Ben McKenzie, Shawn Hatosy
Despite the gritty realism of its on-the-street look at the Los Angeles Police Department, Southland has always been more about the cops than the cases they work. In Season 5, which premieres Wednesday at 10/9c on TNT, the show takes its character-driven focus even further.
"This season is going to deal a lot more with all of our personal demons and putting them to bed or the inability to put them to bed," Michael Cudlitz tells TVGuide.com. "There are issues that have always been there, but now they're getting magnified. ... You're going to see a lot of what makes these people tick and what makes them explode."
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The new season finds Officer John Cooper (Cudlitz) returning to his role as a training officer only to be disgusted by his rookie's jaded view of the world. But it's the complications between John and the other man in his life — a long-term lover viewers are just now meeting — that will threaten John's hard-fought sobriety. Elsewhere, Detective Lydia Adams (Regina King) struggles with balancing her work with her new baby, and Officers Ben Sherman (Ben McKenzie) and Sammy Bryant (Shawn Hatosy) carry on a tense partnership that's been broken since Ben shot a pimp (possibly for reasons that go beyond heroic bravery). Read on for more of what you can expect for all the characters this season:
After proving to himself that he could come back to the force after a painkiller addiction and a back surgery, John's ready to resume his role as a teacher to the LAPD's "boots" (aka new recruits). But the results aren't what John expects: His new trainee, an Afghan War veteran, takes the job for pay and benefits — not to make the world a better place. "It actually makes him look at what is changing in the world around him," Cudlitz says. "When people join the force the common thing you hear from these men and women is they really want to make a difference. The truth is that maybe he's not making a difference. This next generation that's coming up is jaded and maybe there is no hope."
Cooper shares these feelings with fellow seasoned officer Dewey Dudek (C. Thomas Howell, who's been upgraded to a series regular). Much like John, Dewey struggles to find his place in the changing department. "He's an old-school guy, and [they] are a dying breed in most police departments across America," Howell says. "I spend a lot of time with Cooper discussing being a veteran on the force and the good and bad that goes with that. The change that is required for the veterans in this digital age is difficult. It's a challenge to be more politically correct and responsible."
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But Cudlitz says this season will see more of John outside his patrol car as he struggles with committing to his lover of more than three years who is looking for something more serious. "He's a middle-aged gay man who's getting closer to retirement than he is to his first day on the job and he's really starting to look back and assess his life," Cudlitz says. "He doesn't have kids. He doesn't have a lasting relationship. ... There is a long series of self-evaluations and awakenings that happen for John. In so many ways, emotionally, he's a child, a damaged child."
Ben Sherman and Sammy Bryant
McKenzie says Season 5 will continue to track the downward spiral of his character, a cop motivated by the ambition to be the best at any cost. Although we may never get a definitive answer about whether the pimp Ben shot and killed drew a weapon first, the department decides to reward and publicize Ben's bravery. "At this point, he feels that he's invincible," McKenzie says. "If a person who's ambitious receives the wrong kind of feedback and is rewarded for something that ought not be rewarded, he might double down and keep going in that direction."
Naturally, Sammy's attempts to rein in his partner will be fruitless. "A lot of what Sammy is trying to tell him, which is completely benevolent and well-intentioned, Ben takes as weakness and fear and a lack of machismo and gut," McKenzie says. "So we're seeing this guy become increasingly egotistical, arrogant and bold in how he chooses to conduct his police work." But Ben won't be an outright monster. "He's still human. Every once in a while, his invincibility shield gets pierced, and he is a broken, lonely young man who is charging up the ranks of the police force, but ... his personal life is completely in shambles. But he can't admit that to himself."
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Although Sammy is clearly worried about his partner, is there also some envy that Ben has become the department's golden boy? "Absolutely there's jealousy," Hatosy says. "It's difficult to see somebody being rewarded for bad behavior and then climb up the ladder. Sammy is skeptical of what kind of cop Ben is and who he may become." Sammy is also plagued by the return of his ex-wife Tammi (Emily Bergl), who drags him into a custody battle. "The kid is with Tammy, who we know is a little bit erratic and a little bit unstable," he says. "I think there is a ton of guilt for Sammy. [He wants] to be a part of young Nate's life. The threat of that being taken away from him really rattles him, and there are aspects that potentially jeopardize his job."
Several months have passed in the lives of the characters between seasons, and Lydia is now a mother to a newborn. "It changes her," King says of motherhood for Lydia. "It's affected her judgment. She's more emotional." But even with a baby at home, Lydia would rather be at work. "She's good at everything else, but not so good at this thing she chose to do," King says.
Fortunately, Lydia's revolving door of partners seems to have stopped spinning; she will lean heavily on Dorian Missick's Ruben this season. "Up until Ruben came on, you didn't really have any partnerships that were healthy," King says. "They're a team and we need to see that. Ruben allows the audience to see more of a human side of Lydia as opposed to the heroine and the cop who is good at her job." So, will Lydia ultimately have to choose between doing the work she loves and being a responsible parent? "I think she can do both," she says. "But she has to make calculated steps in order to do both."
Southland premieres Wednesday at 10/9c on TNT.