Backstrom “Bogeyman” Review Season 1 Episode 5

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After the last, thematically-challenging episode of “Backstrom,” my interest was definitely piqued as to how the show would handle the more serious subject matter of tonight’s episode, in which a little girl was kidnapped by a potential serial killer, in “Bogeyman.” My fear was that the show’s pitch black humor would be at direct odds with the material, but I’m happy to report that the show came through with flying colors in the clutch, making for a surprisingly touching and riveting episode.

The storyline was essentially pinched, in a way that recalled “Law & Order” doing their timelier cases-of-the-week, from the recent “Slender Man” case involving a group of teenage girls from Wisconsin who sought to kill a friend of theirs in order to appease the fictional online character and essentially be accepted into his “world.” Of course, being a completely made-up character, created for a web thread in which people would insert creepy images into photographs as seamlessly as possible, this was a complete tragedy, a case of children too young to know better misinterpreting fiction as reality.

Here, the online character was known as “The Hooded Man” or “Minus,” a pale, dark presence with a limp and a cane with his hooded avatar on the top. Prowling the internet for impressionable young girls, he finally found one in Talia, a troubled young woman cut from the Goth mold, whose friends all dressed in black hoodies in tribute to their favorite character. The group called themselves the “Fallen” and their motto was “good is good, but bad is better,” or “GIGBBIB,” the latter of which could be seen etched in graffiti form all over the general vicinity of the school the girls attended, a sanctuary for troubled kids deemed “problem children.”

Wisely, it was in Backstrom’s criticism of this latter institution that the episode’s chief bursts of humor arose, as he laid to waste the school’s literally laissez-faire attitude towards their young subjects, where they basically took a hands-off approach to what they were up to and left them to their own devices. This naturally upset Backstrom to no end, which extended to the missing girl’s mother, who knew so little about her daughter that she didn’t even know her cell phone number, much less who her friends were. For once, I can’t imagine anyone blaming him, given the outcome of such an attitude, even if his typical bull-in-the-china-shop approach to the case was a little on the cruel side, under the circumstances.

However, as timely and relevant as the main plotline was, even more crucial was the impact it had on Backstrom himself, as we finally learned what led him to be the sort of person he was now. It seems that there was a previous case, one which he was convinced was directly tied in to the current one, in which a young girl named Lacy was abducted and never heard from again, with the predator using a “real” vampire trope to seduce his victim online in that case. The case was never solved, and directly led Backstrom to quit the force, and to immerse himself in drink and who knows what else.

I can’t express how crucial it is for a show like this to have a back-story like that to explain why a character is the way they are- otherwise, they’re just cranky and/or crotchety for the sake of being quirky and offbeat, which can truly be grating. More often than not, I hate it when a show takes a “that’s just the way they are” approach to these sort of characters- it’s such a cop-out, and incredibly annoying, not to mention sloppy writing and characterization. Here, we got a perfectly valid reason for Backstrom’s general attitude, and even better, it was wrapped into his closest, non-work-related relationship, that of his young housemate Valentine, who it turns out, has a bit more going on than we might have thought previously as well.

Once again, it would have been easy for the show to just designate Valentine as the more overtly quirky and charismatic foil to Backstrom’s (literal) straight man: the “outrageous” gay character with all the edgy lines meant to make us laugh at how “out-there” he was and not much else. In other words, to make him the “Just Jack” character, a la “Will & Grace.”

But it turns out there’s more to Valentine as well, and it likewise perfectly explains his general attitude: he’s so intentionally catty and biting because, underneath it all, there’s a kid who himself was once the victim of an evil man who very nearly destroyed his psyche altogether. By safeguarding himself via snarky comments and an endless stream of disaffected romps with random men, he keeps his inner self protected. Not only does it make perfect sense now how he and Backstrom would get along so well- it shows that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, whether they really are related or not.

That’s a lot of stuff for a single show to take on, but it also elevates the show from the latest in the long line of misanthropic leading characters who are the way they are “just because” and into the realm of a show that has a method to its particular brand of madness. Just as the introduction of Backstrom’s ex Amy (Sarah Chalke) helped to humanize him and show that he hadn’t always been the way he was, so did this week’s episode show that there was a reason he was the way he was now, as well as the Valentine character to boot.

As such, I’d have to go ahead and say, even though this was, in many ways, the most atypical episode of the show yet, and it’s unlikely that we will get that many shows of its ilk in the future, it was nonetheless an essential one and I’d have to say, the best episode yet. Sometimes a show needs to go off the beaten path to get back on the right one, you know? This was a perfect example of a show doing just that, and moving forward, I think it will prove to be a crucial one, because now we know why some of the main characters are the way they are, and that helps the show prove that it’s not just a case of writers going “let’s see how wacky we can make this character” without thinking things through. Clearly, these writers have thought this one through, and that makes all the difference in the world.

As for the case itself, it was quietly riveting, and if the ending was a bit pat, in that the culprit simply up and confessed a bit too easily, leading to the rescue of not only the primary missing girl, but the previous one, then it still worked in spite of itself because of all the solid characterization we got leading up to it. In other words, even if it didn’t hold up to intense speculation, it still felt earned because the rest of the show was so good.

As someone who’s seen-and reviewed- their fair share of crime procedurals over the years, it’s not the easiest thing in the world to forgive the whole case-solved-in-the-space-of-a-single-episode thing that mars so many of these types of shows, but if the stuff leading up to it is solid enough, I can do just that, and that was certainly the case here. So, even if the ending was a bit incongruous, the general execution was not, so I’m willing to give the episode a pass in spite of it.

So, all things considered, “Backstrom” is shaping up to be a solid show, almost in spite of itself. Going into it, I won’t deny I was a bit skeptical- does the television landscape really need another crime procedural? – but the show has slowly-but-surely made a believer out of me, I must say. Now the question becomes: can they keep it up? (To say nothing of, will anyone care?)

I don’t know if this show will be everyone’s cup of tea- chances are it won’t be- but for those who do “get it,” I think they’ll find that they don’t care what anyone else thinks anymore than Backstrom himself does. And guess what? With this episode, that love of the show was officially just earned. Good on you, “Backstrom.”

What did you think of the latest episode of “Backstrom”? Did you also find the case riveting? How about the back-stories of, respectively, Backstrom and Valentine? Were you happy with the ending, or let down? What did you think of that school’s attitude towards troubled kids- justified or not? Wise or deluded? Sound off below, and see you for the next episode- hope it’s as good as the last two!