Against the Wall: Internal Affairs to Remember

Partners Abby and Lina
Abby Kowalski and partner Lina Flores
Thanks to a lifetime of reading and watching police procedurals, I’ve got a pretty good idea what sort of reaction officers assigned to Internal Affairs Division garner from their fellow officers. Charged with investigating their fellow officers for misconduct and other crimes, IAD is often muttered with the same kind of scorn normally reserved for criminals. So, when I first saw the previews for Lifetime’s new primetime drama Against the Wall I was intrigued. Add in a pair of veteran actors like Kathy Baker and Treat Williams, and I was determined to watch.

Abby Kowalski (played by Rachael Carpani), like her father (Treat Williams) and brothers, is a member of the Chicago police force. She’s desperate to move up the chain of command into a Detective position, but there are no openings in Homicide, which she really wants. So, despite knowing she’ll get serious flack from her father and brothers, she pulls up her big girl panties and applies for and gets a position in Internal Affairs.

Abby might be pretty, but she’s no pushover, and despite the expected blowback from her father and brothers over her new job, she stands firm and does what they’d do in the same situation: her job. The only person in the family to congratulate her on her new job is her mother (Kathy Baker) who encourages her to bake a cake to give her father when she tells him.

Treat Williams and Kathy Baker as the Kowalksi parents
Treat Williams and Kathy Baker as Abby’s parents
What struck me most about the first couple of episodes is that Abby is about as post-feminist a fictional female detective as I’ve seen on the small screen. She’s as comfortable calling up her brother’s partner, Brody, for a booty call as she is baking a conciliatory cake for her dad. And unlike her predecessors in TV crime, she has a close-knit family and what looks to be a healthy social life. For someone who grew up watching both Charlie’s Angels and Cagney & Lacey, this new iteration of the female cop is refreshing.

But there are signs of trouble on the horizon, both in Abby’s life and in terms of the viability of the show.  In moments of stress, she relies on the time-honored traditions of cops everywhere: mindless sex and alcohol. And following tradition, both seem to leave her feeling empty and alone.  I can live with this as long as it doesn’t overwhelm the effervescence of Abby’s character, which I think is one of the show’s selling points. 

There is also the presence in her life of Danny (Chris Johnson) who is a friend but wants to be more. I think you can guess Abby’s response to this. Say it with me: she just can’t handle a relationship right now. What really annoys about this is that Abby likes Danny. So it seems arbitrary for her to put him off with excuses when she was jealous as heck when he showed interest in her friend, Mackie.  Of course we’re only two shows in, so perhaps the writers will prove me wrong. I hope they do.

The cases tackled by Abby and her partner Lina (Marisa Ramirez) seem poised to breathe new life into the police procedural genre. We’ve seen cases peripherally involving IA on other shows, but this is the first time I can remember being shown just what happens when cops investigate other cops. What’s fun about this is that we aren’t limited to one division or unit. So one week it could be investigating a beat cop, and the next week it could be vice, and so on.

Abby and her brothers
Abby and her brothers
At the end of the first episode, the inevitable happens: Abby’s brother Richie shoots and kills a teenager and IA is called to investigate whether it was a clean shooting. Whereas her father and brothers were displeased with her position in IA before, her brothers at least still spoke to her. But now they close ranks against her because they see her as the enemy. It remains to be seen whether their prejudice will last when they find out that the man investigating Richie’s case has offered to make the charges go away if Abby will sleep with him. Something tells me that their protective instincts will trump their loyalty to the force if they ever find out about this sleazeball’s threats.

Is it too post-feminist for me to say I’m glad about that?


  1. Tatiana deCarillion

    I hesitated to watch this because Lifetime isn’t even a channel that I surf by. Most of their programming is just not my cup of tea.

    However, I like this show. I’ve seen the first two episodes, and the third one is queued up for watching this weekend.

    While some of the story is predictable and plays into the general perception about IA, it’s definitely Abby that breathes life into the show, and it’s her that brings me back to watch.

  2. Manda Collins

    I agree, decarillion. I was unfamiliar with the actress playing Abby before this, but she’s definitely got the strength to carry the show. And I like the quirkiness of the show. It’s cute without being cloying.

  3. LoriA

    I saw a commercial for the show, and recognized the actress playing Abby (though initially I didn’t remember from where), so I decided to watch. I saw Rachael Carpani in an Australian show called McLeod’s Daughters (I saw the first few seasons on cable TV).

    So far, I do like it. I think they established pretty quickly that there are problems with Rachael’s relationship with Brody, so I’m hoping they move on. Plus Danny has already called her on her reaction.

    I also like that Rachael is supportive of cops, so she’s often on their side when she’s investigating. She’s as eager to clear a cop as to find one guilty of something, and she has already received some thanks.

  4. Manda Collins

    I’ve never seen McLeod’s Daughters, Lori, though after a little digging I realized that I recognized Carpani from a guest appearance on The Glades last season.

    I like how supportive she is of cops too. Though it puzzles me how much her family is freaking out about her being with IA. I get that they are naturally suspicious of IA, but you’d think they’d be glad to have her as an IA detective rather than some stranger they can’t trust. Oh well. If they were okay with it then there wouldn’t be a show.

  5. Saundra Peck

    As a retired police officer, I can tell you that most cops do see IA as seperate and dirty “out to get us” entity within a police dept. As a woman and a documented good cop, I never worried about them and saw them as a needed check within a balanced system. This show is a really good and believable cop drama, unlike most shows in this day and age. I hope it goes far, as I love it!!!

  6. Manda Collins

    Interesting, SK1336! Thanks for the insider’s perspective. Since I don’t have a lot of actual experience with the police, I wonder sometimes whether tropes (like cops distrusting IA, or the whole turf war thing between local police and FBI) have been manufactured for the sake of drama on television and in fiction, and how much is true to life. It’s good to know that this show at least is getting things right.

  7. Marlyn

    I’d not heard of this show before reading this article. It sounds like something I’d enjoy, but I hate that I’ve missed the first couple of eps.

  8. Manda Collins

    I suspect Lifetime will rerun them one of these days, Marlyn. I actually forgot to watch Sunday night, so I’ll have to find a rerun one night this week.

  9. Tatiana deCarillion

    The 2nd and 3rd episodes are up on Hulu, atm. Not the pilot, though 🙁 You might check Lifetime’s site, just to be sure.

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