BACKSTROM 1×12 Debriefing: Like God cop, bad cop

Backstrom cast

Hell hath no fury like a brother scorned during a murder investigation!

Valentine runs into a little professional trouble, and Backstrom gets taken along for the ride when Dante Trippi ends up murdered on his doorstep. (Do barges have doorsteps?)

When Backstrom returns home late at night, he finds Valentine’s would-be assaulter shot at the foot of his barge. This can’t be good, given that the lieutenant broke his jaw a couple of weeks ago, which would make him a suspect. The fact that Dante Trippi was chased down on foot at high speed before he was murdered rules out Backstrom pretty definitively (thanks, Moto), but Val isn’t off the hook, given their association.

Courtesy FOX

Courtesy FOX

However, he isn’t the only one; it seems half of Portland had a reason to want him dead,  and the SCU is about to start yet another wild goose chase to find the real assailant. When Valentine is shot at yet again at the barge, Backstrom finally pries about what his latest “business venture” is that would make him a hot target. It turns out he’s peddling stolen wine on the river, which Trippi had taken over. Their first viable suspect, then, is river patroller Hank Altano; he’s also under investigation by the Civilian Oversight Committee, and Backstrom would love to find some viable dirt on him to be able to “gift” his dismissal to Amy, not unlike a cat who brings his owner a mouse as a misguided sign of affection. Moreover, he’s under pressure to crack this case fast, because Amy’s given him a 5-day deadline to solve it before the next committee meeting, or else he’s going to get brought up himself. Talk about pressure!

Altano is Backstrom’s doppelgänger, in attitude and appearance, but he doesn’t seem to have any involvement in the murder. He knew what was going on with the wine smuggling, but he claims he didn’t care much about the operation as long as it didn’t bother him. Meanwhile, Valentine leads Moto and Niedermayer to the dealers with whom he’s in business, who are oddly creepy twins. However, this is where Niedermayer’s very specialized set of skills comes in handy: he surmises that the dust and inconsistent temperature in the vineyard’s cellar indicate there’s a counterfeit operation going on. They’re peeling labels off expensive bottles, then making their own blend of cheap wine to which they add the faulty labels. That way they can sell a $2 bottle for $10,000, and no person that rich would admit to being duped. Sounds like the perfect crime, except they got caught, and Backstrom has them all arrested, including Valentine.

Val insists he didn’t know they wine was counterfeit, but Backstrom is suspicious. He decides to use his brother as bait, by having him conduct his usual merchandise pickup.  (“It just so happens that putting you in danger coincides with my self-interests.”) The plan is jinxed, though, when the delivery tugboat sails right past him. Luckily, they happen to know of a bored patroller who is looking for some fun, and the go on a high-speed boat chase with Altano to nab the captain, Annaleigh Kee. She claims in turn that she didn’t know what she was moving, and just did it for the money. On the other hand, proactive Nadia has been searching traffic cameras while all this is going on, and identifies the same delivery van leaving the dock an hour after each of Valentine’s pickups. This leads them to the Portland Governor’s Club, an exclusive wine club full of the city’s wealthiest and most powerful elite, who would probably balk at being taken for fools over drinking fake wine.

Courtesy FOX

Courtesy FOX

So off Backstrom sends Valentine again into the lions’ mouths, by conducting Trippi’s regular delivery to the club, albeit wired. There he is accosted at gunpoint by the sommelier, Arthur Towne, who later apologizes and offers that he’s just nervous after all the danger around Trippi’s demise. It also appears he’d only ordered one of the two crates Kee had been peddling, which makes the team question who the other buyer was. They focus once again on the captain, who under pressure reveals that Altano was forcing her to run the merchandise for him for a cut of her profits, or else he’d turn her in and revoke her license. It’s not a motive for murder, but it does give Amy the evidence she needs to finally press charges against him, which Backstrom hopes will return him into her good graces again. She is pleased, but it’s at this moment that Backstrom discovers that her new boyfriend is none other than Jessie Rocha, the cop who screwed him over with his father in “Enemy of My Enemies.” He’s understandably upset, and uses some particularly foul language to describe them both. (I get that Backstrom is trying to rile them… But it is nasty. And Rocha is right: at least he treats Amy with respect.)

The case seems to be at a dead end, but while searching his home for clues (i.e. snooping through Valentine’s stuff), Backstrom figures out that the contents of his kitchen garbage can — a half-empty bottle of wine, cheese and cracker wrappers, and meat-juice-soaked styrofoam packaging — indicate that Valentine must have been entertaining someone shortly before all this began. Not surprisingly, this aligns with Trippi’s stomach contents, meaning that instead of heading to the barge the night he was murdered, he was actually leaving it, making Valentine the last person to see him alive.

Backstrom confronts him, and accuses him of lying out of his own self-interest, but Valentine spits back that he was lying to protect Backstrom instead. It turns out that Valentine continued to stay in business with Trippi (this newest plan: test-tube meat!), because Trippi threatened to expose Backstrom as his attacker, which would ruin his career and his reputation. “Is that brotherly enough, you son of a bitch?!” Be still my character-loving heart, I can’t help but love this extremely screwed-up family.

Courtesy FOX

Courtesy FOX

After sampling the counterfeit wine — naturally Nadia finds it deplorable while the rest of the team enjoys it — Backstrom has a breakthrough. Someone powerful enough to be a member of the PGC could conceivably kill Trippi so as not to be exposed as a fool for falling for the fake wine. That would make the sommelier (or “Somali” as Backstrom puts it) the prime suspect: his own career and reputation would be ruined if he were exposed, so he killed Trippi when the hustler threatened to out him. After his fraud is revealed thanks to Backstrom setting him up at a wine-tasting, he tries to flee, but the SCU always gets their man, no matter how expensive his palate.

Back at the barge, Backstrom and Valentine call a truce. Valentine promises that nothing on the barge is stolen (ahem), while Backstrom “absolutely” promises not to stick his nose in Val’s business. (We all know what “absolutely” means on this show.) They’ve made up, but unfortunately that’s not the case for Amy, who returns to plead with her ex to stay out of her life. Backstrom claims that maybe she doesn’t really want him gone since she keeps coming back (my thoughts exactly, but that’s another discussion), but she insists this is for real this time; she’s going to stay away if he does, too. She can’t keep up this toxic relationship, because it backtracks all of her progress. She tearily leaves, which propels an angered Backstrom to go back to his kite-makin. But even that isn’t enough to cheer him up this time.

Courtesy FOX

Courtesy FOX

I thought this was a really interesting case; maybe the inherent quirkiness of “river people” lends itself to some fun storytelling, but I liked the twists and turns of the story, as far-fetched as they were. I especially enjoyed that this put a spotlight on Valentine, and let us see more of his world. In some ways, he’s just as much as a screw-up as his brother, but he’s better able to brush off his failures and move on to the next venture, as illegal as it may be. More importantly, though, it highlighted just how close the brothers are: despite their respective grumblings, this proves there’s nothing they wouldn’t do for each other. There is such obvious affection there, beyond the snarky exterior, and I’m glad that the resolution brought them closer together rather than split them apart. I’m surprised by how easily they’ve embraced their roles as brothers, but at the same time, I have no trouble believing they’ve been this fond of each other over the last eight years, either. I thought they demonstrated remarkable insight on one another when they realized they tell each other what they need to hear, which isn’t necessarily the facts. (“Our relationship isn’t based on truth, it’s based on trust.”) While their story this week wasn’t as heavy as it has been in previous episodes, it does further solidify their devotion to each other, even when the odds are against them — or when Pastor Almond thinks maybe it’s time to cut Valentine loose.

I wish I could say the same about Amy. I love Sarah Chalke, and I like Amy as a well-meaning foil to Backstrom at work, because there’s such an easy repartee between Chalke and Rainn Wilson. Yet the romance side doesn’t captivate me as much, only because she always seems to say one thing and do another. It seems, to me, that she continually claims to be over with Backstrom — but then she’s the one who keeps showing up to his home late at night, even if it’s to reject him. By no means do I think she should take him back (because she’s right, he is toxic), I just think that she’s sent him a lot of mixed signals. Besides, I think dating Rocha is a bit of a dick move on her part, since it means she was already with him at the time of the Sabine Weiss affair and she didn’t warn Backstrom, or she started dating Rocha afterwards, knowing how he betrayed him; either way, she comes off as a bit of a jerk, which is unfortunate. (Though maybe that’s how she was able to get the intel about Blue being involved so fast in that episode? Ah, it makes sense now.) I want to pull for her, but I’m not sure where she stands, really.

In any case, I can’t believe we only have one episode left in this season (!), and I can’t wait to see what’s in store next week. Everything is percolating nicely, and it’s time to see what brew awaits us!

Odds and Ends:

  • “I haven’t been woken up by this many cops since the Police Pride after party!” Oh Valentine and your witty comebacks!
  • Niedermayer’s murder reenactments are one of my favorite things.
  • “Your eyelashes are like spiders nesting on your face.” You sure know how to give a girl a compliment, Backstrom.
  • “Don’t be afraid to bust out your scary preacher voice. We’re gonna go God cop, bad cop.” — That’s it, that’s the show.
  • Altano: “So that fine piece of harassment Amy Gazanian didn’t dump you for being gay?” Backstrom: “No, drunk.” Altano: “Ah, been there.” I smell a buddy comedy.
  • “I swear on a stack of holy condoms I don’t know.” – Valentine
  • Backstrom: “[Altano] is dipped in slime and rolled in rat turds.” Amy: “Well, there are no real winners in that comparison, but sure.”
  • Sometimes I don’t understand how the innuendo on this show makes it past the censors. (“Oh, you’re going in there.”) I’m not complaining, though.
  • I love how Niedermayer and Nadia pass the time working late by sipping cognac at their desks. How French! (Is it wrong that they’re staring to remind me a little of early-years Hodgins and Angela from Bones?)
  • Loved Backstrom’s warnings about their eventual breakup, as it concerns him: “I’ll be stuck with an even worse version of Niedermayer.”
  • Nadia might be able to take up that vacant sommelier position: “Anyone fooled by this should just… kill themselves.” Um, that may be a little too on-the-nose, given this case!

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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