BACKSTROM 1×08 Debriefing: Your weekly energy meeting in Moose Jaw!

Backstrom cast

(That line is infinitely funnier if you’ve ever been to Moose Jaw.)

BACKSTROM 1X08 Debriefing || This week on Backstrom, a rich socialite is murdered in a hit, another hit, and another hit and run, and Backstrom is here to flush out all the usual suspects in her exceedingly wealthy circle. Which involves Backstrom playing Cinderella at the ball (or local fundraiser), and tickles my fancy, because I never turn down an opportunity to see characters go undercover. Plus, Dr. Deb shows up to drop some truth bombs, and some romantic snafus arise, so all in all, it’s one hell of a bumpy ride.

Courtesy FOX

Courtesy FOX

Vanessa Taymor’s body is found in a parking garage, the victim of a particularly aggressive hit-(and another hit)-and-run. She is well-known in Portland for her philanthropic endeavors, as only the truly rich can claim, and is married to Tad Taymor, a former tennis superstar. A curious appointment in her social calendar leads the team to discover the mahjong ring she routinely played with, who’ve already callously replaced her with another equally-rich socialite. Deciding to kill them with kindness, Niedermayer butters up the women through his particular set of skills — call it his own Finer Things Club — and his fancy teas loosen their tongues enough to reveal that Vanessa quit mahjong because she didn’t want to be associated with local incendiary racist blowhard Donald Samson, who recently caused a stir when a video of his attacks made the news. (Vanessa was accused of leaking it.)

Backstrom then suspects husband Tad, but when it’s discovered the star is in the hospital with stage four lung cancer, his “overkill” alibi checks out, and he’s stumped. Only, Nadia saves the day by finding out Vanessa owned a very expensive purse (an anniversary gift from Tad) which she was never without, yet it wasn’t found on her person when her remains were discovered. (Leave it to the French chick to wax poetic on designer handbags.) This leads them back to one of the “rich bitches” (Backstrom’s term, definitely not mine), who is married to a prominent lawyer and, it turns out, a known kleptomaniac. She’d found Vanessa’s body in the parking garage, and freaked out so much her panic “manifested” in stealing her purse before the authorities were called.

Courtesy FOX

Courtesy FOX

Though it seems like a dead end, they figure out Vanessa had a heated exchange with the director of a homeless shelter over the Samson situation. While there, Backstrom finds out, through his own altercation with a homeless man after availing himself of the hot meals, that Samson was having an affair, and paying the man to feed his parking meter so as to avoid being documented at the hotel. However, it isn’t enough for a search warrant for his cars (it isn’t even enough for a courtesy call, according to Nadia), so they take a different tack: infiltrating the fundraiser ball he is so conveniently throwing in his home that very night, so that they can snoop on their own. Almond scrambles to get the division a table at the dinner through Chief Cervantes and goodwill, while Backstrom surprisingly scrambles himself to look presentable at the shindig, with Valentine’s help. Meanwhile, Valentine susses out that Backstrom’s sudden pride in his appearance has less to do with professionalism, and more to do with the fact that Amy is going to be there. Whatever works, right?

In my favorite scene of the episode (and one of my favorite scenes of the series so far), the gang gets all decked out and plays the part of the rich and famous. I love all their reactions: Gravely is awed, Almond is chill, Moto is taken aback, and Paquet and Niedermayer look like they were born to do this, because they are the beautiful people of the world. The real shocker, though, is Backstrom cleaning up and looking almost-presentable… until he spills an hors-d’oeuvre on his suit and reveals his true nature (much to Valentine’s dismay). There are a series of covert intel-sharing meet-ups disguised as dancing, but really, it’s all an excuse to watch all these pretty people sway in each other’s arms.

Courtesy FOX

Courtesy FOX

Backstrom runs into Amy, and we finally witness just why Amy might have fallen in love with him all those years ago. He’s charming and cocky enough to be playful, yet complimentary enough to her to seem humble. It’s a side of Backstrom we have yet to witness on the show; we’ve seen him confrontational and emotionally crippled with Amy, but we haven’t seen him be fun. Yet, here he’s witty and goofy and even seductive, taking a spin on the dance floor and captivating both her and their unwitting audience. But this is Backstrom, and he can’t leave well enough alone, and in the heat of the moment tries to plant another kiss on her, which sends her fleeing the room. (I have to admit that just like the last time this happened, I feel like Amy is kind of sending him mixed signals, but that’s a whole other discussion.)

Outside, Amy confronts Backstrom over his obvious drinking, and likens him to her father, an alcoholic who struggled in Alcoholics Anonymous until his death. She rebuffs his advances supposedly for a final time, and gives her ex her father’s sobriety chip, in the hopes that it will inspire him. All it does is spur Backstrom to order a double drink at the bar, but it is there that he finally runs into Samson, and challenges him in his involvement with Vanessa’s murder. Instead, following their host reveals that he is having an affair with yet another one of the “rich bitches,” who leaked the damning video of his racist tirade to the media in the first place, and not Vanessa.

Courtesy FOX

Courtesy FOX

The team is stumped, but reviewing the Taymors’ financial records shows that donations were made from Vanessa’s credit card to a cancer research facility — run by the very doctor treating her husband’s cancer. They then posit that someone was bribing him to give Tad the placebo, hastening his demise and leaving his fortune to Vanessa. Interrogating the doctor (and Backstrom drinking from his IV) uncovers that Tad was actually in the control group not receiving the experimental drug, though the doctor insists the money had nothing to do with that. When Backstrom investigates Tad’s “dream board” further, he is reminded of Niedermayer’s earlier assertion that each board is unique to an individual’s subconscious desires, and figures out that Tad wasn’t actually the one who created his. It was likely drawn up by someone who aspires to his wealth and privilege — like his nurse, with whom he’s become extremely close. Thus, Backstrom and Gravely determine that the nurse offed Vanessa, in the hopes that her friendship with Tad would develop into something more, and after he fell in love with her, he’d leave her everything, which would likely be very soon, at the rate his cancer is progressing. Talk about taking the Florence Nightingale act too far!

Back at the ranch, er, doctor’s office, Backstrom appears to take Deb’s threats about revoking his fitness evaluation seriously — except in this case, it means lying his butt off to earn the doctor’s trust. Not only does he fib about joining AA (by providing the chip Amy gave to him as proof of his involvement), but he then uses Deb’s advice about introspection against him, claiming he’s only searching for his true, best self, too, and even hugs it out with the man. Backstrom rolls his eyes and indicates he doesn’t believe in this stuff, but just like his other visits this season, we know there’s some kernel of truth in his statement. (After all, through the out-of-order airing of the episodes, we know the pedometer, for one thing, has stuck.) Deb doesn’t deserve Backstrom’s ire, but he’s a better man for taking it in stride.

Courtesy FOX

Courtesy FOX

Though I really enjoyed the case this week, as usual my favorite aspects of this episode were all the wonderful character moments that emanated from it. The fundraiser, for instance, was such a microcosm of what makes this show work so well. I loved the characters’ reactions, because they felt so true to what we know of them so far. Gravely was wowed, but it didn’t feel over-the-top; her greenness worked to her advantage, and I totally believed that she’d never witnessed so much opulence before in her young life. Almond was, as usual, the voice of reason, but he still knows how to grab life by the horns, which in this case means eschewing the no-drinking-on-the-job rule to sample the champagne, because it’s not the cheap stuff. (And gets Gravely to indulge as well, much to her and my delight.) Then there’s Moto, who’s always on the lookout, because he wants to prove himself in every way possible. And Niedermayer was as suave as always, and using his champagne tastes to all of the team’s advantage here. (Does Niedermayer have a privileged background? Or is he merely a Renaissance man? He sure seemed to know a lot about how old mansions worked.) Nadia dressed to the nines and looked like she finally found a place where she belongs.

Watching them switch partners throughout the scene only highlighted what wonderful chemistry the entire cast has with each other. Every time they changed it up, there was another dynamic at play, yet it still felt completely believable. (I admit I actually would have liked to have seen more of Backstrom with partners other than Amy, but that’s only because he really did seem to be his true, best self here.) Plus, they all looked like they were having so much fun — as both the characters, and the actors — that it really shone through. (Can you tell I’m a big fan of undercover?)

Courtesy FOX

Courtesy FOX

Which brings me to the Backstrom-Amy dynamic. Rainn Wilson and Sarah Chalke positively dazzle together, which still surprises me. It’s been obvious since her introduction how much Backstrom is still in love with her, yet I never quite understood what Amy saw in him. Sure, he’s mildly amusing as a blowhard, but he’s negative and exhausting, whereas Amy seems relatively well-adjusted and sunny, and I’d assume she’d reject his constant depressive personality, unless he’s a radically changed man from the one she almost married. Here, we get a glimpse of that person, and I absolutely believed in their bond. It almost made me question whether the writers did a total 180 on his character just to serve this plot, except I think there’s just enough of the snarky Backstrom in this persona that it’s plausible this is the man Amy knew ten yearse ago, before whatever happened to make him as cynical and jaded as he is now.

In that vein, I really loved how, after Amy rejects him, seemingly for the last time, the show juxtaposed Backstrom’s obvious loneliness with all the seemingly happy couples around him (including Niedermayer and Nadia). Eleni Mandell’s “Anyone Like You” was especially effective in underscoring that feeling, and it made me wonder if Backstrom’s malaise indicates he’s more of a romantic at heart than he’s let on so far. In any case, I really liked how we got a glimpse into the “true” Backstrom, here, and I’m even more curious now about the events leading to his current disposition.

Courtesy FOX

Courtesy FOX

That disposition, of course, includes blatant confrontation and unabashed lying, of which there was lots this week, too. Dr. Deb was the main recipient of that, much to his dismay. The more we see of him, the more I love the good doctor, and question how such a kind soul ended up doing the Portland PD’s dirty work. I’m not sure why it is he cares so much about Backstrom, when the detective has been nothing but awful to him, but it’s proof that there are some heroes among us. Though Backstrom both openly and subversively mocks his doctor, Deb carries on, and believes in the “true, best” Backstrom despite receiving every indication to the contrary. I don’t know why he’s so invested in getting the cop to take his 10,000 steps a day to the point of forcing a pedometer on him, or why he wants him to build dream boards or gain introspection, when it’d be just as easy to wash his hands of him, but he’s a compelling force.

This was such an enjoyable hour of television for me, and I’m not ashamed to admit that it’s become my Thursday night highlight. What did you think of Backstrom cleaning up so nicely like the belle of the ball?

Other odds and ends:

  • Obviously, Backstrom’s dream board would involve cigars and liquor. At least he’s honest, unlike the victim’s husband!
  • Loved Backstrom and Almond arguing over who is Batman in their situation.
  • Backstrom fighting is “like a turtle on its back.” Ha! At least the team can get some good jabs in on him, too.
  • “Up until now the fanciest thing I’d ever been to was a Hungarian wedding!” Oh, Gravely, you’ve so quickly wormed your way into my heart.
  • Still loving Niedermayer and Nadia. I’m not sure if this episode was shot pre- or post-hookup, but I still enjoy them together.
  • “I wanna punch her in her Botox!” — I have to find a way to use this line of Backstrom’s in daily conversation.
  • Nadia finds the “part-o-porties” “very gauche.” She is so adorable. Can we keep her?
  • That being said, what does Nadia have against Valentine? I’d dance with him!
  • “Love is a myth, invented by teenagers and the diamond industry.” You know, I thought Backstrom was channeling Don Draper when he was alone at the bar looking longingly at all the happy people, but this line is almost exactly what the Mad Man would say.
  • “See how right it feels when everything pulls together?” Why, do my eyes and ears deceive me, or is Backstrom actually taking on a leadership role with his team?! Is that pride I detect?
  • “Those of us around you start to see ourselves as you see us.” Oh snap, Dr. Deb cuts through Backstrom’s crap and reveals how deeply his negativity affects those around him! You go, Dr. Deb!
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.

2 Responses to BACKSTROM 1×08 Debriefing: Your weekly energy meeting in Moose Jaw!

  1. […] check out the very belated recap of last week’s episode, if you haven’t gotten the chance! Nels Nels knew how to operate a TV remote control […]

  2. […] a Dr. Fleck. Except, to preserve the integrity of the case, they decide they need to go undercover (again!) as a potential patient, and who better to play the role of total basket case than Backstrom? He […]

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