BACKSTROM 1×09 Debriefing: Hey, brother

Backstrom cast

Sorry, is that too much of a spoiler alert for a title?

Ah, backstory, how you soothe my soul.

Backstrom 1×09 Debriefing || There’s nothing I love more in my TV shows than character development, and in its short run so far, Backstrom has delivered that in spades. Tonight, we get a little dash of everyone, enough to keep us guessing about our favorite Portland misfits. Plus, the mother of all reveals finally settles one question we’ve all been asking. (I love puns.)

Courtesy FOX

Courtesy FOX

When a local musician, Sebastian Serafian, goes missing, it’s up to the Sunshine Division to solve the case. It’s quickly clear that what they’re really dealing with is a band of hipsters. That’s not a joke — it’s a “collective” full of cello-strumming, accordion-playing, drum-banging hipsters, in beards and flannel. (Modeled after Arcade Fire, maybe?) When they discover his escape from rehab turned nefarious and led to his death, nobody in his collective is above suspicion, no matter how democratic they believe themselves to be.

Gravely, in particular, runs into a bit of a snafu when ADA Steven Kines crashes their party. They have an undisclosed history — though pointedly not romantic, as they both insist — but they’re fighting over jurisdiction for the case. He’s investigating a doctor’s drug dealing, who just happened to be supplying Sebastian with his drug of choice, Oxycodone, but Gravely hopes they can solve the murder first to trump his priority in the investigation.

Records indicate that Sebastian snuck a phone call while in rehab — a definite no-no — so someone at the facility must have allowed him to do so, despite their firm rules. One staff member admits to it, along with witnessing Sebastian flee in the getaway van (of death) with a woman, who turns out to be his bandmate. However, she denies she is responsible, but is found with Oxy. This leads Backstrom and Gravely back to the good doctor, who they corner on a golf course, as though the carts are police cars. Of course, Backstrom has to call the doctor’s bluff and proves his mettle by downing a couple of pills in front of him, which gets him to confess to dealing to the band’s drummer.

Courtesy FOX

Courtesy FOX

Naturally, Backstrom interrogates him while high as a kite, to hilarious effect. If you thought the “I’m you” thing was already bananas, try adding some narcotics into the mix. I chuckled every time Backstrom forgot who he was supposed to “be,” and Gravely had to remind him. The drummer didn’t kill Sebastian, because he can’t drive (though really, the guy’s van ended up in the middle of a lake, so it could be argued the murderer didn’t know now to drive, either), but he is now the star witness in Kines’ case, much to Gravely’s dismay. In the end, the drummer may not be the culprit, but another jealous band member is. Because you can never truly trust a hipster, apparently.

All kidding aside, the really big emotional story of the episode was Backstrom finally cluing in that the apple might not fall so far from the tree where Valentine is concerned. For such a seemingly astute detective, it’s a little unbelievable that it took Backstrom this long (seven years, apparently!) to realize that the resemblance between himself and his tenant is uncanny, and to start questioning whether he could be Valentine’s father. It’s been building up all season — and again, I have to give credit to Rainn Wilson and Thomas Dekker for mimicking each other so brilliantly in most of the tag scenes — and nowhere was it more apparent in the teaser here, when they run into each other in their birthday suits in their kitchen. (Is this a thing male roommates do regularly?) I was amused by how obsessed Backstrom was by the similarity in their, er, anatomies, to the point where he even talked to Niedermayer about it. Then I loved how Niedermayer essentially told him, “no shit, Sherlock” when he finally questioned Valentine’s paternity. For someone who’s so keen on digging up his suspects‘ deepest secrets, he’s surprisingly inept at uncovering his own.

Courtesy FOX

Courtesy FOX

Nowhere is this more prescient than when Valentine is embroiled in a smuggling operation gone bad, and assaulted for his trouble. Backstrom immediately leaps into action at the first sign of distress, then physically threatens the Big Scary Bad Guy if he ever lays another finger on Valentine. For someone who is so self-centered, it’s heartening to see him come to Valentine’s rescue without a second thought, and I was touched by how he comforted him, in his own way, following his exchange with the assailant.

However, Moto’s insistence that Backstrom cut Valentine loose if he wasn’t really his son irked me; maybe it’s because I’ve watched too much Bones, but “there’s more than one kind of family” is engrained in me, and that’s exactly what the Sunshine Division is becoming. I appreciate that as always, Moto is looking out for Backstrom, and his point was that it’s bad form for a detective to have a thief as a roommate, but frankly, that ship sailed so long ago (though not literally, since the two of them actually live on a docked boat) that I thought that was a little callous on Moto’s part. On the other hand, we learn that Moto has a ten-year-old son himself, so color me shocked! (Although Page Kennedy is so young-looking to me that I find it hard to believe he could be the father of a pre-teen!)

Then, we finally meet Valentine’s mother, Lou, a reformed prostitute turned church-going dental hygienist. I’ve always wondered how Valentine ended up living with Backstrom, and it was jarring to see his mother in such a respectable, middle-class position, given what we know of the characters so far. But, here it makes a little more sense: she’s a bible-thumper, he’s a gay hustler. He makes it seem like she kicked him out over his sexuality, but then we discover she really kicked him out because of his criminality, which is much more understandable.

Funnily enough, I believed the chemistry between her and Backstrom: though they don’t spark in the same way he does with Amy, they have such an easy-going vibe that I can see why she’d maintain affection for him, more than a typical client. (Plus, we find out that he lost his virginity to her; that’s a whole other kettle of fish.) Or why it isn’t so weird that Backstrom now gets his teeth cleaned by a woman he used to pay for sex.

The final scene between the three of them was extraordinary, because all these issues came to a head. Valentine comes home only to find his estranged mother waiting for him, and Backstrom packing his belongings. Apparently he took Moto’s advice to heart, ostensibly in the name of professional propriety, but really because he wants to do what’s best for the kid. Valentine predictably lashes out, because he probably feels like a scared teenager all over again, but then Backstrom finally asks what he probably should have asked Lou seven years ago, and she insists Valentine isn’t his son.

Courtesy FOX

Courtesy FOX

Backstrom’s reaction is so interesting. He’s deflated; he’d been surprisingly agreeable to the idea that he could be Valentine’s father, as though it’d explain everything about why he’s the only person in the world he can get along with and genuinely care for, and just as quickly that’s taken from him, too. I ached for him, which isn’t something I thought I’d say eight episodes ago. Then, Lou provides an even bigger twist: Valentine is his half-brother. Why, it seems good ol‘ Blue shares more in common with his son than a knack for police work. Setting aside the ickiness of Backstrom and his father sleeping with the same woman, it really sets the family dynamics into an even more intriguing light. We know that Backstrom doesn’t get along at all with his father or other brothers with whom he was raised, yet he’s has such affection for the brother he never even knew existed. I have to admit that I prefer the idea that Valentine is Backstrom’s son rather than his sibling, but on the other hand, I probably shouldn’t have been so surprised, because the relationship was so obvious that there was bound to be a “gotcha!” moment.

In the end, Backstrom’s reaction was really hard to read, for me: was he disappointed that he wasn’t Valentine’s father, or relieved that they really are family, after all? I’m so intrigued by this dynamic going forward, and I can’t wait to see how much more of it the show explores in the coming weeks. The silver lining in this, as Backstrom indidcated, was that his conservative father now not only has a wildcard self-destructive narcissist as a son, but also has a homosexual, bon-vivant criminal-record-bearing child, too. None of it matters, though, because Valentine is here to stay — and only has to pay half the rent now, too, since they’re half-brothers. Aw!

Courtesy FOX

Courtesy FOX

The other interesting bit of backstory tonight was finally getting back to Gravely’s past as an undercover cop. We heard a little about that early on — namely, how the sting operation went so badly she was shuffled to Sunshine Division as punishment, and her reputation was ruined over it — but the introduction of Kines added another element to it. Supposedly, he is the reason her peers thought she’d resorted to turning tricks in the sting, but he indicated that he saved her from an even bigger danger, of which we are not privy yet. I really disliked how he insisted Gravely really should go out for a drink with him, but I do like the idea that there’s more to her story than meets the eye, and that she wants to find out what it is, too.

This show continues to delight me every week. I can’t say enough how much I’m enjoying it, and how surprised I am at how well-fleshed these characters are so soon in the series‘ run. I can’t wait to see what’s in store next time!

(Apologies for no “Odds and Ends” tonight. The tradeoff for me getting this up the day it airs is that I don’t have time to rewatch at my leisure to catch the dialogue details. Though I will say this: A+ Canada jokes tonight, guys. I’d repeat them if I weren’t scared that some crazy Beliebers would come after me.)


PS, check out the very belated recap of last week’s episode, if you haven’t gotten the chance!


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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