Rainn Wilson continues his portraiture of Backstrom in “Bella.” This episode delivered a Backstrom who was difficult to find redeemable… until the very last moments. As viewers have yet to fully invest in this character, a more provocative (likable) character display would have made more sense so early on in the season. Nonetheless, Backstrom’s disdain for the bullies and his thirst for revenge is understandable and entertaining even though he presents as crazed throughout most of the episode.
While pursuing a serial arsonist who’s heading toward using children as Roman candles, Backstrom and his team interact with two of his least favorite people in the world: fire fighters Nick and Sam D’Agostino. While Backstrom insists upon nailing the two professional heroes for both larceny and arson, Gravely insists on focusing solely on the arson, causing a division within the team. Throughout is the sense that Backstrom has gone off the deep end as a result of his obsession with revenge on his childhood tormenters. Finally, when he is at his lowest, he shares a human moment eliciting the sage advice of colleague John Almond and, surprisingly, follows it.
Meet the Cast of Backstrom >>>
Elsewhere, Gravely saves Backstrom’s bacon numerous times, Niedermayer remains sensitive, smoking hot, and confident in his manhood in the face of Valentine’s solicitous albeit entertaining advances, and guest stars Eddie McClintock (Bones, Warehouse 13) and Matt Battaglia (True Detective) make a great team as detestable jock-strappy brothers, Sam and Nick D’Agostino. Sweet Angelique Cabral (Enlisted) appears as Arson Investigator Samantha Orland whose darkness lies behind a wall of smoke and mirrors (pun intended) until the nasty end.
Two Big Dicks: Glory Hogs and Thieves
The case of the serial arsonist who has been setting in not one, but two states, is a spooky one. This particular arsonist, which has been dubbed ‘The Green Flame,’ likes to use a particular combination of chemicals which cause the flame burn with a green hue. Although there is no murder to investigate, Backstrom et al are brought into the case by the investigator who reveals there were children in the house when it lit up. This makes the case an attempted homicide.
On the scene are members of Firehouse 41 and Backstrom’s childhood nemeses, Nick and Sam D’Agostino, who cajole the detective and reveal he’s been a negative mess since before he was 12 years old and the unwilling mouse to the boys’ cat routine.
Immediately, Backstrom suspects his frenemies are pocketing all kinds of loot from houses they’ve doused. It’s unclear where he gets this from other than his past experience with them. Before long, however, Valentine locates a watch being fenced, which leads back to the fire scene involved in this case proving that Backstrom was somehow exactly right… about the thievery, at least.
Pyro-Nympho Propositions Niedermayer
Gravely and Niedermayer investigate a fire sculptor who regularly advises on arson cases and there they learn about the green flame phenomenon as well as fire fetishism. A rather interesting scene ensues where the woman vamps all over Niedermayer as she equates fire ignition to arousal and the full fledged flame consumption with orgasm. This only serves to introduce the concept of Pyro-nymphomania and lead Gravely and Moto to the discovery of a fire-remnant collector.
Probable Cause and General Jerk-holery
A forged warrant in hand, Almond and Niedermayer search Firehouse 41 and find a dead canary hanging in someone’s locker. The locker belongs to a probie who is the last in a long line of family fire fighters who is being threatened to keep his mouth shut. Backstrom suspects what’s going on but can’t break the kid at first. In this scene we also learn that Sam and Nick lived across the street from Backstrom and tortured him everyday using all kinds of gross and painful strategies. Apparently their fathers were competitors as well. Worst of all, however, those nasty boys took ‘Bella.’ Later we learn what Bella is, but not until the very end.
As a result of the canary, Almond is now convinced about something fishy going on at the fire house, and he begins to understand Backstrom’s intense disdain for the two beefcakes in raincoats.
Back at the station, the probie admits nothing, gets released, and the team is stumped. There has to be something more going on here, insists Gravely, than canary murder and love bird theft. And she is right, but it takes a while to figure it all out.
Liar, Liar Pants on Fire
Later at the firehouse after another fire, Backstrom agitates Sam and Nick, slapping them on the backs of their heads, then hangs on Sam’s neck in an ineffectual headlock. It’s a pretty lame attempt, but we soon learn his ploy — to plant evidence on his enemy. In the leg pocket of Sam’s fire pants they find the very watch that had recently been fenced and leads back to the recent fire. Bingo, and Sam gets brought back to the station.
Not much progress is made with Sam, except that Backstrom reveals he saw older brother Nick pawing at younger brother Sam’s girlfriend when they were teens. This does serve to cause a little rift between the brothers. but it is short-lived and later the guys attempt to bribe Backstrom when he learns he was completely right about their thievery.
An Incendiary Strategy
Gravely receives the files from previous conflagration from the arson inspector and notices the modes of ignition are different, so maybe the culprits are not the same? This throws the team off for a while. We find out later that this is not the case; that the files on the previous fires had been doctored by someone on the inside.
The Canary Sings
Troubled at the prospect of disappointing his entire family of heroes, probie finds Backstrom at his home and spills on the firehouse thievery. And that is what gives Backstrom what he needs to go back to the firehouse and torture Nick and Sam into revealing what they did with Bella and where she is now.
Everett Backstrom is a Hot Mess
Throughout “Bella” it was clear Backstrom (the character, not the show) is the hottest of messes, emotionally and physically, and one wonders how long he can sustain a career, a life and a storyline before he completely implodes. He has yet to admit his powerlessness over self-medicating with food and booze. One has to ask themselves how the man will conduct himself when he’s not well-lubricated. What kind of complete jack hole is he when he’s sober, and is he even tolerable in that state? Perhaps that is what we will find out going forward.
Last episode, Backstrom pleaded for help from his fence/roommate/friend Valentine. This was an interesting twist on the impervious, alpha males characteristically portrayed by male protagonists in crime procedurals. Only girls show weaknesses, right? So why does Everett Backstrom get to give us some? I don’t know yet, people, and that’s what has me coming back for more.
This episode, Backstrom has some kind of coronary event and is picked up by an ambulance which ends up being manned by two of Nick and Sam’s people. The EMTs threaten Backstrom and give him an unnecessary shock to the heart before tossing him half naked into a puddle in the middle of the street. With no one else to call, Backstrom calls upon Almond, who agreed to pick him up. “What am I doing wrong?!” Asks Backstrom. The line is delivered masterfully with the perfect blend of humility, frustration and resignation. Ah, so there is some redemptive value in this man.
A Confession and a Collar
The advice Almond provides is that Backstrom needs to give Gravely her props for doggedly pursuing the case and for pulling his fat out of the fire on numerous occasions. Surprisingly, Backstrom heeds this distasteful advice, admits to having been wrong about Sam and Nick’s involvement in setting the fires, and goes so far as to allow Gravely to make the final collar when she and he catch arson investigator Samantha Orland casing her next arson victims.
We learned that Backstrom has been badly damaged from a very young age, that this damage molded his self-view almost from birth, and that deep inside that black heart is Bella, which we finally learn is a homemade kite in the likeness of Orca that brought Backstrom a sliver of joy at one time, a joy that the D’Agostino boys snuffed out long ago… and perhaps that is why Backstrom is the big dick we are seeing him as today.
The final scene of Valentine and Backstrom retrieving Bella and then flying her is a cool bucket of water on top of a smoulderingly dark episode. Backstrom’s features relax, his mouth hangs open in thorough enjoyment of his craft, and his cynical exterior loses a bit of its edge. This was both glorious and dishearteningly sad. Backstrom may be a Bog Dick, but he’s also a very hurt puppy.
A Dark Heart Makes for a Heavy Heart
Though we all may have had our fair share of childhood trauma due to bullying, not many can say they’ve had their testicles stapled to their thigh. That cringe-worthy stunt is one of a long list of torments Sam D’Agostino and older brother Nick put 12-year-old Backstrom through. So, it’s clear Backstrom was a cynical misanthrope from a very young age. One plus one equals three and we can deduce that Daddy Backstrom’s abuse began when his son was very, very young.
I found the unraveling of Backstrom’s sanity disheartening but nonetheless intriguing. Rainn Wilson is still thrashing about trying to find his grove in this new part to the point where this episode felt disjointed, sad, even frightening. Then slowly, and in very small glimpses, we again see the vulnerability present in the premiere episode “He Who Kills the Dragon.”
Backstrom airs Thursdays, at 9pm on FOX.
(Images courtesy of FOX)