Here’s the weirdest thing I’m going to write this week: I think I’m developing a crush on Everett Backstrom.
I have a weakness for heroes. Any and all kinds, provided they’re well-written, but…I have a particular soft spot for the heroic character who doesn’t know they’re a hero, can’t see themselves that way, and whom others don’t always see clearly enough to recognize for what they are.
Backstrom is both.
Toward the end of this episode, the suspect and Backstrom have this exchange:
“You’ve never loved anything more than yourself. You’ll never have a wife, never have a child. Look at you – who’s the outcast? Who’s the perv? …If she dies, it’s on you.”
“Maybe so. It’s like you said. I’m me, worse than you. I’ve never loved anybody. I never will. All the world is filled with walking corpses, who don’t even know they’re dead. What’s one more little girl?”
Niedermayer tells the watching team that he didn’t mean it, that he was just trying to pressure the suspect. But from the look on Backstrom’s face, I think the comments struck a nerve.
And yet, the episode paints a different picture:
- Almond telling the others that Backstrom was the lead on a missing girl case seven years earlier, and that when they called off the investigation, “he stopped being a cop. It was Chief Cervantes who found him holed up in a motel in Port Orford trying to drink himself to death.”
- Backstrom falling apart when both girls are found alive.
The man who not only doesn’t see himself as heroic, but whom even a sadistic pedophile views as inferior has been actively grieving for one lost young girl for seven years.
I flat-out love that. It’s true that I don’t watch much TV, but that scene of Backstrom’s response when told the girls are alive might be my favorite scene from any show I’ve seen this year. There’s something profoundly beautiful and heartbreaking in his collapsing in tears, alone and away from the crowd.
But that’s not the only moment I loved in this episode. There’s also his relationship with Valentine, which I continue to be fascinated by. Whatever their past is (and I think they’re father and son), what strikes me is how balanced their relationship is.
Valentine knows him – knows his history of familial abuse, knows his story of a childhood bogeyman…and knows that Backstrom, clapping his hands in glee over a victory over a pedophile, is ‘as close to happy as he gets.’ I think there’s no clearer reveal of Valentine’s love for him than there, as he points it out to Nadia. (Though that comment, heartbreaking in its starkness, plays out in my head against the memory of the two of them flying Bella from earlier in the season.)
But Backstrom knows Valentine, too. Although they’ve apparently never discussed it, he knows what happened to him on the streets – the man who’s not confident of his ability to love cared enough to hunt down the police report, and knows Valentine well enough to know that’s not all that happened. But until now, he’s not pushed for details.
And Valentine? He trusts him enough to tell him. It’s a phenomenal scene, and both actors nailed it.
Like heroism, there are different definitions of love – what it is, what it looks like, what it requires. And like with heroes, we often lose out when our definition is too narrow.
That’s what I keep coming back to when I watch this show: here’s this rude, barely functioning, self-destructive, loose-cannon cop…with three people in his life who trust him, apparently absolutely: Valentine, Niedermayer (“he knows what he knows”), and Almond. And slowly, week by week, we’re learning why that is, why it is that Almond, at the end of his prayer of thanksgiving says this:
“Dear Lord…thank you for Everett Backstrom. We all know that evil can cloak itself in beauty. But good can also confuse us in deportment and appearance.”
Love can be love, even without the words and heroes are often found in unlikely places for those who are willing to see.
“I’ll play devil’s advocate, if I may…it is bad police work to assume these cases are linked.”
“Well, then I’m the poster boy for bad police.” (Gravely and Backstrom)
“Did you engage in coitus with Talia?
“Coitus is sexual intercourse…that’s when you put your penis inside-”
“No, no, no. I did not have sexual intercourse with Talia. I’ve never had sexual intercourse with anyone. Is there like a test for that? I’ll gladly take it for proof.” (Gravely, Niedermayer, Claudio)
(My favorite part of this exchange, by the way, is Almond, smiling through the observation glass at Claudio.)
“Just making sure…you do know that vampires aren’t real, correct?”
“Thanks for that, Valentine.”
“You’re welcome.” (Valentine and Backstrom)
“I’m sending you a restricted video file. I hope you’ll come visit me when I’m in Leavenworth.” (Gravely)
“You made a big mistake, Amber.”
“I don’t appreciate your tone, Detective Almond.”
“Your daughter is a drug user and an extortionist. I’m not sure I appreciate your parenting skills.” (Almond and Amber’s father)
“Maybe God’s trying to tell you something, John.”
“What, get a second job? Keep my church alive?”
“That fellow told me you’re busy saving a girl’s life. Maybe God’s trying to tell you you’re doing exactly what he wants you to do be doing.” (Almond’s church’s landlord and Almond)