Sandra Gonzalez
March 13, 2012 AT 10:12 PM EDT

Police officer Ben Sherman was more than unhinged last week on Southland after a close-to-home case involving a hooker and her young daughter led to some pretty rash behavior on his part. (He beat up a pimp!) Following a season that has found actor Ben McKenzie embracing the comedic aspects of his character, it was a dramatic shift to say the least. But a necessary one on many levels, says McKenzie.

“I was really trying to encourage the writers and producers to let this character’s wings spread [this season] and allow him to be confident and more fun and engaging and a little bit crazier and wilder,” he says. “It [set] up the last part of the season nicely. The last third is very serious, very dramatic…[but] it’s offset by the lighter stuff we did in the first half.” Watch our interview with McKenzie, where discusses tonight’s installment and the rest of the season, below.

Tonight’s episode of TNT’s action-drama continues to explore the storyline and finds Ben plunging deeper into the increasingly complicated situation. And by the end of the fourth season, he says, the consequences will leave Ben in “a completely new place that you’ve never seen before.” Added McKenzie, “It’s an interesting ending for my character because it wraps up nicely and has you curious about what’s going to happen if there is a new season. It will give us a very interesting jumping off point next season.”

Speaking of next season, there is no word yet from TNT if the show will return. Though, says McKenzie, “we’re very optimistic, very hopeful.” Southland aired one season on NBC, and was canceled before the second season could air. TNT came to its rescue and began airing on that network in January 2010. Bias noted, McKenzie says he genuinely sees years of potential in the critically-acclaimed series.

By the end of this season, “It will be about his battle with the dark side a little bit and what kind of cop he’s going to become,” says McKenzie. “Does Ben become John Cooper, who has his own issues with the job? Or is he able to steer himself toward the more humane version of being a cop. I think walking that tight rope will allow us a lot of years of growth.”

Southland airs Tuesdays on TNT.

Read more:

‘The Office,’ ‘Revenge,’ ‘Southland,’ ‘Justified,’ ‘HIMYM’: Find out what’s next in the Spoiler Room

‘Southland’ behind the scenes: On the street with Ben McKenzie, Michael Cudlitz, and more! — VIDEO

‘Southland’ co-star joins Kiefer Sutherland’s ‘Touch’ — EXCLUSIVE

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