Southland's Season 2 finale doesn't feel much like a finale — because it wasn't intended to be.
The episode (Tuesday at 10/9c on TNT) was originally the sixth of a 13-episode second season ordered by NBC before the network canceled the show before its fall 2009 premiere. As such, the "finale" is missing some of the cliff-hanger trappings that TV viewers have come to expect.
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"We had no choice," creator and executive producer Ann Biderman tells TVGuide.com about ending the season with this episode. "But there's something kind of great about it. We go out with a bang. We go out with everyone's lives being tested and challenged. I do feel it worked out all right — there's really a lot of drama here."
Indeed, the emotional stakes have never been higher. Officers John Cooper (Michael Cudlitz), Ben Sherman (Ben McKenzie) and Chickie Brown (Arija Bareikis) all ride together in search of a rapist who's impersonating a cop. For Ben, the case is personal, stirring up memories of his own mother's rape. He also has to face how serious Cooper's painkiller addiction has become.
The stress of the case is rivaled by the unresolved tension in the patrol car, particularly between Cooper and Chickie, who Cooper described as a "crap cop" earlier this season.
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Biderman says Chickie's going to face that rap. "Is she going to be able to continue to deal with being ostracized? There's a thin blue line, and you don't cross it. And in many people's minds, she has. John just feels that she has a lot to prove, and this episode will really tap into that."
Moments of self-doubt also plague Russell (Tom Everett Scott), who returns to light duty after being shot in the Season 1 finale. Russell helps former partner Lydia Adams (Regina King) investigate a double homicide — and realizes he's up against more than the job's physical demands.
"There's kind of this overwhelming theme of 'Are you good enough?' Can you overcome your personal, physical, spiritual problems?'" Biderman says. "Not only is Russell physically challenged, but he realizes at a certain point that he just might not have it anymore."
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And then there's Sal (Michael McGrady), whose infidelity finally catches up with him, thanks to his continually fraught relationship with his teenage daughter. "It comes to a crisis," Biderman says. "Every character is faced with a huge crisis in this episode."
And in that sense, the episode functions as a fine finale. What viewers won't get, however, is closure for most of the characters if TNT decides against renewing the show. Considering Southland's consistent but nonstellar ratings, the cable channel's decision, which Biderman expects soon, could go either way.
"These characters have rich lives, so one certainly hopes this isn't the end," Biderman says. "We know where we're going. And we're all ready to go."