SouthLAnd: “Another f***ing happy day”

What a season this is turning out to be for SouthLAnd. Each episode is an aggressive evolution from the one before, while still retaining the show’s core truths, values and style. It’s at the top of its game right now. Not that it ever wasn’t — it’s notable how strongly this show started with Unknown Trouble — but this season it’s powerhousing its way through complex storylines and brutal, unflinching character work.

If there’s a theme emerging for season three, it’s this: pitting the characters against the massive disintegration of their values, emotions, psyches and even their lives, in some cases. As a writer, you learn quickly: drama is conflict, great drama is high-stakes conflict — which pretty much makes SouthLAnd the reigning king of Shakespearean tragedy on cable TV. Everything the characters hold dear is f**ked with brutally and relentlessly. It’s like Hamlet with a shotgun and a badge, only the ghosts are real and never go away.

The Winds started and ended with John coming apart in the desert as the Santa Anas grew wilder. A bare, unforgiving landscape for his breakdown. Nelson McCormick directed this  — he’s becoming SouthLAnd‘s go-to director for the “disintegration” episodes, having previously handled Ben’s shattering revelations in Discretion. With a beautifully layered script from Heather Zuhkle, McCormick did an excellent job of bringing us into John Cooper’s complex world.

The episode could have been subtitled “fatherhood.” Cooper found himself inadvertently becoming a father figure to an abandoned child, in a series of low-key, moving scenes. Later, he aggressively stepped into the role of a missing father to a kid who called the cops because his mom beat him. And finally, he gave his verdict at his own father’s early parole hearing. His father was in jail for rape and murder, and John was as uncompromising as we knew he would be, despite the massive personal cost. Michael Cudlitz gave a heavyweight, authoritative performance this week, shouldering the massive burden of Cooper’s many demons and making you care, painfully.

The rest of the show was taken up with Lydia and Josie pursuing a series of rape cases, and developed their conflicts and partnership in a natural, seemingly effortless way. The two fought over policy, philosophy, technique, and I have to say that as great as Jenny Gago is as Josie, Regina King is a legend. It’s that simple.

The Winds had its moments of comedy too, best of all being Dewey and Cooper arguing over whether one victim “hanged” or “hung” himself. Dewey lost it and turned to Sherman: “Google it, Boot.” Needless to say, Cooper was right.

Of course, we couldn’t forget what happened last week: Nate’s death haunted the edges of this episode, and when Dewey asked Cooper if he was going to the funeral, Cooper responded with, “yeah, another f***ing happy day.”

Which could be the subtitle to this entire series. The Los Angeles streets are tough, brutal, unforgiving, and SouthLAnd does a tremendous job paying tribute to those who serve there.

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