Ben Sherman defenders no longer have a leg to stand on. After constructing a ruse so despicable that it turns his partner into a vengeful, ticking time bomb, Ben isn’t just corrupt cop, he’s willing to risk anything and everything in order to save his own skin. His demonstrative declaration to Chad Michael Murray—“You think you’re better than me?” “I know I am.”—rings like a foolhardy lie. Sherman may be the face of the department, capable of heroic acts, but his personal morality has slipped further than any officer on the show.
The videotape of Sammy’s altercation with Tami has been a consistent dark cloud over Sammy’s head throughout the IA process and his custody battle. Ben considers the matter resolved, but Sammy’s newfound guilt is a potential hiccup to Ben’s sterling reputation. In order to protect his own back, Ben proves he’s willing to deceive anyone, risk assault, put a child in danger, so long as nothing leads back to him lying. Trusting his girlfriend’s brother seems unwise, but that’s the level of Ben’s arrogance, believing he can control anyone and stay invincible.
He’s made more morally corrupt decisions before—planting a gun to justify a revenge killing a la Russell Crowe in LA Confidential last season being the worst—but paying his second girlfriend’s criminal brother to break in and paint fake gang signs in Sammy’s house as a way to distract from stealing the videotape to destroy it for good is Ben’s biggest betrayal to the values he held at the start of the series.
For every bit of inspiring defiance—his speech to Brooke’s gun-toting father at a swanky restaurant is the only high point—there’s a stupefying moment of inaction. Sammy reacts to an accusation of corruption viscerally: swearing, arresting the accuser in front of a house full of drugs and guns, answering that challenge with bombastic denial. But Ben just stands there and doesn’t refute the basic fact that he’s corrupt, and believes that as long as it gets drugs and guns off the street, any tactics can be justified. It’s a scary shift for Sherman from the precocious rookie into the stereotype of the asshole LAPD officer.
The two supporting partners get small moments to shine, which provides some welcome character development and backstory, but contributes to the thematically disjointed episode structure. For Ruben, it’s the same drum he’s been beating for the better part of two seasons: Lydia focuses to much on herself in the murder of a drug addict who turns out to be the son of Sgt. Hill—the officer who presides over Cooper and Dewey’s division. When the investigation leads to two officers tampering with evidence and putting more drugs on the street, Lydia adopts her high-and-mighty routine, which justifiably needles Ruben, but not for entirely honorable reasons.
In this conflict, neither one of them is right or wrong. Lydia should turn the case over to internal affairs, and would only pursue it herself to serve her own pride and ego. But she’s doing the right thing by going after clearly corrupt cops. Ruben appears too afraid to confront other officers for fear of reprisal, which is disappointing, but he does point out Lydia’s hubris, something she’s desperately needed in a partner. Furthermore, he goes for the real kicker—her habit for quickly wearing down coworkers to the point of reassignment. Though Ruben doesn’t really earn that final moment of steadfast commitment in the face of a compromise, settling the carousel of partners is definitely a good thing.
Lucero has the sadder of the two stories. He finally takes Cooper to his wife’s restaurant, and immediately her cold and dismissive attitude signals that Lucero’s bragging doesn’t accurately reflect his situation. Cooper overhears some of the details—Lucero hasn’t been around for his kids for about a year, separated from his wife, and unsure of exactly how long this arrangement has been going on. But Lucero keeps putting on a brave face, saying his family is the most important part of his life, the reason he can keep going. As with many small arcs on Southland, Cooper only finds out enough to make Lucero’s act come off as tragic, but he doesn’t reveal what he knows, doesn’t push the situation to a neat, emotional catharsis.
Instead, Cooper takes that knowledge, along with several phone calls throughout the day from his ex-wife about a bothersome neighbor, and finally does something to combat his loneliness. Given all the mounting disappointment over the course of the series, I felt properly surprised when Cooper’s ex-wife broke down in tears of relief and hugged him, a sign that she wants to have a baby with him, even without a romantic partnership. It’s a critical transition for Cooper—cutting back on hours, figuring out a schedule, but after seeing the toll taken on others, Cooper wants something to fight for, to live for, and to live on after he's gone.
This season, Cooper has seen the writing on the wall for the end of his career. Declining fitness, Dewey’s semi-constant brushes with death, his FTOs struggles away from the force drinking himself into oblivion without his wife, his father’s venomous final words, and several run-ins with civilians that place Cooper in a fatherly role. But seeing Lucero’s life—building up his family, while secretly knowing it’s all a sham—proves to be the final straw.
Unlike Lydia’s arc last season, in which nearly every case echoed her situation as a soon-to-be-mother, Cooper’s realization has been multifaceted, covering so many different aspects of his legacy and emphasizing his loneliness through all the characters around him. Though it doesn’t look like happiness is in Cooper’s immediate future, it’s a welcome glimmer of hope that Cooper finally takes the step he’s been thinking about for the whole season thus far.
“The Felix Paradox” exemplifies Southland’s disjointed, anecdotal style better than any episode so far this season, but it’s also a perfect instance of that looseness weaking the show. Without a thematic center that binds the outlying, random incidents together, it’s just a collection of good-to-great scene with a few duds thrown in. Cooper and Lucero’s second visit to the graveyard to find the guy wanted on a murder warrant shows just how heavy-handed and didactic this show can get without a more delicate touch. It’s still affecting, but not as strong as the rest of this season has been.
- The Shaq cameo: funny, charming, and not too intrusive. His opening joke about the academy was great, but his “La Bamba” needs a lot of work.
- That Sgt. Hill scene with the Blue Angels keychain gets very emotional, but it comes out of nowhere and turns the sadness up to 11. Southland normally plays those moments well, but this is one example that feels supremely forced.
- The shot of Cooper talking on the phone with his ex-wife while the white wannabe rapper Lil’ Nuts tries to entertain Lucero in the background is both an impressive feat of staging and the most hilarious part of the episode.