SouthLAnd: heart of darkness

Six episodes in, SouthLAnd isn’t letting up the pace: it’s only picking up speed.

Cop Or Not began with Lydia and Josie investigating a gruesome celebrity murder, while Cooper and Sherman and seemingly half the LAPD were forced to stand guard outside on a street full of celebrity addresses, warding off the paparazzi.

Cheo Hodari Coker delivered some of his finest writing in these scenes. He channeled his inner Tarantino by having the suspect, an actor, tell the detectives that he was starring in a Tony Scott remake of Shogun Assassin, and was being trained by Sonny Chiba. As a devoted believer in the fact that True Romance is the greatest movie ever made, I couldn’t help but love this. Sonny Chiba and Snoop Dogg references aside, this storyline was brutal, laying bare the dark glitz of Los Angeles, and showing us the reality of being a cop in the capital city of Celebrity. Cop Or Not was also notable for addressing the issue of Cooper’s sexuality for the first time since he came out to Ben: it did so in the subtlest way possible, just a brief shot of Cooper getting out of bed, leaving the man he’d spent the night with. The scene followed the SouthLAnd creed: no more, no less than necessary.

It was a strong, fast-moving episode. It hit the streets and ran hard, like Sammy in pursuit of his revenge.

“I’m back, m*therf*cker.”

There can be no doubt: this was Sammy’s episode, just as this is turning out to be Shawn Hatosy’s season.

From the early scene where Nate’s kid asks Sammy, “are you gonna get killed like my dad?”, it was clear that Cop Or Not was heading right into Sammy’s heart of darkness. As Sammy faced up to hitting the streets for the first time in six weeks in order to get the word out that he was back, we saw the terrible forces fighting inside him, thanks to Hatosy’s raw, De Niro-like stillness masking the struggle and conflict within. Or, as his ride-along partner put it, “you got that Sean Penn, crazy white boy thing going for you.”

When Sammy found out that he was the father of Tammi’s baby (“I’m the dad”), it was a gut-wrenchingly simple few moments that floored the viewer. You could feel the immensity of the emotions (finally knowing he was the father, knowing Nate wasn’t there to share the news). The sheer impact of this scene was thanks to the subtle artistry of three men: a typically tight and raw script from Coker, minimal, edgy direction from J.Michael Muro, and, of course, Shawn Hatosy’s acting: emotions roiling up from within, rippling across the surface as he struggled to contain them. Too much for one man; too much for the viewer.

By the time Sammy returned to the scene of Nate’s death, he couldn’t hold it together, and neither could we. When Sammy described the things Nate had taught him, as gangsters appeared on all sides, we felt the beauty and sadness of the things he was saying fighting against the dangerous volatility building fast. Sammy is a bad-ass detective, legendary on the force, but he was coming apart, coming undone; the forces of loss were breaking him. As he faced off against Nate’s killer, cops pulling up on all sides, the emotion overflowed. It was raw in the way that only SouthLAnd can be. “I ain’t goin’ anywhere,” Sammy promised the killer. We can only hope that’s true of Sammy, and of the show itself.

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