Backstrom “Bella” Review Season 1 Episode 2

Backstrom-ep104_sc22_037_hires1

After a shaky start last week, we began to get a sense of what “Backstrom” might eventually be in earnest with this episode, enigmatically entitled “Bella.” In this episode, we had a much more balanced mix of the comedic and the dramatic, and though far from perfect, it was at least a step in the right direction, which is something. There may be hope for this show yet.

The main case this week revolved around an arson case that had very nearly escalated to outright murder, necessitating the involvement of the homicide department. Enter Backstrom (Rainn Wilson), who thought that there was more going on here than met the eye, which was confirmed by Detective Almond (Dennis Haybert), who felt that the fire investigator in charge, Samantha Orland (Angelique Cabral, “Enlisted”) was looking more to spread the blame between them and the fire department than actually solve the crime, which proved to be right on the money in more ways than one.

Complicating matters was the presence of his childhood neighbors and endless tormentors, the D’Agostino brothers, the elder Nick (Matt Battaglia, “True Detective”) and the younger, wilier Sam (Eddie McClintock, “Warehouse 13,” perfectly cast). Now firefighters, and no less annoying to Backstrom, he wasted no time in putting them at the top of his suspect list, positing that they might be using starting fires as an opportunity to loot people’s homes. But first, he had to prove it.

At the opposite end of the spectrum was Detective Gravely (Genevieve Angelson), who felt that the fire was more likely the job of a serial arsonist, who had escalated their game. The MO fit the profile of “The Green Flame,” who had a particular method of setting fires that lined up with a series of fires which had migrated over from other cities over time. By narrowing down the movements of the various suspects, Gravely hoped to get her man- or woman, as the case might be, and ultimately was.

To me, this episode worked far better than the pilot because it showed that not only was Backstrom not infallible, but that he was capable of growth, however miniscule. It also benefitted enormously from the presence of people from his past, which went a long way towards humanizing him considerably. Who among us haven’t been bullied? (If not, you were probably the one doing the bullying.) And who among us haven’t dreamed of getting their revenge for it when we were older?

Here, we got to see Backstrom gleefully taking advantage of that, using his badge as an opportunity to settle some old scores in amusing fashion, while at the same time, learning the hard way that such behavior can still come back to bite you in the…um, Backstrom, shall we say? I loved the scene in which, armed with Moto at his side, he went around smacking the brothers on the back of their heads while taunting them mercilessly, no doubt just as they had back in the day, albeit in far worse fashion. (At one point, Backstrom mentions their having stapled his scrotum to his leg- ouch!)

In the end, the brothers did indeed prove guilty of thievery, albeit not of serial arson, which meant that Backstrom had to admit that he was only partially right, and that Gravely was indeed correct in her assumptions. Granted, it was Backstrom that ultimately put it together that it was none other than the fire investigator, Orland, who did the deed, but he also let Gravely make the collar, which is something.

This episode wasn’t perfect, by any means. At turns, it veered way too close to outright slapstick, for one thing, not to mention some slightly overblown performances. For instance, the scene in which Backstrom brought in Sam for questioning started strong with the former exposing to the latter that his brother had hooked up with an early love interest behind his back in amusing fashion, but then pushed its luck by having the other brother show up and the two ending up literally tussling in the hallway of the precinct, which seems a bit unlikely.

Likewise, the mostly carefully-modulated performance of Kristoffer Polaha as Sgt. Niedermayer veered perilously close to face-pulling ridiculousness when he encountered fire “artist” and potential suspect Melinda Norburg (Elysia Rotaru)- but not nearly as much as Cabral’s did as the actual culprit, especially in the scene in which her character was actually confronted with a lighter. Now that performance verged on outright cartoonishness, which was interesting since, up until that moment, Cabral’s work was just fine.

I think that it has less to do with the actors than it does the filmmakers and possibly the writers. My guess is that the actors were simply told to do what they did by the director, or possibly interpreted it that way because of the script, and thus, were just doing their jobs as told. However, there’s a fine line between realism and hyperrealism, and the show continues to cross it from time to time, and not to its benefit. In shows like this, it’s all about the tone, and “Backstrom” has yet to nail its down. Of course, the very fact that it came that much closer this week than last week means it may well be getting there, which is promising, so there’s that.

My favorite thing in the show was the recurring titular motif of “Bella,” which was posited as a sort of mysterious clue in the “Rosebud” mold (as in “Citizen Kane,” for those who don’t get the reference), and did, in fact, turn out to represent a symbol of Backstrom’s lost childhood. In this case, it was a kite that the D’Agostino brothers had stolen and hidden away long ago, and which the episode ended with his getting back.

The best scene of the night- and of the show thus far- was the one in which, having gotten back his beloved homemade kite at long last, Backstrom gleefully let it fly in the air, his inner child gleaming in his eyes. Then, just when you thought there was hope for Backstrom yet, when sidekick/possible offspring Valentine asked to fly it, he responded with a terse “No!” In that moment, the character really started to gel for me in earnest, and I could see the show’s potential for greatness.

Alas, it was the end of the episode, but still: baby steps. If the show can keep achieving moments like this and a few others within the episode (Backstrom taunting the brothers throughout the episode; Backstrom getting his comeuppance from some paramedics and getting dumped in the rain, leaving a sad, bare-chested overweight man with ECT paddle marks on his chest to stew alone), then “Backstrom” might well be onto something. Whether that will end up being the new “House” or the newest show to be cancelled remains to be seen, but on the latest episode, it at least showed what might could be, if the show hits its stride and eliminates some of its more unfortunate conceits.

What did you think of the latest episode of “Backstrom”? Is the show growing on you? Or is it a little too quirky for its own good? What do you think of the characters on the whole? Do you have a favorite, or a least favorite? Sound off in the comments below and see you next week!