Let’s cut to the chase, SouthLAnd style: Identity was a classic, hardcore episode, firing off staggering levels of raw emotion and dark humor. It was vintage SouthLAnd, doing what this show does best: not so much tugging at your heartstrings as grabbing them with both hands and yanking on them for an hour. It was ruthless, brutal, savagely funny, full of heart and heartbreak.
And it was thanks to two extraordinary women: Sara Gran & Regina King.
Let’s start with Sara Gran’s fantastic script.
This was powerful writing, surging & supercharged with overflowing, overwhelming emotions, conveyed with absolute control and unflinching discipline. Any of the scenes in this script could have gone one beat too far, overplayed their hand, spelled it out: not a single one of them did. This was an hour of TV that raced past thanks to the furious pace and deadly precision of the script’s construction. And Identity was one of SouthLAnd‘s most nakedly raw and emotional episodes, up there with Code 4 and What Makes Sammy Run.
If our hearts have pressure points, Sara Gran found them and applied maximum force, leaving us breathless and reeling.
In this she was ably assisted by the queen of understated power, the undisputed heavyweight champion of high-intensity forcefield presence, Regina King. The episode was all about her discovering that she was pregnant, and working out what the hell she was going to do about it. Sara Gran’s script gave King plenty to work with; it was beautiful how much the detectives’ case told us about exactly what Lydia was going through. The stories are always supposed to be about the emotional impact on the detectives, and this was an A+ example.
Not only did the arc of the mother protecting her child deliver an extreme amount of heartache, Lydia’s reaction to it all as she processed the full implications of what being a mother would mean was incredibly moving. When Lydia was surprised that a mother would even admit to murder to protect her child, to which Ruben said, “admit to murder, commit murder; there’s nothing you won’t do,” King’s reaction was nothing short of amazing. Her deeply expressive eyes showed us Lydia’s conflicted soul, her tormented heart, her life about to change forever. This is something few can do; King makes it business as usual.
Give this woman an Emmy already.
It wasn’t all about the heartache though. One of SouthLAnd‘s key strengths is its ability to veer from darkness to light and back, turning on a dime, often mid-scene, often mid-sentence. It’s so human that way; the rawness of laughter in the face of darkness, a necessary survival mechanism in drama as well as life.
To put it more bluntly: SouthLAnd is damn funny. It can make you cry, gasp in horror, and laugh, in the same scene, even in the same beat. Sara Gran was exemplary here: the humor was roughly dispensed and brilliantly played by the actors, with Sammy and Ben’s stories in particular bringing out raucous laughter amidst the sadness of it all. Although, that said, the argument about whose jurisdiction the body parts were in was the perfect summation of SouthLAnd‘s sense of humor: so dark, yet you can’t stop laughing. It’s like Louis CK is in the writers room telling them they’ve gone too far, and they’re just laughing at him and making it even darker.
I’d like to give a special shout out to the day players in this episode. The protective mother, Melanie, and homeless former Marine Tom Smith were played with devastating truth and soul. Smith’s scenes in particular were almost impossible to watch and to bear, so absolutely heartbreaking was the way the actor played them.
Director Nelson McCormick and DOP Cameron Duncan lit and framed these scenes with a beautiful starkness, proving that oftentimes, the more minimal it gets, the more it hurts.
That’s SouthLAnd‘s MO. As the opening voiceover said, some days the trying works better than others. Even on a slow day in the SouthLAnd, this show will still grab you by the scruff of the neck and drag you ruthlessly through its streets. On a day like this one, it will grab your heart and never let go.
- By the way, can anyone on this show prowl around a scene like Shawn Hatosy? Anyone? I don’t think so. If Michael Cudlitz has practically trademarked “the stance” (as SouthLAnd superfan & supporter extraordinaire @bluegrassbabe3 has accurately pointed out via Twitter), then surely Hatosy has owned “the prowl”?
- Ben McKenzie’s face when he was performing CPR on the kid from the swimming pool: raw, broken, angry, hopeful. Fantastic acting.