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March 09, 2011 at 07:07 AM EST

Image Credit: Doug Hyun/TNTLook below the surface, and Southland is one of the quietest shows on television. On last night’s season finale, there was a car crash, a rooftop chase, some bloody gunplay, and a brutally extended fight sequence. One man was shot to death, and another fell off a building. A child was born. At one point, a skimpily-dressed hooker climbed up onto the hood of a cop car and loudly demanded $10 while beating her fists against the windshield wipers. It could play as bombastic, but Southland never feels over-the-top. Even though the finale delivered big emotional payoffs for most of the main characters — and even though the show’s future is still currently up in the air — the show ended its third season on a thoughtful note.

The key, I think, is the lack of music. The big action sequence of the episode saw Ben Sherman chasing a fleeing child molester up a fire escape and across a rooftop, while his ailing partner-mentor John Cooper — suffering from bad back, drug-addled brain, and a semi-existential detachment from reality — struggled to follow. It’s the kind of sequence that on most TV shows would be scored with 24-ish action music, but on Southland, the only soundtrack was the tinny creaking of the fire escape, the quickening footsteps, and the ambient city sounds of a disinterested metropolis.

Of course, it helps when a cast is stacked this full of talented actors. Last night was a good showcase for Michael Cudlitz, who has nailed John Cooper’s slow-motion moral descent. (It feels like we’ve seen the guy age ten years this season.) His last scene was devastating — as he checked into a hospital, listing off all the prescription drugs he was addicted to, he still managed to look disgusted when the nurse asked him if he had taken cocaine and heroin. “I’m a cop,” he said, which in context was both sad and funny.

It was also thrilling to see Shawn Hatosy’s Sammy avenge Nate’s shocking death. It was, admittedly, a curiously perpendicular vengeance: Nate’s killer was fleeing from the cops for a different crime and ended up getting shot by some other uniforms on the scene. Still, Sammy got some mortal retribution, whispering Nate’s name in the dying killer’s ear over and over again: “Nate Moretta. Nate Moretta, m—–f—–.” It was a weird, fascinating scene, made even stranger when we saw Sammy holding his newborn son just a few scenes later.

At the end of the finale, Sammy was back in a uniform, with Sherman as his new partner. I’d be interested to see those two characters play off each other more…if the show goes to a fourth season. Viewers, did you enjoy the finale? Want to see more Southland? If the show goes to a fourth season, what former teen star would you like to see gritt-ify their reputation? Jason Behr? Jason Dohring? Some other former teen star named Jason?

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