TNT’s Southland kicked off its fifth season on Wednesday night with the carefully crafted, intense drama that has made the show a favorite among its diehard fans and critics of crime television alike. The show picks up with the storyline several months after season four ended, offering us an intimate look at how policing changes our society—and the police. This episode’s opening voice montage was particularly haunting: We hold cops to a higher standard because we give ’em a gun and a badge. The only trouble with that is, they’re recruited from the human race.
Southland has never shied away from showing policing in all its dirtiness and glory and this season looks to be no different. Aptly titled “Bats and Hats,” the episode allowed viewers to catch up with some of their favorite characters while introducing us to newcomers. Training officer John Cooper (Michael Cudlitz) is learning to adjust to life with his new trainee, Afghan war veteran Gary Steele (Derek Ray). We also catch up with Sammy Bryant (Shawn Hatosy) and Ben Sherman (Ben McKenzie) as they grow in their partnership and fall into the sometimes-downward-spiral of police life. Det. Lydia Adams (Regina King) is adjusting to life as a new parent while Dewey Dudek (C. Thomas Howell) is his characteristic, public-hating self.
The strongest moments of “Bats and Hats” were also its quietest: Cooper dealing with issues at home; Sammy cleaning up the aftermath of a brutal murder at an elderly woman’s house. These character-driven moments have made Southland what it is throughout its duration. They’re what made us cry when Nate Moretta (Kevin Alejandro) was killed. They’re what made us angry when Dewey lashed out against a young boy who had been killed in a drive-by shooting. As we continue to deal with these moments, we’re forced to examine policing today and the mess on both sides of the criminal justice line.
Season five is shaping up to be yet more intense than the previous seasons of Southland with growing tension between the police and public slated to run throughout at least the next three episodes. This tension mirrors the reality on the streets of LA today, lending credence to the show while allowing it to present the law enforcement side of the story outside of LAPD propaganda. Indeed, the episode tackled one of the toughest issues the LAPD faces, its own internal affairs enforcement failures. A rotten sting operation to catch bad cops puts real cops at jeopardy on the show while breeding resentment against IA. It’s all too true to actual conditions in the department, revealing at least some part of the truth, as Southland has always done.
Viewers should be able to look forward to more of this hard-hitting, real-life drama as the show moves full-force into this season. Those who missed Wednesday night’s premier can watch the full episode online at TNT.