Southland's powerful Season 3 finale ended with a moment two years in the making: Officer John Cooper (Michael Cudlitz) checked into the hospital to undergo back surgery, admitting his painkiller addiction and submitting himself to a medical detox.
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Of course, Cooper only did so after his trainee, Ben Sherman (Benjamin McKenzie) — who was involved in a rooftop foot chase and wrestling match without backup because of Cooper's poor physical health — threatened to rat him out to police brass. It was an intense showdown —one that fans have waited a long time to see. "I would have preferred that this would have happened four episodes ago," Cudlitz tells TVGuide.com. "But I do think this is more true. At times in life, that's how people make decisions. They look the other way a little bit because ... they think that things will change or they're not sure what to do in a situation."
McKenzie suggests the show's roller-coaster history also had an impact on stretching out the characters' development. (NBC canceled the show after producing only six episodes of its second season. TNT aired those six, and then ordered the 10-episode season that just finished airing.) "This confrontation would have happened sooner if we had been able to do a full season of 22 episodes like a traditional show," McKenzie says. "It's an unfortunate sort of a byproduct of the flipping around and jumping in and out of networks.
The question remains as to whether the season finale will be the series finale. But if it isn't, what comes next? We asked Cudlitz, McKenzie and executive producer Christopher Chulack to tackle some of our questions.
Will we see a healthy John Cooper in Season 4, or will the show focus on his recovery?
Cudlitz is very clear: He wants to see the return of his character's tough side. "Let's not, even for a second, think that [recovery] would be fun to watch," Cudlitz says with a laugh. "John Cooper was a badass in the pilot, but no one has really ever met a physically sound John Cooper." Adds Chulack: "I think I'd want to see him as a cop who hasn't been hindered by this physical manifestation. I think that would give us a different dimension on that character, to see him unencumbered."
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How will the relationship between John and Ben change now that they're no longer partnered?
With Ben having graduated from his probationary period, the finale sees Ben riding with Sammy (Shawn Hatosy), who decides to give up working the gangs unit to go back on patrol. So have we seen the last of those great scenes between Ben and John? "They absolutely have a bond — a very, very intense bond," McKenzie says. "Their partnership will never cease to exist. ...You'll see their friendship continue." Chulack says he's interested in seeing how Ben grows out from under Cooper's wing. "There's a great opportunity for them to cross paths as the calls they arrive on forces them to collaborate with one another," he says. "It could be interesting for the Cooper character to see this young buck becoming a man, so to speak. I think it's very fertile for a lot of young stories to tell."
Will Ben and Sammy remain partners on patrol, or could Ben choose a specialization?
Chulack says, for the time being, he wants to keep Ben on the streets. McKenzie agrees, and says he hopes the new partnership will bring about a different dynamic, especially since Sammy and Ben can both be very hot-headed. "Sammy obviously has a rage. Ben hides his stuff a little bit better," McKenzie says. "But what happens when he's partnered up with somebody for whom it's right on the surface?"
Might Sammy cool down now that he is a father?
Chulack says that Sammy having a son may not make him any less intense in his job, but it very well could change his attitude toward the perps he busts. "As a gang detective, he was dealing with young kids in the street, and he had always had these philosophical thoughts about why kids become gang members," Chulack says. "I think that now having a child is going to complicate some of those definitions and attitudes that he had about the people he polices. He's arresting kids for being gang members, but what are his own kids going to be?"
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Will Lydia and Josie remain partners next season?
After Lydia (Regina King) went through a revolving door of partners in Season 2, she finally settled down with Josie Ochoa (Jenny Gago) this season. Despite having different views on how to do the job, the two ultimately found a good working chemistry — up until they both realized that Lydia was dating Josie's son. So, will Josie be able to work with Lydia? That remains undecided, Chulack says, noting that Gago joined the cast on a recurring basis this season. "I'm not sure what's going to happen there," he says.
Will we ever see Russell again?
Lydia's former partner and best friend, Russell (Tom Everett Scott), unknowingly caused trouble for Lydia this season by leaking to the press some crime-scene photos Lydia had taken. Chulack says Russell's career is toast, so any future appearance by Scott would likely involve Russell trying to repair the relationship with Lydia. "I think it's going to be really hard," Chulack says. "But it's a possibility."
Will there even be a Season 4?
Of course, all of this prognostication means nada if TNT decides against renewing the show for a fourth season. This season's ratings have been up (though still not stellar) and critical buzz remains strong, which leaves Cudlitz confident. "I think the show is getting picked up. It's a matter of how many [episodes]," he says. "We've been able to do the show that we set out to do. I could not be more proud and could not be more optimistic about the future of the show."
Do you want more Southland? What did you think of the season finale?