OK, it’s now The Morning After. I’ve picked my jaw up off the floor, dusted it off, taken some nitroglycerin pills, and can speak coherently towards the series finale of “The Shield,” a show which teased its viewers last night with so many potentially cliched and easy endings, yet never took a one.
“The Shield” stayed true to itself to the very end, never compromising. The finale was an ending, without being the kind of episode that’s so aware of itself as an end that it got wrapped up in that. It was another episode of a great series, but even better.
“The Shield” was a ridiculously good show that never got the attention it deserved past Michael Chiklis’ one Emmy. Part of me really hopes the whole “let’s reward a good show after it’s gone” mentality strikes the Emmys folks this coming summer. Heck, give the Emmy to Chiklis’ face.
There are shows you watch because you enjoy, and there are shows you watch because they are truly great. I enjoy ’24,’ but it doesn’t hold a candle to ‘The Shield’ as far as great dramas go. The former is a fun roller coaster ride when done right. The latter is modern day televised Shakespeare.
And that’s what makes writing this so easy and so enjoyable. There’s so much to talk about here that I could go on for another 2500 words. Hopefully, it’ll be quicker than that.
Let’s get to it. Full spoilers after the break!
I spoke earlier of ways the show could have taken the easy route. The easiest of all would have been for Vic to break ranks with ICE, scoop up Ronnie, and run like hell to Mexico. Maybe Vic would find some way to warn Ronnie ahead of time without implicating himself. Maybe Ronnie would figure it out.
Nope, nope, nope.
In the end, Vic stands alone, selling out his last friend. It’s horrific to watch, and Ronnie’s reaction at the end is as tragic as the story Vic’s face tells as it all goes down: Anguish, horror, sadness, and steely resolve.
Another easy way out not taken: The final scene. We see Vic alone in the office after hours, pulling out a gun. Would he repeat Shane’s final act? Surely, he can’t think bringing a gun into a federal office building when he’s been told not to is that bright of an idea.
Nope, it’s just Vic being Vic. He’s served his time in the office for the day, now he can go ut into the night to knock some heads together. Perfect. Vic Mackey: Superhero.
At first, I was worried that Office Vic would just be a gag, another comment on the humdrum daily existence so many of us lead from a cubicle. After nearly tripping over themselves in making it so anathema to Vic (straight with the tour of the officers from H.R.), we see the real purpose of it. The cube is Vic’s prison. His sentence is three years. The Feds have put him there on purpose, to punish him as much as they can. Ten pages of single-spaced reportage a day, five days a week, is pretty harsh. He’s surrounded by people who know who he is and what he’s done. He has no friends. His family is on the other side of the country in Witness Protection. His cop friends are either against him, dead or in jail. (Strike Team head count: Suicide, Murder by Strike Team Member, Jailed, ICE Desk Duty.)
He’s trapped in a hell of his own making, and as much as he may deserve it, you feel sorry for him. That’s the most amazing thing the writers of this show have done. On paper, the actions of the Strike Team are reprehensible and vile. But they did make the streets safer, at the end of the day. And they are only human. And they are worth rooting for, most of the time. Should we feel guilty for rooting for Cop Killer Vic Mackey?
So, yes, Vic isn’t going to jail, but he’s serving a very stiff sentence, all the same. (Goodness knows I feel it every day.)
I mean, jeez, I don’t even like Shane, and his ending stopped me dead in my tracks for a couple of minutes. I was frozen in front of the TV as the commercials ran. I couldn’t process it. It’s the harshest thing I’ve ever seen on TV. And even that’s caused by Vic. It was that final phone call between Shane and Vic that laid it all out. It’s what made Shane realize that as low as he’d gone — snorting coke, wiping his wife for her, backed into a corner with no money and an entire police force out to get him — he had no way out. Vic’s deal with ICE not only trapped Ronnie, but it killed any bargaining power Shane had to keep his mostly-innocent wife out of jail.
I kept thinking that they’d find someway to work that out. Maybe if Mara gave herself up in exchange for testifying against her husband, she’d be allowed to go free to have her baby. Maybe on house arrest or something? Nope, that would have been too easy, and not necessary given Vic’s immunity deal, which was the final nail in the Strike Team’s coffin, as it turned out.
The plotting on the show works. It’s solid. Little actions compound on themselves. Unintended consequences lead to more desperate actions. Things spiral out of control. Like another of my favorite shows, “Babylon 5,” every action has a consequence. You make a decision, and you have to pay for it. That is what we learn.
And Shane still has a thing for young tail, we’re reminded. Even when Shane seems to be acting honorably and caring for his family in the only way he knows how, he’s still a little creepy. And if the Asian teenager hadn’t called him on that, might he have had one last fling in a back alley? Or was his love for his wife and family so great at the end that he wouldn’t have?
“Family meeting” now sends shivers up my spine.
Let us now speak in praise of Michael Chiklis’ face. It’s an actor in its own right, and a powerful force on the show that might have quickly devolved into cliche, if the series had gone on any further. Between last week and this, we saw Chiklis deliver the most moving performances by doing nothing but twitching his face during loooong stretches of silence. You can see everything Vic is thinking from the twitches in his eyes to the curl of his lips to the furrow of his brow. This is visual storytelling at its finest, and I know a few comic artists who should be watching this.
You see it in the final scene. You see it, even more, in The Box with Claudette. She hurt him the only way she knew how, in the end. Showing him the pics of Shane’s murder/suicide scene was one of two last weapons she had left against him — that, and frog-marching Ronnie past him. Vic Mackey doesn’t need to speak. I can’t imagine what the script looks like, but the range of emotions that pour through his eyes is impressive.
Meanwhile, back at The Barn:
The lawsuit against the department by Billings wrapped up most satisfyingly. It had the veritas and the humor necessary to make it feel like a win for The Barn without making it too damaging. And, in the end, Billings’ lawyer might wind up being the woman for Dutch. Who knew? (Yes, that’s the real life wife of Dutch playing the lawyer, much like the show’s creator’s wife played Vic’s wife, and Chiklis’ real life daughter played Vic’s. Tight group there.)
The story of the serial killer, Lloyd, didn’t wrap up anywhere near how I imagined it. It doesn’t need to. Lloyd overplayed his hand in trying to set Dutch up so obviously. Dutch will get him. Sadly, he’ll also get the body of Lloyd’s mother, in the deal. I admit, I would have liked to have seen one last dramatic box scene where Dutch breaks Lloyd, somehow, but it wasn’t necessary. As Claudette says, it’ll happen. Give it a little time.
Dutch didn’t kill any more cats with his bare hands in the finale. Pity.
Claudette turns into the major tragic figure of the series. She’s the one truly hardcore straight-edge cop on the force, cutting no deals and staying well out of the gray area. It’s what allows her to become the leader in the Barn, but it’s also what threatens to drive her nuts, as we’ve seen over and over again. (Yeah, her firing of Dutch didn’t take.) Pitifully, we learn in this episode that the Lupus is taking a harsher toll on her than even we thought. She’s out of medications she can take, and is now fighting a day-by-day battle. Her strength and resolve are noble, but will ultimately be her undoing.
But, in a way, she’s also the big winner. At last the Barn is free of The Strike Team. Precious time isn’t being taken to investigate the Strike Team. Aceveda isn’t in control, working hard to make his political career happen via a captain’s bully pulpit. There’s a new generation of police officers coming up now, such as Tina and Julien. These are people Wyms has helped to mold.
Her final scene with Vic, though, was worth the price of admission. While Chiklis’ face gets most of the air time, her calm demeanor in reading Shane’s suicide note was chilling. You knew where she was coming from in the box the entire time, and that’s in large part thanks to Pounder’s performance.
Hmm, I wonder what else Shane would have written had the cops not come in at that point. At least now we know why he so openly said hello to the next door neighbor — he knew it was the end and was planning his own demise. He wasn’t hiding anymore. He was waiting.
It was the phone call with Vic that finally pushed him over the edge. It was the thought of Vic running free and visiting his children while he rotted in jail that drove Shane to the breaking point. And Vic knows it. It might be his biggest defeat of the series. Shane was a loose cannon but, early on, was something of a protege. Unfortunately, Shane thought he had learned everything a little too soon.
That phone call and the scene with Claudette in the box were two of the three two bits of business that the finale needed, along with Vic’s walk though The Barn — a tense moment where an entire police precinct stops everything it’s doing to get a look at the traitor amongst them.
Some final quick points:
We saw Julien thinking about his sexuality again, even if only as a brief sideways glance out on the street. Glad to see they didn’t forget it completely.
Hey, the president is in town. Can you say, “MacGuffin?”
Favorite cameo appearance of the night: “Homicide: Life on the Street”‘s Lewis (Clark Johnson) as “Handsome Marshal.” (He’s also the director.)
Must read: Shawn Ryan interview. Most depressing quote of the day after:
I always used to joke about “The Shield” vs. “Grey’s Anatomy,” because we were on same lot. Our drama would be on screen, and theirs would be off screen. They took over our sets. They ripped down The Barn now, and that’s McDreamy’s house.
The Barn is gone now. Thank goodness for DVDs.