J. Lo's first outing as compromised cop Harlee Santos features evidence tampering, betrayal, and murder
Credit: Peter Kramer/NBC
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“Between good cop and bad cop, there are … Shades of Blue.” That’s the tagline for NBC’s new morally ambiguous police drama, but “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions” would suffice as well. Shades of Blue makes no bones that its protagonist, NYPD Detective Harlee Santos (Jennifer Lopez) did a Very Bad Thing — though that’s not always how she perceives it. What the audience is left to grapple with, then, is whether this sin is worth it in the end. As to that question, Shades of Blue tips its hand in the opening five minutes: we first encounter Harlee as she’s taping a confession in a darkened room, blood and bruises smearing her beautiful face: “I always told myself the end would justify the means,” she says. “But now that I’m at the end … I can’t justify anything.”

We flash back to two weeks earlier, when a very different Harlee Santos confidently struts across the screen. This Harlee is cool, collected, and possesses enough causal knowledge about the sexual habits of flowers to give a short biology lesson to her new partner, Michael Loman (Dayo Okeniyi) on their way to his very first crime scene.

It will likely take us the rest of the season to discover what turned this Harlee, the hot-shot cop, into Harlee the shivering mess we saw at the top of the episode. As plots develop along the way, I’ll be keeping a Guilt-O-Meter tracking every character’s culpability and descent into immorality. It’s gonna be a wild ride.

Harlee and Loman arrive at a seedy apartment building after getting tipped that a drug crime may be going down. As they approach the apartment in question, shots ring out. Loman busts through the door, guns blazing, and shoots their would-be attacker square in the chest. Harlee rushes in after him and spots an accomplice escaping out an open window. She turns to her partner, only to discover what Loman has just realized: The shots they heard were from a video game, and he’s just killed an innocent man for the crime of blasting his Nintendo too loudly.

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Loman looks like he’s ready to pass out, so Harlee swings into action. At least their tip-off was solid: There was a drug deal in progress when the detectives busted in. Harlee snags a glock from the huge duffel bag stuffed with heroin that’s chilling on the coffee table. She uses the deceased’s gun to first put one bullet in the door, then another one in Loman (surprise!)… all evidence to sure up their new story — the dealer shot first. By the time other officers arrive on the scene, Harlee’s back to her serene self, and Loman’s picking lead out of his vest.

Harlee brushes off the medics and drives Loman back to the station, coaching him on their story the whole way. She drops him off, then, after a sparring session/tryst with her boxing coach, she cleans herself up and heads to her unit’s favorite after-hours hangout. Clearly, Harlee is not fazed by her afternoon of wrongful killings, evidence tampering, and police misconduct. But as she exits the bar, she runs into Loman, who is not taking to corruption as well as his mentor. Kids these days, amiright?

NEXT: Harlee gets stung

Loman wants to confess, but Harlee is having none of it. She reminds him that she has a daughter, Cristina (Sarah Jeffery), and, now that they’re partners, they’re also family, and that means Cristina is Loman’s daughter as well as her own. (Nice creative use of the Transitive Property, J. Lo.) It’s a good speech, and a good reminder that Lopez is capable of eloquent performances when she’s working with quality material.

Let’s stop here and take stock of our characters’ current moral standings:


Harlee: 9 out of 10, Super Guilty

Harlee uses the logic of “our victim was a gangster anyway” to convince both herself and Loman that their crime isn’t all that bad. But I’m pretty sure that busting through a door into an unarmed civilian’s living room and shooting him in cold blood is murder, no matter dude’s occupation. Her choices to plant evidence and to convince her young, inexperienced partner to lie, coupled with her lack of remorse, all add up to a very guilty picture.

Loman: 7 out of 10, Quite Guilty

Loman was the one who actually committed the wrongful shooting, which ups his culpability considerably. He’s currently wracked with guilt and wants to confess — both factors that make him more sympathetic. But thus far, he doesn’t feel bad enough to actually suffer any consequences, and he’s staying silent. This is how Making a Murderer-type conspiracies get started!

The next morning, before her debrief with Internal Affairs about the shooting, Harlee meets with her unit’s lieutenant, Matt Wozniak (Ray Liotta). Clearly, they have a long history and a deep bond, and she allows herself a moment of vulnerability in his presence, explaining how her money troubles are only worsening and she can’t keep up with Cristina’s high school tuition. Woz brushes off her concerns, saying he’s working on something big enough that soon she won’t have to worry about money at all. With that comforting thought, Harlee white-knuckles it through her IA meeting, which clears her and Loman of any wrongdoing in the shooting.

We soon learn more about Woz’s extracurricular moneymaking ventures. He identifies the suspect who escaped out the window as Earl Barlow (Robbie Tann), a member of a gang run by a Raul Mendez. Woz and Mendez have an understanding: The gang leader keeps drugs and crime out of Woz’s district, and the police leave his operation alone in return. Earl broke that promise by dealing in the building Harlee and Loman were called to the day before. Woz meets Mendez at the gang’s front, a funeral home. To remind him of their agreement, Woz pins him down and pours human cremains all over his face. (This is just clue number 37 or so that Woz is a Bad Dude.)

Cut to Harlee making some illegal deals of her own. She’s in the middle of negotiating with a pot grower to cut her in on his business, in exchange for looking the other way. He hands her a sack of cash just as several squad cars pull up. She makes pretend like it was all a sting and tells the grower to get on the ground. Not so fast, sister: He’s actually undercover FBI, and the sting is really on her.

NEXT: The last loose end gets ended

Harlee is taken in for questioning by a member of the FBI Anti-Corruption Task Force. His name is Special Agent Robert Stahl (Warren Kole), but you could call him Captain America in a suit and tie: no-nonsense blond hair, clear blue eyes, dimples. Something tells me that, much as Harlee hates his guts at the moment, their relationship might just turn more-than-friendly before the season concludes. Stahl doesn’t know about yesterday’s cover up, but he is very aware that there’s serious corruption happening in Harlee’s department. He presents her with a list of her recent misdeeds and proposes a deal — she can stay out of prison if she turns informant on her squad. Harlee would rather do the time than betray her people, but Stahl knows her weakness: Cristina. Harlee can’t abandon her daughter to the system while she rots in jail. It takes some convincing, but by the end of the day she’s been persuaded to become a mole.

Later that night, she and Woz get a tip that Earl (the window jumper) has been located. Woz puts Earl in his squad car, but doesn’t take him to booking or acquiesce to his requests for a lawyer. Instead, he gets Earl to reveal that he witnessed Loman’s unprovoked shooting. Earl is the last loose end. Woz can’t have that, so he delivers him directly to the gang leader, Mendez, who performs his own form of street justice on the disloyal dealer. It’s safe to say Earl is no longer a problem. The next morning, Harlee finds a $10,000 check from Woz in her desk drawer.

That afternoon, Woz meets up with the Internal Affairs officer, Donnie Pomp (Michael Esper) at a deserted marina. The plot thickens: Donnie and Woz are colluding to keep the department’s record clean. “It’s all about protecting Harlee,” says Woz. They’re also planning something bigger… a “job” providing “security only.” Suuuure.

That night, Harlee and Cristina attend a barbecue at Woz’s house. The food is tasty, spirits are high, and no one mentions that they’re all corrupt agents who are morally unqualified for the positions of power they hold. It’s a kickin’ party, in short, until Woz corners Harlee in his garage. He starts rambling about betrayal and breach of trust. He’s discovered there’s a rat on their team, and he “needs to kill it.” Harlee fears he’s caught on to her partnership with Stahl and reaches for her gun. But then Woz ends his speech with a plea, asking for her help to catch the traitor. After all, she’s the only one he can trust.

Final Guilt-O-Meter:

Woz: 8 out of 10, Real Guilty

All the evidence this episode points to Woz as the source of his department’s malfeasance. He’s in charge, and he’s giving everyone else license to do wrong.

Harlee: 8 out of 10, Real Guilty

Agreeing to work with Stahl doesn’t absolve her of anything, but it will go a long way toward ending the corruption in the department, including her own. That is, until she figures out how to ditch the FBI.

Episode Recaps

Shades of Blue
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