BACKSTROM 1X13 Debriefing: It’s not common, it’s spectacular.

Backstrom cast

Well, here it is, folks.

After many inexcusable delays, my Backstrom finale recap is finally up. Just in time for FOX to unceremoniously pull the plug on the delightfully cynical procedural.

Though I’m sad about this being the end of the Sunshine Division as we know it, I’m grateful for the time we got to spend with them, and in that spirit, I’m going to give the show one last hurrah, to the best of my abilities.

Remember 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 possibly murder, but that’s all in a day’s work for Everett Backstrom.

You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll definitely curse the TV gods.

The episode hits the ground running: Dr. Deb reads Backstrom the riot act about his obvious manipulation concerning his miraculous turnaround. The numbers don’t lie: he hasn’t quit drinking or smoking at all, no matter how many unearned sobriety chips he may possess, and his health is rapidly deteriorating. So he does what one should do when confronted with an addict: he cuts him off. In this case, he declares that he will revoke his fitness certification and tell Chief Cervantes, effectively ending Backstrom’s career in the field. Backstrom panics in his own wry way, but Deb is adamant: he broke the rules, and the good doctor won’t enable him anymore. Uh oh!

As if Backstrom’s day couldn’t get any worse, his next crime scene pits him against rival (in work and in love) Jesse Rocha, when a Native man is found dead in a Portland park. It turns out he was an informant’s of Jesse’s, who he’d spoken to only hours before, which annoys Backstrom, but then leads him to arrest Rocha on “a whole bunch of charges,” such as obstructing justice for one. It’s petty, but no one ever claimed Backstrom wasn’t.

Since Jesse is involved, Amy Gazanian naturally tries her own hand at appealing to Backstrom’s better side to get her new boyfriend out of jail. Backstrom isn’t budging, even more so because Amy is obviously there personally (“I can tell, because you didn’t call me ‘lieutenant’”). Yet, Amy’s revelation that Rocha was chasing a suspect onto the Wabacooche reservation perks his interest, and he immediately decides to drop the charges against him, in order to get onto the case. He sees it as a perfect opportunity to go after his dad in good ol’ Cooch County, because he believes he’s a crooked cop, and he thinks Rocha’s case about a meth ring roaming free under Blue’s nose is just the thing to bring him down for good. (Gotta love Nadia’s confusion when she realizes the lieutenant wants her to snoop on his own father.)

However, since Backstrom doesn’t actually have any evidence of wrongdoing (Nadia’s search is fruitless), Cervantes can’t give him the go-ahead. So he does what any rogue would– he goes on vacation. Only by “vacation,” he means “entering a Native reservation illegally with no backup except for my brother and sarcasm.” There is a bright spot, though: in the spirit of “bros before hoes,” Valentine decides that he’s going to go with Backstrom, which means Lou isn’t far behind, either, because a) she apparently knows everything about their hometown and b) she really just wants everyone to make nice with each other. While the boys are on the hunt for meth dealers and shady fathers, Lou hopes the trip can help Backstrom find peace with his mother, much to his frustration. (“If I have to make peace with my mother, why shouldn’t you have to make peace with yours?” Spoken like a true little brother, Val.)

While Lou holds down the fort in Val’s getaway car, the brothers track aforementioned kingpin Edgar Norwest conveniently moving drugs into his cronies’ truck in the middle of nowhere. Val urges Backstrom to shoot and take him down for good, because they’re good at falsifying reports to make it all legit, anyway. (They’re definitely related. You may become a lawyer yet, Val.) Yet, Backstrom freezes, claiming he can’t get a good shot and generally making every excuse not to pull the trigger. Maybe it’s a bought of professional guilt, but to me, it’s most definitely a side effect of the shooting from the pilot. (*Withholds comments about how we deserved to see this explored in season 2, FOX.*) On the other hand, Val feels no such remorse, and takes aim– and misses spectacularly, or luckily, depending on your outlook. He spins it as a scare tactic to Norwest (“I will not miss like I did the last time… Which was totally on purpose”), but the drug lord isn’t buying it. It doesn’t matter, though, because Backstrom still takes him into custody based on what he saw, since they’re already evidently playing “shoot first, ask questions later” thanks to Val.

They haul Norwest away in Val’s tiny, perfect van, (or as Blue later calls it, a “communist car”) which isn’t lending any more credence to their story. Backstrom is convinced his father is getting a cut of the deal, but Norwest insists nobody can pay off Blue Backstrom. However, he intimates that anyone who crosses the sheriff hits “Rock Bottom” — and he doesn’t mean metaphorically. It’s an old mine, and Norwest not-so-subtly implies Blue’s enemies end up eating dirt there. Speaking of the devil, Blue conveniently shows up to break up their party in the gas station parking lot, rightfully pointing out that Backstrom’s conducting an illegal investigation (and arrest), and that Norwest falls under his jurisdiction. (Norwest appears more than a little rattled about being handed over to Blue.) Backstrom tries to pull the “material witness in a Portland PD investigation” card, but the sheriff takes more of an Old West approach: he insists they go to local Judge Nunn (Hey-It’s-That-Gal Dale Hickey) to settle the matter. She is annoyed that they interrupted her dinner, and more to the point, finds that Backstrom doesn’t have any grounds on which to hold Norwest, much to his sleazy lawyer’s delight.

Backstrom festers, and it appears as though Blue attempts to extend an olive branch. What it really amounts to is a “get off my lawn and nobody gets hurt” edict. This is where the brilliance of the writing and Robert Forster’s delivery coincide, because for a split second, I can almost believe that Blue is an exasperated, benevolent father who just wants what’s best for his county and his son, but then something flashes in his eyes, and reveals some of the darkness Backstrom has always claimed lies underneath the affable cowboy persona. Lucky for him, though, Val is there to jump to his defense, even if Blue doesn’t see it as much of a threat. (If only you knew, man.)

Back at their motel room, Val suggests they pack up and get out of Dodge, and pick Lou up at her mom’s on the way out of town. Backstrom can’t quite let this go, though, and his frustration is only interrupted by a knock at the door. It’s Rocha, who is angry at him for arresting him and going after Norwest on his own, and shows his displeasure by strangling the man on his bed. Just when Val is about to knock him out with a lamp, the whole Scooby Gang charges through the room and breaks the fight up. The Sunshine Division followed the Backstroms up to Cooch County because, after all, if he messes up, the whole team is in jeopardy. (“Wait, I thought we decided not to say that part?” Oh, Moto, you beautiful tropical fish.)

Rocha, naturally, wants no party to this, already angry about the whole arrest-deal and law-breaking situation. But Almond initiates a peace offering of his own: let them work the case, and they let Rocha take full credit for Norwest’s arrest. He doesn’t understand why, but Backstrom reiterates that he couldn’t really care less about a drug dealer right now — all he wants to do is prove Blue is dirty. Rocha, though, states that he’s never heard even a whisper about the Sheriff being crooked. Still, they come to an agreement, though Rocha refuses to let any of them onto Native land, because they’re all “white guys,” much to Moto and Almond’s hilarious protests. (“Not an Indian, then you’re White.”) Gravely earnestly pleads with Rocha that he can trust them, because even in their darkest hour, she will always have hope, and that’s what sets their team apart from everyone else.

BACKSTROM:  Gravely (Genevieve Angelson, L) and Almond (Dennis Haysbert, R) investigate a murder on the Wabacooche Indian reservation in the "Rock Bottom" Season Finale episode of BACKSTROM airing Thursday, April 30 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2015 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Liane Hentscher/FOX

BACKSTROM: Gravely (Genevieve Angelson, L) and Almond (Dennis Haysbert, R) investigate a murder on the Wabacooche Indian reservation in the “Rock Bottom” Season Finale episode of BACKSTROM airing Thursday, April 30 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2015 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Liane Hentscher/FOX

Meanwhile, they all scatter to carry on their investigation of Blue, and discover that he ran Norwest’s lawyer out of town, thanks to his signature trick– thinly-veiled threats and failing that, yanking of ears. Gravely is shocked, but Almond isn’t: “Welcome to Cooch County.” (Said in such a suave voice that that definitely needs to be the tag line to a Backstrom spinoff next fall. Are you listening, FOX?! I’d watch the hell out of that show.) On the other hand, Rocha is left for dead, and rushed to the hospital, battling for his life with a questionable prognosis. Blue shows up to find out what’s going on, appearing concerned for the young captain, but Gravely’s off-the-cuff remark that she should let Amy know about Rocha sets off his spidey senses, and he quickly figures out how to use this to his advantage.

He confronts Backstrom outside, while smoking his cigar, and hits him where it hurts: Backstrom couldn’t hold onto Amy, and sent her running right into the arms of a better man like Rocha. Backstrom rightfully points out that Amy hadn’t been “his” for over a decade, and she was free to be with whomever she wanted. (FINALLY. That is how you handle a love triangle.) Backstrom takes the opportunity to get a rise out of his father, too: he pulls out an “I’m you,” only he claims that he is a product of an affair of his mother’s, and that the real reason Blue hates him is because he was a reminder of her transgression. When that obviously misses the mark, Blue spits back an “I’m you” of his own, ending with, “I hate you because I believe in being a good man and doing the right thing, and you never have.” Those are harsh words coming from anyone, but from a parent makes it sting all the more. In addition, Blue argues Backstrom only became a cop to compete with him, which proves just how little he really knows him, or maybe how much he values himself. Because when you think about it, they really do this job for the same reason — helping good people — only from completely different perspectives.

It’s at this point that Val pops in to make that very point: “Your son, Backstrom, is twice the man you think you are.” Have I mentioned lately how much I love their relationship? Because I do. A lot. Putting his money where his mouth is, he completely contradicts Lou’s warnings, and reveals to dear old dad that he is, in fact, his son. Blue is shocked, but relatively non-plussed, and seems to immediately write off the “spunky gay friend” along with Backstrom. Yet Val can’t let it go, as though he’s absorbed all of Backstrom’s decades-long resentment and letting it out himself: “So what you have here is two sons telling their old man to go to hell.” I’m pretty sure that would warrant a grounding in any other household, but this is Cooch County, after all. Blue walks off (like a cowboy), disgusted at the pair of them, but they’ve got each other and they’ve got their friends, which seems to be more than the sheriff ever will.

Just when things appear dire, they get a break, of sorts: Norwest is found dead at Rock Bottom, his body sliced tantalizingly (and deliberately) enough for the scavenger population to feast on his remains. His warnings about Blue’s methods of, er, disposing of the riffraff of Cooch County are looking mighty prescient, right down to the signature injuries. Backstrom and Almond deliberate over what to do at a nearby diner: Almond thinks Blue might have administered his own kind of justice (not unlike the Wild West), and Backstrom is determined to pin his dad for something. Almond suggests they could let the state police handle the crime scene and take the matter out of their own hands, but that if Backstrom is going to accuse his own father, he better be damn sure of himself, because that is a sin that could be unforgivable. Just when it seems like the lieutenant might continue to go rogue, he calls the murder in to the state police; when they ask him why he doesn’t hand the case over to the local law enforcement, he offers that he has reason to believe the sheriff is implicated himself, based on tire tracks, boot prints and bullet casings. It’s interesting to me that Backstrom, for once, does things by-the-book, but even more so that I can’t tell if he’s serious about the evidence, or if he made that up in an effort to buy time.

Back at Rock Bottom, the techs are busy gathering evidence at the crime scene, just as Blue shows up to answer the call himself. It is then that a state trooper informs him he’s not allowed to enter, since he is a person of interest in the case. He hands over his gun, but refuses to submit his boots, declaring that they’ll need a warrant if they want those. He looks directly at his son, who might be feeling a twinge of guilt, but he’s got his team backing him, no matter what the outcome is. With that, Blue heads off into the mist, and it’s safe to say none of these people are on his Christmas card list this year.

In a total change of pace, Backstrom joins Lou and Val at a cliff overlooking the lake, which also happens to be the place in which his mother’s ashes were scattered. Lou encourages him to “speak” to her, to find some sort of inner-peace. He poignantly confesses he wishes he’d brought flowers (sniff!), but all is not lost: Val had a feeling it’d come to this, and hands him the bowl that had been thrown into the fireplace a few weeks ago. Not only is the scene touching because of Backstrom’s unguarded sentimentality, but also because of the deep bond between these three people who clearly love each other very much. Val and Lou leave Backstrom alone to commune with his mother, and that he does. He asks her to give him some sort of sign that he did the right thing, and though we see nothing but British Columbia’s Oregon’s stunning scenery, Backstrom thinks “that was it” and gently places the bowl in the water to float away, leaving us unsure of what exactly he found.

However, the final scene (SNIFF) reveals it all: Backstrom takes Almond up on his offer of AA meetings at his church, and finally admits what he’s been avoiding all season: “I’m you and I’m an alcoholic. I’m me and I’m an alcoholic.” (Most heartbreaking “I’m you” all season.) Though one could be forgiven for thinking this is yet another long con with Dr. Deb in the audience, it quickly becomes apparent that this is all too real. He begins to wax poetic on the squad, revealing his true affection for them (grinning, “They’re pretty okay”), and that for the first time in his life, he feels like he is part of a team. After everything we’ve seen of his own family, it’s completely believable, too. Case in point: despite his recent breakthrough, he confesses that he’s never felt worse, and has hit rock bottom, hence his steps to recovery here. “I’m you. I’m everybody, I guess,” because he’s admitting that he is no more powerful over his vices than anyone else in that room. Rainn Wilson delivers this speech with such conviction and emotion that it’s impossible not to be touched by Backstrom’s breakdown, because for once, it feels absolutely genuine. As he says, this life finally means something to him, and he’s all too aware of how quickly he is heading towards losing everything. With his fellow addicts and Dr. Deb welcoming him to his recovery, he wonders “now what?” As do we all, Backstrom.

BACKSTROM:  Backstrom (Rainn Wilson, L) and Lou (guest star Lolita Davidovich, R), in the "Rock Bottom" Season Finale episode of BACKSTROM airing Thursday, April 30 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2015 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Liane Hentscher/FOX

BACKSTROM: Backstrom (Rainn Wilson, L) and Lou (guest star Lolita Davidovich, R), in the “Rock Bottom” Season Finale episode of BACKSTROM airing Thursday, April 30 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2015 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Liane Hentscher/FOX


I try not to get too fangirl-y in these reviews, but I think this episode, and this entire season, warrants it. I’ve mentioned this in the past, but Backstrom really has been a wonderful showcase of Rainn Wilson’s range: he isn’t just Dwight Schrute, and if he can make a toxic, racist, misogynistic character like Backstrom relatable and give him gravitas, then he can damn well do anything, in my books. It takes fine skill, both as an actor and as a writer, to take the superficial foibles Backstrom is saddled with and make it obvious they’re nothing but a cover, and by the end of this season, the show succeeded in doing that in spades. It doesn’t make his remarks right, but at least everyone else let him know how wrong it was.

The scene by the water, and the subsequent AA confession, absolutely blew me away. For a show that came out of the gate full of pessimism and snark, it was beautiful to watch such a quiet, peaceful bookend to Backstrom’s journey. (Sniff.) Yet, the groundwork was there all along, arguably since that first moment with Bella the kite, where Backstrom’s true nature peeked through the cynical exterior. Really, what Backstrom probably searched for all along was a place to belong, and through the Sunshine Division, he made himself a new family when the one he was born into let him down.

As for the episode itself, I cannot reiterate enough how wonderful it was to cast Robert Forster as Backstrom’s father, because he brought the perfect mix of that cowboy charm and the hint of darkness to make Backstrom’s claims believable. So often, the estranged parents in these situations are portrayed as either cartoonishly evil, or misunderstood tragic heroes who the protagonist eventually comes to understand as an adult. Here, though, the show straddled the line carefully. I admit that when Blue first appeared earlier this season, I thought we were heading towards option number two — that Blue was just a regular guy who didn’t understand his youngest son, and never really did anything wrong. Then at the very end of his conversation with Niedermayer, he revealed that he didn’t truly feel sorry for hitting his son (because the ends justified the means), and later betrayed his son for the sake of an arrest. Here, it was more of the same: he first appeared to be looking out in everyone’s best interests, but then suddenly a flash of darkness would come over him, and it seemed pretty obvious that Blue’s affections only extend insofar as people line up with his moral code. It’s such an interesting relationship (in a totally horrible way), that I wish we could explore more of it.

If I had to guess where this case was going (because FOX won’t let us have nice things), I’d assume that ultimately, Blue would be innocent of the murder and was being set up — though not innocent of using, um, unconventional means to run his enemies out of town. Hell, Backstrom may eventually even find out who is responsible, leading to the tricky conundrum of having to set his dad free for a crime he didn’t commit, when really, he might deserve punishment for a whole bunch of things they’d never be able to prove. His time in AA might make him a better person, but everyone has their limits. Especially with abusive, manipulative parents in the picture.

I loved that this episode highlighted the relationship between Backstrom and Val, and by extension their relationships with Lou. I am surprised by how quickly I cheered for them as a motley crew of crime fighters, and while ordinarily Lou’s new-agey-ness would drive me up the wall, here I totally bought that she was only looking out for Backstrom’s well-being. It makes me wish we could have seen more of the three of them on this show, especially if Val’s impression of her is any indication. (“Don’t be a thief, Val. Use your brain to be a lawyer, Val. When do I get to meet your boyfriend, Val? HA!”) Honestly, I started thinking as the finale progressed that I would wholeheartedly watch a show where Backstrom and Val team up as private investigators, with Lou along for the ride as the occasional sidekick. (Are you listening, FOX?!)

As for the rest of the team, I only wish we could have seen more of them in their swan song, but the little we did get was a wonderful display of how well the cast gelled in such a short amount of time. Every pairing worked, and we saw that here — from Gravely and Almond tailing Blue, to Niedermayer and Moto tracking down their suspects, to Nadia and Backstrom arguing over her snooping, to everyone rallying together to support their lieutenant, the chemistry was always apparent. I would have loved to learn more: what caused Almond’s rift with his daughter? How did Moto go from championship fighter to aspiring detective? What was the deal with Gravely’s last case that ended up all hush-hush, and landed her at Sunshine? What exactly was Niedermayer’s job description, and why is he so fabulous? Is Nadia going to go on the run again? Are Amy and Rocha together for the long haul? These are all things I want to know, FOX. Again, it’s a testament to the fantastic writing, because in just a few short weeks, these characters all felt fully fleshed-out, each with intriguing backstories of their own that were begging to be explored. There are some shows where you never find out this much about its characters in years, so to do it in 13 weeks is impressive to me.

Words cannot express how much I enjoyed Backstrom’s run, or how much I’m going to miss it next season. I was bummed when it wasn’t picked up by CBS a few years ago, and thrilled when FOX brought it back from the dead last spring. (Hey, maybe third time’s the charm? A girl can dream.) It seemed like it would be right up my alley, and it was better than I could have hoped for. Its mix of sarcasm and soul struck the right balance week after week, and proved that even in one’s darkest hours, there is hope to be found if you open yourself to it — especially when you have friends who have your back. It was without a doubt my favorite new show of the 2014-2015 season, and to be perfectly honest, became the highlight of my TV-viewing week this year. Thursday nights won’t be the same without the cranky detective and his merry band of misfits, keeping the world safe one bad pun at a time.

BACKSTROM:  The S.C.U. team (second from L-R:  Beatrice Rosen, Kristoffer Polaha, Rainn Wilson, Genevieve Angelson and Dennis Haysbert), working with Captain Jesse Rocha (guest star Adam Beach, L) investigates a case on the Wabacooche Indian reservation in the "Rock Bottom" Season Finale episode of BACKSTROM airing Thursday, April 30 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX.  ©2015 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Liane Hentscher/FOX

BACKSTROM: The S.C.U. team (second from L-R: Beatrice Rosen, Kristoffer Polaha, Rainn Wilson, Genevieve Angelson and Dennis Haysbert), working with Captain Jesse Rocha (guest star Adam Beach, L) investigates a case on the Wabacooche Indian reservation in the “Rock Bottom” Season Finale episode of BACKSTROM airing Thursday, April 30 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2015 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Liane Hentscher/FOX

So congratulations to the cast and crew of Backstrom for a delightful series, and I hope they all return to our TV screens imminently, because talent like that deserves its time to shine. We’re all you, and we will miss you.

Other odds and ends:

  • “I’m young, beautiful and horny!” Never change, Val.
    Why didn’t Lou want Blue to know Val is his son? Is it to avoid trouble, or does she know more about Blue’s actions than she lets on?
  • “These aren’t the gay kind.” – Backstrom re: Val’s skill with his (non-furry) handcuffs.
  • “Where are we, Deadwood?” Lawyer re: Cooch County. Pretty much, dude.
  • “‘Beer’ is not drinking.” That’s why you end up at AA, Backstrom.
    “NOODLEMAYER.” Show, why couldn’t we have been calling him this all along? It’s both adorable and hilarious.
  • “I’m not common, I’m spectacular.” Backstrom’s snark towards his father is made of gold. (This show’s “I’m not normal, I’m extraordinary”?)
  • Backstrom’s conversation with his dead mother reminded me a lot of Brennan’s graveside conversation with her mother in Bones’ second season finale.
  • Speaking of other Hart Hanson shows, this finale was every bit as gripping as The Finder’s. Luckily, though, this didn’t end on quite as devastating a note. (Small victories, I guess?)

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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