Southland: “Discretion” is advised

Season three of Southland continues to go from strength to strength. After last week’s complex, multilayered, full-cast episode comes this week’s Discretion, a more dramatically compact, but much richer hour.

From the opening flashforward (“not every cop bats a thousand”) as Ben was hurled into the plate glass and we freeze-framed on the image of him amidst thousands of shards of exploding glass, this episode made its intentions clear. There was only one question to be answered: would Ben be able to control himself now that his mother’s rapist was back on the streets?

With a more stripped down cast, Discretion mined deeper levels of conflict and richer character nuance. Jonathan Lisco’s script was a gift for all of the actors this week. Everyone started the show at odds, in conflict, snapping and driving back and forth at each other as the narrative took us ever closer to the seemingly inevitable confrontation between Ben and David Morgan, the man who years ago attacked Ben’s mom, knocked out Ben’s teeth, and set him on course to become a cop. It was compelling storytelling throughout. Lydia sparred with her still-new partner Josie. Sammy argued with Tammi via phone, while testing his friendship with Nate (what a great pair these two are, and what great work Shawn Hatosy and Kevin Alejandro do together). And Cooper was pissed at Sherman from start to finish, with room for some great training officer moments. Michael Cudlitz had a great episode (he is batting a thousand this season), Shawn Hatosy did awesome, heartbreaking work, and Regina King gifted Lydia with more layers and nuances than ever before. They all had great scenes to tear into.

But it was Ben Mckenzie’s episode from start to finish, and he owned it. From his pent-up, barely contained rage at the beginning, through to his stalking of Morgan, and the brutal beating he hands out to the perp who sends him through the plate glass, McKenzie just gave us his Emmy episode. And that was before the crushing final scene, which was classic Southland: incredibly quiet on the surface, but driven by heartrending truths like dark, powerful currents. McKenzie killed it. If you thought last week’s ending hurt, it was nothing compared to what was effectively the complete dismantling of Sherman’s whole moral structure and the foundation of his actions and beliefs, in a few devastatingly quiet seconds. Southland has never been so simultaneously  low-key and gut-punching as it was in the closing moments of Discretion.

This episiode had the force of Ben going through that window, and emotionally speaking it ended like that opening freeze frame: thousands of emotional shards hanging motionless in the air. A horrific, shattering moment for Sherman.

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