstrom explored our detective’s Daddy Issues when Sheriff Blue rolled into town a few months ago? Well, nothing throws fuel onto a fire quite like accusing your own father of corruption and […]

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