“The Shield” has always been one of those shows that you watch to marvel in the miscreance of its characters. There is no black and white on this show, just plenty of shades of gray. That’s never been clearer to me than when I watched the most recent two shows back to back the other night.
It’s also a show that you feel the need for a cold shower when you’re finished with it, no doubt due to the same reasons.
The 90 minutes series finale is on Tuesday. It won’t get blockbuster ratings. It’ll get a few good reviews from the critics. It’ll likely be ignored by the Emmys, who should shower the show with at least three acting nominations and a boat load of writing nods. But for those of us who’ve followed the show from the initial gun shot at Terry Crowley’s head seven seasons ago, it’ll be both a riveting finale where anything goes, and the cliched end of an era.
I’m not sure which stands out more on the show — the writing or the acting. I’m probably better equipped to handle the writing side of things, so I’ll focus on that. But lots of spoilers for the series thus far (and none for what’s coming up in the finale) can be found after the break. My final writeup came in over 2500 words, so we’ll break it into two parts. The second part will go up tomorrow.
I’ve never been a Shane fan, really. But that last episode sunk him to such an all time low that I have to feel sorry for him. I pity him, but I also feel sorry for him. He is a sculpture made by the master, Vic Mackey. No doubt his natural tendencies would have led him down some dark alleys, but Mackey was the enabler. Shane saw himself as Mackey’s protege, and as the rightful heir to the Mackey throne. He thought he could outsmart and outmaneuver his master. And while he made some smart moves, we’ve seen him fail time after time. The more moves he needs to make, the deeper he gets and the worse his situation becomes. Whether it’s with the Armenian mob or his cat and mouse game with the entire police force chasing after him, he’s just not well enough equipped to play the game as well as he thinks he can. He has tricks, but he lacks the creativity and the nerve to pull off what’s needed.
Vic Mackey’s mind never stops racing. Hve himself at the cost of all his friends and family. But he can do it. He can call upon a sensitive and ee always comes up with a plan, even when things get most desperate and he has to, in the end, samotional side when necessary. He can be a cold blooded killer, if that’s what’s called for. And he can be a tough cop. In the hands of a lesser actor, he’d look schizophrenic. In Michael Chiklis’ hands, it’s a tutorial in acting. The way he looks at the camera or at another actor in a scene can sell any emotion or any switch of disposition. He can give an evil smirk one second, then turn around and be “sensitive” the next. It saves the show from conflicting with itself.
That’s why Mackey’s opponents have had to be portrayed by the likes of Forrest Whitaker, Glenn Close, Anthony Andersen, and CCH Pounder. You can’t be a weak actor to face off against Chiklis. He’d eat up every scene and spit you out of it at the end. To be believable, the villain has to be as strong as the hero, though neither side is ever strictly heroic or villainous. They’re all doing what needs to be done, though their personal hang-ups and weaknesses often get in the way.
When Mackey confesses his sins to I.C.E., there’s a clear mix of emotions on his face. The dramatic pause he takes before telling his tale is sold with Chiklis’ subtle body language. We think for just a minute that he might not do it. For a second, we picture the heroic Mackey bursting out of the chair, telling the Feds to stick it, rounding up Ronnie, taking out the drug cartel single handedly, and running out of town, never to be seen again.
But that’s not “The Shield.” That’s more “24,” a show which I love but which is completely different in tone and expectations. Yes, Jack Bauer versus Vic Mackey would make for interesting fan fiction (the two locked up in one room, torturing each other for hours, neither ever breaking, waiting for a pardon), but Bauer is a superhero. Mackey is more down to earth, a pavement pounder and a low level thug with greater career aspirations.
The ultimate irony of the series’ plot in its final days is that Farmington set up Mackey’s wife to get Mackey, but that very action is what lost them Mackey, seemingly for good. No wonder Claudette Wyms was ready to explode, and took it out on whoever was closest to her — in this case, her former partner, the gentle and noble Dutch, who’s possessed of his own hang-ups and a dangling plot point we’ll get to in a bit.
Mackey doesn’t yet realize that he didn’t need to turn to the Feds in such a rush, nor sell out Ronnie just yet. The Feds now realize just what a monster they’ve joined up with. And I’m not terribly sure that contract is nearly as air tight as Mackey thinks it is, or that Mackey has confessed to everything. I mean, I could watch every episode of “The Shield” in order in the next few days and still miss some of his crimes if you asked me to recap it directly afterwards. You almost get the feeling that Mackey will get nailed in the end for tax evasion or something. But I’m getting ahead of myself here. . .
You can also see the parallels to what Mackey just did to Ronnie to what Shane did to Lem, though perhaps not quite so literally. Shane was being played. He thought Lem was going to sell out the Strike Team and needed to be dealt with. He was wrong. Lem was holding tight. Lem died for nothing.
Now, Mackey is being played, fooled into thinking his wife is in trouble. To protect his literal family (not the figurative family, the strike team), he is dropping the proverbial bomb on Ronnie.
Lem may have gotten the easiest way out of The Strike Team of all the players.
Claudette Wyms seems like the Great White Knight of the series, but even her story has its hang-ups. Her bad health is a liability, as we saw in an earlier episode. She wound up giving a deal to one low life to prevent others from going free on appeal. But when Dutch says nothing because he has no proof on something Billings did badly, she beats up on him, firing him immediately. Is there any difference between what Dutch did and what she did? Aren’t they bother covering up for their own mistakes? To be sure, Wyms is the closest to a pure good guy this series has, but her failing health and frustrated temperament have proven to be liabilities. And I can’t help but think that’s about to his a crescendo in the finale, too. Will Wyms survive the finale, or will she finally be overcome by the mess around her? Or will she do the smart thing and get the hell out of Farmington for some rest or reassignment?
CCH Pounder’s performance deserves to be listed alongside the likes of Whittaker and Close above. She’s a force of nature in her own way, though often in a very understated way. She can sit behind a desk and bark out orders with a gravitas, but she can also get her dander up and dress down a suspect or a detective with equal passion and power. I’d love to see a scene between her and Mackey in the finale. That’s a ten minute dialogue scene worth writing, for some intrepid writer. (I imagine Shawn Ryan already did, but we’ll find out on Tuesday.)
Her outrage over Dutch’s oversight of Billings is understandable. Her termination of him works as part of her agitated mental state at the time, but it also gives us another outward sign of the increased erratic mental state she’s been in this season, most recently seen in her misplace drugs in her office. That said, I’m sure he’ll calm her down and retain his job. (Or, he’s gone and the much-rumored Dutch spin-off series is in the works.)
More to come tomorrow, including thoughts on dropped storylines, the other cops on the show, and predictions for what might just happen in the finale.