BACKSTROM 1X10 Debriefing: Sexual healing

Backstrom cast

(I’m sorry, that’s awful, I know.)

This week on Backstrom, the team deals with some lovin’ gone wrong. Meanwhile, the detective learns more than he bargained for about his past from an unlikely source.

When Larissa Moskovitz is found dead in a rose garden, her case takes an unusual turn once the team discovers that she is a licensed sexual surrogate. Not surprisingly, Backstrom doesn’t buy it and thinks that’s just a fancy way of saying “prostitute,” but her clients quickly sing her praises for helping them in all manner of sexual predicaments. The shifty groundskeeper at the gardener is their first suspect, for no reason other than he looks creepy, but he’s quickly exonerated, though not before being found with a hidden camera in his shirt to take pictures of the breasts of women he meets.

Courtesy FOX

Courtesy FOX

Her last client is their next suspect, a former college friend, Dimitri, who’d been availing himself of her services to cure his princess fetish. Following his advice, they seek out the psychotherapist for whom Larissa worked, 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 plays the part scarily well– until he brings up Larissa to the good doctor and blows his cover, albeit not before the doctor pegs the detective to a tee about his mother abandoning him and father abusing him. He’s rattled, but brushes it off, as he is wont.

The words seem to stick, though, and Backstrom hires one of Fleck’s other sex surrogates, Sandy Hale-Cooper (guest star Ann Cusack), to see what the fun is all about. She obviously picks up on his mommy issues, and he’s thrown for a loop by the time she leaves. Sandy suggests he unearth his unresolved feelings towards his mother by building her a visible shrine, to which he can channel his emotions. Shockingly, he is receptive to this, and even has the perfect memento to use as his totem, a bowl his mother had made herself, painted with his name on it. I have to mention again how much I love Backstrom and Valentine together, because he really is his best self with his brother, as much as he can be. Just like with the kite earlier this season, Backstrom lets his guard down without even realizing it, and shares his secrets in a way he won’t with anyone else.

Courtesy FOX

Courtesy FOX

Back to the case: after Almond and Moto do some digging in Larissa’s apartment, they find out that she’d received flowers shortly before her death, from none other than Dimitri’s girlfriend who worked at the shop. It seems she wasn’t unaware of their “therapy” sessions after all, and after an initial confrontation, had sent the bouquet as a peace offering. She claims that the therapy really had been helping Dimitri in the bedroom, and she wanted to thank Larissa for her help, without letting her boyfriend know, lest he become embarrassed and return to his old ways. Her stream-of-consciousness answers reveal that Larissa had fought with a mysterious redheaded woman when she last saw her.

The redheaded woman leads to a redheaded man, one of Larissa’s clients, who is bound to a wheelchair. He used Larisa’s services after using Sandy’s. He was a very satisfied customer, and credited Larissa’s help with getting enough confidence to ask women out, which lead to his current girlfriend. Though Backstrom suspects Sandy might have killed Larisa out of jealousy for stealing one of her clients, she admits that she thought Larisa was actually having an affair with Fleck, which would could have cost him his practice. It’s another dead end, or so they think, because they really are all so blasé about their business.

Courtesy FOX

Courtesy FOX

It’s at this point that Valentine drops a bombshell on his Backstrom: his mom didn’t die in childbirth, as he’d been told. According to Valentine’s grandmother, a nurse at the hospital at which he was born (how convenient!), Backstrom’s mom actually died a few months later, from a self-inflicted gunshot wound — done with his father’s service revolver. Talk about angst! It’s absolutely convoluted, but it’s worth it just for Rainn Wilson’s reaction to the news; Backstrom is completely gutted, and looks every inch the lost little boy we know is bubbling under that sarcastic exterior. It’s a moment of brilliant, wordless acting on Wilson’s part, but I like that Backstrom doesn’t completely shut Valentine out, either, the way he would if it had been anyone else delivering that news. (Honestly, I cannot adequately express my love for this very short scene.)

Of course, Backstrom wouldn’t be Backstrom if he didn’t immediately bury that pain in self-loathing and anger, so he channels his hurt into the case: what is the number one cause of murder? Not hate, as Niedermayer suggests, but love. (“Ah, love!” — I love how Niedermayer repeats it like he’s just learned a new equation in calculus. Bless his heart.) He surmises that Larissa was in love with the “wheelchair kid,” but that the feelings were not reciprocated. His mother confronted Larissa to leave her son alone, now that he’d found a fulfilling relationship on his own, and when Larissa professed her love, she killed her in an attempt to protect her son from this alleged prostitute. The mother denies the story, and further points out that they have no proof she was ever in the rose garden where the attack happened. That is until Backstrom notices the pendant on her necklace, which reminds him of creepy gardener’s booby cam. He scrolls through the footage with Nadia’s help, and finds the smoking gun, a picture of said pendant (presumably attached to said neck and boobs). They’ve now placed the mother at the scene of the crime around the time of death. Backstrom lets Moto do the arrest as thanks for connecting the dots — not that he’ll admit to it.

At home, Backstrom is back to his pessimistic self, and is so bitter about his mother’s death that he throws her shrine into the fireplace. (By the way — do all barges come equipped with that retro midcentury detail?) Valentine is horrified, and tries to pull it out before his brother stops him, choosing to rid himself of her memory the way she apparently did of him. Instead, he’s filling that void with his own Russian prostitute, but when he retires to his boudoir with his lady friend, Valentine pulls the bowl out of the fire for safekeeping, because someone’s gotta keep the sentimentality going on around there. His brother might not be able to admit he misses his mother, but Valentine knows better.

Courtesy FOX

Courtesy FOX

I feel like I’m a broken record, but once more, I thoroughly enjoyed this episode. The case was engaging, and the snappy dialogue is infinitely quotable these days. Sure, Backstrom is still and always will be a jerk, but I find that the purposefully offensive statements are on the wane (though by no means eliminated), which is a start, at least. The true star of this show, though, in my opinion, is the relationship between Backstrom and Valentine. Time and time again, their scenes are emotionally resonant, and in episodes such as this one, they absolutely floor me. I just love the ease of rapport between the two men, and Rainn Wilson and Thomas Dekker continue to play beautifully against each other.

While the truth about Backstrom’s mother was right out of the Tragic Backstory handbook, admittedly what made me roll my eyes at the revelation was more the way Valentine’s family was involved, and how he came to find out. It just seems, to me, like we already have enough intersecting family histories by virtue of Backstrom and his father sleeping with Valentine’s mother; throwing his grandmother into the mix was just a hair too much for my liking. That being said, I absolutely, wholeheartedly adore that Valentine cares about his brother enough that he went digging on his behalf, initially just to give him closure, but eventually to find out the truth, since that’s what the detective values above all else. As I mentioned above, I really cannot state enough how much I love the work between the two actors in every scene they share. They bring out the best in each other. (“You babble when you’re rattled, so stop it.” Only Val could get away with telling that to Backstrom, and actually have him listen.) Valentine could have easily been an annoying wild-child roommate trope, but his sensitivity is essential to the emotional core of the show. Meanwhile, Backstrom is definitely a walking cliche of offensiveness, but the moments he shares with his brother unearth his humanity, and that breakdown in his office upon learning about his mother’s suicide is a fine example of that. (It bears repeating: Wilson was phenomenal.)

I can’t wait to see how these family ties unravel and tangle all at once as we head towards the end of the season. What did you think about “Love is a Rose and You Better Not Pick It”?

Odds and ends:

  • “We don’t need a babysitter, we’ve already got Gravely.” Sadly, that probably is the best job description for our rookie detective.
  • Backstrom’s “You don’t solve murders, I solve murders” to Kines reminded me of Booth’s “Squints don’t solve murders, cops do” on Bones.
  • Backstrom: “Don’t you want a brownie?” Gravely: “Brownie points!” Ha!
  • Nadia asking Niedermayer if he likes big boobs or small ones was random, yet appropriately awkward. (Kinda sounds like something Angela Montenegro would do!)
  • Speaking of other Hart Hanson shows: Nadia’s murder board, with all its seemingly random information tied together (when most would probably use a computer for this) reminded me a lot of how Walter Sherman used to make diagrams and use string to link together the pieces of evidence on The Finder.
  • “In France, we would say she likes men from Marseille.” Nadia is adorable. Can we keep her?
  • The actress who played Dimitri’s girlfriend reminded me a lot of Lake Bell for some reason.
  • I’m loving how we’re seeing more of Moto proving himself; he might be a bit naive (and is very prone to word-vomit), but he’s taking Almond’s advice about improving his detective skills to heart. I love seeing his growth as a cop.

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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