"Southland" just keeps getting better, and with only three episodes left in the heart-thumping fourth season, the momentum continues to build.
I caught up with stars Ben McKenzie and Shawn Hatosy on the show's set (a.k.a. a random street in Los Angeles, one of four shooting locations for that day alone) to talk about what's next for officers Ben Sherman and Sammy Bryant. Both actors were getting a little banged up while we talked -- prepping for a dramatic scene with help from the makeup department -- which is always a good sign of action to come.
In this week's episode, "God's Work," (Tues., Mar. 6, 10 p.m. EST on TNT), Cooper (Michael Cudlitz) and Tang (Lucy Liu) are dealing with the aftermath of her shooting an innocent kid; Lydia (Regina King) and Ruben (Dorian Missick) get a new case that'll probably tug at Lydia's pregnant emotions; and Ben continues to overstep the boundaries of being a cop, furthering his downward spiral by trying to help a prostitute and her daughter.
So Ben continues to self-sabotage, I hear ... what's happening in the last few episodes this season?
Shawn Hatosy: "Our relationship is in question because our trust is broken ... and it's f---face's fault! [Laughs.] So how do we come back from this?"
Ben McKenzie: "The last third of the season, my character get involved with ... well, he tries to help out a prostitute and her daughter who are being abused and mistreated by their pimp. He's doing all this stuff out of his own sort of traumatic experiences from childhood. He's sort of overly protective of women, so he thinks he can change this situation which is, perhaps, unchangeable. He's becoming too involved in the case ... we've told that story with Sammy, too, but this is different and even potentially darker because it could turn a cop. A guy like Ben, who seems very put together and very by the books ... "
But does he seem that way anymore? I'm concerned! Especially given his past ...
Ben McKenzie: "Right -- we're trying to do that. He's a complicated guy. [Laughs.] Sort of overly protective of women, and then he's a total dog, sleeping around. It's very interesting ... I'm trying to make it work!"
Were you happy with the new partner dynamic for Sammy this season?
Shawn Hatosy: "For me, it's been totally different because I've been back in uniform, and last season, there were all these traumatic events that sort of shaped who Sammy is, and so it's been light. But the honeymoon's over, and we're going to have to deal with these personalities when they don't necessarily go as perfectly together."
Were you shocked at how quickly Ben sort of had this 180 when he passed his test and got partnered with Sammy?
Ben McKenzie: "I was surprised that we went as quickly as we did with me sort of punching a teenage girl in Episode 2. But [executive producer] Chris Chulack and I talked about that a lot in the off-season. I do think the character was somewhat of a blank slate, even through Season 3, because we'd only really seen him in the context of his relationship with John [played by Michael Cudlitz], and he was sort of quiet and stoic, and had to be quiet and stoic around John because John would just run right over him. That's the dynamic we established with the elder training officer and the junior rookie probationary officer -- he has to respect him, or he doesn't get to pass the test and get the job. So now that we're free of that, it's opened him up to all sorts of things. Now we're really talking about beating him up a little bit, and showing all kinds of sides to him. He's figuring out if he can really do this, and what kind of cop he wants to be."
So what kind of cop does he want to be?
Ben McKenzie: "Well, I think what's interesting about our show is it doesn't give you any easy examples of who he ought to be -- no cop is perfect. Sammy is a good cop, but even he got overly invested in finding Nate's killer ... even though my character doesn't know what happened. He's a pretty intense guy, Sammy. But then you've got even worse options, like Dewey [C. Thomas Howell] or Ferguson [Lou Diamond Phillips], and you don't want to be them! But we want to really be open to the idea that he could become those guys if he's not careful."
Shawn Hatosy: "I think that's what this season is about, honestly. Sammy's pretty comfortable with who is and what kind of cop he is, and being partnered up with this new P2 who is figuring out what kind of cop he is ... to balance that off of Sammy. You know, Ben's going to have some decisions to make, to see how he handles the job. You see it in Episode 1, he's still out there trying to do everything by the book and you can't always do that. You do become emotionally attached, to the victims and the people you're dealing with in this crazy landscape."
Do you think Sammy will ever be close enough with Ben as a partner to tell him about what really happened with Nate's death?
Shawn Hatosy: "That's a good question ... yes. I mean, I hope so. Ben sort of goes off the rails pretty quickly, and Sammy tries to tell him: 'Don't think you're the only cop that's ever been in this situation. I've been there, too.' But you've gotta learn how to navigate it and compartmentalize."
Do you want things to get even worse for Ben?
Ben McKenzie: "Storytelling-wise, yeah, absolutely. I think it's interesting to take a guy who was kind of pitched as the blonde haired, blue eyed archetypal hero figure, and mess him up. Really mess him up. And get him into a place where he's doing things and you're like, 'I didn't see that coming.'"
There are some cuts and bruised knuckles on you guys today ...
Ben McKenzie: "Stuff's happening! It's very cool. I will tell you this: Every time I'm reading a script, I'm very excited. From here on out, the episodes get pretty serious."
Shawn Hatosy: "It's pretty bad actually ... [Laughs.] I'm telling you right now: Sammy's not coming back if there's a Season 5."
Of course he's kidding, but do you have any guesses about the end of this season of "Southland"? Will Ben and Sammy last as partners? Are there other partnerships you'd like to see on the show? Sound off in the comments.
"Southland" airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. EST on TNT.