By Ken Tucker
Updated May 22, 2009 at 04:55 PM EDT

So the ratings have been tumbling a bit for Southland — too bad, since the show has only gotten better since its premiere, and last night, it had one of this season’s best finales. I kind of figured the show wouldn’t kill off the sweet-faced 15 year-old targeted by a drug lord, if only because that’s the kind of tug-at-your-heartstrings moment an assiduously dark show such as Southland avoids.

But it did something better: it put that girl in jeopardy and placed as her ultimate guardian Regina King’s police detective Lydia Adams. And better still, the episode written by creator Ann Biderman put a shotgun in Lydia’s hands, which she used to defend herself and her young charge in a terrific shoot-out that was better than anything in Gran Torino.

The series had to cram all the major characters into the finale, which was set during Memorial Day weekend. Gotta say, I’m not as into the subplot about Detective Sal worrying about his teen daughter Kimmy at a rave (which came to a tearful resolution) as I am with the C. Thomas Howell is a crazy-alcoholic cop (which, while ratcheting up the tension superbly in a Howell-driving-drunk scene, didn’t come to enough of a resolution for me).

And, oh yes, Ben McKenzie, officer, sir? You are much better off without that girl. Her singing a Carole King song in a Silverlake coffee house?: she practically glowed Sensitive Weepy Loser.

The cliffhanger (um, spoiler alert) of Tom Everett Scott being shot by a neighbor may have been easily foreseen, but was nonetheless well-done.

All in all, it was an excellent end to a solid season. I just hope that, when Southland moves to 9 p.m. Fridays next season, it can pick up more viewers. But not at the expense of Dollhouse… boy, it’s hard to know which shows to root for the most these days, isn’t it?

Did you watch the season finale of Southland? What did you think?