[08/30/08 - 05:03 PM]
The Futon's First Look: "Shield, The" (FX, Season Seven)
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

The network's description: "The burning question fans want to know is, "How will it end for Detective Vic Mackey?" Will he be killed? Will he go to jail? Or, will he walk away? Vic faces threats from all directions, primarily from his damaged protege Detective Shane Vendrell, whom Vic knows killed their former partner Detective Curtis Lemansky. He also is faced with losing his badge, as Captain Claudette Wyms is on the verge of pushing him off the force so she and her precinct can clean up Farmington without the stench of police corruption. Further complicating matters is the fact Vic is unaware that he and his team have been 'greenlit' (marked for death) by Diro Kesakhian for ripping off the Armenian money train (Season 2) and that Shane is the one who gave him up. Last season Vic and Detective Ronnie Gardocki learned that Shane killed Lem. When Vic confronted Shane about the murder of Lem, Shane threatened to blow the whistle on the Strike team for all of the past sins and send the details of their crimes to Internal Affairs, should Vic hurt Shane or his family. Farmington was systematically being taken over by one of the Mexican drug cartels to launder money through Cruz Pezuela's Development Corporation, which is cycling drug profits into a grand scheme that would eventually push Farmington's poorest inhabitants out of their community... (more)

What did they leave out? Look for the return of a lot of old faces during the show's swan song (skip ahead if you don't want to know) - including comptroller Robert Martin (Michael Bofshever); serial killer Kleavon Gardner (Ray Campbell); Farrah (Mageina Tovah), the hooker without a heart of gold; Axl (Joseph D. Reitman), the budding pornographer; and yes, at long lost, Strike Team alum Tavon Garris (Brian White) - as well as the addition of some new ones, most notably Laurie Holden as Olivia Murray, a federal agent.

The plot in a nutshell: Season six left Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis) not only on the cusp of losing his badge, but the entire Strike Team trapped between the "Armos" and the "Mexis." The former, now run by Ellis Rezian (Ludwig Manukian), is still bitter about Vic and company stealing the infamous "money train," while the latter, fronted by real estate developer Cruz Pezuela (F.J. Rio), is on the cusp of literally owning the entire Farmington district. And if that wasn't enough, Shane Vendrell's (Walton Goggins) murder of Curtis Lemansky (Kenneth Johnson) has forever destroyed his relationship with the rest of the Strike Team, including Vic and Ronnie Gardocki (David Rees Snell). Plus, in an act of self-preservation from Vic, Shane has cozied up to Rezian while Vic's on-again/off-again ally David Aceveda (Benito Martinez) has gotten mixed up with Pezuela as part of his efforts to be elected mayor. But a light has seemingly appeared at the end of the tunnel for our "heroes," that being Vic and Aceveda's discovery of Pezuela's "blackmail box," which he'd been using as leverage against all of the city's power players.

The final season then picks up as Vic, Shane, Ronnie and Aceveda must work together to play both sides against each other, hopefully escaping with their badges, not to mention their lives. As for the rest of the Barn, Dutch (Jay Karnes) finds himself increasingly obsessed with stopping a teenager (Kyle Gallner) who appears to be on the path to becoming a serial killer; Claudette Wyms (CCH Pounder) continues to struggle with the effects of her medical condition; the never-more-lazy Steve Billings (David Marciano) is still pining his hopes on his lawsuit; new mother Danny (Catherine Dent) is rethinking her priorities; Julien Lowe (Michael Jace) is quickly becoming the Strike Team's superstar; and Tina Hanlon (Paula Garces) is, well, Tina (her, to Dutch, while carrying a box of files: "Dutch, can you fill my box?"). All in all, by the end of the eight episodes provided for review - the final battle lines are drawn in Farmington and who knows who will come out still breathing.

What works: It really is quite astonishing how the writers manage to tie up all of Vic's problems in a neat little bow by the end of each episode (complete with multiple deals with the devil, so to speak) - only to have it blow up in the closing moments of said installment or the opening minutes of the next. "The Shield" is truly a masterpiece of storytelling, especially when considering that in addition to the above, there's also a genuinely compelling case of the week. (Among this season's: a naked man covered in blood who thinks he killed someone; an apartment building whose residents refuse to point fingers after one is killed by a dropped cinder block; the mayor's office releases a top 10 gangs list, leading those who didn't make the cut to go the extra mile to get noticed; a man who hired someone to kill his wife turns himself in because he's fallen in love with said killer's girl and wants to be rid of him) That, coupled with the show's growing philosophical questions (more on this in a second), has made "The Shield" the show I literally cannot wait to watch each week. And with each passing season, the show gets better and better as the conflicts and character dynamics are refined and deepened.

The final season then sees Vic painting Pezuela as the baddest of the bads that have come before and taking him down as his final duty before he gets squeezed out. But the philosophical question - posed oh so appropriately by Shane of all people - quickly becomes, "Is he worth it?" Six seasons have taught us that every bad guy is replaced by another - is Pezuela really any different, especially considering the cost to Vic, his friends and his family? Vic's ex-wife Corrine (Cathy Cahlin Ryan) is barely making it through the day; his daughter Cassidy's (Autumn Chiklis) rebellion is heading into some dark places; his protege Shane took out Lem for the same cover-your-own-ass reasons that Vic murdered Terry; and guys like Ronnie and Julien are paying the price for having to go it alone while Shane and Vic clean up their messes on company time. Literally everything Vic touches turns to ash - how much more damage can those he cares about take? It's an intriguing proposition and a pitch perfect note to go out on. The same applies to the rest of the cast - from Claudette covering up her battle with lupus in the name of the job to Danny putting her life on the line while her infant son waits at home - are their sacrifices worth it? Such haunting concepts are what make "The Shield" one of television's crown jewels. And last, but certainly not least, I would be remised if I didn't mention the amazing work by Chiklis, Goggins, Pounder, Karnes and company - why all of these cats weren't scooped up during the last pilot season is beyond me - as well as the fine production team, whose prism in which they view Los Angeles is without equal.

What doesn't: No complaints other than this probably is the most dense season to date from a plot standpoint, meaning there's a little bit of a learning curve for those who've never watched the show before.

The bottom line: When the final episode broadcasts on November 25, I have no doubt "The Shield" will go down as of one of television's greatest triumphs.

  [august 2008]  


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