• ZODIAC MOTHERFUCKER

    THINK PINK WHILE YOU CAN HERO

    • wallflower

      Damn, I didn’t manage to include your exact description of one of the great themes here: THE PRICE YOU PAY FOR TOTALLY FUCKING OWNING.

  • implausible_deniability

    Wallflower, I want to sincerely thank you for coming here and doing these every week for the last two years. It’s been a pleasure watching this amazing, extraordinarily well-constructed show, and coming here to digest with these beautifully written pieces. Tuesday mornings just won’t be the same without them.

    • wallflower

      Thank you, and thank you for reading all of it!

      • Balthazar Bee

        I know I’m not alone here, and I know it might suggest a lack of excitement in my life, but my heart did a little flutter when I saw that I got a shoutout from the great wallflower.

        Once again, this write-up is just terrific. The best compliment I can give it is that it helped me re-experience the episodes again, in all their terrible glory.

        Since seeing it the first time, I’ve watched the last season again with my son, who’s about to enter high school. (He saw from roughly the second half of season 2 to the end.) He is quite certain the show is king — though he may be trying to please his dad — and the last couple of episodes hit him like a freight train. (How could they not?)

        I’m pressed for time now, and I want to say more, but for the time being, just one observation.

        Last night I watched the first episode of the fifth season of Justified. The boy and I had already seen the first four, and we’ve been waiting impatiently for the blu-ray release date yesterday. We love Goggins long time.

        But I was just amazed at how broad his portrayal of Boyd Crowder feels now that I’ve seen him as the one-and-only Shane Vendrell. It certainly suits the show, which has about 1/18th of the grit of The Shield, but is wonderfully entertaining.

        Just bizarre, watching four seasons of his work on Justified — recognizing what an amazing actor his is — then pausing for all 88 fucking episodes of The Shield’s ownage, finally to return to the safer, more composed, southern-fried criminals-as-terminal-fuck-ups world that is Elmore Leonard’s.

        • wallflower

          Aw, thank you! And thank you for your comments and for introducing your son to The Shield. Given what you and Perfect Circles said, I like thinking of Shield fans as being a secret but eternal society–the Templars of television fans 😛

          What’s amazing about the Goggins isn’t just that he has three iconic characters–Shane, Boyd, and Venus van Damme on Sons of Anarchy–it’s that he made those characters on three very different shows: the classic drama of The Shield, the detailed, Leonardian entertainment of Justified, and the medieval soap opera of Sons. He fits not just to the role but to the universe.

          • Balthazar Bee

            Heh, it is interesting how The Shield has managed to fly below the radar of “accepted TV brilliance”. It’s kind of hiding in plain sight. I’m reminded of the slogan for a certain Canadian beer:

            “Those who like it like it A LOT.”

            And I was kind of on the fence about starting into Sons. Until I heard about Goggins.

            Is it also enjoyable for other reasons? Or is it going to be a slog?

          • wallflower

            I’ve only seen some of it–the consensus seems to be that seasons 1-4 show it at its best. ZMF and others made a strong case for it here. From what I’ve seen, it has The Shield‘s energy but not its construction, so it doesn’t have the sense of inevitability and unity.

          • ZODIAC MOTHERFUCKER

            GOGGINS IS MORE OR LESS A RECURRING CAMEO

            WHEN SONS IS GOOD ITS FUCKING GREAT. WHEN ITS BAD ITS A REAL SLOG. ITS SUTTERS ID IN TELEVISION SHOW FORM

        • Rory

          I was lurking on IMDb and saw your posts in a thread entitled “I really HATE Shane!!!”

          They were magnificent.

          • Balthazar Bee

            Thanks, Rory! I don’t know why I let the whole “Team Vic vs. Team Shane” nonsense get under my skin, but it does.

  • TheCanadianShield

    Holy crap.
    It’s hard to believe that it’s over.
    2 years of dissecting a show that we all loved and obsessed over for similar reasons.

    Huge, huge thanks to Grant (wallflower) for taking what felt like obligation at times on Nowalk’s part and elevating the discourse to the level this show always deserved. Dude, we all knew this show was great, but you helped us articulate why. You know we’ll all buy that eventual book, right? 🙂

    To everyone that followed over to the-solute from avclub to continue and conclude the love, thank you. Everyone here knows how hard it is to find intelligent discourse anywhere on the internet in general, much less around something we all love.

    Too much to add in one post. Will be commenting more about these episodes and the series. Right now, I think I need a beer. Haven’t had an endorphin dump like this from media in a while 🙂

    • wallflower

      Thank you, a lot. This has always been a place (at the AV Club and here) that felt like it realized the potential of the Internet–we created a community where diverse people could learn from each other. It’s been an exhausting, fun, and absolutely enlightening experience to go through this remarkable work with you and everyone else.

  • zedhed

    Fantastic, wallflower, as always. You’ve done a great job – I don’t think I’m exaggerating in saying my appreciation of the show grew more and more reading your stuff each week. And I was always convinced of Shield’s greatness!

    These two are definitely in The Shield’s top ten episodes. What does everyone’s list look like?

    10. Mum
    9. Pay in Pain (the ending, when Vic finds out about Julien, turned ‘like’ to ‘love’)
    8. Tar Baby
    7. Postpartum (low? in my defence, I half read a spoiler beforehand)
    6. Possible Kill Screen
    5. Kavanaugh
    4. Streaks and Tips
    3. Dragonchasers (Dutch!)
    2. Family Meeting (from Claudette reading out Shane’s suicide letter to Andre 3000, I feel bad not putting this at #1)
    1. Co-pilo- …. only joking, Parricide

    Honorable mentions (in no particular order): “Of Mice and Lem”, “Trophy”, “Circles”, “Fire in the Hole”, “On the Jones”, “Moving Day” and “Greenlit”. There are probably a few I overlooked, but I will defend that top 10.

    • TheCanadianShield

      Listing my favourite episodes in order would be like trying to pick my favourite kid (if I had any). Instead, here’s some of my favourites. I suspect we’re going to see a lot of the same episodes listed if people keep doing this.

      Dragonchasers
      Dominoes Falling
      Posse Up
      Cracking Ice
      What Power Is
      Kavanaugh
      Postpartum
      Chasing Ghosts
      Parracide
      Possible Kill Screen
      Family Meeting

    • wallflower

      Thanks @disqus_jKMfWh3J1H:disqus. My favorite episodes tend to follow the escalation of the story (so they land at the end of seasons/acts). I’ll pick some favorites from the “other” episodes:

      “Blowback”–not a fully realized episode, but it already showed The Shield‘s way with character and wildly entertaining plots. Plus, Kurt Sutter as Margos.
      “Dragonchasers”–behold the ownage that is Dutch.
      “Barnstormers”–funny, fast, everyone gets their groove back, and then Ronnie gets half his face burned off.
      “Inferno”–one of The Shield‘s most reliable plots: multiple chasers after a single target.
      “What Power Is”–fuck with David Aceveda in any sense of the word and this is your fate.
      “A Thousand Deaths” and “Judas Priest”–if they didn’t move so fast, you’d call these two episodes a meditation on courage, manhood, and community.
      “Man Inside”–the glory that is Claudette.
      “Back to One”–the most powerful scene of torture, ever.
      “Game Face”–the return of Kleavon, and the episode that determines the characters and the stakes for everything that happens afterwards.

      • Wad

        Totally agree with you on “Blowback”. That was the episode I remember that first tipped me off to how exciting the show could be, and how above and beyond other cop/crime/action dramas it had the potential to be. (I mean, by the time I saw the pilot, I’d heard the twist ending a hundred times.)

        • wallflower

          “What were you thinking?”
          “I was thinking about getting laid.”

          Such a perfect characterization of Shane there. “Blowback” showed how exciting and funny The Shield could be, because 1) it wasn’t going to judge its characters, on any side, and 2) none of the characters were all-powerful, on any side. So you had this tense, fast episode where everyone is chasing down the heroin, you don’t know who’s going to get it, and you don’t know who should get it. It could give you a rush and cross up your sympathies at the same time.

          • Wad

            Yup. I realized this was not just an exciting show, but a show whose morality was a whole lot more complex and a whole lot less judgmental than any Golden Age drama I’d seen so far.

          • Wad

            Plus, the episode gives you awesome little moments like our introduction to Deena, and her scared-big-sister act before Danny lets her know she sees through it, and how she drops it immediately.

          • JonGorski

            “Blowback”‘s definitely The Shield’s best comedy episode. Lem to Shane: “Christ, Amy’s not even that hot!”

    • Strange Yahoo

      My List:

      10. Kavanaugh (Great episode centered around Kavanaugh and the ending is one of my favorite scenes in the series).

      9. Chasing Ghosts (Awesome confrontation between Shane and Vic).

      8. Chasing Ghosts (Great season finale, awesome montage set to the song “Overcome” at the end).

      7. Party Line (The whole episode is very tragic. The scene where The Vendrells dance and play piano was especially moving).

      6. Parricide (Kickass episode).

      5. Postpartum (Epic season finale. Like zedhead, I was also spoiled unfortunately).

      4. Circles (Super intense season finale. Great way to close out the first season).

      3. Dragonchasers (A very special episode. Just an overall masterpiece).

      2. Possible Kill Screen (Stunning throughout, especially the ending).

      1. Family Meeting (The best series finale ever. One of the best TV episodes ever. I actually saw the Amazon Prime version split into two parts and watched them both back to back, and I have never seen the original cut. I still loved it though, but everyone saying how it’s original version is better is kind of upsetting. Stupid Amazon).

      • Wad

        Damn, you must have REALLY liked “Chasing Ghosts.”

        • Strange Yahoo

          Oops, I mean Dominoes Falling!

  • ZoeZ

    In case this set of episodes wasn’t devastating enough the first time around, their appearance here is now marking the end of the wallflower Shield reviews. The excellence of the comment thread on the pilot, over at the AV Club, is what made me get a Disqus account in the first place: it was a conversation I really wanted to be a part of. So, to wallflower and everyone else, thanks for such an amazing discussion. It’s been an honor to be a part of it.

    Disorganized thoughts on “Possible Kill Screen”/”Family Meeting”:

    I always loved the line about how a little thing like an election won’t stand in Aceveda’s way: it’s a small moment, but it contains everything we know about Aceveda’s particular brand of ruthlessness, the perception other people have of him, and the inevitability of it all. If you were actually going to have a sequel to The Shield, it shouldn’t have Vic in it at all–it should start with Mayor Aceveda getting Ronnie to kill someone for him in prison and go from there.

    …And I just realized that I no longer have to use spoiler tags for anything.

    Shawn Ryan mentioned once that Shane wiping Mara when she’s too hurt to do it herself is one of those small, intimate moments that you could only have on cable–it isn’t sex, but it’s the kind of rawness that would have gotten censored out all the same, anywhere else. It’s pivotal, too, both for showing in brutal terms the cost of everything that’s happened and in demonstrating the depth of Shane’s love for his family. (In contrast, when Vic talks about taking care of his family, it’s almost always financial–he wants the glamor and strength of being the provider. It’s hard to picture him doing any literal caretaking or risking any loss of dignity.)

    Shane’s suicide note is a masterpiece of voice: it sounds exactly like him at his clearest and, in a haunting way, best. There’s the slight clumsiness of “something worse than our individual selves,” as he tries to articulate what he means; the insistence that Mara and Jackson are “perfect and innocent”; and the simplicity and clarity of “I was who I was, and I can’t be that person anymore.” We’ve already talked about how The Shield lets its characters talk the way ordinary people talk, and this is a very strong example of that, made all the more powerful because it’s delivered only through Claudette, who would–and does–describe it all differently.

    Vic’s pause in “Possible Kill Screen” really does feel like an eternity, especially in a show that’s usually moving ceaselessly forward (I still have trouble wrapping my head around the show’s timeline only being three years). He has to drag those words up through three years of not saying them, and Chiklis makes you feel every second of it.

    Dutch’s “he already got himself full immunity… not you, though,” in Ronnie’s arrest scene is devastating: he’s almost contemplative about it, like he understands it’s something Ronnie could be puzzled by, but he personally can shrug it off because he never expected better. (And because he has better. It’s also the only line you need to illustrate the difference between his partnership with Claudette and Vic’s with. well, pick a member of the Strike Team.) I remember reading someone, years ago, who thought that Dutch would be the one to take down Vic, which seemed to me to be asking for too much of a Good Guy vs. Bad Guy showdown: Dutch arresting Ronnie is a better fit. Claudette is a leader, so it’s more appropriate for her to condemn bad leadership, which burns the people who follow it; Dutch is a partner, a friend, and the “smartest guy in the room,” so it matches up better for him to be there in contrast to Ronnie, who is all of those things, too, and who is just now realizing that they’re not quite enough to save him.

    Vic’s eyes moving rapidly in the few seconds at the end of “Family Meeting” he seems to give himself over to grief, to processing, to understanding is on par with “Possible Kill Screen” for Chiklis’s finest acting in the whole series. And then of course he turns it off. Almost sneers at himself for it.

    The photo at his desk, so carefully arranged to exclude Shane and Ronnie, so necessary for his self-deception that he would have always saved Lem, is excellent use of scenery, and a terrific final pay-off for the photo’s floating appearances throughout the last few seasons; in the same way, him ripping the camera out of the wall in the box is the punchline to its many disconnections over the years. I said a few weeks ago that Shane’s departure from the Barn feels like the ultimate conclusion to its entire architecture–that camera scene plays the same way.

    Again, this whole round of reviews and comment threads has been incredible.

    • zedhed

      Great analysis, especially on the execution of the suicide note. I still get chills when I think about: “I wish I’d never met him.”

    • wallflower

      Like I said before, thank you for your insights, persistence, and contributions here. I’m honored too.

      On the commentary track, Jay Karnes said “people haven’t told me ‘I think you’ll be the one to get Vic,’ they tell me ‘I hope you’re the one to get Vic.” I agree with you that it makes sense not for Vic to become the object of a Dutchmanic crusade, but that he’s part of the Barn’s team that arrests Ronnie. Karnes does some of his most subtle acting in that scene; he’s not a moral enemy, there’s some compassion there, but he has a job to do.

      The Goggins/Michele Hicks scenes in these last episodes are so incredible. They come off at absolutely every moment as two people who love each other in every particular; back at their home, it feels like it could be any day with the Vendrells. It’s what defines so much of The Shield‘s acting: dramatic story, naturalistic-as-hell performances, and it’s what makes it so heartbreaking.

    • implausible_deniability

      Great point on Dutch being the one to bring down Ronnie instead of bringing down Vic; it was one of the things I was most disappointed in for the show, but your comment put it all in perfect perspective.

    • wallflower

      Your comment and Wad‘s made me realize the sequel to The Shield could only be the LA version of Scandal or House of Cards. Deena and Aceveda would be having an affair because a) come on, we know they always wanted to and b) an Aurora/Deena throwdown would be a shitstorm of 8.1 Richter proportions. And, of course, we all know how the first season ends.

      AURORA: David, there’s just no one who can get us out of this.

      DAVID: No. There is someone.

      CUT TO: INT.–PELICAN BAY SUPERMAX PENITENTIARY

      Camera pans over a shelf with books and notepads. There is a small Persian rug on the wall. Camera stops moving and we see a neat white man lying on the bunk. He has a beard, unless he doesn’t, and a swastika tattooed over the scars on side of his face. He is listening to an iPod. The door opens and throws light on him. He sits up and the earbuds fall out; we faintly hear “Don’t Stop Believin’.”

      WARDEN: Gardocki, someone wants to talk to you.

      CUT TO BLACK

      • TheCanadianShield

        Someone take my money to have this show made right now!

      • thesplitsaber

        ‘Your comment and Wad’s made me realize the sequel to The Shield could only be the LA version of Scandal or House of Cards.’

        With Vic in the shadows reduced to the role of Aceveda’s ‘fixer’. Because they understand each other, but also (as David will point out) no one else will get near Vic.

        ‘an Aurora/Deena throwdown would be a shitstorm of 8.1 Richter proportions.’

        I feel like they both would be to pragmatic to let it come to that. But yeah, no one would survive it.

        • I don’t like Scandal and House of Cards. So good thing there was never a sequel.

    • Samantha

      I so wish I had seen this series a year ago, not just for fact that the show is fantastic (and I have wanted to watch it for a while now) but because of the comments on here. I forgot I don’t need to add the Spoiler alert – whoops.

      Your description of Shane’s suicide note and his helping Mara wipe herself are poignant. And it makes a lot of sense for Dutch to arrest Ronnie. Both have been followers in the true sense of the word, not that they cannot make their own decisions and be leaders when they need to.

      Chiklis’ facial movements as Claudette shows Vic the photos of Shane in the interview room are magic. Vic’s discomfort is so noticeable it was cringeworthy to watch. That whole scene starting with Claudette telling him to change seats right up to the point where she tells him that his first payment is due today is nothing short of stellar.

      I thought Oz was brilliant. I’m pretty sure The Shield has levelled the playing field.

    • thesplitsaber

      ‘I remember reading someone, years ago, who thought that Dutch would be the one to take down Vic, which seemed to me to be asking for too much of a Good Guy vs. Bad Guy showdown’

      In a way him getting Corrine into WitSec is as satisfying as him arresting Vic. Not only does hurt him, but it shows that Corrine trusts Dutch even more. Its a great endgame.

      • ZoeZ

        Plus, Corrine’s cooperation with Dutch helps ensure her right to witness protection, which means her trust in Dutch helps her to accomplish her own stated goal: to make sure Vic pays the price of being severed from their family. She and Dutch were so good together, and it’s a nice and typically Shieldian touch that that that closeness and compatibility continues to pay dividends even after they’ve split up, with Dutch working to protect her and with her knowing that there’s someone trustworthy within the Barn.

        • The scene in season 4 where Dutch apologizes to Corrine is so moving; it’s a moment where someone is genuinely sorry, and genuinely atones for it. It’s so right and so Shield that the apology doesn’t make Corrine and Dutch a couple again, but it does mean that Corrine trusts Dutch. And like everything on The Shield, that doesn’t just pay off as a theme (coughAmericanscough) but as action.

          • ZoeZ

            I was watching The Shield this time thinking about its law of unintended consequences, where one consistent rule is that you can’t control what you put in motion, good or bad, when there are other people involved, and that’s a small (and positive) example of that. (And it really is such a beautiful moment: his regret and the sincerity of his affection are both right there on the surface. Karnes’s emotional openness as Dutch is always wonderful, but that’s an especially nice moment.)

            Unconscionably verbose frustration: I’m free to catch up with The Americans now–my last episode was “The Magic of David Copperfield V”–that I’m finished with The Shield, but that’s going to be a hard transition to make. It’s a peculiar position to be in to say that it’s making me angry because it’s good enough that I want it to be great, but it is, and it’s hard to keep seeing missed opportunities. I’ve said this before, but it excited me for so long because I kept thinking of it as putting more and more possible complications into play, and then, right around the start of S4, I realized that none of these things were actually complicating each other, they were just existing side-by-side. “Look how many balls we’re juggling!” is an understandable request to make if you want your audience to admire your cleverness, but, as Tyler Durden would say: “How’s that working out for you? Being clever?”

          • And apparently all those plot threads aren’t enough to make it. . .respectable. (In the words of Aaron Sorkin: “how long’s it gonna be before you let up on that?” “Oh it’ll be quite a while.”)

            One of Shawn Ryan’s best directives to the writers’ room was do not let things become too complicated. Again, every element you introduce has the potential to interact with every previous element; and classic tragedy has two plot components, complication and unraveling. Put these together and you realize, as Ryan did, that you don’t need a lot of incident or characters to generate great drama. When you overload your show, you get soap opera, where Sons of Anarchy ended and where The Americans is headed: all this stuff happens but almost none of it matters.

          • ZoeZ

            Somewhere, a Guardian reviewer looks sadly at a dry erase board with “3270 Days Since TV Last Respectable” on it, prepares to change it to “3271” at midnight.*

            *dated from the finale of The Sopranos, natch.

  • TheCanadianShield

    Random thoughts regarding Possible Kill Screen

    – Vic’s confession: ‘Admit you’re evil’ has been the reoccurring theme regarding Vic over the course of the series. Is it any coincidence at all that the only time we see Vic at peace over the entire series is when he confesses and accepts who he truly is? Even after he leaves the room, the mask of self-righteousness slips back on a little, particularly in regards to finding out about his family’s Witness Protection Deal and Ronnie confronting him during his arrest.
    – Speaking of Ronnie, one of the only things I struggled with in regards to ‘PKS’ was during the money handoff scene to Corrine. Vic knew (or at least, strongly suspected) that there’d be police surveillance present, waiting to catch him in the act. Ronnie, being the pragmatic one, would have (or should have) known that as well. So why did he go along with it?
    – Anyone that watches this and still think that Michele Hicks is a bad actress or that Mara was a shrill one-dimensional character needs to just go play in traffic.

    • wallflower

      On #3: fuck yes. thesplitsaber said that if you don’t understand Mara’s character, you don’t understand The Shield.

      On #2: Here’s my reading. Vic actually spots the surveillance in “Possible Kill Screen,” he doesn’t suspect it. When he calls Corrine he thinks her phone’s been tapped; he doesn’t even consider that she’s cooperating. I think it’s because Vic doesn’t suspect that Ronnie doesn’t suspect.

      • TheCanadianShield

        Regarding #2, Didn’t Vic have his suspicions of Corrine’s phone being tapped before the money handoff? Or am I just misremembering that sequence?

        • wallflower

          Hmmm, possibly. I will go back and check, once I’ve had a long chance to recover (-:

    • Teacher in China

      #3 – Yes, I was one of those people at the beginning, but only because initially it seemed that she was only in there to split up the strike team. It really seemed like it was meant as a macho “bros before hos” storyline, and it really made me grit my teeth. Then she basically disappeared for what? 2 seasons? But absolutely she has been an amazing and integral character since coming back.

      • wallflower

        On other Second Golden Age shows, there will be scenes, sometimes entire episodes, that are about characters like Mara, that let us know who they are and why they act as they do. I’m thinking in particular of Mad Men and Betty Draper; we got to know her, we got to know her sense of limitations and anger, we got to know her backstory. The Shield‘s focus on plot doesn’t allow that–again, no explanations, no justifications, only consequences. So Mara’s character isn’t fully apparent until she fully acts.

  • Jarret Cooper

    Thanks Grant. I’d say “masterful as always” but, much like your subject, you really owned the ending. In particular, the comparison of Mara’s instant culpability to Vic’s lack thereof, and your insight into her character in general, was something I’ve never heard discussed or even touched on before, and I’ve read everything ever said about “The Shield” (or so it seems).

    Anyway, said it before say it again, please find a way for me to give you money for your efforts, be it e-book, print book, or tip jar. Salud.

  • loopcloses

    One thing that I just had to bring to your attention–“Claudette’s plan was most likely exactly what happened–confront Vic and then arrest him in front of Ronnie”–this would’ve made for quite the swerve, but….

    Oh yeah, and fucking spectacular work, as usual, but especially so in this case. I kinda want to email it to everyone I know who has seen the show.

    • wallflower

      Oh ZANG. Went and fixed it now. Thanks!

  • TheCanadianShield

    If anyone needed further incentive to rewatch the series or hook friends, Amazon is selling the complete series box set for $25 (It’s even cheaper North of the Wall here in the GWN and… still on Netflix).
    Just saying.

    • Wad

      Damn it. I bought it a month ago because it was like $33.99!

    • Balthazar Bee

      I snapped up a copy to be my brother’s Christmas gift. I had to ensure he’d get “the big picture” after, to my complete joy, he told me last week that he’d powered through the first season and LOVED it.

      I gave that little chuckle on behalf of all of us who’ve seen the end of the universe and said something like, “Get ready.”

  • Wad

    Whew. Busy day today, so I haven’t a lot of time to write my thoughts, but I did get to sneak in a reading of it here and there…

    Just some thoughts about Vic’s final scene in the Barn:

    -In some ways, it’s an even more appropriate statement on what Vic hath wrought than the final scene: Here you are, the hero in your headquarters, and all eyes are on you, all respect you had is gone, everyone knows who you really are, and the one person who was on your side until the end is screaming “GOD DAMN YOU!” at you as they drag him away.

    -Then thinking about the “action hero” line from last week and the Barn as headquarters made me picture some demented Hall of Justice, with Vic as Batman, and everyone just found out he murdered Aquaman and the Riddler, and actually made the Wayne Enterprises fortune by letting the Legion of Doom operate under his watch for a cut, and got in a feud with Robin that ended in a murder-suicide, and got away with it all by transferring to Marvel and pinning it on Alfred.

    More to come later. And wallflower/Grant (however you prefer to be addressed), thank you for one of the finest critical series I’ve ever read. You should really be doing this for a living. I look forward to what you tackle next (and will probably lobby you incessantly for it to be True Detective).

    P.S. Whoever’s in charge of the front page really needs to put this article at the top.

    • wallflower

      You’re welcome, and thank you for all the support! It’s really a fun exercise to try describing the end of other series in Shield terms–it makes you see how apocalyptic this ending really is.

      • Wad

        Also, Lem is Batgirl.

      • Gotta echo Wad – whatever series you take up next is the series I’ll get my hands on and watch, 2 episodes a week, with you. Just let us know.

    • ZoeZ

      Great commentary on Vic’s last scene in the Barn. Of course he can go, then–he certainly can’t stay.

      And I will second the True Detective request, with a secondary push for Deadwood.

      • Balthazar Bee

        My kingdom for a wallflower analysis of Deadwood!

      • Wad

        @balthazarbee:disqus as well — Polarbears just started a Deadwood series in the WOT at the AV Club. Alan Sepinwall’s are pretty good, too. I’d like to see what wallflower could do with it, but at the same time I don’t think anyone has really done True Detective yet in the manner and level that he would be capable of doing it.

        Plus, TD is only eight episodes, which is a lot less work and could result in a much faster turnaround.

        • troutmask

          I’ve toyed with doing Weeds in this style but I”m nowhere near a good or punctual enough writer to pull it off. Plus I’d pretend it ended after season 6 and that’s kinda unprofessional.

        • ZoeZ

          True, and I didn’t even know about the Polarbears reviews! I will have to check those out immediately (and thanks for the heads-up). All right, if there are already at least two quality Deadwood retrospectives, I say we bribe our host with a symbolic six-pack of Lone Star and get him started on True Detective.

        • Balthazar Bee

          Thanks for the info, Wad — forgive my ignorance, but I don’t see the polarbear reviews on his site, assuming it’s this one:

          http://polarbearstv.com/

          Am I looking in the right place? The Deadwood tag doesn’t seem to lead to anything.

          • Wad

            The reviews are appearing in the What’s On Tonight section at the AV Club.

          • Balthazar Bee

            Jesus, I must be thick. I’m having memories of the other kids in my grade two class showing off tying their big-boy laces and I’m tearing at Velcro trying not to make noise and alert everyone to my ignorance.

            I was about to post that I needed still more help, but fortunately I found it before I lost what little self respect I have left.

            Thanks Wad!

  • Wad

    Also, I like how Claudette sets up the “one nod to start Ronnie’s arrest” by calling for Dutch once Vic starts attacking the interrogation room camera.

    • Wad

      Heartbreak: When Shane and Mara name their unborn baby “Frances Abigail,” Shane says “When she does something cute, we can call her Franny Abby,” and Mara smiles, then after a few seconds, breaks down crying.

  • Teacher in China

    Grant, nice job again sir! I haven’t been commenting so much recently because I was overly paranoid about accidentally seeing some spoilers, but these reviews have been, as always, stellar. I was dumbfounded by the series finale. So fucking good. I honestly have trouble of thinking of another series finale that can match it (except, perhaps oddly, Star Trek TNG, which didn’t have anything near the overall quality of this series, but absolutely nailed their series ender) (I haven’t watched all of the Sopranos, btw).

    I want to thank you for especially because (I may have mentioned before) I almost stopped watching in the second season because I just wasn’t getting into it. I think it was a couple of episodes into the second where I read one of your posts and I started to understand more about what the good points of the show were. And man, did that patience pay off. Especially this season.

    Any other TV shows planned for coverage (and OWNAGE) in the future?

    • wallflower

      Thanks so much! Right now, I’m working on expanding my Michelle MacLaren piece with a longer discussion of her use of time and ownage thereof. I’ll have more articles here, I promise.

  • pwhales

    Wallflower, thank you and congratulations. This was quite an adventure and accomplishment. For two years I looked forward to Tuesdays and the in-depth discussions not just a great television show but a phenomenal story and dissection on drama.

    While we might latch onto a new show/discussion I don’t think it will ever be as special as the commentators on The Shield reviews. You were all excellent and to be included in that list is an honor. Thank you all. I will certainly miss this.

    I look forward to the eventual collected book of the essays and insights.

    • pwhales

      A couple things I noticed:

      – Claudette telling Vic to sit on the other side of the interrogation table. She was done with his shit.
      – The song that plays over the montage of the series is Concrete Blonde’s “Long Time Ago” timing the lines “He’s three times the man you’ll ever know how to be” with a picture of everyone’s favorite cop Kevin Hiatt.

      • Wad

        “Claudette telling Vic to sit on the other side of the interrogation table. She was done with his shit.”

        One side of the table is for detectives. The other side is for perps. Nice reminder that Mackey isn’t the cop in this case, he’s the criminal (and really, wasn’t he always?)

  • Silvester

    I just finished my first viewing of The Shield yesterday and while searching for some reading after the finale, I stumbled upon your articles. I’ll admit, I only read the ones on the Season 7 episodes because the other ones are a little far away by now, but on my (inevitable) second viewing I’ll be sure to read all of them as I watch the episodes. Thanks a lot for doing this, you provided a lot of very interesting insight and touched on a lot of points and themes that I missed (which is probably bound to happen the first time around).

    Oh and I just realized that you apparently finished the series pretty much the same time I did – talk about timing!

  • JonGorski

    You’re a national treasure, dude.

  • Vincent.Garlic

    Even the closing credit sequence is a fantastic (and sad) send off to the series.

    • Balthazar Bee

      Yeah, it’s pretty awesome isn’t it? It manages to strike the perfect balance between being jaunty and devastatingly sad. Though that last part might have something to do with the episode that preceded it — I honestly can’t tell. I just know that when I hear the song, even out of this context, I am overcome.

      But what I love most about the credit sequence is how it brazenly reminds you that, as brilliant as The Shield is, at the end of the day, it’s a cop show — complete with still-shot montage and pop song (which almost sounds like it could’ve been the theme for a different version of the show, airing on NBC in the 80s with some kind of laugh track).

    • AlonsoWDC

      The show could have ended with Vic walking out with a sneer.
      Cut.
      Executive Producer
      Shawn Ryan.

      And I still would have been in my chair in 2008 with my mouth agape.

      To have that absolutely perfect send-off with the closing credits in the style of a pre-cold open intro, to that goddamned Concrete Blonde song, to those moments from the past syncing with the song in numerous ways.

      Such a long time ago.

  • SuperJim

    Wallflower, I just want to add my praise to the (much deserved) pile. Fantastic write up, truly. You went out on a high, Shawn Ryan et al would be proud.

    I like to imagine I am an astute and intelligent commentator but your work floored me and I have never felt that I had anything of worth to contribute because you NAILED it. Hard.

    Please let me know if there is a way to join the mailing list to be notified when/if these reviews are collated into a book. I will gladly foist my money on you!

    ‘Admit you are evil’ never resonated with me till today. When those words were first uttered I scoffed- too moralistic, too simple. Goddamn it if you didnt re-contextualize the whole series for me.

    You have said multiple times The Shield is great in a completely different way to other shows. That finally crystallized today for me with this comment

    “The Shield follows the rules of theater, not novels or cinema,
    the two forms (and forms of criticism) that dominate the Second Golden
    Age of Television”

    Brilliant insight.

    Thank you again. I second previous commentators who have requested you cover Deadwood and True Detective.

    • wallflower

      Thanks so much–I’m glad you were here and reading.

      “Admit you’re evil” is such a great example of the power of storytelling. On its own, in the moment it’s said, it absolutely comes off as simple and moralistic. What makes it so effective is the way it keeps coming back and gets developed by so many characters–I should have included Gilroy on the list in the review. There are characters who admit their evil, like Shane, and characters who already knew it, like Ronnie, all these people and incidents that play on those words on the way to the end of “Possible Kill Screen,” where Vic finally does admit it. It’s like a symphony–it’s not the complexity or poetry of the theme that counts, it’s what you do with it, and The Shield did so much with that simple idea.

      • TheRawBeatsdotcom

        Just adding that I too would pay for a your book. Straight cash, homie.

  • Rafa

    These last two episodes are some of the best shit I’ve ever seen on a screen; without any loose ends, closing all the open threads and taking down the final consequences of an act that occurs IN THE VERY FIRST EPISODE. Is just so fucking awesome…

    I would grade it as my favorite ending of a tv series, sharing this position with Six
    Feet Under ( I just can’t stop crying on those final 8 minutes…). Thank you Wallflower for your excellent writing and precise analysis of the series; I’m Spanish and this is the first time that I comment on an online English discussion, I really needed to share my thoughts about this masterpiece.

    I hope you keep writing and reviewing episodes of classical tv shows; my vote for your next reviews goes to ‘BREAKING BAD’, because I think that it’s the drama that has more similarities with The Shield and adjusts better to your style. Well, and because it’s fucking awesome.

    • wallflower

      Thank you! I’m glad you could come aboard. You contributed a lot. I’ve begun work on an article about Michelle MacLaren’s action sequences in Breaking Bad, particularly her use of time; she’s absolutely extraordinary at it, and very few directors are.

      BREAKING BAD SPOILERS

      One of the ways you can see Breaking Bad doesn’t quite come up to The Shield‘s level is the ending. When The Shield gets to the end of the story, the show ends; when Breaking Bad gets to the end of the story–the cabin in New Hampshire–it starts another story and tries to finish it in a single episode. Note that “Granite State” is almost identical to the end of “Family Meeting”–except in “Family Meeting,” we don’t know what Vic’s thinking, we don’t know what he’s going to do, and we don’t follow him. Make no mistake, Walter gunning down Jack’s crew is fuckin’ awesome, but it breaks the unity of the story and isn’t enough of a story on its own.

      • Dave Furbush

        The way I like to see it, Ozymandias is the series finale.
        The last episode is more like an optional epilogue.
        In that context, it’s perfect.

  • Snake doctor

    One time. Doing time. For a long time.

    • Wad

      “Vic Mackey turns up… with a confession that implicates you in three years of criminality… you’ll be doing time… for a long, long time.”

    • wallflower

      And if that isn’t love, I guess I’ll just never know. . .

  • Feel very honored to be mentioned in your column and probably speak for many you brought over from AVC in saying we can’t wait to see what you cover next here.

    Over at the AVC I droned on about what it was like to watch Lem get killed, as it first aired in 2006 and I’d like to revisit that in the aftermath of the final episode. Deep in the throes of an campaign, I lost track of Season 7 and had to go back afterward the series finished to catch up. Instead of watching these episodes with my Shield friends (normally a weekly ritual), I instead sat inside my house alone, feeling about as beat down as Vic sitting in his suit in the ICE office before he decides to go outside. It was an emotionally draining finale in the exactly right ways that validated the entire show’s existence (as opposed to Lost, which was the opposite). I remember not just that final scene in this last episode but also my exact emotion during it (5 years ago) – that’s how you know it was powerful stuff.

    Agree with the comparison of Vic staring into the interrogation camera just as Kavanaugh did, and tragic how the immediately response to both of those ended up with a strike team member getting arrested in one of those Barn scenes that stopped everyone else dead in their tracks. Always loved those.

    This is now my second time through the entire series, and I’m not sure if I’ll ever do a run #3, but thanks to the helpful suggestion in a comment above I bought the whole series on DVD. If nothing else, it will be a good conversation starter in the collection for someone to say to me “Oh hey, you like the Shield too? The AVClub did classic reviews of it back in 2013 and there was this amazing writer in the comments section…”

  • TheRawBeatsdotcom

    Wallflower, you are a truly great writer–not only in your brilliant analysis of The Shield, but also in your ability to write these long, insanely detailed pieces and never once be boring. Thank you for all the entertaining reads, and for deepening my knowledge on one of my favorite shows. And thanks for the shout out!

    • wallflower

      Aw thanks! It’s been a challenge and a privilege to work through the series like this.

  • Wad

    Just got around to watching “Possible Kill Screen” again, and I had a couple of thoughts:

    1)We’ve talked a bit before how the concept of the kind of immunity deal Vic got was ridiculous, but honestly, the writers did enough to fudge it that it was plausible: ICE was on such a tight timeframe to make a decision, and Vic brought up the immunity at the last second, and made it seem like it would just be a list of borderline-police-brutality-against-criminals stuff. With the kind of opportunity to catch Beltran that they might not see again in years, I can see ICE wanting to swing for the fences on this one.

    2)I’d always asked myself why Vic wouldn’t try to do anything for Ronnie, try to tip him off that he has to run ,but it now occurs to me that I just didn’t see Vic’s morality quite as clearly. The important thing is not just its hierarchy, but how completely he commits to each step. Vic is Ronnie’s best friend right up until the moment he decides to sell him out for Corrine, and then he’s nothing. Anything that might even hint at jeopardizing the deal for himself and Corrine can’t happen, and so that means, the moment Vic makes the decision, he is no longer on Ronnie’s side. He’ll never try to save both if there’s any chance that the less important one will jeopardize the operation.

    You can see the weight of it on his face, too. It’s a combination of being weary of running and of the full and clear knowledge of how he his damning his closest ally.

    • wallflower

      That complete commitment, the I-don’t-step-back-I-step-up, is another feature of our pop culture heroes; it’s why the “you’ve got an action hero on your payroll” line from “Petty Cash” resonates so strongly. Because The Shield handles consequence so well, it shows what that kind of commitment really means: even if you succeed, you will destroy everything else around you. Going back a season, you can see Kavanaugh as a Vic who realizes it in time, or (better yet) as a Vic without the skillz, so he brought himself down before he could destroy everything.

      It’s the characters who know how and when to compromise that will actually last. Again, The Shield has the maturity and honesty to recognize that some of those compromises are petty, and some are pretty disgusting. It’s how we get through the world, though.

  • Balthazar Bee

    One thing before I forget: I sought out X’s “Los Angeles” album on the strength of the title track (which opens “Family Meeting” in blistering fashion).

    I thought I knew a thing or two about punk from the heyday, but for some reason I’d never come across these guys. If it’s your thing, by all means, check it out.

  • AlonsoWDC

    I am only just now jumping board over to this site to see your reviews of the final season, @disqus_wallflower:disqus. I have commented sparingly here and there as I have rewatched the final season this week but it has been a true pleasure to comment on these comment sections beginning with AVC’s retro review of The Shield beginning with S4.

    I love this show so much. I constantly tell people that when it comes to TV drama, I don’t know what the “best” series ever broadcast has been. I struggle between The Sopranos, The Wire, and The Shield. I struggle even more to determine if The Shield or The Sopranos is my all-time favorite piece of TV. There’s something about this show that I sometimes find difficult to express to friends who have not seen it that sets it apart from those two shows (or any other great show) that makes it, to me, the most remarkable series ever produced.

    Thank you all for your insights over at AVC and here as well.

    • AlonsoWDC

      I guess I’ll sum up The Shield in the best way I know how to others – there has never been a series to date that ratchets up the intensity higher and higher without truly cheapening itself on plot twists or denouement. Sometime around the midpoint of S2, The Shield felt like it had put some major characters into serious boxes with extremely serious consequences and that everything onward was a progression of smaller, untenable boxes. Not only does The Shield have the best ever final season and final episode, the stakes were nearly as high for a full four-plus seasons before it. That’s not even to go into the tragedy of the characters, the acting, the writing, the extremely distinct cinematography, hundreds of other aspects that make me love The Shield so, but the pure intensity burn has had my utmost respect and love for a decade now.

    • wallflower

      Thank you AlonsoWDC. You were sparing in your comments but every damn one landed and gave me something to think about and respond to in the following weeks.

      I think the “midpoint of S2” that changed things was “Scar Tissue,” when Shane and Lem had Armadillo killed in custody. I think Team Shawn Ryan decided that Vic would never quite get away with anything like that again (it’s Danny who faces the consequence of that one); every save after that creates new consequences for him to face. By the time we get to “Animal Control,” we can feel that the final consequences will be unavoidable, and apocalyptic.

  • NoMoreFun

    Was it just me or did the witness protection guy seem like a tribute to Kavanaugh, with the trench coat, similar physical build (and hairstyle), “chewing”, nervous tics and overexplaining?

    Also some great visual foreshadowing in the final bust. The imagery surrounding Ronnie is dark blues and at one point he even looks like he’s behind bars, while Vic has bright white lights and lots of other “office” imagery like boxes.

    • wallflower

      Hmm–I never thought of either of those things. I just thought that Clark Johnson wanted to give himself a cameo role after having directed the pilot, some episodes, and “Family Meeting.” You make me wonder if it went the other way around–did Forest Whitaker model his late-season-5 look as Kavanaugh on Clark Johnson?

      • NoMoreFun

        Clark Johnson is a reasonably talented actor so I’m sure he could pull off Forest Whitaker’s Kavanaugh for one scene. It also makes thematic sense. The finale does an excellent job of hinting at previous storylines (eg the Antwon Mitchell mention, Julien seeing the gay couple, Matthew finally talking to Vic).

        Maybe there’s a similar thing going on with Olivia. In the Sopranos Phil Leotardo was the perfect combination of all the previous Sopranos “villains”, and in a similar vein for a “final season character”, Olivia does hint at many characters gone by like Rawling and Lanie to me.

        Also I only noticed the colour thing because of similar things in the wire and breaking bad (I really enjoy the foreshadowing obsessed fanbases of Breaking Bad and Mad Men).

        On that note, I wonder what the significance of the “Vic looks in the mirror” scenes are. The first one is in Season 1 Episode 5 IIRC, and then there’s one in each of seasons 3, 4 and 5 (but I didn’t note them down sorry). In the final scene Vic briefly catches a glimpse of his own reflection when he’s looking out at the street, and he doesn’t look at himself for long. I only noticed them because they were so infrequent.

  • NoMoreFun

    Are you sure Ronnie’s main concern is himself? I don’t get any hint in the entire series that he would betray Vic. His last line is “what about the team?” (to paraphrase) after all (meanwhile Shane’s is “Family Meeting”). I don’t think that contradicts Ronnie’s full acceptance of the Strike Team as a criminal organisation that needs to cut off its loose cannons. If Ronnie was only interested in himself it seems like he could have gone a very long way being a by the book cop (as shown in Back to One), and he might have listened to Kavanaugh’s advice about how he’d go down for the carelessness of the other team members.

    If Lem’s top priority was kicking evil’s ass then that puts all the Strike Team members in different places on your priority list, with the moral core (Claudette etc.) representing “uphold the law”.

    • wallflower

      I do think Ronnie’s #1 is “protect yourself.” That’s his first principle, and we hear it when he says, I think in “Money Shot,” “I’m not gonna drown for Shane, or you.” Like Vic, though, that’s not his only principle; loyalty to the team is there too. It’s just that Ronnie never realized the two were in conflict until it was too late. Ronnie’s pragmatism leads him to make the safest choice; because he makes the mistake of trusting Vic, he thinks that the safer choice is to get the immunity deal with ICE rather than running or killing Shane. As I’ve said, he’s not brought down by a tragic flaw but by a mistake.

      I honestly think Lem’s #1 is “protect the Team,” and his #2 is actually “uphold the law.” Of the Strike Team members, Lem is the closest thing to a good cop; he’s the one who says “can’t we just once do what we’re supposed to, and then stop?” It’s his loyalty to the Team that leads him to go along with all the crimes; his heart’s never in it.

      Finally, to pick up on your (also excellent) comment below: I never caught that about Vic’s reflection, but it neatly ties into a running theme of the show: Vic keeps getting opportunities to reflect, to avoid his fate, and he keeps turning away. As @disqus_ZFzIRFoZjP:disqus points out, in that last scene, he seems to realize the full horror of everything he’s done–and then he just shuts it off and acts like it was weakness to ever consider it, and goes back to what he always does: “don’t bring it up again,” and move forward.

      • NoMoreFun

        This episode is full of little things. The background noise of Shane’s last scenes (soft cars passing, and there’s even a bird singing as the camera looks over Jackson and Mara) contrasts with the buzzing drone of Vics final scene. The show has an ongoing theme of finding peace with oneself that you’ve touched on in many other reviews (and it’s explicitly brought up in Kavanaugh’s final episode), and if there’s one certain thing about the final scene, it’s that Vic is about as far from that as you can get.

  • Bhammer100

    Wow. I just finished The Shield for the first time a few days ago and that finale is still lingering in my mind. Definetly one of the best series finales ever made. Several characters get what they deserve and some (Claudette) get an ending they don’t deserve.

    Is this the greatest show ever made? I can’t answer that. But i do agree with you that The Shield does a few things better than a lot of other shows. The three act structure works really well with the show. It has a defined beginning, middle and end. The Shield also does action/consequence better than a lot of other shows. “Family Matters,” with everyone getting what they deserve, is just a brutal and effective piece of television. I can’t wait to re-watch the series again sometime.

    Favorite characters on The Shield: Claudette and Dutch.

    I’ve read your comments over at A.V. Club and your articles here and found them to be very insightful and illuminating. Are you planning on doing any more of these kind of right-ups for other shows?

    • Thank you for reading and for what you said. That finale will be with you for a very long time. I don’t think I’ll do another episode-by-episode commentary like this, but at the request of many I watched True Detective and will have a review posted on Monday. After that I’ll be writing about some, y’know, films (-;

  • Bhammer100

    I’ve been thinking about Shane’s arc throughout the series. His arc is fascinating. In the first season he was pretty upset about Vic killing Terry, a cop. But as the show went on, Shane became more and more open about using violence to get answers. He threatens to rape a woman to get answers. He gets into bed with Antwon Mitchell. Then he kills Lem, a cop. Both Vic and Shane now have blood on their hands, and the blood comes from cops. Vic and Shane are pretty similar in this case in that they both feel justified in killing. Killing Terry is what (part) of what brings down Vic, among other things. Killing Lem is what brings down Shane. I guess where the differences end is that Shane keeps his family together (if you want to say that) and Vic loses his family forever.

    Walton Goggins, man. He is fan-freaking-tastic. Which character do you thinks is best? Shane or Boyd? Walton is fantastic at both.

    • TheCanadianShield

      I like both Shane and Boyd for different reasons:
      – I think Boyd is more honest with himself from an intellectual PoV, whereas Shane is more emotionally honest. They really are two sides of the same coin that are, at the same time, intermixed with each other. And in the end, both of them (at least as i’m writing this, what i’m suspecting happens with Mr. Crowder) brought down not just by their flaws, but by their own nature. At no point can they resist being who they are.

      • Ruck Cohlchez

        I think Walton Goggins said it himself in a Random Roles at AVC, that Boyd is a leader while Shane is a follower, and that informs so much of their personalities.

  • Afro Thunder

    Wallflower: thank you, so much.

    I know I’m late to the party, I know this is only the second comment I’ve left in the entire seven seasons, but please rest assured that I have read (and lurked) and appreciated every single episode review, and I’m certain that many others will do the same in the future. I’ve recently read your piece on True Detective, and I really look forward to any upcoming posts you might make.

    I’ve not yet much to say about The Shield that hasn’t been said better in these reviews or comments, but just one or two personal observations have come up: several commenters (citation needed, I’m afraid) seem to have watched the whole series in a matter of weeks – I found I needed months and, the closer I got to the end, the harder it became to watch. Over at the AV Club, in the “Party Line” review, a comment from White Dragon described the Shane, Mara and Jackson family scenes as “annoying and corny”, but these were some of the series’ most memorable for me – mainly for the sense of sheer dread I felt as they played out, knowing that they were simply untenable, and that the longer they grew, the harder they would collapse. And yet, I never even imagined that Vic would drive Shane to kill his infant son.

    I seem to have come away from The Shield not uncertain how to feel, but rather not quite understanding the reactions I’ve had. How and why is Vic’s fate, almost Kafkaesque in its bureaucracy, more affecting than his death might have been, for example? Your reviews have been inestimably helpful in answering this question and many others, and ultimately I’m leaving the series, and these reviews – though I may revisit the spoiler sections in future – with a much better understanding of how Classical drama can work in today’s context, and a different understanding of what makes me tick, and why we (or rather, I) react how we do to great drama. Perhaps I’m exaggerating a tad, but I really have come to think that The Shield shows, on some level, why TV can matter. Thanks again.

    • Wad

      My stab as to why Vic’s fate was much more affecting than Vic dying:

      1)He makes his fate himself. Vic would never choose to die, if he thought he could scheme to allow himself to live. He would, however, look for a way to get away with it all, and he does. If he had died, it’s still possible stories about him as a heroic cop who tangled with the baddest of the bad would be his legacy. Instead, the truth comes out, and he lives, but at the cost of his reputation, his self-image, and every relationship that mattered to him.
      2)It’s much more appropriate to the kind of person Vic is. The two things Vic has tried to avoid are 1)Thinking about the evil he has done and 2)Getting caught and punished for the evil he has done. He avoided 2, but at the price of 1: Now, he has nothing but time to reflect on how his own actions brought him here. In death, you don’t have to contemplate your crimes.

      • Afro Thunder

        I think you’ve hit the nail on the head; if Vic had died, there’s a chance he could’ve died relatively happy, or at least still deluded, staying true to his gunslinger self-image. But because it’s been stripped away, or more importantly because he stripped it away himself, there’s no outside agency that Vic can blame this time. If he’d died, it would likely have to be because somebody else killed him–but because he lived, Vic only has himself to blame.

        • Wad

          Very good point- Vic’s self-righteousness is very much dependent on the idea that he can blame someone else for each terrible thing he does.

    • You’re welcome, and I’m glad you were able to join us for this journey. And I don’t think you’re exaggerating at all; great drama, great storytelling, has always mattered, and The Shield is part of that legacy that goes so far back into humanity. All I wanted to do was to explain that.

      As to why the fate of Vic affects us so much, it’s what Wad said. Like I wrote above, the classical writers understood a deep, simple truth: since everyone dies, death is not the worst fate. You can imagine a scenario where Vic does something that saves everyone and gets himself killed, and how he would die thinking “I did it all for my family/for the Team/for LA.” That’s not what he made, though, and it would play false. That last scene is what Vic made for himself, and for one moment, he truly does see it; it’s the true end of tragedy–not death, but recognition.

  • Wad

    Claudette set it up with Olivia; as she said, “you want to hurt him and this is a way to do that.”

    I love how quickly Olivia’s resistance to setting Corrine up with witness protection drops once Claudette puts it that way to her.

    • Laurie Holden gives this great little smile when that happens; she’s imagining the moment later when she gets to drop that particular bomb on Vic.

      • Wad

        I don’t think I’ve ever seen a good (i.e. not evil) character take as much glee in telling someone they’ll never see their kids again as Olivia does to Vic.

        • I just had a mental image of how Kurt Sutter would film that part of “Family Meeting”–many still shots of Michael Chiklis starting into space and suffering in a manly way, intercut with a 48-hour real-time montage of Corrine and the kids going to Rockford, all scored with Katey Sagal singing a slow cover of “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.”

          • silverwheel

            David Chase directs “Possible Kill Screen”:

            VIC MACKEY FIDGETS IN HIS CHAIR FOR 43 SECONDS, ABRUPTLY CUT TO:

          • thesplitsaber

            When Possible Kill Screen originally aired I got my dates confused and thought it was the finale. Trust me ‘Ive done worse’ would have also been a mind blowing end to the series.

          • Wad

            Oh, God. Yes, Sutter would be intensely focused on Vic’s pain, but I think the montage would be scored to “Hurt”:

            MONTAGE: Vic looks around in a man-sad way.

            KATEY SAGAL:
            WHAT HAVE I BECOME
            MY SWEETEST FRIEND
            EVERYONE I KNOW
            GOES AWAY
            IN THE END

            Then we’d get a fade to black with a quote that explicitly tells us Vic drove everyone in his life away through his own actions.

          • thesplitsaber

            Rape, dont forget the rape.

  • spook_street

    Wallflower, I read in some previous comments that you were thinking of bringing your masterly analyses out as some kind of a book. Did that ever happen?

    • It will happen, promise. I’ve honestly been so caught up in my other writings here that I put that to one side (and I wanted to take a breath and get some distance from what I first wrote). But it will appear, in some format, and I’ll let everyone know. Thank you for checking in!

      • spook_street

        Excellent news! It’s been a joy to discover someone who can articulate exactly why The Shield isn’t just another cops&robbers show.

  • Ruck Cohlchez

    Apropos of nothing, I was thinking about The Shield and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (and the many times we’ve compared them), and was trying to think of a sufficiently succinct description of Sunny akin to your “A man did a bad thing and thought he was still good. He got away with it and lost everything else” for The Shield.

    My best answer so far is, “Four friends hang out together because they can’t function apart or among anyone else.”

    • That’s good, but I don’t think any of us will top Donna Bowman’s description (in her first review, at the beginning of season 3 no less): “The characters believe that they are lovable sitcom types engaged in wacky hijinx, while in reality they are actually amoral, venal, stupid sacks of doorknobs.”

      • Ruck Cohlchez

        Well, topping Donna’s writing on television in any form is damn near impossible, but I still wanted to challenge myself to come up with the most brief and succinct description of the show I could.

    • Babalugats

      Four friends hang out together because they can’t function apart or among anyone else… or together.

      • Ruck Cohlchez 🌹

        Probably my favorite example of this in the series is “The Gang Gets a New Member,” wherein Smitty (Jason Sudeikis) angers Charlie, Dennis, and Mac in turn because he’s better at their specialty within the Gang
        than each of them are, merely by being a generally functional person.

  • Ruck Cohlchez

    Love the little detail that Vic can’t even really look at the photos of his kids on his desk. He didn’t betray them, but in his utter failure to be any kind of decent father, no matter what he tells himself, he may as well have.

  • TheCanadianShield

    Don’t know if anyone besides me caught it, but AVclub alumnus Steven Hyden (inspired by Scott Tobias) wrote a piece for Grantland describing why Family Meeting still stands as the best Series Finale made.
    http://grantland.com/hollywood-prospectus/a-friendly-reminder-that-the-shield-had-the-best-final-episode-ever/

  • Jude_the_Obscure

    One of the best reviews I’ve ever read about one of the best finales I’ve ever seen.

    • Thank you. What I wanted to do was get to the level of what this finale did to me, and to so many others, nothing more or less than that.

  • Ruck Cohlchez

    Some great subtle acting in “Family Meeting”: Vic’s slight facial twitch whenever he has to lie to Ronnie, and Danny actually looking a little sad about arresting Ronnie– maybe she better than anyone knows this should be Vic.

    I watched the final montage again this morning. Surprisingly moving. And I love how the lyrics play off the fact that the Strike Team was once, if not clean cops, not what they became over the course of the series. Seems such a long time ago…

    • I remarked on this to someone else a few days ago: except for the brief vocal piece in the pilot, all the soundtrack music on The Shield either a) starts out as source music or b) is exactly what the characters would choose. (Whatever you think about “Bawitdaba,” of course Lem listens to it whenever the Strike Team goes on a raid.) “Long Time Ago” fits right it with that; it’s one more way The Shield places you in the world of the characters rather than asks you to make a judgment about them.

      Because (again) The Shield‘s style is so invisible, it has to do its effects with the basics of filming and editing, and there’s a great one with Vic and Ronnie: after they take down Beltran and Ronnie goes back to the station (his last moment of freedom), the scene ends on Vic’s stare rather than Ronnie’s reaction. Just the look from Vic and the way we hold on it lets us know Vic knows what’s going to happen. If the moment ends on Ronnie, it’s about Ronnie being fooled, but ending on Vic makes it about Ronnie and Vic’s awareness of what he’s doing. (On the commentary, Chiklis says “oh I’m fucking ya, Ronnie. Take it.”)

      • Ruck Cohlchez

        One of the early moments in the episode is one I’m thinking of… I think it’s when Vic and Ronnie are about to meet with Beltran. Vic twitches just a bit before telling Ronnie the deal is good.

        One more thing I like about the final episode is how Vic somehow manages to find his self-righteousness again! You know he’s trying to catch Beltran after the first failed attempt simply because he still believes that, somehow, doing so will make up for all the horrible things that put him there. And I love how Olivia is having none of it– she’d rather let Beltran get away than send Vic back out on the street. And even when he succeeds, there’s still absolutely no give on her part. Which throws forward to the scenes where he finds out Corrine and the kids are in witness protection, and when he finds out he’s been chained to desk duty– she’s just a stone wall to all of his pleas, arguments, and excuses.

        • You can imagine a more Breaking Bad-like ending where the Beltran bust gets Vic one redemptive moment, like maybe Chaffee sez “aw geez Vic, you did something good for us, we’ll let you have a last phone call to your kids.” Here, nope. It’s fulfilling the terms of his deal, nothing more, and Olivia treats it that way: you got your immunity, you got your job, here’s your desk and Fuck You, That’s My Name.

          • thesplitsaber

            Laurie Holden can do contempt like no other. Shes all of Vic’s blondes returned for cold cold vengeance.

  • After following Wallflower’s writing on THE SHIELD, we invited him onto our podcast called DRAFT ZERO (which takes an analytical look at screenwriting) to talk about TV Pilots & TV Endings. We talk about THE SHIELD in depth (of course) but also THE WIRE, BREAKING BAD and MAD MEN.

    It turned out pretty great, and Wallflower was an awesome guest. So please consider giving it a listen: http://draft-zero.com/2015/dz-24/

    • Rory

      I’m
      excited to listen to this.

  • Rory

    You are an observant and insightful reviewer. Thank you for taking the time to do this.

    “The Shield sets Mara up as the moral counterweight to Vic, with Shane as the fulcrum, but it’s never so shallow as to present Mara = good, Vic = bad. Mara has her flaws and they’re very much Shane’s, too: selfishness, arrogance, impulsiveness. What counts, though, is her conscience. It took Vic three years to admit to killing Terry. It took Shane weeks to admit killing Lem. It takes Mara one day to say “I’m a murderer,” and to feel the entire weight of that. She never tries to rationalize what happened, although Shane does; she knows what it means to take someone else’s life, that it can never be erased or altered from her soul. Vic confesses and burns off his righteousness. Mara confesses and in that moment truly becomes good; it’s why Shane will say that the thing he first saw in her was “innocence.” (Her face somehow manages to be hopeless and darkly radiant all at once.) That innocence makes her accept, even demand her fate: no more running, no more avoiding what’s to come. Her last line in “Possible Kill Screen” accepts that; it’s almost as succinct as Vic’s, and could have ended the episode just as easily: “just take me home. Please, take me home.”

    Brilliant analysis. I think she was loyal to Shane to a fault. She should have left with Jackson when he told her to. She wanted to keep her family together but did not realize she was being selfish by not leaving Shane. I think she was impulsive and crazy. But in “Possible Kill Screen,” we see she does have a conscience.

    I think Vic telling Shane that he would make sure Jackson and “this other kid” hated their parents was part of what sealed the deal. Shane says, “You don’t get even get to look at my kids! Ever! Do you understand that?” That was the writing on the wall followed by him reverting to his old self and saying “hello” to the neighbor. Unfortunately, his decision to commit a murder-suicide falls in line with every impetuous and irrational decision he’s ever made. Jackson was such a happy and loving boy, too. It broke my heart seeing him in that bed.

    I started watching this series expecting to hate the character Mare due to what I had read about her on the Internet. I believe she has been equated to Yoko Ono. I said this before, but I was genuinely surprised Ryan decided to focus on her character in Season 7 because of the extreme backlash and the fact that she had basically disappeared for two seasons, only popping up a couple of times. When I watched Season 3, I was preparing myself for the unbearable. Her stealing the $7,000 to give to her mother pissed me off. But then her mother came into the picture and I understood why she was determined to keep her out of her life. It still pissed me off.

    However, I don’t understand why Nowalk reduces her to a gold-digger who does nothing but whine or his insistence that she does not have a life outside of Shane. When her mother tries to blackmail her and Shane for another $3,000, her response is to just give her mother the money so she’ll go away. In “Bottom Bitch,” she gives back the Lexus. Also, do we really need to be shown Mara working as a real estate agent or hanging out with her girlfriends in order for her to be a well-developed character? Or Mara suffering through postpartum depression? It isn’t relevant to the plot.

    I guess the audience just didn’t understand why Shane kept choosing her over Vic or why he was in love with her in the first place. I keep asking myself that as well.

    Mara, for all of her flaws, was surprisingly firm for a character in a role as a significant other. I remember “Streaks and Tips” where she jumped in that fight between Shane and Tavon, pregnant and not even screaming. I remember “Haunts” when Shane begged her to take him back and even went as far as taking out his gun, in which she replied, “Go ahead, shoot me. Shoot yourself. No, I’m not forgiving you.” She does forgive him but only because he is completely honest with her.

    • Thank you @rorymorrone:disqus, I’m glad you came over here. Like I said, it was this community of viewers that drove me to pay attention, and I’m glad you are part of it.

      The Shield takes a more classic view of character, in that it has no interest in “good” or “bad” characters. It has characters that have qualities and desires that they act on, and those make good and bad things happen, and the thing that makes you most who you are, the thing thing that’s best about you, is what brings you down. That’s what makes this a tragedy.

      You see that so much with Mara, and you’re right that it’s there from the moment she comes in swinging with the iron. Her greatness and her tragic flaw is loyalty; she’s with Shane all the way to the end. It leads to her to defend him, accept him, stay with him, and quite possibly help him kill Jackson, per @disqus_ZFzIRFoZjP:disqus’s comment. Greil Marcus once said of another tragic figure “one can be glad one is not him. . .but one can never feel superior to him.” That’s why this is an ennobling work.

      I honestly don’t know what Nowalk’s problem was, but he had it in for Mara from the beginning and never wavered; there was something he said in a season 6 review that was the most flat-out misogynist thing I’ve ever seen from an AV Club staff member. I had to start logging all his mistakes and bizarre misreadings, and the thing I noticed was that he always thought he saw something more conventional than what actually happened. He was one more example of the way that The Shield isn’t so much disliked among the critical community as not taken seriously.

      • Rory

        “The Shield takes a more classic view of character, in that it has no interest in “good” or “bad” characters. It has characters that have qualities and desires that they act on, and those make good and bad things happen, and the thing that makes you most who you are, the thing thing that’s best about you, is what brings you down. That’s what makes this a tragedy.

        You see that so much with Mara, and you’re right that it’s there from the moment she comes in swinging with the iron. Her greatness and her tragic flaw is loyalty; she’s with Shane all the way to the end. It leads to her to defend him, accept him, stay with him, and quite possibly help him kill Jackson, per ZoeZ’s comment. Greil Marcus once said of another tragic figure “one can be glad one is not him. . .but one can never feel superior to him.” That’s why this is an ennobling work.”

        I completely agree. However, it seems that this point is hard for the general audience to grasp. As I mentioned before, it seems the general audience saw her as a Yoko Ono, an entity that has been interjected to ruin the Strike Team, and nothing more. That would be the conventional, although it was clear that the money heist was never going to end well even after they succeeded. Of course part of it could be misogyny. I noticed that people were calling Mara a gold-digger and an evil bitch from the jump. So Nowalk’s opinion of her isn’t uncommon.

        I think the episode you are talking about is “Haunts,” in which Nowalk reduced that beautiful scene at the end to something very silly.

        • I think contemporary audiences, or at least contemporary critics, expect to see characters labeled as “good” or “bad.” It’s something that separates us from the characters, because it invites us to judge or analyze them instead of empathize with them. And, without question, that judgment or analysis can be on a very sophisticated level, but it’s not the same thing as empathy, and it’s not as powerful. I see aspects of myself in so many of The Shield‘s characters, Dutch and Ronnie the most, and I’ve learned a lot from it too.

          God, you’re so right about that scene in “Haunts,” so devastating and moving. Just the way Mara moves toward Shane at the end, like she can’t help doing it: that tells you everything about how she and Shane will end. Michele Hicks played her so simply and completely.

          • Rory

            I see aspects of myself in so many of the characters, too. It’s why I come back to the series more often than not.

            Ronnie is a dark horse. He’s a quiet character that doesn’t get the attention I think he deserves. The focus is the Strike Team with Vic first and Shane second. Lem is pivotal to Season 5 and he has always been the heart of them. Out of the four, Ronnie was the smartest, though. Yet he got screwed over completely. Lem’s dead. Shane’s dead. Vic’s got immunity, although he’s lost everything that defines him. But someone has to pay the price via the criminal justice system. That had to be Ronnie because, well, Vic sold him out.

          • That’s a good point that someone has to be arrested. I can imagine Ronnie taking off just in time and becoming a fugitive but that would feel wrong; it would break the unity of the action. I believe Shawn Ryan was asked if he intended Ronnie to play the role he did at the end at the beginning; Ryan said he didn’t, but going into the last seasons, they knew how Ronnie had to act. He’s a consistent character all the way through.

            What I find so admirable about Ronnie is his self-awareness. He knows what he is and he’s at peace with that; for all his raging in his last scene, he will find a way in or through prison if he doesn’t get shivved in the first week. He also lives by reason in a way that few characters on The Shield (or really, in any modern fiction) do. There are versions of this character in Michael Mann’s films and in Full Metal Jacket; I’ve linked to my articles on both if you’re curious.

          • Rory

            Yes,
            Ronnie is and has been self–aware. I believe Shane assumed Ronnie was loyal to
            Vic only because he was unaware of the full extent of Vic’s atrocities. I think
            he told Ronnie that Vic murdered Terry Crowley in hopes that he would question
            his loyalty to Vic, but Ronnie’s known that all along. He’s perceptive enough
            to see the nature of the people he’s dealing with. Ronnie knows who he is and
            he’s at peace with that. I felt he underestimated Vic, though. Vic is loyal to
            himself first and foremost no matter what he says.

            Shane didn’t
            know until his last days on earth and once he realized it, he could never be at
            peace. Interestingly enough, it takes Mara only a day to say, “I killed that
            woman. I killed her, Shane. I’m a murderer. I never thought I could kill
            someone.” Like her husband, she couldn’t be at peace with that and like her
            husband, she feels remorse/guilt for her terrible actions that Vic never did.
            That Shane (and possibly Mara) would rather kill his family and himself than to
            see them torn apart is … I still don’t know what to say about that. I can only
            say that it is horrible and breaks my heart. What I know of Shane is that he is
            very impulsive and never takes the time to think things through. This leads to
            him making decisions that have the worst consequences.

            I am
            having trouble finding a series that moves me as much as The Shield did. I’ve
            seen Justified and I liked it. It was different, though. It focuses on
            character development, whereas The Shield allowed actions to reveal things
            about the characters to the audience. It is a different form of storytelling
            and I can say that I appreciate it. I don’t think any other show I’ve seen does
            it or at least doesn’t do it as well. I’ve watched Mad Men and this may sound
            absurd to many, but Mara was a more interesting female character to me than any
            of the ones on that show. I might just be a little crazy for saying/thinking
            that. Breaking Bad was good, but I wasn’t as invested in those characters as I
            am in the ones here.

            My
            favorite author is probably Vladimir Nabokov. I really like Lolita and Pale
            Fire, although I wasn’t fond of any of the film adaptions of Lolita. Have you
            read either of those books?

          • I don’t think you’re crazy for thinking that. What makes The Shield so powerful, and so unique, is that it stuck to dramatic principles and sought to make things simpler, not more complex. That has power, and a lot of modern writers have forgotten that–they seek to explain rather than to dramatize.

            You made me go back to the Poetics and I remembered this line: “The most beautiful colors, laid on confusedly, will not give as much pleasure as the chalk outline of a portrait.” We are complex human beings with all kinds of memories and emotions (something Mad Men* shows very well), but when we act, we can only choose one thing. So drama actually works by being simple, and that’s something The Shield did best. Mara was one of the best examples of that–anywhere–because we saw her choice and saw how painful it was and saw the consequences. Mad Men‘s characters are a lot more complex, and we know more about them, but that doesn’t make them more affecting.

            By the end of the series, Mara is one of the most affecting, heartbreaking characters around, and she fulfills what we saw when she first appeared: this is someone who simply loves Shane, and sees right through Vic. She’s one of the best female characters on television, strong, flawed, and necessary to the story.

            I’ve only read fractions of Nabokov and I want to read more. What I’ve read reminds me of Milan Kundera more than any other author–they both have a very European feel to me, where they see the faults of their characters and accept it, are almost happy with it. There’s something noble about that; I think a creator has to both love and show no mercy to the Creation. I’ll let you know when I get to him!

            *In the adjacent comment, there’s a podcast where I and @stuwillis:disqus got into a lot of the differences between dramatic and literary TV shows. Mad Men is as perfect an example of a literary show as The Shield is a dramatic show.

          • Rory

            I wish I could express my thoughts as clearly as you are able to. You have explained precisely why I found Mara more interesting. Thank you.

            Breaking Bad’s form of storytelling is closest to The Shield’s. Breaking Bad was an excellent accomplishment by all means, being honored and revered by The Smithsonian. Yet it was missing something and I am not sure what. For example, my emotions when it comes to the characters of The Shield are very complex. I was deeply angry with Shane when he murdered Lem. It was a harrowing mixture of sadness and grief for Lem, rage on behalf of this injustice, and a desire to save him. Lem’s last word was “Shane” and he said it with such tenderness. It was the name of his murderer who also happened to be what he considered a brother. The Strike Team was Lem’s family; that is why he was loyal to them until the end. Nothing hurts more than being betrayed by someone you love.

            But I also wanted to hug Shane and tell him, in that moment, that he does not have to do this. That it will be the biggest mistake of his life. I near hated him, but the sadness was for him, too. So when he begged for Mara’s forgiveness in “Haunts,” I was relieved when she embraced him. After all, I wanted to do the same.

            Then I was back to anger in “Chasing Ghosts,” screaming for Shane to admit that what he’s done is evil and partially wanting Vic and Ronnie to avenge Lem.

            By the end of the series, Vic had the least of my sympathies because I realized that he is and has always been the villain of his story.

            The Shield was a tragedy, but I empathized with these characters even as they were making horrible decisions and committing evil. It is a feat of the writers, actors, and directors because when I look back on it, I realize that there is not much background to these characters. Yet seeing them in motion brought upon more empathy than if, let us say, they had shown me Vic was raised in a whorehouse like Don Draper.

            Breaking Bad did the same as The Shield. The audience doesn’t know much about Walter White’s background. We’re given a little and left to assumptions. We discover Walter and who he is through his actions mostly. Yet I never had as complex emotions for Breaking Bad’s characters as I did The Shield. Jesse Pinkman, I would say, is more sympathetic than Shane Vendrell, but I was not at one with him. Skyler White, I would say, has similarities to both Corrine and Mara. She’s neither of them; she’s in between them. I never hated Skyler like most of the audience did. I understood her and why she was conflicted. But I was able to sympathize with Corrine and Mara more, if that makes sense. Perhaps that makes me a terrible person.

            In sum, I am saying that I felt disconnected from the characters of Breaking Bad. I understand them. Their motivations and their flaws are discernible. But I was never, for a lack of better words, “in their shoes.” At least not completely.

            I am not a fan of Christopher Nolan, but I loved his film Memento and I felt his form of storytelling for Leonard was similar to The Shield’s as well.

            You really should read Lolita. It encompasses many of the storytelling devices that are common in today’s television and film such as the use of unreliable narrators and antiheroes. In fact, I got into an interesting debate about the differences between an antihero and a villain protagonist. The lines seem blurred at some point.

            I will make sure to read your discussion about literary vs. dramatic television. Do you have a link for it?

          • A lot of showrunners have cited The Sopranos and Buffy as the two biggest influences on contemporary television. That’s mostly good, but there’s a definite negative (or at least anti-dramatic) influence from The Sopranos, in that so many works are about explaining their characters. That can be fascinating, but it’s not drama, which is about consequences–the future, not the past. Because works like The Sopranos and Mad Men rely so heavily on backstory to explain their characters, they make their characters different from us. The Shield (and, to a slightly lesser extent, Breaking Bad) doesn’t do that. It throws us and the characters into the situation and goes from there. Sometimes I describe The Shield as “no explanations, no justifications, only consequences.” Oh, and here’s the link to the podcast on literary and dramatic works, among other things: http://draft-zero.com/2015/dz-24/

            As we’ve seen, that’s what makes the characters so sympathetic. They’re never judged (and that was a problem for many critics) but we always know why they make the choices they make. Another definition of tragedy I have is “if I made the choices this character did at the beginning, I would have to do what they did at the end.” One of the great commenters on The Shield, K. Thrace, said that what made the end of season 3 (the money going into the furnace) such a powerful moment was that she empathized with every character. That kind of power is really unique to The Shield.

            I’m with you on Breaking Bad; good as it is, it’s all about Walter, an observation made much better by @disqus_ZFzIRFoZjP:disqus here. Everyone gets pulled into his world and his evil; but on The Shield, characters make choices. Compare Jesse shooting Gale with Shane killing Lem and you see the difference: Jesse obeys, Shane chooses, and in fact that choice will bring him into conflict with Vic. And I’m right there with you on Corrine and Mara over Skyler too. Once again, it’s about the difference between a dramatic character and a realistic character. What makes Corrine and Mara so compelling as dramatic characters is that they have goals, and move towards them over the entire series: Corrine always moves away from Vic, and Mara always moves towards Shane.

            The problem with Skyler is the writers tried to have it both ways, depending on the plot. Sometimes she’s going to leave, sometimes she’s a collaborator, sometimes she’s a victim. The thing is, that’s not unrealistic: I can see how someone like that would act that way. But it’s not as compelling as Corrine or Mara; because we don’t know Skyler’s goal, we can’t empathize with her actions in getting to it or not. With Corrine and Mara, we see what they’re trying to do, we could see ourselves doing it.

            Drama doesn’t need to create full, well-rounded people. We are necessarily complex people, and drama reveals (that word is so crucial) aspects of our selves to ourselves. We can be as loyal as Mara, as merciless as Ronnie, as heroic as Claudette. That’s why drama can terrify us and inspire us, because we think that could be me.

            Thank you again, by the way, for your praise. It means a lot. All I’m trying to do here is be clear about why I like The Shield and I hope that will allow others to understand better why they like, or don’t. To me, that’s the goal of criticism, and anything else is not under my control. I appreciate your contributions here and they are getting me to pursue my own ideas further. Thank you for that too.

            And on Lolita: watching the Kubrick film (here’s my review), it struck me more than anything as an early draft of The Shining, and clearly was doing something very different from the novel. He did much the same thing in Barry Lyndon, switching from first-person to third-person, but with Lolita it felt like he deliberately moved away from the novel. Your idea of Humbert Humbert as the original anti-hero–I like that, a lot, and that more than anything inspires me to read it. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on it.

          • Rory

            I agree that Breaking Bad revolves entirely around Walter White. We see the consequences of his actions. The Shield is not only about Vic Mackey. He is poison, as is Walt, but the characters in The Shield are complicit rather than victims and they have more agency. This is evident when you compare Jesse Pinkman and Shane Vendrell. Jesse and Shane make horrible decisions; they are guilt-ridden unlike their leaders. They are not particularly smart. But they differ in many ways. Like you said, Shane chooses and Jesse is done to. For example, Walt is equally to blame for the murder of Gale even if he did not pull the trigger. Shane chose to murder Lem; Shane chose to murder his family and then commit suicide. We can see how Vic led him into corruption, but these are still decisions he made independent of Vic. It’s not just Shane either. Lem and Ronnie were corrupt, too. Lem had a good heart and a desire to help rather than control, but he still chose to engage in illegal activities. Now his motivations for doing so are different than, let us say, Vic’s. Lem saw the Strike Team as his family. He will rob and go to prison for them. He lied to Tavon to protect Shane. But it was mostly about protecting them. As we see in Season 3, Lem would rather burn the money than see his brothers go to jail.

            Lem had his limits, but being loyal to his family meant doing wrong at times. He would compromise his principles to protect them and even ruin his life. That is actually something he had in common with Mara except he was not as impulsive as her and although she had limits as well, they were less than Lem’s. That being said, they both had a strong sense of loyalty and discourses around it that were similar, such as you remain loyal to the ones you love even if they have done wrong and even if it will hurt you. With Lem, it was a matter of HOW wrong. I absolutely think he would have seen Vic for the monster that he is if he knew about Terry Crowley and I think Vic’s righteousness, or rather his lack of remorse, would have enabled him to see that. Because if Lem found out about Terry Crowley before he died, Vic would have justified it just like he did with Shane in “Chasing Ghosts.” To Vic, it was as simple as “Terry was a rat” and therefore it had to be done. I think Vic convinced Shane to rationalize it this way as far back as Season 1.

            I am not sure what Ronnie’s motivation was or why he chose to be complicit in the crimes of the Strike Team. I need to re-watch the series and pay more attention to Ronnie because he is still a mystery to me. I realize that he was the smartest and most pragmatic out of the four, but I am not sure why he remained with them.

            Shane is not as sympathetic as Jesse Pinkman to the average viewer because we see him making decisions independently of Vic. We see him making irrational, impetuous decisions that have the worst consequences. Yes, Vic influenced him to make the decisions that he did and the Strike Team was a group of conspirators concerning other crimes, but Shane still makes plenty of those decisions on his own and we see the disastrous consequences. In that regard, it is easier to separate him and his actions from Vic. It may even seem unfair to some that Claudette seems to be blaming Vic for the murder of Shane’s family in “Family Meeting.” Perhaps they were thinking, “How can she be addressing Vic as if he is partially culpable for this tragedy? It was Shane’s decision and his alone!”

            That is not so with Jesse Pinkman since we see Walt as a direct influence over everything he does, including the worst things he does.

            The characters on The Shield are not as well-rounded as the characters on Breaking Bad. Yet I felt they were given more agency.

          • I had not seen that before, but you’re right about Lem and Mara–two characters whose loyalty is first with their families. If you want to see them as the tragic figures here, that is their flaw. You’re right about Lem–the moment where is loyalty is most in question is in “Enemy of Good” where he realizes that Vic did in fact kill Terry. Part of what makes The Shield so powerful is that it can be seen as a drama with several tragic heroes: Vic, Shane, Lem, Mara, and Ronnie. (@ruckcohlchez:disqus has noted that Shane may be the most classically tragic figure on the Team.)

            That’s also a good point that one could, arguably, not blame Vic for Shane’s murder/suicide. Claudette’s words and actions in that scene are so carefully chosen, in that she never actually blames Vic–rather, she makes him witness. She makes him hear the consequences of his actions. I think if she said something like “this is your fault, Vic” it would have triggered his defense mechanisms, but by making him listen to Shane’s (literal) last words, she makes him feel it instead of judging him. Her line when she lays down the photographs is “this is what the hero left on his way out the door.” That’s very much the classical act of recognition, something deeper than blame: it’s saying “see that you are a part of this, even if you didn’t cause it directly.”

            My read on Ronnie is that he’s a team player, and that may be his tragic flaw. He doesn’t initiate the Money Train robbery, but he’s the one who comes up with the plan that makes it happen. He doesn’t come up with the scheme to kill Shane in “Animal Control,” but he’s the one who refuses to call it off. He’s comfortable in that role, and that’s what brings him down. I’ve always felt that Ronnie’s fate is less formally tragic (but maybe more heartbreaking for that reason), but I’m beginning to see that loyalty can be a tragic flaw too. (Certainly it is for Lem and Mara.) This is something I’m going to have to consider in more depth; Ronnie is such a compelling character, drawn with a few quick strokes.

            So true about well-rounded characters and agency. In my post on The Sopranos‘ finale, I reflected on a great line of Orwell’s, where he said the important difference between characters isn’t how deeply their drawn or how smart the author is, it’s whether or not the characters are changing or growing. Except for Walt, the characters in Breaking Bad are comparatively static, whereas all the players in The Shield are in the game and active. Our own @disqus_ZFzIRFoZjP:disqus and I discussed this in the post on Donna Bowman’s review of the finale (go here and sort the comments by “Newest First” to find this discussion); she noted that The Shield looks at consequence among a group of people and Breaking Bad looks at the evil of one person.

          • Rory

            Lem realized Vic murdered Terry in “Enemy of Good?” I need to re-watch that episode. I recently bought the complete collection of The Shield on Amazon Prime so that it is always available to me for streaming. Yes, I love it that much!

            In that case, Lem and Mara were very similar in terms of loyalty to their families and had the same ideas about what being loyal is. Mara was accepting of Shane when he admitted he murdered his best friend. It would be interesting if Lem too was accepting of Vic even after learning he murdered Terry. I know he was still willing to go to prison for them and have his career ruined.

            I really need to watch that episode again, find Nowalk’s review, and look for your commentary. I will also be sure to read the discussion you had with ZoeZ and your article.

          • Ruck Cohlchez

            That’s the episode where Kavanaugh and Aceveda talk Lem into wearing a wire, and he disables it to tell Vic and ask him the truth. Vic’s non-denial denial gives him the information that he needs.

            I always loved that after Lem storms off, visibly upset, and drives away, Vic yells “Everything’s fine!” like a whole lot of people just watched him have a lover’s quarrel.

          • Rory

            It really was like a lover’s quarrel. It reminded me of one of those scenes where a character wants their partner to admit that they have been cheating and then storms out when they get the truth.

          • What @ruckcohlchez:disqus said about Lem–that’s where Lem realizes. It takes him to the closest point to breaking with Vic, but he doesn’t do it, for the reason you say: Lem is loyal above all else, even to the point of taking the fall later in the season to save the Team.

            What you’re seeing with Lem and Mara is an old idea: loyalty matters more than morality. You’re loyal to people even when they’re not good. Like so much on The Shield, it shows the consequences of that, both good and bad. With Lem and Mara, you see the dangers of loyalty; with Dutch and Claudette, you see the benefits of it. If there’s an ethical point here, it’s that loyalty goes all the way–you really will stand or fall with those you’re loyal to, whether you realize it or not.

            It’s worth noting that all through season 5, it’s Ronnie who, as always, is most consistently pragmatic and wants to let Lem cut himself loose, because he knows that given enough time, Lem will break. It’s not judgmental, it’s just the facts–everyone breaks. Ronnie knew the limits of loyalty, even stating it early in season 7 (“I’m not gonna drown for Shane, or you”) and still got brought down by it. Somewhere I remarked that if the Strike Team can be considered a protagonist, then the tragic flaw is the impossibility of staying loyal to each other while being criminals.

            (Also, Ruck’s right that @disqus_ZFzIRFoZjP:disqus’s comments aren’t on that article, but I can reconstruct the meaning if not the phrasing in this conversation.)

          • Rory

            I finished “Enemy of Good” right now and I completely agree. Lem has to make a decision and he chooses the Team over the badge and ultimately himself. Lem thinks even the death penalty is too good for murderers of cops. Yet upon realization that Vic, a man he loves, has committed this evil, he still chooses the Team or rather his family. I think that is evidence of him compromising his morality for loyalty. Being loyal means accepting them even when you realize that they have done wrong. Like you said, it is an old idea and quite essentialist. He is very similar to Mara in that way. Ronnie, on the other hand, does not have such views precisely because he is pragmatic. Vic thinks he is as loyal as Lem and/or Mara, but he is not. That is not necessarily a bad thing since, as you noted, loyalty was a tragic flaw for them. Vic does talk a lot about loyalty to the Team throughout the series, but in the end, we discover he’s mostly loyal to himself and that his objective was not only control but also getting away with it even at the expense of the Team. It’s interesting because in “On Tilt” Vic gave Shane that whole spiel about how Mara would leave him/is not loyal at all like he is.

            I hope you do not mind, but I am going to comment on a bit on what little we are given about their backgrounds. I think Lem and Mara have these unhealthy views of relationships partially due to their upbringings. We know that both come from unstable and abusive environments or “white trash” as I think Ronnie put it later in the season. They desire familial bonds and love GREATLY but do not know how to do it in a balanced manner. Of course I could be wrong.

            I also think I saw someone say in a comment that Vic draws in people who have no one. Lem fits that. Shane DID fit that until he found Mara and I think Ronnie fits it, too.

            I definitely see Lem, Shane, Mara, and Vic as tragic characters. I need to re-watch the entire series to get a better idea of Ronnie. What I can say is that I am surprised he ever got along with Shane considering how much their personalities clash. Ronnie is levelheaded; Shane is impulsive.

          • The Shield gives very little about backgrounds, but what it does is important; it mentions them without making them the focus. (We don’t get flashbacks, monologues, or episodes about them.) It allows the show to suggest the characters’ psychology without ever removing the importance of choice and action from them. In the article on Ronnie and on morality, I noted that what we need to know in a drama is how people act, not what they feel. The Shield puts its energy in the first, but you’re exactly right to pick up on how it sketches in the second.

            Aristotle, by the way, doesn’t counsel ignoring these kinds of issues, which he calls “Character” (“that which reveals moral purpose, showing what kind of things a man chooses or avoids”); he just ranks it second below Plot, the sequence of actions chosen by the characters.

            God, that end of “Enemy of Good” is so powerful, and one more way The Shield‘s acting was on such a high level. Lem muttering to Vic what’s going on, Vic avoiding, avoiding, avoiding, and then finally he drops his eyes maybe ten degrees below Lem’s line of sight and then Lem knows. This show is all about big, irrevocable actions, but they can be cued in the subtlest ways; that moment has the exact impact of Vic shooting Terry.

          • Rory

            As I re-watch the earlier episodes, I see that Lem was part of the corruption as much as the others but that his morality would never let him do something as awful as murder Terry Crowley. That is because he had the biggest heart out of all of them and his motivation was to help rather than to control. However, it seems his desire to help as well as his conscience became in conflict with another, strong desire, which was the desire for family and love. Lem was hurt by the death of Terry, but when he realizes that Vic murdered him, he chooses his brothers, even willing to go to prison for them. That was a bit repetitive, but like I said, it went over my head that Lem knew the truth. Surely he is the most innocent of the Team, but when people speak of him, it is like he was this clueless “puppy.” There was a lot more to him.

            I don’t want to think too much about “Postpartum” because it will only have me bawling, but it’s interesting how Lem and Mara had the same ideas about family, love, and loyalty and how they both died at the hands of Shane!

            I know there’s that theory out there about Shane informing Mara of his plans and her agreeing with it because they were so close. But from the onset, it looks like Shane murdered them both and they were the most loyal to him and he truly loved them both.

            I guess someone would argue that Shane didn’t love Lem, but even when he was killing him, it seemed like he loved him. The same with his family.

            This has got me very fucked up, probably because Shane is a very fucked up character. I am reeling. Goodnight.

          • Oh wow, good catch on Lem and Mara–I hadn’t thought of that. Shane says to Mara “you were so–innocent” and he ends up killing the most innocent (the least corrupted) people in his life.

            The moment that chokes me up every time on the rewatch is Kavanaugh saying “not you. Not Curtis Lemansky.” There’s a note of awe in his voice there, like he recognized that there is such a thing as a good person in this story. And so do we. And Lem will be dead in thirty hours.

          • thesplitsaber

            ‘that there is such a thing as a good person in this story.’
            And then Kavanaugh turns to the good himself, accepting the consequences but also at peace knowing he isnt Vic.

          • Another powerful, moving set of incidents with Lem: his job counseling kids in the 4th season. It felt like he’d gotten away from the Strike Team and landed where he needed to be. This being The Shield, it’s not just character shading–he gets pulled back in because of the need to watch Shane, and he brings Angie into the story, leading to her getting shot dead by Antwon.

          • thesplitsaber

            My favorite touch about the lack of background-no one even says Vics full first name until ‘Possible Kill Screen’.

          • Rory

            P.S. In the beginning of the very next episode, Lem says to Kavanaugh, “I can’t believe I was stupid enough to let you in my head, make me think Vic had something to do with Terry dying” even though he now knows the truth. Yes, he certainly made his decision and that’s something I love about The Shield, characters making decisions. He didn’t obey; he chose.

          • thesplitsaber

            ‘it’s just the facts–everyone breaks’
            And the bittersweet note to that is Kavanaugh’s ‘Cops dont go to jail’. The tragedy that had the strike team been able to stay truly loyal they would have persevered.

          • Ruck Cohlchez

            I could find your comments on the BB finale review, but not Zoe’s.

          • thesplitsaber

            ‘All I’m trying to do here is be clear’
            -Wallflower

          • thesplitsaber

            ‘I am not a fan of Christopher Nolan, but I loved his film Memento…’

            Very interesting. I am a big Nolan fan but feel that The Dark Knight is much closer to The Shield than Memento. If you come across this comment again, any chance you can elaborate on this?

          • I love Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. Heath Ledger gave one of my favorite portrayals of a villain. The Joker and The Scarecrow.

            POSSIBLE SPOILERS FOR MEMENTO

            Memento is a mystery and thriller, but I found it to be very dramatic because it relies on Lenny’s actions driving the plot. When I watched it for the first time, there were a million questions running through my head. First, what is going on? What is going to happen? How is he going to survive this being so vulnerable? Because Lenny has anterograde amnesia, it is difficult to develop him as a character. The audience has to rely on his chaotic point of view. The Shield was often criticized for its lack of character development, as it relied mostly on the actions of its characters. I feel the same for Memento. For example, we know hardly anything about Teddy and Natalie. We can’t even discern if what they are saying is truthful due to Lenny’s condition; we only have their actions and can only infer from those actions. I felt The Joker and The Scarecrow were similar characters as well. We know they are criminally insane like we know Lenny has anterograde amnesia. But their background is an ongoing mystery. The Joker keeps telling these stories of how he got his scars, but we’ll never know what is true and what is not. Similarly, The Shield gave us very little on the background of the Strike Team members.

            What The Shield did not do is have flashbacks or rather depictions of a character’s storytelling. Memento technically did not have many flashbacks because it is actually the same story started at two different times until they collide. One starting point is in black and white; the other is in color. They run until the story meets the climax. I don’t know if I explained that quite well, but if you’ve seen the film, you know what I am talking about.

          • CONTINUED MEMENTO SPOILERS

            Although Memento isn’t structured as a tragedy, Lenny is a great tragic figure–he’s brought down by his defining flaw. What’s fascinating is how Nolan leaves so much open to question here, but Lenny’s tragedy is clear no matter what happens: he will always be open to being used by everyone, most of all himself. (The Dark Knight is much closer to tragedy in its structure–I’ve used it before when teaching Plato.)

            Great call on how Memento technically has flashbacks, but not really–Nolan called it a hairpin structure, where one story goes forward, one goes backward, and they meet at the end. The moment when that happens is so subtle and perfect, I don’t think I caught it until the third viewing or so.

          • thesplitsaber

            Thanks for both of your replies! Heres one of my biggest heretical views when it comes to film-I really, really do not like Memento.

            But I know a lot of people do and I always like to ask them about it to help illuminate my own feelings (I want to like it I really do!).

            For me its biggest flaw as a film and why I view it in sharp relief to The Shield and The Dark Knight is those flashbacks you describe. Really the whole movie could be considered a flashback. Its that formal trickery Nolan loves so much that muddles what should be an otherwise very engaging story-a PI with amnesia tries to find his wifes killer.

            Except thats not what the movies about-its about a man who accidently killed his wife after killing her rapist, but has convinced himself that someone else named Sammy jenkis did that, and not to his wife. Also he takes on the telephone to a mysterious figure. And the whole movie is backwards. To me thats the essence of what Wallflower was talking about as simplicity vs complexity-adding layers of narrative trickery to what should be a simple effective story.

            Ive come to recognize this approach as a Nolan trademark, and the Dark Knight is the exception proves the rule. Theres one brief flashback in TDK and thats it. As you noted like the Shield it doesnt try to explain its characters but the consequences of their actions. ‘One man or the entire mob?’ Batman asks Gordon early on and the choice he makes and its consequences drive the rest of the movie like a freight train.
            Compare that to other Nolan movies like The Prestige or Interstellar,where characters actions and consequences get muddled and jumbled through non linear trickery, time jumps, and endless exposition filling the story with unnecessary bloat.

            And bloat is something The Shield has almost none of. It stands alone among its millenial tv peers in that respect.

          • I hear ya. For me, Memento‘s gimmick was necessary, in that it placed you in Lenny’s position–you didn’t know what he’d just done. And even if I’d gotten tired of it, “no, he’s chasing me” would have made it all worth it. Fun fact: the special edition DVD has the version of the film recut in chronological order. It’s interesting and surprisingly effective, although it obviously suffers from pacing, with the climax happening around 20 minutes in.

            The Dark Knight is my favorite Nolan, because although it’s a long movie, it’s absolutely, relentlessly stripped down, each action tripping off the next one right down to the finish.

          • thesplitsaber

            Right there with ya on TDK, one of my 2 all time favorites dependent on day. Unfortunately, if Interstellar is any indication, its gonna stay the linear exception in his filmography.

          • SPOILERS FOR MEMENTO

            Although Memento isn’t structured as a tragedy, Lenny is a great tragic figure–he’s brought down by his defining flaw. What’s fascinating is how Nolan leaves so much open to question here, but Lenny’s tragedy is clear no matter what happens: he will always be open to being used by everyone, most of all himself. (The Dark Knight is much closer to tragedy in its structure–I’ve used it before when teaching Plato.)

            Yes, I see Lenny as a tragic figure, too. We are shown that he is especially susceptible to people taking advantage of him throughout the film. By Teddy, by Natalie, even by the hotel clerk. But “the big reveal” is that he has been manipulating himself. I remember as a first time viewer thinking that the ending was cold-blooded despite Teddy being a POS.

          • thesplitsaber

            She’s one of the best female characters on television

          • thesplitsaber

            Like you once said-Ronnie gets half his face burned off, he grows a beard. If you want to write a smart character its simple-just dont have him do anything stupid. And Ronnie siding with Vic in the end wasnt stupid-it was consistent. Mackey had never screwed him before, why would he start so close to the finish line?

          • Credit where it’s due: I think that line about Ronnie is some spicy @disqus_ZFzIRFoZjP:disqus insight. The thing about Ronnie, like a lot of people who know their own evil: they don’t waste time going why me why me, why has this bad thing happened to me? If you can admit you’re evil, you can understand that there’s evil in the world and sometimes it lands on you, and you can deal with it.

          • thesplitsaber

            ‘ If you can admit you’re evil, you can understand that there’s evil in the world and sometimes it lands on you, and you can deal with it.’

            ‘Im not a monster….Im just ahead of the cuuurrvvee.’

            Its what ive recognised in my own tastes-my favorite villains-Ledgers Joker, Judge Holden in Blood Meridian, El Indio in For a Few Dollars More, The Mayor on Buffy the Vampire Slayer- know theyre the villain of the story, they just dont care. That confidence makes them so much more compelling.

          • Socrates’ command “know thyself”–that shit’s not easy. It’s why I always love the characters who do, because those are my role models, way more than the characters who do good.

          • By the way, if you want to follow me, you should follow this account–the other one has the same screen name/pic but I don’t use it anymore 😄

      • thesplitsaber

        ‘The Shield isn’t so much disliked among the critical community as not taken seriously.’

        Reminds me of what The Wires Ed Burns said about the Shield pilot- ‘This isnt realistic, this isnt any (competition) we have to worry about.’

        Take my word for it by the end of The Wires run it wasnt realistic either.

  • Rory

    Did Shawn Ryan ever state why it is entitled The Shield?

    • Originally, it was going to be titled Rampart, after the police district that had a Strike Team-like unit that ran wild. I remember a few FX ads that had the original title with the same logo. The LAPD objected and Ryan switched to the more generic Shield. (“Shield” is police slang for a badge. It’s a nice touch that a rampart is in the most generic sense a shield too.) A lot of commenters have noted that it’s a particularly resonant title with everything that happens.

      • Rory

        I thought it was entitled The Shield because their badge gave them an authority that civilians do not have and that was part of what enabled their criminality. I guess I am trying to say that the badge served as a shield for them or at least they thought it did. Actually, I don’t know what I am trying to say.

        • Ruck Cohlchez

          No, I think you are quite right. When I saw @wallflower’s comment I was going to post something similar. What makes “The Shield” a great title for The Shield is that it works on all of those levels.

        • That works too (-; @ruckcohlchez:disqus’ point is well taken; there are a lot of ways the title works. A lot of people have noticed how Vic tries to shield himself from the consequences of his actions; in the “Parricide”/”Moving Day” review, I tried to talk about what the characters are without the shield.

          One of the reasons the title works is that although it does have all these additional meanings, it has a simple, easily grasped meaning–it doesn’t leave the viewer going “huh?” A later Shawn Ryan series, Terriers, most definitely had that problem.

          • thesplitsaber

            The really funny thing to me is I think Terriers is a perfect description for the dogged determination of those main characters. Unfortunately I think I was the only one.

        • Also, something I should have said earlier: this is all American slang, and I’m not sure how common it is–I don’t know how many viewers pick up on it. There was a short-lived 00s TV series about police called The Job, and I don’t think most viewers knew that “the job” was how police often refer to their, well, job.

        • thesplitsaber

          The interpretation ive liked for myself is that the Shield describes Vic, or more accurately what Vics supposed to do-be a shield against the extreme chaos an unpredictability of Farmington.
          Its also a singular noun-just like Vic The Shield describes a lone protector, and the show investigates the consequences of such a person.

          Pompous analysis over lol.

          • I don’t think it was pompous. One of the fascinating things about this show is how interpretations of it can be different and still make sense. Farmington is depicted as ultra-violent. Some of the things they show are enough to make us never look back. I can see how Vic, or rather the Strike Team, is supposed to be a shield against it. Claudette says in the first episode that they let Vic’s police brutality slide because they see it as an effective solution to crime. But I am not sure if Claudette was necessarily right at that point. By the end of the series, she has changed her mind and not only because of the tragedy that occurred.

          • thesplitsaber

            One of the great throwaway lines in the series (in that it goes by so fast, not that it isnt important) is when Claudette says something to the effect of ‘Ive tried Vics way before, im not making that mistake again’ in the pilot.
            Thanks to CCH Pounder we completely believe that, and dont ever need to see what she is talking about. Like Mara she knows who and what Vic is and for the benefit of the Barn spends the rest of the show slowly extracting him from it.

      • thesplitsaber

        Wasnt it also going to be called The Barn for a short time?

        • A VERY short time. I’ll assume someone said to Shawn Ryan “are you insane?” and that someone wasn’t around when he came up with Terriers.

  • Rory

    7 years ago on A.V. Club, someone said the ending for Vic and Corrine reminded them of Goodfellas.

    SPOILERS

    Henry Hill says, “Now it’s all over. That’s the hardest part. Today everything is different. There’s no action. I have to wait around like everyone else … I’m an average nobody. I get to live the rest of my life like a schnook.” And he is in that suburban house, as handsome as ever grabbing that newspaper. Hill has gotten away with it and there is witness protection for his family. It was eerily similar yet different in many ways.

    Vic lost what defined him. His career, his children, and the Strike Team. In fact, he cannot bear to look at Shane nor Ronnie. He has cropped them out of their family picture. He only has eyes for Lem because their relationship was still intact when he died.

    On the other hand, I never felt that Henry Hill’s family defined him in the way that Vic’s did. Did Hill have the self-righteous and indignation that Vic did? Vic always thought he was better than what he was. To be frank, Hill always seemed like a lowlife who knew it.

    And Henry Hill is not a fictional character. He was an actual person who did get away with it but was a bum who spent his days getting high. His children loathed him … and I’m not sure that he even cared.

    Ray Liotta was magnificent but too good for Hill.

    • That’s well said, especially on the difference between Henry Hill and Vic. Think of Henry’s first voiceover: “As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.” As far back as we know Vic, he always wanted to get away with it and be a cop. Henry loses what he had; Vic keeps it, but loses everything else. GoodFellas is a lot of things, but a tragedy it isn’t. (The Shield‘s ending is almost exactly the same as The Godfather Part II; Ryan’s original idea, to end on Vic’s face, was even closer.)

      Scorsese is a lot more comic; I love that right after the line “I get to live the rest of my life like a schnook” he cuts to Joe Pesci, shooting at us like The Great Train Robbery and then back to Liotta, smiling. It’s like the film itself adds a last unspoken line: “but it’s not so bad when you consider the alternative.”

      Our own BurgundySuit reviewed GoodFellas here; I have more to say about it too in the comments.

      • thesplitsaber

        Interesting, I definitely would classify Goodfellas as a tragedy (feel free to rip me apart on the classical meaning hahah), or more accurately a tragic Opera. All Hill ever wanted to be was a gangster, someone who lives by one rule-never rat on your friends. And in the end of the movie what does he become? That which he hated.

        • Well, you asked (-; GoodFellas has reversal, but not recognition–Henry Hill becomes what he hated but still smiles in the last shot. I’m not sure, but I think formally that’s melodrama, not tragedy. (Of course, the original definition of “melodrama” is “drama with music,” and my man Scorsese is all about that.)

          • thesplitsaber

            “drama with music,” so at least my opera definition still stands! lol

  • P.S. I wish I never went to Michele Hicks’ IMDb page. So much nastiness and cruelty about not just the character Mara but the actress herself. It’s a good thing she doesn’t care about it because it’s awful.

    • I wish I could be even a little surprised about that, but as you’ve said elsewhere, that’s the fate of pretty much all women in crime stories. And apparently Lolita too.

      • Perhaps I am just thin-skinned. But I thought Hicks gave a perfect performance in “Possible Kill Screen” and “Family Meeting.” I bought her and Goggins as a unit. If I didn’t, the finale wouldn’t have been as powerful as it was. Maybe I have blinders on or something because the general consensus is that Mara was a terrible character who was terribly written and acted. I think I read that she was the worst part of the show, too.

        Yes, I noticed that the female leads or co-leads are usually not liked in crime stories. It’s kind of hard for me because as a woman, I like having female characters that I can empathize with and discuss in these shows. In The Shield, a lot of people couldn’t stand not just Mara but Corrine as well. I never see much about Danny. I think Claudette is generally loved due to CCH Pounder’s beautiful acting.

        • There’s a substantial chunk of the audience for The Shield (and Breaking Bad, The Sopranos, etc.) that shows up to see Men Kick Ass and anything that gets in the way of that is the worst thing ever. Part of what makes Mara such a great character is that she directly challenges that: in her first moment onscreen she’s right next to Shane, right in the Strike Team’s clubhouse, and one episode later she’s telling Vic not to come to her and Shane’s home unless he’s invited. The dominant feel of Hicks’ performance is strength, right from the beginning; Corinne has to find her strength but Mara already has it.

          I don’t think you’re thin-skinned at all, I think you’ve landed on something real, and something The Shield does well: Mara and Corinne are not simply there to be Good Women in comparison to Bad Men, they are genuine characters. They have wants and act according to them, and that makes us sympathize with them, which is not the same as liking them. There’s a real conflict between Mara and Vic, and Mara wins it; more than that, the actions of Corinne and Mara set the final episodes in motion.

          • thesplitsaber

            Mara is pure fucking steel from the jump. Without her Shane would have never gone toe to toe with Vic.

  • I am starting to think there will never be a show as good as this again. I have been desperately searching for something to fill the void, but I am struggling to become engaged. Damn.

    • I think that too. So many things have to come together for a great movie, and even more things have to come together for a TV show–and they have to keep coming together for years. Add all that to the way that really no show tries to do anymore what The Shield did–strip down the storytelling, make the show as simple rather than as complex as possible. There are flashes of this kind of thing, but it’s going to stand out as something really unique in this era of television.

      • I am currently watching Jessica Jones. The best thing about it so far is the awesome opening theme song! I didn’t like The Shield’s at first, but I fell in love with the show and therefore fell in love with the song because it reminds me of the show. I also recognize Erin Moriarity (?). She played Audrey, the daughter of Marty, on True Detective, and her acting surprisingly isn’t bad.

        • After the disappointment of The Man in the High Castle, I need to check out Jessica Jones (which means I need to get Netflix). Krysten Ritter has always struck me as “great actress in search of great material,” and Audrey was one of the better (and better-acted) minor characters in True Detective‘s first season.

          • Krysten is good in this, but I knew she would be.

          • Something she does very well is to not reveal what her characters are thinking or feeling–Jane is a really good example of that, and from what I’ve heard it’s also necessary for Jones. Actors are sometimes criticized for not being expressive, which is silly as a general criticism. Sometimes actors need to express and sometimes they need to deny expression, but any Dave Snell fan knows that (-;

          • thesplitsaber

            I think Krysten Ritter is very expressive as an actress.
            But shes also a word i rarely get to use outside of discussions about Jennifer jason Leigh-enigmatic.

            Also the exchange i instantly thought of when you brought up Snell:
            ‘Wait, you got her back here on a first date??’
            ‘Yeah, I’ll give you some tips sometime.’

          • “Enigmatic” is the word, thank you, as is the comparison to Snell. Both of them convey that they know themselves and accept themselves–I can’t imagine either of them playing a character who has to prove something.

          • Ruck Cohlchez

            Ritter was the perfect casting choice for Jessica Jones. So far I’ve still only seen a few episodes, but it’s very strong.

      • thesplitsaber

        I feel like there are shows that go for simplicity over complexity, but they arent prestige dramas. Justified, Agent Carter, and (though a lesser show) Banshee are way more engaging in their simplicity than whatever the next big drama is gonna be. Theyre committed to telling a simple story well, and for me that always has primary importance.

        • The Shield: all drama, no prestige.

          To amplify a joke into a point: “prestige” is one of those things that depends on time and place. It’s what my man Pierre Bourdieu called “cultural capital,” something that reflects on your own prestige. Drama endures, which is why you can put it in any setting and it still works.

          • thesplitsaber

            Yeah, the other shows can keep the awards-in 20 years people wil still be watching The Shield, Justified, and The Wire and still digging it. Just like how no one talks about Reds or Ordinary People, but Hollywood is still trying to recreate The Thing, Conan the Barbarian, and The Road Warrior.

          • The Shield isn’t the great show of our time. It’s a great show of all time.

      • Drunk Napoleon

        Oh, so that’s why you’re so encouraging about me writing drama! 😛

        By the way, I’m revisiting some of your greatest hits in The Shield criticism, and it’s ended up serving as a helpful reminder for things I’m doing wrong at the climactic stage – mainly, letting the characters breathe when I should be tightening the screws, which is easy enough to fix.

  • I don’t know if you celebrate it, but Merry Christmas anyway!

    • I do, and Merry Christmas to you too, and thank you! I’m really grateful that you joined the conversation–I enjoy your words and your insight, a lot.

      • Balthazar Bee

        Merry Christmas to you all, and a Happy Birthday to CCH Pounder!!!

        Terrific to see that this board is still alive with vibrant analysis. Here’s hoping this holiday season brings more than it’s share of happiness — and the first payment’s due now!

  • thesplitsaber

    Heres a cool video of me talking about Wallflower

    https://youtu.be/1kqFwVuQ-Hg?t=3m21s

  • @wallflower I have the most trouble re-watching season 4 because it is so different from the previous and later seasons. I would say it is better than seasons 1, 2, and possibly even 3, but it’s still the hardest for me to get through. What are your favorite episodes from this season and why?

    • You’re right about the difference of season 4; it’s what I call the season of “restoration” between the two reversals of 3 and 5. It suggests a different version of The Shield, something closer to Homicide: Life on the Street or Hill Street Blues, something without an overall driving plot and something more engaged with issues of policing. It makes sense that before season 5 is the last chance to make that kind of show–once Kavanaugh shows up the tragedy has to start moving to the end.

      My favorite episodes are “A Thousand Deaths” and “Judas Priest,” episodes 11 and 12 out of 13. The story here brings in characters from Farmington, Long Beach, Nigeria, and Russia and effectively shows how Farmington and the Barn fit in to a global order of crime. More than that, these episodes are all about communities: Army leaves the Strike Team, Aceveda betrays Rawling and the Barn (Vic says to Aceveda at the end of “A Thousand Deaths” “you’re not a cop. You never were a cop”), and Billings tries to stay part of the Barn’s community. You especially see all the themes in the fight between Dutch and Billings, where Dutch accidentally hits Vic and is actually ready to fight him–it’s the first time we’ve seen Dutch confront Vic on Vic’s terms, not his. And that leads to Dutch genuinely apologizing to Corinne; they’re not lovers again, but we can see in later seasons that they respect each other. We also see in the next episode that Vic has started to respect Dutch.

      I’ve often said that season 4 isn’t fully successful at showing the social order of Farmington, but these episodes are the most successful. What season 4 did really well was show the community of the Barn come back together after it blew apart in season 3, and we see that in the last moment of the season. “A Thousand Deaths” and “Judas Priest” did the most to show how that community functions, its rules and expectations.

      • This is going to sound absurd. I would not blame you for thinking I have lost my mind, but the Strike Team reminds me a bit of Entourage. Except a million times more interesting. It is that sense of brotherhood. When I watched “Blowback,” Lem saying, “Amy’s not even that hot!” totally reminded me of Entourage because it’s something that they would say. But I could never get through the aforementioned show despite my interest in the dynamics of relationships between men. I also found the women in The Shield to be more intriguing. Claudette, Danny, Mara, Corrine.

        Or I could be so obsessed with the show that I see in it in everything I watch! That didn’t happen with Jessica Jones, though.

        In “A Thousand Deaths,” I laughed when Corrine said, “He’s the father of my children. That makes him my asshole, not yours.”

        Army was smart to get out right then and there. He’s a veteran. He knows how toxic something like the Strike Team can be.

        • Oh, my pick for funniest moment in the entire series is Vic’s “you’re kidding me!” when Corinne sez she’s been sleeping with Dutch (-;

          You’re not wrong about Entourage, about it’s similarity to The Shield and not watching it. I saw a few early-season episodes and was impressed how it avoided the two standard Hollywood stories: Young Person Becomes a Star (yay) and Star Destroyed by Fame (sad). Here, Hollywood is a place where people work, and the actual making of movies is the least important part of that work.

          However, as you sensed, they never found a story to tell and they never made anyone but Vince a character, so it just degenerated (and quickly) into “hey aren’t we all cool with our cool stuff and hot girls.” Like so many shows, the problem wasn’t the premise, it’s that they weren’t interested in following through on it. That’s the real difference between Entourage and The Shield.

          • thesplitsaber

            Id have to go with another season 4 line as funniest-
            ‘you have to be hungry…like a wolf’

          • thesplitsaber

            Yeah, having watched all of entourage, they hit a point where Median bombed and they were faced with the hard reality of making a show about a star fading professionally and personally.

            Instead they hit a magic reset button, and Vince went back to being a huge movie star who could do no wrong.

        • It just occurred to me that I would have liked Entourage just a little bit more if I’d ever heard someone say Army’s line to Shane, “don’t ‘bro’ me.”

    • thesplitsaber

      Season 4 is actually my favorite season but it has alot of very radical changes from the previous and following seasons.
      -Not one but two huge guest stars. Anderson and Close are on opposite sides of the law, so I could understand it feeling more like their show than any of the main established characters.
      -Vic is backgrounded much more, making him more of an ensemble player.
      -The Strike team spends a lot of the season separated in different jobs. While this highlights their individual personalities it also downgrades their group chemistry and Vic is no longer the factor that holds them all together.
      -It LOOKS different than the show had before. As far as I know they kept shooting on 16mm film but their is a cleaner more fluid approach to the cinematography and framing. Its evident from the very first episode.

      All this in addition to the broader scope Wallflower mentions. I would consider all these points reasons I value the season so highly but they are drastic changes from the previous and following seasons.

      • I think Season 7 is my favorite. I do not re-watch it as much as I do the other seasons, but it’s one of the greatest seasons I have ever seen of any T.V. series.

        Season 4 is better than seasons 1, 2, and 3. I would even argue that it is better than season 6. But it is hard for me to re-watch it because of how different it is. It’s the least serialized in a series that is serialized, if that makes sense. Yet I think it was crucial to the development of the characters. Plus, I really liked Glenn Close and Anthony Anderson.

        • thesplitsaber

          One of my few complaints with season 4 is it ruins watching Anderson in almost anything else haha. Dude is a powerhouse dramatic actor.

          Agreed on the quality of season 7-its a bullet train of tension, especially when so many series peter out in their final season.

  • There’s a larger issue in storytelling here that I can only touch on, not answer fully, but it comes back to ZODIAC MOTHERFUCKER’s comment on the pilot that ON THE WIRE THE SYSTEM FUCKS YOU OVER. ON THE SHIELD YOU FUCK YOURSELF OVER Everyone on The Shield, minor or major character, has agency. Everyone makes choices. The weakness of this view is that it doesn’t see how our society and its inequalities drastically limit some people’s choices and leaves them open for others. But the idea that “everyone makes choices” is necessary for a drama, and The Shield is always a drama first.

    You said this in a review for “Inferno” and “Breakpoint.” It reminded me of Shane and Jesse from Breaking Bad.

    SPOILERS FOR BREAKING BAD

    Shane kills Lem; Jesse kills Gale. They are different because Lem was one of Shane’s best friends. The key difference, however, is agency. Shane chose to kill Lem independently of Vic. Of course we can see where Shane got the idea (Vic killing Terry to protect the team, his family, and himself). Jesse is pressured to kill Gale by Walt. He was under duress and that is crucial to shaping the story around Walter White being an evil man. Shane thought Vic would understand why he did it and eventually accept it. Instead he was met with Vic’s self-righteousness.

    Now I want to watch “Chasing Ghosts.” I really need to stop talking about this show.

    • Well I won’t be helping you do that 😄

      Again, that’s really well said. David Mamet said something that applies to The Shield and Breaking Bad, and I want to come back to it in a later essay: tragedies are all exercises in decay. They are processes where situations work themselves out to a point of rest. No one in The Shield acts unnaturally, no one is coerced into their choices, but because they choose according to their character, it all comes to the end it does. To the extent Breaking Bad is a tragedy, it’s the tragedy of Walter; The Shield is the tragedy of the whole Strike Team, because they all make their choices.

      • I completely agree.

        I’m watching Banshee now and I really like it. It has a bad rep because of its action, but I think it’s interesting.

        • Banshee and Spartacus are the most recommended shows among the Shield commenters here and I will definitely watch them. (They both follow The Shield‘s rule: all drama, no prestige.) Right now I’m watching a lot of movies and TV shows for upcoming essays and podcasts–it’s both enjoyable and exhausting. I plan on reviewing Mad Dogs (Shawn Ryan’s most recent series) for The Solute when Amazon releases the first season later this month.

          • What movies and TV shows are you watching right now for your essays? I have never heard of Mad Dogs, so I can’t wait for your review!

          • I’m going to be coy about them for now 😉 I’m trying to get back to a schedule of posting essays/podcasts on Tuesday mornings–I will say that next week’s essay is the beginning of a series I’ve been promising for a while, and the following Tuesday will be about a movie that just reduces me to near-constant tears 😢 (seriously, it was so hard to watch it again).

            So far, only the pilot of Mad Dogs has been made available on Amazon, and it’s. . .OK. It’s a perfectly good pilot, but not stunning–we both know that Shawn Ryan series take a while to get going.

          • Well, now I am excited. So you will be posting these essays on The Solute on Tuesday, January 12th and Tuesday, January 19th?

            I looked up Mad Dogs and it said the creator is Cris Cole. I’m confused.

          • That’s the plan! Part of my coyness is in case I have to change up the schedule, although the essay for the 12th is locked.

            Cris Cole’s Mad Dogs is the original (I haven’t seen it); Ryan and Co. have done a remake and the first season will be released on the 22nd. I can say that so far Michael Imperioli (of GoodFellas and The Sopranos) is the most compelling part of it.

          • Of course Michael Imperioli does not disappoint. He has always been a great actor. If the pilot is available on Amazon, I will watch it this weekend after I finish binge watching the first season of Banshee, which is also on Amazon! What disappoints me is that it appears Homicide: Life on the Street is not available for streaming on Amazon. That’s what I wanted for Christmas.

            I wonder what the film is that brings you to tears. The Lion King? Just a flimsy guess. That film made my dad cry. Haha.

          • Imperioli brought so much depth to Christopher, a lot more, I think, than David Chase thought there was. (@ruckcohlchez:disqus noted once that Chase may be the only creator who hates it that people find his characters compelling.) And it wasn’t The Lion King, but it might have been; I am unpredictably sentimental about things. Probably the Irish part of my ancestry 😉 I will say that Jeremy Irons saying “kill him” scared the living shit out of me.

          • Just rewatched the Mad Dogs pilot in preparation for a binge-watch (and binge-write) this weekend. I may well have been underrating it–the structure is conventional, but Imperioli and Steve Zahn, Romany Malco, Ben Chaplin, and especially Billy Zane act the shit out of it. The directing is largely elegant and beautiful and I think I see what Shawn Ryan does best–consequence–emerge here. We’ll see if they can all keep it going.

          • I am looking forward to The Deuce, The Devil You Know, Vinyl, and Westworld. I have always wanted a show like The Shield that focuses on bankers or engineers–male-dominated fields. Because I love shows that explore masculinity. It’s what FX is all about. I thought Billions was going to be like that, but I gave up on it during the first episode. Perhaps I will come back and give it another go. It can get better.

          • Something you might like (although I don’t know how available it is) is the HBO movie Barbarians at the Gate, about the deal that brought down RJR Nabisco. It has James Garner and Jonathan Pryce as two vicious dealers going up against each other–at one point Pryce demands something like half a million dollars just to stay in a room. It’s really sharp on how men threaten each other, and how they live their power. It also stays very close to the events and lets them speak for themselves.

            I’ve been saying for a few decades now that we have stories about Man, but not that many stories about men. We have stories about this ideal, almost invulnerable freely-choosing creature, but fewer stories about how men live and experience being a man–and all the different ways that can be. It’s always nice to see the latter kind of story done right.

          • I could not find Barbarians at the Gate on http://play.hbogo.com/. I thought they would have it since they have every series they ever produced.

            I guess Mad Men fits as a story about upper-class white men in the 1960s. However, the drama was never enough to intrigue me.

            I really would like to see a mini-series of Blood Meridian. But I guess it is better undone since most directors would mess it up. If someone could do what the Coen brothers did with No Country for Old Men, I think it could be pretty amazing. People are always complaining about how there are no original ideas in Hollywood and there aren’t. But there are many books they could adapt (into movies or T.V. series) instead of all of these remakes and then the spin-offs of shows.

          • thesplitsaber

            If you havent seen it, immediately search out the John Hillcoat directed, Nick Cave written The Proposition. They originally wanted to adapt Blood Meridian, but when they couldnt get the rights, they made a shockingly original, and thoroughly Australian, story of masculinity, identity and violence.

          • thesplitsaber

            I feel like men’s stories are way more common in film than television. Im not sure why.

          • thesplitsaber

            Unless its Terriers…

    • thesplitsaber

      Ive always felt a good addition to ZODIAC’s (RIP) breakdown was ‘…ON BREAKING BAD WALTER WHITE FUCKS YOU OVER.’ Its why i hold it in lower esteem than the other 2.

  • It’s harder to watch Ronnie’s outburst at the end than it is to watch Claudette read Shane’s suicide note for me. It’s not because the acting was bad. On the contrary, it was excellent. It was just painful for me to see him get arrested and I don’t know why. Dutch’s expression and the look he gives Vic as Ronnie is screaming gets to me, too.

    • We’ve known, almost since “The Spread” (“we killed. . . a cop!”) that things cannot end well for Shane. But with Ronnie, it’s the opposite; really since “The Math of the Wrath,” he looks like the one who will get away with it. And now we see that he won’t.

      It’s remarkable, really–Ronnie is the most remorseless killer and criminal on the Team, and my heart breaks for him. It’s the power of drama, that we sympathize with people who act, and we can recognize at least part of ourselves in them. It occurs to me that The Shield doesn’t seek complexity–rather, it allows complexity. It tells the story of its characters and allows us to feel sympathy, but it never tries to force it or explain it, or deny it because the characters are Bad People. Again, I think of Mamet’s description of great acting: invent nothing, deny nothing.

      • Ronnie was always aware that they were a brotherhood of criminals and he accepted it, which is why guilt and remorse did not plague him like it did Shane nor was he riddled with self-righteousness like Vic. In Shane’s suicide note, he said, “I am who I am and I can’t be that person anymore.” The difference is that Ronnie always knew who he was and he was fine with being that person. Once Shane realized, he was never going to be okay with it. I guess it was hard for me because I thought Ronnie was going to get away with it somehow. I mean, he was the smartest of them all.

        As a viewer, it’s important for me to empathize with the characters. That does not necessarily mean I feel sympathy for them, although I sometimes do. It’s important for me to understand their decisions, actions, and feelings. The Shield did that better than any other show and I did not even need a detailed background.

        • That last line is so important–it’s the absence of a detailed background that makes them so empathetic. It’s why Aristotle said drama is not the imitation of character (what we are) but action (what we do). If we know the history of a character, that’s something that makes them different from us, but we can all imagine what we would do if we did what the characters did. The Shield may be set in 2000s Los Angeles, but the actions are so simple and fundamental: a man did something bad, and tried to still believe he was good. Another man had to choose between his friends and his family. A woman learned that her husband was evil. Another woman had her loyalty to her husband tested. We can understand and feel all of these things.

          • thesplitsaber

            ‘FX anounces Shield prequel series ‘Before the Barn’ starring Charlie Hunnam as a young Vic Mackey.’
            *Wallflower jumps out window.*

          • And, hopefully, lands on John Landgraf if he ever greenlit that.

      • thesplitsaber

        Honestly I think part of why theres such a strong reaction to what happens to Ronnie is that, in the final stretch of the series, he becomes much more of an audience surrogate. He does what we would like to think wed do-hes smart, he adapts, he acts logically. He understands Vic wasnt disciplined or controlled enough to not get caught.

        Im sure part of this is how great Rees Snell is at playing Ronnie as a blank slate. The audience gets to project our positive assumptions on him. Then the hammer comes down, and his anger isnt directed at any of the good guys. Its all pointed at Vic, just like us and our anger. If we identify with Ronnie, then we see Vic getting away scott free by comparison. We feel that betrayal.

  • I wanted to talk about these lines from the episode “Chasing Ghosts” because they personally affected me. It’s the wrong thread, but I figured I would post here anyway. It’s very personal and I want to get my thoughts out, so don’t mind me.

    Vic: That’s old business, and all you got is hearsay.
    Shane: Our entire lives are hearsay, Vic.

    Shane’s line spoke to me like no other. It defined my life even in its simplicity. I was sexually assaulted and I never saw justice because from the point of view of the prosecutor, the evidence amounted to nothing more than hearsay and therefore was not worth pursuing. However, I understand the importance of objectivity. An investigator must approach cases unbiased and withstand any personal feelings or prejudice. Although it cannot ensure that the innocent is protected from incarceration or death row, it is a step in a complicated process. I understand that a personal account is not credible without corroborating evidence because our memories are not credible. As Leonard Shelby says in Memento, “Memory can change the shape of a room; it can change the color of a car. And memories can be distorted. They’re just an interpretation. They’re not a record, and they’re irrelevant if you have the facts.” I understand that it is difficult to prove that sexual assault occurred beyond a reasonable doubt because most of it relies on hearsay. I understand that the “court of public opinion” can be dangerous, for it can morph into a lynch mob. Still, I never felt more helpless when they found discrepancies in my account. I mixed up dates and times. My community immediately assumed that I lied instead of misremembered. I felt vulnerable, weak, deviant, and dirty. The damage is irreparable. Now I have simply settled for repression. I just think these lines speak so much to real life.

    Now that I think about it, most of the evidence they had against Ronnie was hearsay. It would have been interesting to see a trial for him, but I know the point of that was how Vic had lost his last friend due to his own betrayal.

    • I am so, so sorry about this–your healing will be in my prayers. (And just to say something true: you are not deviant or dirty or weak, you’re human. This is what our minds do.)

      Maybe the thing that draws us (specifically you, me, and the fans of The Shield) to tragedy is that it’s a genre that understands in its very structure that the universe does not operate by justice and we still have to live in it.* It’s something that goes way beyond “not having a happy ending.” It’s that there is such a thing as evil and we have to live with that, not despair, not give up. Our struggle (your struggle) and our heroism (your heroism) comes from living in that world. I think that’s why tragedy is an ennobling genre; it reminds us that simply to live in this world takes courage.

      *Roger Zelazny said it best in “He Who Shapes”: “The universe did not invent justice. Man did. Unfortunately, man must live in the universe.”

  • Sometimes I feel guilty for having empathy for these characters. They’re not real, but it feels like I am minimizing their horrid actions and I feel bad for understanding why they made these decisions. But at the same time, it wouldn’t be my favorite show if I didn’t.

    • Usually, when a work gets described as “challenging,” that means it’s an intellectual challenge–there are meanings or details we’re supposed to figure out. The Shield is emotionally and ethically challenging, in that it leads us to sympathize with people who do horrible things. I know people who say it’s a show that makes them uncomfortable, but why shouldn’t drama do that?

      • I think it has made me less judgmental–at least when watching T.V. shows. I am not so quick to write a character off even if they are an awful person by my real life standards.

        • Going back to the idea at the end of the Marie Antoinette article: as citizens, we have to do both. We have to judge each other but not lose empathy when we do it–your phrase “not so quick to write a character off” is perfect here. That our hearts break for the Strike Team doesn’t mean we want them to go free, or that they didn’t deserve everything that happened to them. That’s why it’s a tragedy.

          • Perfectly stated.

          • thesplitsaber

            Reminds me of something Charlize Theron said in an interview. To paraphrase she said she didnt want an audience to feel sympathy for a character, because then they were just feeling sorry for them. She wanted the audience to empathize with them-to see the world from their perspective, whatever the judgement.

      • thesplitsaber

        I like that idea of The Shield as a visceral challenge as opposed to a cerebral one. It is like a great horror movie (The Thing comes to mind)- the events are logical, seamless and still completely disorienting.

  • Samantha

    I don’t even know where to begin. I just finished watching The Shield for the first time last night (forgot that the finale was a two-parter so my night was a bit later than first anticipated).

    Wallflower, I have read your reviews on the AV Club through to here and it has provided me with so much amazing insight into the show and the characters. I found myself watching the episodes as they were reviewed (two at a time) just so that I could chase it up and go through your essays afterwards.

    SPOILERS

    I accidentally read a spoiler mentioning Shane’s suicide which annoyed me greatly considering it was my own fault for scrolling down the comments. But there was no mention of how it was to happen and so at the moment that he shot Lem, I thought it might have been from it.

    I’d love to go through my interpretation of the major characters’ story arcs and throw in my two cents, things that I am unsure if they were mentioned earlier (deciding from then on not to read further into the comments for reasons mentioned above) but which I have not seen as yet. Of course, that might result in a lengthy post, of which now is not the time to write it (I am at work).

    But I will say one thing about Shane now that surprised me. Watching the finale of Season 5 was so hard because I knew that Shane was going to kill Lem but I was unsure of the how’s and whens. Also, I think I can safely say that we were all horrified that he took these measures considering that we knew that Lem would not have dobbed them in, even if we can see that he was only doing it to protect himself and his family. Interestingly enough, I did not feel the same horror when he killed Mara and Jackson and then took his own life. In the same way as he killed Lem, he was only protecting his family, only Mara had already murdered someone (so was never going to escape jail time) which would have caused Jackson to be thrown into the foster system, growing up in an unknown (and very unstable) environment. Jackson is innocent of all crimes, clearly, but I feel very strongly for Shane here in that he was only protecting his family, killing them in the most humane way possible and ensuring that they would not have to suffer any further from the fate that he put them in.

    Murder is murder, I realise, but it goes to show just how well The Shield put the viewer in the positions of the characters for us to then be justifying why these things had to (or did) happen. We were never simply viewers; we were participants in the action, feeling every emotion that went with it.

    I will have to go back and read your comments from earlier as well, the ones that contained spoilers but that I could not read.

    Thanks again for allowing fellow Shield fans to discuss this awesome show.

    I hope that one day you consider doing similar with Oz, one of my other favourite television shows and one that The Shield owes a huge debt of gratitude.

    • Thank you! I’m glad you made it all the way through the show–it really does have to be seen from start to finish. I’ll reply to any comments you make (comments from seasons 1-3 take longer for me to reply to, as I was using a different account then).

      That’s a good point about Shane and what you felt; my reaction was similar. In addition to what you noted well about how The Shield places us in the position of the characters, there’s also its commitment to tragedy. Olivia says to Vic “you said goodbye to them the moment you shot another cop in the face”; in the same way, Shane killed his family when he killed Lem. What happens in “Family Meeting” isn’t something new, it’s the consequence of something old. It’s all part of the same horror; I think for me, it’s that the earlier crimes (killing Lem, killing Terry) become so much worse when we see where it’s all going.

      • Here is what Shawn Ryan thinks of this particular ending:

        You don’t do something like that idly. I have two kids. But there are people who do that, and they think they do it for the right reasons. We were writing that in the summer and fall of last year, and there was that wrestler last year, sort of steroided out. It’s such a f—ed-up mindset that exists in some people, that we’re better off together than torn apart in this world. In a way, I’m sort of glad we were on strike (when the finale was shot), because I would have had to go watch that scene. It was tough. Walton was so seminal to the show.

        There was a lot of discussion about Shane and how his fate would end. We figured out around episode 3 or 4 what we wanted to do, and we got on a call with John (Landgraf) and the people with Fox TV, our studio.

        I do remember that, that’s the first moment I thought, “Well, this could work.” Because in the bubble of the writers room, you usually have a pretty good idea whether something works or not, but the ones that are really out there, until you expose them to some people you’re not sure. And this was a pretty heavy thing: “We want Shane and Mara to go on the run, and ultimately he takes his own life and he takes their lives in an effort to keep them from being captured and to keep them tog[ether] as a family.”

        http://www.nj.com/entertainment/tv/index.ssf/2008/11/the_shield_shawn_ryan_postfina.html

        AUSIELLO: I understand Shane committing suicide, but did he have to take wife Mara and son Jackson with him?

        SHAWN RYAN: To us, it made sense. I mean, it wasn’t fun to write. But in terms of the overall arc of the show, it felt like the place it should go.

        http://www.ew.com/article/2008/11/26/shield-boss-ans

        Well, I can agree that Shane thought he was doing what was right for his family.

        • Thank you for this. It’s a fucked-up mindset, but it’s something people do. Thing is, a storyteller really has to make us believe that anything can happen. Something that always screws up our ability to believe in fiction is thinking “well X won’t happen because ________.” (Because they wouldn’t go there. Because that’s the main character and they won’t die. And so on.) The Shield is one of the very few works where I really felt that anything was possible. It wasn’t a matter of being shocking; it wasn’t any kind of effect. I think it was just that commitment to having characters always do what was necessary and live by who they were. (This is something I’m working on and I’ll wrote more about in a later essay!)

      • Samantha

        I happened to watch a couple of episodes from the first season a couple of years after it had finished. It wasn’t the pilot but it showcased a program that did not apply the same rules as usual. I never forgot it and finally got around to watching ‘that show I’ve been meaning to watch for years’ late last year.

        The pilot episode was good but it only became awesome after Vic shot Terry. It was must-see viewing for me from the start. There were times I was almost like Michael Chiklis on the behind-the-scenes shorts discussing not wanting to act out certain scenes when it was a beautiful day in Los Angeles becuase I’d get home from work and think, “My God, my emotions are going to be up for a beating again,” but know that I had to finish what I started because I was so involved with what was going on.

        I’ve managed to get a friend of mine hooked on it too; she is up to Season 2. The interesting thing is that she was discussing something that happened in Season 1 and I was thinking, I don’t honestly remember that happening! The Strike Team have done so much wrong since then! And it made me realise just how much happens in this show, that the pace never wanes and the action never stops.

    • Ruck Cohlchez

      I read the same spoiler on another forum– but it was in a BREAKING BAD DISCUSSION, and I had watched through season six for the first time and was about to start seven. I’ve never been so damn mad about a spoiler in my life.

      • thesplitsaber

        It really was jarring on initial unspoiled watch but in my experience, post hand grenade, all bets were off on the fates of any characters.

    • This was a great review, Samantha. Thank you for sharing your insights.

      I love Oz, too.

    • But I will say one thing about Shane now that surprised me. Watching the finale of Season 5 was so hard because I knew that Shane was going to kill Lem but I was unsure of the how’s and whens. Also, I think I can safely say that we were all horrified that he took these measures considering that we knew that Lem would not have dobbed them in, even if we can see that he was only doing it to protect himself and his family. Interestingly enough, I did not feel the same horror when he killed Mara and Jackson and then took his own life. In the same way as he killed Lem, he was only protecting his family, only Mara had already murdered someone (so was never going to escape jail time) which would have caused Jackson to be thrown into the foster system, growing up in an unknown (and very unstable) environment. Jackson is innocent of all crimes, clearly, but I feel very strongly for Shane here in that he was only protecting his family, killing them in the most humane way possible and ensuring that they would not have to suffer any further from the fate that he put them in.

      This is how I felt, too. But I was scared to say it because I felt guilty for thinking it.

    • Ruck Cohlchez

      Oh, also: The finale is actually not a two-parter. If you watched it on a streaming service, they change the order of some scenes and add in others to fill the run time to two full episodes. As originally aired, it’s about an episode and a half in length. The original broadcast length episode is available on DVD.

      • Samantha

        Wow, that’s interesting. The Australian Region 4 DVD has the final episode as a two parter (around 40 minutes each) as first choice and I was so keen to finish it I didn’t realise that the Extras included the original US broadcast version as well. I haven’t watched it yet and given the emotional toll this show has put me through, it will be a while before I am up to watching it again. I kid you not, there were some times where I felt I needed to hype myself up to watch it, not because it was crap (because it certainly wasn’t) but to psych myself up to watch whatever they threw at us.

  • Samantha

    SPOILERS

    So I’ve been thinking about some of the characters.

    I’ll start with the obvious one – Vic Mackey.

    So much has been said about Vic that I’ll only be repeating what everyone else has said if I talk about what has happened earlier on and how he got to where he is, so I will only talk about where I see it from here.

    A friend of mine and I were discussing Vic just after the finale of Season 5. I told him that I would love to see Vic get done for all his crimes, that earlier in the piece it was kind of cool to see how close they got to being caught but that they really should be made to pay penance for their crimes at the end. When Detective Cavanagh came on board, despite not liking his character (and I will go on about this another time), I really did want him to capture the Strike Team. In discussing it, I didn’t realise it at the time but I actually predicted what would end up happening; Vic would get off lightly but because everyone else would go down, it would weigh on his conscience. I was not happy with that ending, because I really wanted to see Vic go down in the end, but I kind of knew that Vic would manage to find a way out of it.

    So when it did actually happen, a funny thing happened; my mind changed and I was actually satisfied with what happened. Did Vic really win out in the end? He will never see his family again and he betrayed two of his closest friends, the third is dead. His reputation is in tatters both in his job and on the streets (and it’s probably the latter that matters most). He might hold an ICE badge but no-one within the organisation would respect that, nor would he have security clearance to the big-name cases. Everyone on the street knows he is no longer a cop and whilst he might be ICE, he does not have the power to do squat. And he knows it.

    Vic is all about power, as we know. But he has no one to boss around anymore. Not only that but he is now working a desk, writing several reports a week (and he hates paperwork) for the next 3 years and must answer to higher up. If he chooses not to co-operate, he breaches his agreement and it negates his immunity (that was right, wasn’t it? That detail eludes me right now, so much happened). It’s a prison sentence of a different kind. He might be ‘free’ in the sense of the word but without his family and his friends, he is nothing. His is a fate worse than death, in his mind, and by extension, ours. For some unknown reason, it suddenly reminds me of Jaime Lannister from A Song of Ice and Fire just after he lost his hand. He did not die in battle as would be seen as honourable and his identity has been taken away.

    Where to from here then? We see him in the end, placing the items on his desk – a photo of he and Lem (having both Shane and Ronnie no longer in view) and his 3 children, the only people he did not directly betray (although you could argue that he did, just not in the same way as Corrine, Ronnie or Shane). It’s a form of plausible deniability, only it is about himself, not others. And I find this scene really interesting. We see a man who is broken by his actions yet still wants to deny that he has done anything wrong (at least that was the way I read it). If Shane were Vic, he would have had that photo showing all of them and continued to face up to his wrongdoings. But with Vic, he wants to forget that he had anything to do with anyone else’s demise. I guess, who could blame him? He has nothing in this world now. But I still found it interesting.

    We see him contemplate what his life will be from now on. Then suddenly, his look changes as he grabs his gun and walks out the door.

    For me, as far as I am concerned, Vic will still end up in jail. Maybe not now, maybe not later on after his 3 years is up, but later. After all, what are his options? Even if he keeps his nose clean for 3 years, what happens after that? He has only ever been a cop. He does not have a pension. How will he manage to live after finishing with ICE? Unless he becomes shopping centre (mall) security like Shane (???) mentioned. But we know Vic won’t stoop so low. He has nothing to lose now and whilst he will not see anything wrong with it, seeing it as a way of survival (as he always has), he will offer his services properly to the highest bidder. This time, he will not have the protection of his badge. And it really will only be a matter of time before he is either captured or killed.

    Vic is doing time in his own way. And one day, he really will have to do time in the way that Aceveda, Cavanagh and Wims wanted him to.

    • So good, this. I agree that many of us thought/hoped that Vic would finally get caught and imprisoned for what he did, but that would not be a true recognition, not the proper end to a tragedy. Getting caught would allow Vic to not confront his tragic flaw of self-righteousness–you know he’d be thinking every day “this is all Ronnie/Shane/Lem/Gilroy/Claudette’s fault!” The fate Shawn Ryan crafted here is far more exact and exacting, that he gets judged by seeing everything around him destroyed while he’s left standing. Here it is, Vic, you got what you always wanted; and it comes in the form of a keycard and a fridge where you have to label your lunch and a weekly drug test. Start pissin’.

      I like your description of Vic’s fate, a lot. Remember last season we saw Lester (Patrick St. Esprit), running private security with Vic’s old partner Joe. Vic was absolutely repulsed by Lester, who is Vic stripped of his righteousness and like you said, selling his services to the highest bidder. That could easily be where Vic is headed after his gig with ICE–and remember that Lester wound up arrested (by Dutch no less!), convicted, but not imprisoned. Vic probably won’t be even that lucky.

      • Samantha

        So, so true. And thanks, your kind words mean a lot. 🙂

        I completely forgot about Lester. That was probably the only time since he had to witness the child pornography video being made (seriously, that was one messed up scene) that Vic truly looked disgusted with what he was seeing. Considering it was happening to men and not women or children goes to show how far his discomfort went.

      • thesplitsaber

        Ive always assumed Vic goes PI after ICE-another Barn ghost wandering around Farmington.

  • Samantha

    So I realise I don’t have to write SPOILERS at the top. Whoops.

    Just quickly, I had started watching Season 2 of Gotham which is what made me start watching The Shield in the first place – Michael Chiklis playing the complete opposite of Vic Mackey (I knew enough about The Shield to know what sort of a character Vic Mackey was) – but stopped pretty much when I started watching The Shield. I just started watching it again yesterday. Strange to a) see Michael Chiklis play a morally good character after seeing Vic Mackey for so long and b) realise he has gone to seed somewhat. But one thing did stand out. Despite his additional weight, Nathaniel Barnes doesn’t look half as awkward in a three-piece pinstripe suit as Vic did in his grey suit at the end of Family Meeting.

    Anyway, I thought I’d write why the character of Jon Cavanagh just outright annoyed me because I know he has been hit and miss with a lot of people for really different reasons.

    I really had to give this some thought why he bothered me so much because every time he appeared on the screen I just didn’t know how to take him. I realise that it came down to Forrest Whittaker’s acting. This isn’t to say that he is not a good actor. Hell, it’s not even to say that Jon Cavanagh isn’t a good character. But it was the way it was played in this particular show.

    My reasons are two-fold. Firstly, this is an ensemble cast. No character stands out above anyone else. Every character is vastly different for several reasons and yet no actor appears to try to outdo anyone else. Even the two guest stars in Glenn Close and Franka Potente act well within the expectations of the show. Not once did I think, this is Glenn Close on the screen, once I saw her name in the credits, because she played her character and did not do anything more than that. I didn’t recognise Franka Potente initially until I saw her name in the credits and then realised she was Diro. Whereas Forrest Whitaker seemed to take Jon Cavanagh to the extreme and played him above the expectations of the show. This might work in some other shows and especially movies (where there is often one standout part) but here, to me, it was too much. It really did appear that he was trying to outdo everyone else. Which brings me to my next reason.

    The Shield is such an action-packed drama given the amount of events that occur episode-to-episode that having such an extreme character thrown into the mix became too much for me. Every other cast member has not needed to play their roles too hard – that isn’t to say that they have done an easy job; it just means that they know their characters well enough to be able to convey how they feel about every action without overdoing it. It ensures that the audience isn’t overwhelmed with both action happening in the scene (robberies, shootouts, etc) and individual actions of the character.

    It probably didn’t help that Cavanagh didn’t actually seem that smart of a cop in the end. It really frustrated me that he would take such a simplistic approach to nailing Vic. It seemed like Monica Rawlings’ hard work at pinning Lem with the heroin was swiftly undone with Cavanagh’s eagerness to take down Vic before building up an actual case against him. Surely, he would have done his homework as to how the Strike Team worked together, whether there was any tension, how well they knew each other, etc. I don’t know, but in end he annoyed the crap out of me.

    Just my thoughts.

    And I really appreciate the fact you are responding to my posts. I really wish I watched this back when you posted your essays because I love being a part of these sorts of discussions. So thanks. 🙂

    • I love being a part of these sorts of discussions too, which is really how this whole thing got started. (Come to think of it, that pretty much describes how I wind up creating anything 😄)

      On Kavanaugh and Forest Whitaker, it’s a case of “I agree with everything you say, I just feel the opposite about it.” For me, Kavanaugh works because he has to be an outsider, and in fact he has to make himself even more of an outsider to fight the Strike Team. By season 5, the Barn has come to almost accept the Strike Team into its ecosystem; not everyone agrees with the Team or likes them, but no one’s trying to take them down anymore. Kavanaugh realizes that, and he has to disrupt not just the Team but the entire social order there–and Claudette will call out the Chief for letting him do that. Kavanaugh is definitely all the things you say he is, but nothing less than that would work.

      Shawn Ryan calls Kavanaugh an “anti-villain,” not just because opposes the anti-hero, but because he flips our sympathies about the anti-hero. The anti-hero is the sympathetic character doing bad, so the anti-villain is the unsympathetic character doing good. On that level, Whitaker worked for me; there’s a comment somewhere where I wrote “Kavanaugh is the Whitaker character I’d least like to be locked in a room with, and he’s played Idi Amin.”

      Oh, and you’re completely right about how Kavanaugh gets stupid at the very end. Whitaker was only available for two episodes and Ryan had to write him out quickly. His last scene made up for it though; going back to your comment that you always saw Forest Whitaker, that last scene really comes from Whitaker’s own beliefs. I liked that.

      • The thing that made me dislike Kavanaugh the most is how he would invade people’s personal space. He always did this with Corrine and it made me cringe. I think this has to do with me, as I can’t stand it when people get too close. It’s very uncomfortable and even seeing it onscreen made me uncomfortable.

        I saw Kavanaugh as single-minded, determined, and unrelenting. These qualities actually made him unsympathetic as a character that was doing good. He never slowed his roll. I came to realize that he’s nothing but his job.

        • thesplitsaber

          And hes the only one of Vic’s antagonists to invade Vic’s personal space-their fight is just like watching to dogs with only attack on their minds.

      • Nevertheless, I thought he was the Strike Team’s most effective antagonist and season 5 is my second favorite season. Therefore, I appreciate the character. He was instrumental in their demise.

      • Also, the thing that made him invading everyone’s personal space more jarring than usual is that Forest Whitaker is 6’2 and over 200 lbs!

        • That moment at the beginning of “Postpartum” where Kavanaugh pins Corrine against the door is just terrifying.

          Picking up on all your comments: as you’ve shown, so much of what makes The Shield so great is that it gives no one a comfortable place from which to watch. You identify with Tough Guy Vic? Watch as he destroys everything in his life. With Shane, the family man? He’s a child-killer. With Corrine? A woman who, by her own judgment, blinded herself to her husband’s crimes. You want to judge all these characters, say how bad they are? Hey, here’s Kavanaugh, he’ll stop them, and lying, starving a family with autistic children, and sexual harassment/assault (it’s somewhere on the spectrum) will be how he does it.

          One of our newer viewers of The Shield remarked how impressed he was that the “audience identification” character, Terry, got shot dead in the first episode. That’s exactly right, because those kind of characters exist to make audiences comfortable and give them a place to judge all the other characters. The Shield literally kills that idea off in the pilot and there’s no safe, comfortable place to watch from then on. It’s a work that challenges our morality (it certainly challenged mine, and I’m still dealing with it) rather than reassures it.

          • I honestly love most of the characters in this show, but you nailed it. I never feel comfortable empathizing with them and certainly not identifying with them. I’m always questioning my own morality when I do this.

            I can see why some people did not like Kavanaugh, but who he was as a character honestly made him the most productive in opposing the Strike Team. He is not only willing to do it but wants to do it by any means necessary. It’s unsettling because from a moral standpoint, he is both right and wrong. Right because the Strike Team is a group of criminals who should be held accountable. Wrong because his methods are unethical and eventually become downright criminal.

          • thesplitsaber

            Id argue Dutch and Claudette are the most productive in taking down the strike team and Vic specifically. Theres alot of collateral damage, both to others and themselves, but in the end they do it right honest and by the book.

      • Samantha

        That’s a fair call, and one day I will actually spell Kavanaugh’s name properly.

        I was watching the DVD behind-the-scenes shorts with one of the police advisors. He mentioned that Kavanaugh is exactly how a lot of IAD police are, so I understand that there is something in the way Forrest Whitaker plays him that is on point, but he did say that they normally have all the work done for them before they actually make the arrest. I understand that the writing was done in such a way for dramatic effect moreso than realism, which kind of takes a bit away for me. This show was more real to me than a lot of other dramas, just with a heightened sense of the day-to-day realities that the police face.

        I guess then, after writing this, you could say that I was more disappointed that the writers did not take a more realistic approach to the investigation into the Strike Team, given that the rest of the show was. But I still wasn’t a huge fan of how Kavanaugh was portrayed. Nevertheless, I hear what you said about Shawn Ryan’s opinion of him and I get where he was going with that.

        But it’s funny that the same evidence can be seen exactly the same and yet come to two opposing opinions. 😉

        • What allows The Shield to still provoke discussion over seven years (!) after it’s over is that it’s always clear about its actions but doesn’t force opinions on us, so we do wind up seeing the same thing differently. Life and art are both like that (-:

          And it took me months to acknowledge there was a “u” in Kavanaugh. (Thanks to @ruckcohlchez:disqus for pointing that out to me.)

          • Samantha

            It will definitely be a show still being talked about in years to come, for sure. I never once got the impression that it was written in the mid-2000s as it really did seem timeless.

            Glad I’m not the only one! 😀

  • Samantha

    I’m obviously not going to come up with something for every character but I just had a few thoughts that I hadn’t really come across being discussed anywhere or if they had, I missed them, or, something got my goat. Like now.

    The next is about Dutch.

    Now, Dutch is probably the character I related to most, especially having that awkward, social thing going for him and being intelligent (although I doubt I’d get 97% on the detective’s exam 😉 ). I also have a thing about reading people, which, I think tends to put people such as Dutch and myself on the outer because for the most part, we’re constantly trying to figure people out rather than have a conversation with them. So it is no surprise that I took great offence at the notion that if Kurt Sutter had his way, Dutch would be a serial killer.

    I don’t get why the socially awkward and highly intelligent person has to be a serial killer. Doesn’t that just reinforce every single negative stereotype about introverted people? There were too many times in Dutch’s storyline where his moral code stood out and it was painfully obvious that whilst he might struggle in social settings, he does not possess the immoral code that drives a serial killer.

    If the people saying ‘there’s something about Dutch’ need a valid reason for his obsession with profiling the type of people he does, I imagine it would have something to do with having a similar upbringing to many of his potential suspects but never crossing the line.

    ‘But there was that time he killed the cat for no reason’ and promptly felt horrified with himself. It was no coincidence that he adopted a kitten later on, the runt a.k.a. the ‘ugly one’, no less.

    Not only that, but so many characters in The Shield had skewed morale that to suddenly have another who turned evil despite being good right up to the finale would have been too much. It honestly would have been overkill (no pun intended). We as the audience needed to know that there were some characters / police officers at the Farmington Division who knew how to stay on the right side of the law.

    Now that that little rant is over, I found it interesting that whilst Dutch was the Butt Monkey early on in the series, once he convicted the serial killer half way through the first series and the level of respect towards him skyrocketed, even after Vic started with the taunting towards him again during Season 4, he did not bite in the same way. I know there were a couple of Dutchisms that slipped through but overall, there was no, ‘where are my Ding Dongs’ outbursts and most of the taunting he received (even having his chair broken) he seemed to move past with little fanfare. It was only talking to Corrine that he seemed to even acknowledge how much it shat him. This told me that he knew he’d gotten under Vic’s skin in regards to the investigation so he would put up with whatever was given to him. We then see him rebel against it in other ways – dating Corrine and then later taking a swing at Vic. A win for the little (big) guy.

    Then his takedown of Ronnie at the end. Dutch might fail at some things but he is not Claudette’s best detective for nothing, and it’s great to see him in action doing what he does best. And he might just get the girl in the end, providing he is not so distracted to recognise a woman hitting on him when it actually does happen.

    • Oh, with Sutter, shocking the hell out of the audience justifies itself, so I’m pretty sure he never considered any of your excellent points. Also, the impression I’ve gotten from everyone’s comments is that Dutch is the character most viewers identify with.

      One of the things I really appreciate about the approach to him is that Dutch is not a victim. It would be easy to make Dutch the weak beta male, unfairly picked on by the Strike Team; he could be a more passive character for the audience to identify with. That would make him a perfect place for us to judge the Strike Team from. It would be like making Kavanaugh less flawed, and for the same reason–so we could identify with the Good person and say ‘look how Bad the Strike Team is.’

      Dutch, however, comes off as a real person with real flaws. He’s not just antisocial, but arrogant; we see as early as “Cherrypoppers” that he can start ordering people around and get caught up in his own view of a case. He starts his relationship with Corrine by lying to her about himself and Vic. We can see he has real flaws, and struggles to overcome them. Because he’s a real character, not someone who serves a function in a plot or a morality, we can come to really like him by the end of the series.

      • thesplitsaber

        ‘It would be easy to make Dutch the weak beta male, unfairly picked on by the Strike Team; he could be a more passive character for the audience to identify with.’

        For me the best example of this transformation is after his fight with Billings. He’s ready to take on Vic hand to hand-does he know hell lose? Sure, but he doesnt care. Theres no angle there, no politics, just one person pissed off and ready to fight.

    • thesplitsaber

      Something to notice in Dutch’s last scene-for the first time in the series the directors consciously show how much taller Dutch is than Vic.

  • I decided to continue to watch Billions. I gave up after the pilot but then picked it up again because I know how rough the first season can be for some series. Now I want to scream whenever I am watching it. I told you how I wanted a show like The Shield set in a profession that requires less action. Obviously it would have to revolve around a male-dominated profession. I thought Billions could be it. Unfortunately, it reminds me more of How to Get Away with Murder. They try to employ anti-heroes but fail miserably. It’s hard for me because I compare most shows (even movies) to The Shield.

    To be honest, the characters in The Shield are not as detailed as, let us say, Don Draper. Or even most of the leads on HBO’s channel. Vic is the leader. Shane is the impulsive and hotheaded one. Lem has the big heart. Ronnie is the pragmatic one. Dutch is the nerd. Claudette is the professional. Corrine is the good wife. Mara is Yoko Ono to many. How they began as characters is so simple. Their dialogue is also simple. But I honestly never felt more than I did for these “cliches” and I actively listen for everything they say. Strange, huh?

    If you look at the Wikis for individual series, usually there are paragraphs and paragraphs about a main character’s background. We know the name of their parents and siblings, where they come from, and possibly even what high school and/or college they graduated from. There is so much I can say about Tony’s mother Livia and Don’s past in a whorehouse. Now look at the Wikis for Vic Mackey, Shane Vendrell, Curtis Lemansky, and Ronnie Gardocki. For Shane, Lem, and Ronnie, it says little is known about their early life. For Vic, it starts by describing his personality, but you get to the section about his background and it too says that little is known about his early life. There’s a little more about Dutch and Claudette but still nothing too detailed. There’s Corrine and Mara, but they are in the moment. Therefore, it is a requirement of The Shield that you get to know these characters through their actions and that was a stronger experience for me. I recommended the show to a friend and she admittedly went to Wiki to read their backgrounds, only to be totally baffled by how little there was. In order to get to know them, she would have to spoil herself and read about what they did through the course of it.

    I also think Shawn Ryan knew his characters better than most show runners. I think back to that article where the interviewer asks him if Shane really had to do what he did in the finale and it was an absolute yes for Ryan with a clear cut reasoning as for why. No doubts and no piss poor explanations.

    • One last thing:

      I feel like having less background and relying on their actions makes the audience hold them fully accountable for their actions. The main characters are not victims for most of their duration. I changed it to “most” because I feel like you do not have to be innocent to be victimized. Certainly not Vic, Shane, Ronnie, Mara, or even Dutch, Danny, Claudette, and Corrine (although their decisions are obviously not comparable to the aforementioned). Lem becomes a victim when he is

      SPOILERS

      murdered by Shane, but I feel like it was more devastating because he was murdered by one of his best friends. He was loyal to Shane until his demise despite knowing Shane is a bad person. That’s why it was tragic to me. Nothing hurts more than being betrayed by a person you love. What made it even more tragic was, surprisingly, the performance of Walton Goggins.

      Anyway, there’s simply no way around it. They are accountable. However, it also makes it easier to empathize with them. We can discuss what drives them to act in such horrific ways and even understand why they make these decisions. But it doesn’t get rid of their responsibility.

      • This is so good, and gets at the difference between literature and drama. Literature does so well at giving a complete picture of a world, of a consciousness really, and can add in backstory, digressions, and recipes (I knew I would love Moby-Dick when I found there’s an entire chapter about chowder) and still work. Drama is about action–it’s about what people do, and no matter how rich and complex your inner life and motivations are, you still have to choose and you can only do one choice.

        That’s why so many of the rules of drama are about leaving things out: start the story as late as possible, start the scene as late as possible, don’t have too many complications, and two of David Mamet’s rules, the first of which Shawn Ryan quotes a lot–backstory is bullshit, and invent nothing, deny nothing. All these rules strip away anything that could keep us from identifying with the actions–not the characters, but the actions. It’s not so much that we know Vic or Shane or Ronnie or Corrine, it’s that we know what it is to do what they did.

        Someone else who is a huge influence on The Shield and understands this approach to drama is Michael Mann. Mann and his actors craft elaborate, detailed backstories for each characters; he even comes up with backstories for the scenery! And then he never mentions or reveals any of this in the film, it’s all about making the performances have what I call “the density of real things,” letting actors become their characters. The stories are still completely stripped-down and all about the action, so there’s all this dramatic power with characters that still have a literary feel.

        PS My essay on Memento (and other things) will finally show up next Tuesday.

        • thesplitsaber

          I like your Drama/Literature definition and it explains why I like such ‘dramatic’ literature like No Country for Old Men, The Old Man and the Sea, or my favorite author, Charles Brockden Brown’s work which, though written in the 1790s is very free of endless rumination on setting and character.

          Also, Im expecting your essay on Memento will turn my opinion around 180 degrees. So, no pressure.

    • thesplitsaber

      ‘she admittedly went to Wiki to read their backgrounds, only to be totally baffled by how little there was’
      This is so awesome.

      • This is just a question for conversation, but when do you think Shane decided on murder-suicide? After they returned home and had that discussion about what was going to happen to their children when they get caught? After the bathroom scene? After his lawyer tells him there’s no deal to be made? Or after Vic told Shane that he would visit his children once a year on their birthdays and tell them stories about their parents? I’m not sure.

        • thesplitsaber

          I think, somewhere in his mind, he had it as a final solution for a while. Maybe even since killing Lem.

          Just as audience members we’ve seen the terrible fate of children who fall through the cracks in the shows world (a world that Vic may have already abandoned one of his children to). Shane, unlike Vic, could accept going that far if he felt like he was protecting his family.

          Personally I believe the conversation with Vic gets him over the edge into action. Someone else posted on here that Walton Goggins believed Shane and Mara discussed it before it happened. That makes sense to me-their great strength and weakness is their support for each other. I think Shawn Ryans quote for season 7 was ‘Shane and Mara grow closer together, Vic and Corinne grow farther apart.’

          • Wait, what child of Vic’s is in the system?

          • Wait, are you saying Connie’s son was Vic’s?! In what episode was this revealed? Did I miss something?

            Or are you talking about his child with Danny?

          • thesplitsaber

            Yeah, Connie. Its never explicitly stated in the series, but its in keeping with Vic’s extreme capacity for denial. I think of that as the subtext for Mackey visiting him in the foster home. Which also works as foreshadowing for him abandoning his own children.

            (Wallflower feel free to chime in if anything in the show contradicts this)

          • It’s in the “neither explicitly stated nor contradicted” category. Back in the “Dragonchasers” discussion, I noticed that Vic never explicitly denies it’s his child to Corrine, and we see in “Enemy of Good” that Vic does the never-actually-deny-it thing about Terry. So it’s possible.

            My thinking is it’s not his child, though, because of Lee. We see him trying to get into Lee’s life to the extent of confronting Danny about him. My thinking that if he had a child with Connie, he’d be just as active, way more so than a single visit to a foster home. Again, though, this is speculation.

          • thesplitsaber

            But with Danny he has proof its his. But the child of a prostitute? I feel like Vic could convince himself hes just helping out a lost kid. Until it no longer benefits him.

          • silverwheel

            I disagree. I think Vic knows it’s his child and that he was able to bury & compartmentalize it in a way that he couldn’t when it was with Danny. He fathered a child with Connie back when the facade of his Happy Family was intact – acknowledging paternity and/or being involved, even a little, would have wrecked that. But with his job in dire straits and his family crumbling around him, Lee represented a Second Chance.

          • Interesting points from you and @thesplitsaber:disqus. If The Shield was a more discursive, busier show, it would be a weakness that this is never addressed, but if Vic isn’t dealing with it we wouldn’t see it. Neither of you have said anything that contradicts what we see or what we know about the characters. (I don’t believe Chiklis or Ryan think it’s Vic’s child, but that’s commentary, not evidence in the show’s universe.)

        • If you don’t mind me buzzing in on this, I think he starts sliding towards the decision at the end of “Possible Kill Screen” but he doesn’t fully decide until his lawyer says there’s no deal. We saw the same thing with Lem; he knew he might have to kill Lem at the garage but he keeps trying to get Lem to run. If Lem had said “OK, let’s get me out of the country right now,” Shane would have been fine with that.

          If I’m remembering it right, Shane goes right from the phone call to Vic to the call to his lawyer, and that’s his last possible out. Once he hangs up from that call, he decides because every alternative has been taken from him. He heads right to the drugstore after that.

          • thesplitsaber

            I think thats his last possible out, but I think the conversation with Vic is what gets him to give up hope. Its one thing to imagine the worst case scenario. Its something else to know your enemy is planning it.

          • Good point. Without the conversation with Vic, Shane just mayyyyyyyyyyyyybe decides to take his chances with both him and Mara going to jail, maybe he tells his lawyer “let’s hold out longer and see what happens,” but with Vic’s words still in his head he goes into full-on last-chance mode.

            It occurs to me that this is one of the many many moments on The Shield that are both psychologically and dramatically correct; it’s the act of someone who is both suicidally desperate and rationally out of options.

          • Of course I don’t mind. I always enjoy reading what you have to say.

            I think Shane had been considering it as a solution at least as early as “Possible Kill Screen.” It may have crossed his mind even before then. I remember the end of “Petty Cash” and how Shane tells Mara that they only have each other. The feeling of hopelessness had begun. But I think his conversation with Vic is what pushed him over the edge. We see his anger and his tears. Then he goes to snort coke and straight to the drug store.

            I’m not sure I buy that Shane talked it through with Mara. She had given up at the end of “Possible Kill Screen.” That is for certain, as she specifically asked Shane to take her home. When they get there, Shane has not yet accepted that they are going to get caught, while Mara has (she doesn’t say “if” but “when”), and starts crying over her children who will have to endure foster care due to her horrible decisions. But Shane is still holding onto what little hope he has (“you got to get these disaster fantasies out of your head”) and that is evident when he talks to Billings. When Shane returns from the drug store the next day, he seems by himself (actually, he seems by himself even before that) and the way the scene is played before he calls for their “family meeting” is as if his family has no idea what is coming. It is actually the calmest he has ever been. Shane and Mara were close, but he made most of his decisions without her and usually would tell her afterwards (Antwon Mitchell and Lem come to mind). I think he could have told her after he poisoned her, though. But I don’t know how long it took for Mara and Jackson to die, only that they were dead by the time Claudette came and that Shane had enough time to situate their bodies.

            Whatever the case, it is clear Shane has made the decision before he gets to the drug store where he gets the supplies. That’s also what the presents (the flowers and the truck) were for.

  • SPOILERS FOR EPISODE “CHASING GHOSTS”

    Can I just say how amazing it was when Shane was bewildered and hurt by Vic’s hypocrisy? He accepted Vic when Vic did wrong but was confronted with Vic’s self-righteousness when he did wrong. I could totally feel Shane’s disbelief turning into frustration.

    • You can indeed say that 😎 and you’re right, it’s different. I think what makes it work is that there’s a real moral difference in how Vic and Shane act, with Shane always feeling the weight of consequences (think of what happened with him and Mara one episode earlier) and Vic always moving on. It’s not the kind of scene that we get so often where the writers feel a need to split up characters, so some kind of minor disagreement escalates. This one was necessary.

      Shane’s hurt was so real there, and again, you understood why. It’s also funny in a very dark way; I love Vic’s “that’s different!”–it’s almost a Breaking Bad or even Archer line, and also Shane’s “Aw you did! More than once” which is almost a Clueless line–it has such a tone of “whatever, Vic.”

      • In one of Nowalk’s reviews, he referred to Mara as a femme fatale and stated that The Shield is somewhat sexist. First, I think Claudette and Danny alone negate that assertion. Second, Mara never struck me as a femme fatale. I admit that she starts off as a “Yoko Ono” in the third season, but I feel like she had flaws of her own, only they were similar to Shane’s and that is what made them compatible. I also did not find her to be seductive. Outwardly, she looked rather “normal,” although her eyes were intense. Inwardly, she was criminal, but it seemed to be conditioned rather than a specific desire to be bad. The closest thing to a femme fatale was Tulips and quite frankly, I thought she was fun.

        • That was probably the most what-the-actual-fuck? comment of all of Nowalk’s; I still call his analysis of Mara the most misogynist thing I ever saw from an AV Club staff member. It’s completely wrong, because a femme fatale always manipulates men to get something, and what is Mara trying to get? The woman isn’t after anything more than a life with Shane and their children. (I really can’t think of any femmes fatales who have as their nearly final line “all we ever wanted was to be with you.”)

          Tulips, however, most definitely is one, and “fun” is exactly the right word. Because The Shield was never concerned with taste or restraint, it could get so funny. (“She was pushing her ass up against me, man, they don’t just do that.” I suspect Shane keeps a mental list of Ass Distance for all his strip club visits.) I love how in “Barnstormers” when she comes back, she’s genuinely surprised that Shane’s mad at her.

          • thesplitsaber

            Honestly, Nowalks reviews were never that good. His arguments always seemed half thought out (bla blah blah Iraq blah blah blah) and when your getting smoked both in analysis and writing quality by an unpaid commenter (whose name has been lost to time…) your doing something wrong.

            Im pretty much only glad those reviews exist because they preserve your commentary.

          • Thanks–a younger me would have been pissed at Nowalk, but now I’ve come to understand that those like him make me look better. I’m cool with that.

          • Babalugats

            AWWWWWWWWW SHIT SON!

            Artist’s representation of Brandon Nowalk
            https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/fdf97abdcfbe6e2ebebd9ae1e6524234380d537b4016101fe01747ecf48844d4.jpg

            Two years on he’s still smoking from that burn!

          • Ruck Cohlchez

            The industry of people who do get paid to write about television on the Internet, when compared to the people who do it for free, is quite baffling.

          • silverwheel

            Things Nowalk does not understand:

            1. The Iraq War
            2. allegories about the Iraq War
            3. Mara
            4. Ronnie
            5. the quality of David Rees Snell’s performance
            6. femme fatales
            7. how to write with skill or style (average blandness, thy name is Nowalk)
            8. The Shield

            Did I forget anything?

          • 9. Pay phones/burner phones
            10. The distinction between drama and journalistic fiction (although he’s not alone on that one)

            (On 2., I wonder how often he says “well it’s not a literal analogy, Dude. . .”)

          • I think a femme fatale done well and given depth beyond the trope was Darla in Angel.

          • Oh my God, that’s brilliant. And Angel was exactly the right show for that character–it was all about the good lurking in evil beings, and vice versa.

          • Angel had some missteps, but I love it. Other than the Strike Team, the Fang Gang resonated with me like no other group has before. I guess it is because they are like a found family. Even when they hate each other, they are still there for each other. I especially liked the villains. Lilah and Lindsey are favorites. Could you believe that David Boreanaz and Christian Kane are best friends in real life? Unfortunately, many of the female characters on Angel had tragic endings. But I didn’t mind because not only do I love tragedies but one of my favorites had a tragic ending, too. I bet you can guess who that is. Starts with a W. I even liked Gunn and thought his arc in season 5 was great for his character and his insecurities. Curious: did you ever do reviews on this show? I would love to read them!

            Not Fade Away is the second best series finale to me, right after Family Meeting.

          • My second favorite series finale too, and another example of how great drama can be horrifying but never depressing. I’ve always felt that Whedon’s great talent was to take characters who were cliches and let them grow until they became something so much more. Anyone could write (and play) Wesley at the beginning–annoying, stuck-up, follows the rules–but no one else could take him on that journey, or have that kind of ending. (Same goes for (Wini)fred, if that’s who you meant (-; too)

            I haven’t reviewed it–there are a few scattered comments in the AVClub Angel reviews from a younger me. I really should get around to writing something on it though. I have pieces landing for today and the two weeks after that and then I think I’ll take a break for a while! Although next week’s piece isn’t about Angel, it’s sort of about the kind of ending in Angel. Hope you like it!

          • SPOILERS FOR ANGEL

            I meant Wesley, but Fred’s ending was devastating. Of course a remarkable character did come from her death. One minute I was crying and the next I was fascinated.

          • “I’m feeling grief. I can’t seem to control it. . .I wish to do more violence.”

            That’s pure Whedon–this philosophical challenge (has Illyria been infected with something like humanity?) turned into this devastating emotional beat, played with absolute commitment by Amy Acker.

          • This is on topic with your essay but off topic with this current discussion about Angel. I apologize for the randomness of these discussions.

            But another thing I love about The Shield is that it shows and not tells. There is not much stated about the background of the characters, but you can tell from their characters that they had rough beginnings or are not close that with their family. I don’t know. It’s just in the way that they were played.

          • I always like the way discussions go to a lot of different topics–I think of them as roots going through culture (-;

            Quentin Tarantino said once “the face is the backstory.” He was talking specifically about Eddie Bunker (Mr. Blue) in Reservoir Dogs and also a general principle: some actors just give you the right look, both in appearance and how they carry themselves. I’ve always said that The Shield‘s casting directors (Rebecca Mangieri, Barbara Fiorentino, and Wendy Weidman) were the secret weapon, the way everyone just looked like who they were.

          • thesplitsaber

            There can never be enough praise for casting directors. Its one of the reasons I think Marvels films do so well-everyone just LookS right.

          • Babalugats

            If anyone is a femme fatale in that relationship it’s Shane. He’s the one who has a hold over Mara. He’s the one who draws her into criminality. She’s given several opportunities to leave him, and can’t, dooming her. And in the end he kills her.

          • One of the things to appreciate about The Shield is how often we’re put in Mara’s headspace, how we get to see how and why she makes her choices. Her very first moment shows her closer to Shane, physically and emotionally, than anyone has ever been; in “Blood and Water,” we see Vic just showing up at Shane’s apartment from her perspective, not Vic’s; we learn enough about her mother to know what a stable family means to her; and so forth. Just as much as the Strike Team, we see why she makes her choices, and why her choices, like you said, bring about her doom. That’s tragedy.

  • There’s still no show that touches me like The Shield.

    • “For, finally, a play is about–and is only about–the actions of its characters. We, as audience, understand a play not in terms of the superficial idiosyncrasies or social states of its characters (which, finally, separate us from the play), but only in terms of the action the characters are trying to accomplish.” (David Mamet on The Cherry Orchard)

      We all agree with you on this. You don’t have to know about the LAPD or 2000s L. A. or Kid Rock or bureaucracy to be touched by The Shield, because it’s not really about those things. It’s about men and women struggling to act–to do what’s right, to escape what’s wrong, to get power, to love–and living with that. That’s why it will last.

      (I realize a lot of my arguments here are things we’ll only know for sure after we’re all gone. I’m OK with that–that’s why this is art and not science, and why art ties us to the past and the future.)

  • I think I can finally articulate why Mara is one of the more interesting female characters to me. I think it is because, as a bad person, she was written like any other knucklehead. When I look into it, she had flaws similar to her husband’s. When bad female characters are written, they are usually written as femme fatales and somehow lacking in humanity more or less because they come across as caricatures or an object to be sexualized … if this makes any sense. I appreciate (not to be confused with like) these kinds of characters.

    • It would have been so easy to write Mara as only a victim. She could have been there to draw sympathy and show us what a Bad Person Shane was. (I have decided to call this “metafridging,” where a female character’s purpose is only to teach something to male viewers.) The writers and Michele Hicks made her a real character, though; she wants things, acts to get them, and those actions have consequences. (If she chooses differently at the end of “Moving Day,” Jackson comes out alive.) She is not a victim, which is why she can be a truly tragic figure–and none of what you or I have said means she is good in any traditional sense.

      • Thank you for explaining what I couldn’t. After watching “Possible Kill Screen” again, I think Mara was more impulsive than Shane. She fired a gun so carelessly. No thought or consideration for what could and did happen. Shane already had a plan in mind before he decided to go through with

        SPOILERS

        murdering Lem.

        • Thank you for catching things I never have–I never realized before but yes, Mara is even more impulsive than Shane. Taking the money from the Money Train stash and coming flying in swinging an iron are two things that jump to mind. It’s no wonder their life-on-the-run only lasts a few days. They have no chance of making it, and we’re all hoping they do.

          • thesplitsaber

            ‘Taking the money from the Money Train stash’
            I love the ‘yes i stole the money like they thought i would, but doesnt that also prove they dont trust you??’ argument she and Shane have. Usually that kind of scene is used to undermine the female character. But here its 100% true. The difference is Mara can be honest that shes the kind of person who would do it, just like Shane.

            Whereas Vic would find someway to fit it into his self denial.

            (It also reminds me of one of my favorite scenes-Jobs and Gates ‘I GOT THE LOOT STEVE’ scene in Pirates of Silicon Valley.

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CBri-xgYvHQ )

          • I fucking love that movie. It’s very much in the same television tradition as The Shield: don’t get fancy, just find a story and tell it. It also has exactly zero interest in the myth of Steve Jobs, SuperGenius™! Jobs and Gates are dueling opportunists, no more and no less.

          • thesplitsaber

            ‘It also has exactly zero interest in the myth of Steve Jobs, SuperGenius™!’

            Yeah thats why neither of the recent Jobs movies interested me. PoSV was made at a time when Jobs was pretty much seen as a failed genius, and it gives a much more well rounded view of his character (I love how egocentric he is in his complaints in that scene). If anything I remember at the time the movie got a lot of press for its negative portrayal of Gates.

            When I heard that 2 different Jobs films were coming out and neither starred Wyley I lost alot of interest in them (ill probably see that Boyle one eventually). PoSV is also a big reason why i found The Social Network so boring-everything it had to say had been said before and about more interesting people.

  • ChrisBSG

    Hi Grant/Wallflower,

    Many thanks for your “The Shield” analyses, many of which were in accordance of my own, but more often far more sophisticated. “The Shield” is, in my view, one of the greatest achievements in modern television.

    As regards “Family Meeting”, I’d like to agree with you that it’s probably one of the best if not *the* best ending of any serialised show.

    I don’t think we’re living in a new or second Golden Decade of television, at least with respect to the US. For me, the “Golden Era” ended with the last episode of “Breaking Bad”. Everything that came after BB was just attempting to be on the same level but in reality it wasn’t.

    If you take a broader look, however, great television isn’t dead. The Europeans created magnificent shows like:

    – Heimat (Germany)

    – The Killing (Denmark)

    – The Bridge (Denmark/Sweden)

    – Spiral (France)

    – Braquo (France)

    – Das Boot (Germany)

    – Broadchurch (UK)

    And there’s also the template for “Homeland” from Israel, “Hatufim”, which is sooo much better and more nuanced than its “24”-esque US version.

    I can only recommend these gems to you!

    I’d also love if you could write analyses on Golden Decade shows like “The Wire”, “Deadwood” or “Battlestar Galactica”.

    • Aw thanks. And wait wait wait, there’s a Das Boot series? I am so there.

      Foreign television is definitely something I need to catch up with, not the least because it often has end dates and so doesn’t need to stall itself out forever. (The Americans, I’m looking in your direction.) The original Traffic I enjoyed a lot, Heimat I’ve heard good things about, but probably the one I most want to see is Luther–grumpy Idris Elba owning shit sounds perfect.

      Probably (for reasons of length), I’ll get to Deadwood and then The Wire (I was hoping for a third season of True Detective, but oh well) and I’ll write them up when I do.

      • ChrisBSG

        Yes, there is a “Das Boot” series, or, more precisely, a miniseries, which was broadcast by the BBC. It has been released on DVD as “Das Boot: The Original Uncut Version” and is 300 minutes long (= six 50-minute episodes).

        Regarding “Luther” you’ll probably be disappointed. It starts very promising but then goes completely off the rails. I also mentioned “Broadchurch” but should have added “series 1”, because series 2 is so bad that calling it shyte would be an offence to shyte.

        You’ll probably like “Spiral”, because in this show, almost everyone isn’t only corrupt, but also incompetent, and the cops aren’t even the worst of the bunch.

        “The Killing” (at least series 1) and “The Bridge” are absolute masterpieces that Hollywood tried to remake but failed.

        You mentioned “The Americans”, and there is a German equivalent called “Deutschland 83”, which ironically aired in the US before it was broadcast in Germany. In the UK it was on Channel 4. I thought it was entertaining and recreated the eighties perfectly. It also comprised a lot of humour, but it was far from perfect — about the same level as “The Americans”. Interestingly, it was a success in the US and the UK, but a total failure in Germany (according to The Guardian).

        I also forgot to mention the one show that looks like a potential heir to the Golden Decade, namely “Better Call Saul”. To be honest, I like BCS even better than BB, because the writers take their time to actually develop the two most intriguing characters of BB and give them their own stories and backstories (and I like backstories 😉 ). This seems to be quite a contrast to BB, where everyone, including Walt, is at the end the same person they always have been. I also think that’s a reason why I will always prefer “The Shield” over BB from a storytelling perspective, because almost all characters, including Vic, are undergoing a change as consequence of their actions.

        Do you also consider analysing “Battlestar Galactica”? I’m asking because so much BS has been written about this show, mostly by sci-fi fans (rightly so, because the show wasn’t written for this kind of audience) and would-be experts like those over at the AV Club (sigh!), that it hurts my brain. I actually feel like I could write a PhD thesis on TV audiences not paying attention, projecting their own expectations (plot-wise or politically) into a story, being unaware of the creative challenges surrounding ambitious television production (like availability of actors, budget issues) and the nature of storytelling etc., instead of simply accepting the story for what it is and judging it on its own merits. If you look at the comments at IMDB, this happened to both BSG and “The Shield”.

        Anyway, I’m looking forward to further articles penned by you (I especially enjoyed the piece on Michelle McLaren!).

        • Battlestar Galactica is something I want to get into, because a) it strikes me as the most ambitious series that isn’t Lost and with that kind of thing, it will be great when in works and never less than interesting when it doesn’t; and b) on one of the Shield commentaries, someone says that only Battlestar had a cast and crew that worked together as well as The Shield, and that one of the creators of Battlestar said that what they wanted to make was “The Shield in space.”

          And thank you! If you click on my name up top or in the link after you click “About the Author” you’ll go to my author page with all the articles. Enjoy–I try to always respond to comments.

          • ZoeZ

            Ambition and deeply-felt moral clashes among a great, lovingly-rendered ensemble cast make BSG work even when it gets too shaggy for its own good. I’m not sure how well it rewatches as a whole (although I’ve seen the opening miniseries several times and still find it genuinely great), but at least on a first-time viewing, I was riveted. It’s also behind the only serious fight I ever had with my best friend, where our debate over the morality behind the characters’ actions revealed a genuine schism in our ways of looking at the world, and I think that’s a point in its favor. (Gone Baby Gone gave us a lesser version of this.)

            EDIT: Looking back further in the comment thread, I will also say: Deadwood reviews, fuck yeah, especially since I just revised my favorite-show list the other day to let it take the number two slot.

          • ChrisBSG

            “a great, lovingly-rendered ensemble cast”

            I’m totally with you here, ZoeZ. My wife and I try to reserve a week (with the kids away) every year to rewatch BSG from start to finish as some kind of meeting old friends. The characters are all flawed, but also deeply vulnerable, and that is what makes them so human and relatable.

            “I’m not sure how well it rewatches as a whole”

            Actually, I was only able to appreciate the show as a whole after rewatching it all from start to finish. It’s astonishing how well this all fits together, *especially* after having seen the finale. For instance, a rather unimpressing episode like “Hero” (one of those s3 fillers) finally paid off in the finale. Moreover, s4 was explictly edited with DVD/BlueRay releases in mind, because Moore didn’t have to worry about another season. S4 really works best if you watch the episodes back-to-back.

            The miniseries: It’s what got me interested in the first place. A teaser, and then nothing but the introduction and establishment of characters. Next, the sexy blonde from the teaser snaps a baby’s neck. (A bit like Vic Mackey running through a wall and saying “I’m a different kind of cop.”) It was this setup, together with the non-futuristic production design, that told me: “These guys mean serious business”. And they did.

            As to your debates: I think this is precisely what the producers intended. They didn’t take sides and instead wanted to make any side feel as uncomfortable as possible, so as to get their audience to think.

          • ZoeZ

            Good to hear about the rewatch value! And while I didn’t know that the episodes were edited with the DVD release in mind, that doesn’t surprise me, and that’s certainly how we watched them–and in marathon sessions, too. Out of curiosity, what do you think of the ending? (I’m a defender.)

            SPOILERS FOR THE BSG MINISERIES

            I was hooked by how quickly the hard choices come, and how the characters were allowed to make them and not have the narrative bail them out: when they decide to abandon the other ships, nothing interferes to make that an easy decision, and they have to listen to the sobs and the fear and the anger.

          • ChrisBSG

            BSG SPOILERS FOLLOWING

            I don’t think the ending needs to be defended. It stands or falls on its own merits, and it all depends on what a particular part of the audience expected.

            I do think, however, that most of the criticism, especially by nerds, is without merit, because

            1) it’s based on things that were never said, shown or otherwise established;

            2) it’s based on ignoring much of what has been established before (going back to the miniseries!);

            3) some people are completely unable to follow any non-linear storytelling, combined with a frightening lack of imagination.

            If someone’s expectations regarding the finale were focused on the plot, I can understand the disappointment. It’s not that “Daybreak” (and the previous episodes) didn’t resolve most open questions — they did to various degrees — but the finale only offered a very, very simple story.

            Plot-wise it isn’t anywhere near “Family Meeting”, but then no other finale is — it’s the platinum standard for a finale. So, in this category “Daybreak” is ok, but not great.

            “Daybreak” succeeds, however, in two other categories, at least for me: aesthetics and emotion.

            Let me start with the latter: Via flashbacks we learn more about the past of some the main characters and how they ended on Galactica. All of these flashbacks also pay off in the end. We get an unusual amount of humour, which, I think, is appropriate, given that the finale offers some hope and optimism after all the suffering and misery. We get not one, but two moving Adama speeches, the first of which was immediately followed by an equally funny and heartbreaking scene (Laura Roslin saying goodbye to Doc Cottle — this was the first time I choked up when it aired). We get the final jump to our Earth and then the long and heartbreaking goodbye to the surviving characters. Sad as it mostly was, when Hendrix’s version of “All along the watchtower” kicks in at the end, we can smile. So, on the emotional level, “Daybreak” is highly rewarding.

            As to aesthetics: This is where I think “Daybreak” is overwhelming. From the opening shots to the “red line” in the hangar bay, it’s already great in the first hour. Personally, I would have preferred less space porn, but I know I’m part of a tiny minority here. I must admit, though, that the CGI is impressive — to this day. The action scenes aren’t thrilling either – Ron Moore admitted in his podcasts that BSG wasn’t particularly good at action scenes, because they had no experts for this, and that it would’ve been too expensive to do it properly. What made the whole thing work, though, was cinematography, especially the editing. Intercutting the action with the opera house footage worked exceptionally well, just like intercutting Kara’s inserting of the coordinates with footage from “Someone to watch over me” and the first shot of our Earth. That was truly exceptional work (and I could add some later scenes).

            All of this would’ve been impossible, though, without the invisible superstar of BSG: composer Bear McCreary. The incredible music he wrote had become an essential part of BSG’s aesthetic texture since the S1 finale. From then on, it just got better and better, and he was consistently delivering quality, even when the show itself stumbled in the middle of S3.

            It was already an unusual step of the writers to make music a part of the plot (beginning with the S3 finale), but can you imagine another show dedicating the A-story of an episode to playing piano and composing with only one episode left before the finale? Can you imagine another show involving the composer in the script writing process? Can you imagine another show requiring the composer to be on set to make sure the film is in sync with the music, not the other way around? BSG did this in “Someone to watch over me” and the finale, and at least in my book, this makes “Daybreak” a great aesthetic experience. It also takes a lot of confidence on the side of the producers and writers to convince a network of going down that road, because it could have easily gone wrong.

            Interestingly, the S4 soundtrack album comprises 2 CDs, the second of which includes the complete “Daybreak” score. It’s an incredible masterpiece, which, I believe, helped a lot to lift the finale to “great” status, both in terms of emotion and aesthetics.

          • Rory the Major Idiot

            I’m battling with myself on what to watch next. Stranger Things airs on Netflix this Friday and that is a must-see for me.

            I have heard wonderful things about Carnivale and Battlestar Galactica. Going by the synopsis, they are more up my ally, but I can’t figure out which one to watch next. Suggestion?

          • ZoeZ

            I watched the first season of Carnivale six years or so ago, which is too far away for me to trust my assessment of it, but certain parts of it have definitely lingered in my mind as gorgeous, weird, and moody. Selfishly, I’d love for you to watch it so I can get your take on it and know whether or not I should revisit it!

            BSG I do recommend, with the caveat that it has some dead ends and failures in its later seasons. But at its best, it did a great job of combining high-stakes tension and a sense of the mythic, and it let its characters combine and clash in interesting and unpredictable ways. I would definitely say to give the miniseries and first season a shot–that would give you a good idea of whether or not you found the story compelling enough to follow it to the end even knowing there would be some shaggy patches. There are a few fumbles in the miniseries–one particular design flaw in robot technology that makes absolutely no sense–but mostly it’s just tough decisions and hopes and irrevocable pushes forward.

            Whatever you go with, I’d love to hear what you think. (And thanks for mentioning Stranger Things–I hadn’t heard about that and now really want to check it out.)

          • Rory the Major Idiot

            How would you rate Battlestar Galactica in comparison to other Sci-Fi space adventures like Firefly?

          • ZoeZ

            Firefly is more fun–it really does have a sense of adventure, and there’s such a delight to the world-building and the camaraderie. Battlestar Galactica is a lot grimmer–tonally, I’d say it’s closer to the Serenity movie than to Firefly proper. The stakes are higher because the characters are operating out of necessity, and because they can and do become genuine antagonists to each other, which I think is comparatively unusual for space opera shows, which usually pattern themselves off Star Trek to some extent and so have an inviolate team at their center. I’d say it’s an action show without being an adventure show, if that makes sense, because there’s a lot of propulsion, but it’s often more exhausting than aspirational.

            (Firefly might have gotten darker as it went along, of course: RIP.)

            Ultimately, based on what we have of both of them, I’d say Firefly is more purely enjoyable but Galactica is better drama and ultimately more ambitious (on dramatic terms, at least, if not science-fictional ones).

          • ChrisBSG

            Wow! In-depth analyses of BSG, “The Wire” and “Deadwood” by Wallflower. That’ll be at least as good as buying the box sets and rewatching them was/is 🙂

            As for “Lost” being ambitious I’m not so sure. The show never grew on me, probably because it was sci-fi/fantasy stuff, which I don’t like. I’d never have even bothered with BSG until a friend of mine gave me the s1 DVDs and, knowing my taste, told me I’d like it. Of course she was right.

            You are absolute right with b), though. I think have read almost every interview related to both shows and also listened to the audio commentary on the DVD sets. Both shows’ cast and crew were incredibly close and also dedicated to make the best show on television. At least with BSG this bond continues to this day, as the actors chose another actor from the show as a godparent of one of their children. As a result, they have a “family meeting” (ahum) every year. Moreover, Bear McCreary and the musicians who created the magnificent BSG soundtrack meet once per year to play the music and to give concerts.

            There are differences, though. BSG hit the ground running. As both director and co-executive producer Michael Rymer and the late Gary Hutzel recalled, cast and crew gelled from day 1 in a way that takes years in other shows. “The Shield” took a season to find its pace and mood, but after that it just got better and better. BSG, on the other hand, seriously stumbled in the middle of s3 — much more so than “The Shield” did in s1.

            The reason both shows are my all time favourites, though, is the acting. I cannot remember any ensemble of actors who consistently demonstrated their qualities at such a high level (not even in cinema). One reason, I think, is that the producers did what TV producers rarely do, namely letting actors really act, not just deliver the scripted lines.

            Case in point: The best actors on both shows (Michael Chiklis, Walton Goggins, CCH Pounder [love her!], Jay Karnes, Benito Martinez; E.J. Olmos, MaryMcDonald, Michael Hogan, Katee Sackhoff, Aaron Douglas, James Callis) had their greatest moments when there was nothing or very little to say, simply by using their faces and bodies. (Eyes: CCH Pounder; one eye: Michael Hogan)

            BSG as “The Shield” in space? No. As you always stated, “The Shield” is a drama, i.e. a tragedy in the strictest sense. As someone (you?) stated: “The Shield” is Shakespeare, “The Wire” is Dickens. BSG is a mix of both, and a lot more, with tragic backstories, melodrama and mysticism/spirituality thrown into the mix.

            Regarding your other articles, I already read and enjoyed some of them, even found one on the sequel of one my all-time favourites (“The French Connection”). Like your “Shield” analyses, it takes time to read through this, especially when I don’t have the movie available on DVD/BluRay.

            Anyway, all of your in-depth analyses are what I’m really interested in reading about televison and movies. Thank you so much!

          • I adored BSG for 2.5 seasons. The back half of S3 was shaky, and it fell apart for me in S4. Too many ass-pulls to extract themselves from the corners they wrote themselves into. I loved how hard they committed to the premise, and it was soooo close to being the SF GOAT, too. No show has disappointed me more.

            The showrunner was the head writer for ST:DS9, so think of those religious story arcs turned to 11. Adjust your expectations accordingly.

      • thesplitsaber

        I still dont know how I feel about no 3rd season of TD.

        • Word is that Pizzolatto will script something for HBO, it just won’t be True Detective. I’m curious to see what results; I still think he’s pushing towards something he can’t see just yet.

          • thesplitsaber

            Im interested to see what comes out. I feel there was a lot of underestimation of just how much McConaughy, Harrelson and especially Fukunaga contributed to the first season, even on HBOs end. Still I preferred season 2 and I like to think I would have liked season 3 even more.

          • Rory the Major Idiot

            I think the pissed off crowds scared Pizzolatto from his own project.

          • thesplitsaber

            I got the feeling HBO pulled the plug b/c all the negative press. I dont know if Ive heard of an audience turning on a show that fast since Twin Peaks.

          • Rory the Major Idiot

            The hate for the second season was surprisingly strong. You’d think it was the worst thing on T.V.

          • thesplitsaber

            I actually liked it better than the first! haha

          • Right there with you (but you both knew that). Going off Rory’s point, there was more attention to the story, not just the atmosphere.

          • thesplitsaber

            Totally agree. Atmosphere only takes you so far. For me it was about episode 4 of season 1.

          • This is a response to a different comment of yours: I just read Don deLillo’s new novel, Zero K, and it has a lot in common with The Leftovers; it’s about a group of people who you could say have voluntarily Raptured themselves into the future. It’s told in the first person from someone who chooses to stay behind. It’s a good, meditative work, and better than anything he’s done in years. You would be interested, I think.

          • Rory the Major Idiot

            I will read it. 🙂

          • Rory the Major Idiot

            But I think the strong hate began after season 1 didn’t end in an astounding way (although it made sense for the characters). It became stronger when the casting was announced and people just didn’t think much of those actors. Then it was full hatred once people got to actually see the second season and it didn’t meet their high expectations.

          • thesplitsaber

            It was definitely a building effect. I agree peoples reaction to the first season got progressively negative as it wore on (understandably for me). But even people I knew who looooved season one had turned on S2 by the third episode.

          • Rory the Major Idiot

            I feel the Golden Era is over because although many great actors have transitioned to T.V. due to the excellent roles, many of these shows are somehow forgetting that the plot and most importantly THE STORY are just as important as the interactions between the characters, the dialogue, and the acting. At least that’s what it feels like to me. The Shield and The Wire have amazing characters, amazing actors, settings that work, dialogue that fits the characters, unforgettable moments, but they also had an amazing story to tell! I feel like that’s what’s missing with most of these series.

            Or they have an amazing story to tell that sounds excellent on paper, but they don’t know how to execute it because their vision is somehow limited. They don’t know what mechanics make it work and what don’t. They don’t know how to move it forward in the most compelling manner. They don’t know how to have their characters change as a result of the consequences of their actions and be consistent with who the characters are at the same time. The latter is consequential to the overall story.

            I guess I’m saying that they don’t know how to tell a story. They have these great ideas for their story and then just don’t know how to tell it or how to bring these ideas together so that the story is cohesive.

            My favorite T.V. show currently airing is The Leftovers. The story is just as engaging as the characters and I’m hoping they don’t fuck it up, as its last season is this year.

          • Very much this, especially the second paragraph. I think a lot of showrunners have a great situation to start off with, but they can’t figure out a way to turn it into a story. Often with shows like that, the second season winds up being the best: they’ve figured out what works and what doesn’t in the first season, so they can improve things, but they haven’t gotten to later in the series where they run out of story to tell.

            I think part of the reason that it’s hard to tell a good story is that it requires discipline over inventiveness. You have to say “OK, that’s an interesting idea, even an exciting one, but it’s not what has to happen” and discard it. It’s why story is so tied to action, and why storytelling is so ethical: whatever we think or feel or imagine, we can only do one thing. Same with story.

            Speaking of second seasons (and hoping you don’t mind me hijacking your question to ZoeZ): I can recommend the first two seasons of The Americans without reservation. Seasons three and four run into the exact problems of story you mentioned, but are still above most of the rest of television. And in the “not the greatest TV ever, but still entertaining and well-made and tell stories” category are both seasons of Bosch and (apparently all of) Mad Dogs.

          • Rory the Major Idiot

            I have seen most of what’s available for The Americans and I like it a lot, but it does have problems with its story. In particular, it seems to somehow miss utilizing dramatic moments to advance its story in the later seasons. That’s very frustrating for me, but it is better than most of the shit on right now.

            I haven’t seen Bosch or Mad Dogs. I will put them on my to-watch list.

  • Rory the Major Idiot

    After careful consideration, I have decided that Walton Goggins is, in fact, my standard for great acting. I find myself comparing performances to his and that has, unfortunately, made me more critical of acting. Performers who I once thought were amazing suddenly do not live up to my expectations. Yet I recognize that some performers are not necessarily good at acting but can play a certain kind of character perfectly. For instance, Charisma Carpenter is not a good actress, but I can’t see anyone else as Cordelia Chase. On the other hand, I can see other actors playing Shane Vendrell and Boyd Crowder. Unfortunately, I can’t see them bringing humanity to the characters like Goggins did. Shane Vendrell and Boyd Crowder are both stock Southern criminals, one appearing to be on the right side of the law and the other an unmistakable outlaw, but they are fundamentally different. One of the most obvious differences is that one is stupid and impulsive yet guilt-ridden. The other one is intelligent, ruthless, witty, and lacking in empathy as well as remorse. They were of course written differently and that is a major factor, but Goggins really brought them to life. The death of the Vendrell family is first on my list of T.V. deaths that truly impacted me even though the parents were terrible.

    What I also appreciate about the character Shane Vendrell is that he is a terrible, stupid person but ultimately a human being with apparent guilt and remorse for their actions. That’s in contrast to Vic’s character. I also appreciate that about Ronnie. He is smart and pragmatic but caring in his own way. He wanted to kill Shane practically all of season 7 but was balling when Shane committed suicide and took his family with him. I like how Ronnie was the logical one and part of his reaction to Shane’s death was that “it just didn’t make sense to him.” That sticks with me, partially due to Snell’s acting. I also can’t forget that outburst when he finds out Vic sold him down the river. Too often writers try to portray their “bad guys” as evil geniuses these days. The Shield had a nice mix.

    • So good. If (if) there’s one thing that makes great actors, it’s completeness. I see it in Goggins, I saw it in James Gandolfini 😞 Jeff Bridges, Jodie Foster: not just the commitment to go all the way, but creating a living person down to the details of stance and breathing. (Anthony Hopkins says that the first thing he does when acting is to figure out how the character walks.) It would have been so damn easy for Goggins, having created something so indelible with Shane, to make all his other characters Shane 2.0, 3.0, so forth, but he never did. You know in five seconds who Goggins is playing at all times, and he never steps outside the character or tries to distance himself. (When Terry Gross interviewed him, she started by saying something like “forgive me, but I didn’t realize until now how smart you are.” That has got to be one of the highest praises an actor can get.)

      • Rory the Major Idiot

        I would place Justin Theroux, Carrie Coon, Ann Dowd, CCH Pounder, Michael Chiklis, Ian McShane, and Amy Ryan in this category of outstanding actors as well. I think Justin Theroux was the biggest surprise to me. I only knew him for writing Tropic Thunder and had not realized that he was the creepy director in Mulholland Drive (man, Naomi Watts was amazing in that). When I saw that he was the lead of The Leftovers, I wasn’t expecting much. When I finally watched it, I was like, “Damn! He is better than good!”

        We were talking about Timothy Olyphant the other day. I said he has proven he is a star; another poster countered that he has proven he is a T.V. star. I actually agree. Many of these actors who are riveting on T.V. like James Gandolfini often do not translate to movie stars. The poster pointed out that T.V. does require you to build nuanced, lived-in characters, whereas you don’t have as much time to do so in a feature film. There are actors like Amy Ryan, Ann Dowd, and Carrie Coon who are superb no matter what they do. Carrie had a supporting role in Gone Girl and was still one of the best actors in the film. The same can be said of Amy Ryan in Gone Baby Gone. But again, these were supporting roles. They are not movie stars like, for instance, Julia Roberts.

        Brad Dourif is another actor in this category. He was amazing in Deadwood and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. He’s a little strange because he kind of had “movie star” success, but it was for the voice acting of Chucky.

        In my opinion, you don’t get to see how powerful Goggins is until you watch him on television. He is charismatic in movies, but it is a loss to not see the range of emotions he can effectively pull and how he transforms his characters to almost-persons you feel like you know. I feel the same about James Gandolfini.

        There are also actors like Sarah Michelle Gellar. Her acting is stylized and does not translate well to other projects, whether they are on T.V. or film. I don’t know how to describe it other than as “soap opera.” It fits perfectly for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, All My Children, Cruel Intentions (even though I hate that movie), and the horror films she has done like I Know What You Did Last Summer. It’s especially entertaining, but when she does shows like Ringer, it’s very unfitting. I can only say that her style of acting tends to be to overemphasize emotions and seems out of place when the acting requires subtle interactions and nuance. However, no one made me cry like she did when I was in high school (“Becoming Part II” and “The Body,” oh man).

        David Boreaneaz, Charisma Carpenter, Eliza Dushku, etc. are the ones who are not good at acting but fit perfectly for certain characters. I noticed Joss Whedon has a tendency to do this.

        Alexis Denisof fits with the former actors like Walton Goggins. I am so glad they let him crossover to Angel because we would not have known how amazing he is otherwise. He’s one that builds nuanced, lived-in characters and he did that for Wesley.

        • Theroux I know only from his role in the Bateman posse in American Psycho (where, as Mary Harron sez, he provided some quality 1980s stockbroker dancing), so you’ve given me more reason to see him. And great call on Amy Ryan; she was easily my favorite actress of the 00s with her wrok in Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, The Office, and Capote. She did some other great work, but those three roles are so far apart from each other and so good.

          And it’s so great (and we’ve both said this before) that TV has now become the place to go to for great acting. Not just the subtle, built-over-time acting you’ve noted, but the big iconic roles are all on television these days too. I would put Jon Hamm, Elizabeth Moss, and Bryan Cranston up against any movie star of the last twenty years. (It’s interesting that of those three, only Moss seems to really be able to break into film.)

          • Rory the Major Idiot

            Jon Hamm as Don Draper was more captivating than any movie star I’ve seen in the last decade. That may be an exaggeration, but I really can’t think of any movie star who has topped him besides Heath Ledger. I saw Heath in this depressing indie film Candy.

          • It would have been so easy to portray Draper as an empty suit (look at the name) and to make Mad Men another sneering work about postwar America, but Hamm created a complete character out of Don from the pilot onward, and the rest of the show followed, um, suit 😏 I remember on the Sopranos boards someone said that Weiner loved Don too much to dissect him the way David Chase did to Tony Soprano, and I completely agree, which is why I think Mad Men is so much better than The Sopranos. (For a lot of reasons, wishful thinking the highest among them, I identify more with Don than any other fictional character.)

            And Heath Ledger was another complete chameleon. Look at The Dark Knight, 10 Things I Hate About You, I’m Not There, and Brokeback Mountain; not only is he great in all four of them, he’s completely different. If saw one and were casting any of the other three, you would never say “that’s my guy right there!”

          • thesplitsaber

            Even before the Dick Whitman reveal, he was playing Don in a very complicated way. Giving that kind of depth to a stoic character is a rare feat. And Hamm as Draper might be the best example of it post Eastwwod.

          • Rory the Major Idiot

            I think a creator needs to find the balance between loving and hating his characters. I don’t think Shawn Ryan loved nor hated his characters from The Shield; he just understood them so well that everything they did, no matter how crazy, made sense from the character’s perspective. I really liked Mad Men at times, but sometimes I had issues with the way Weiner would write his characters. Some of the characterization didn’t gel with me and he clearly hated Betty who he had no idea what to do with after the third season.

          • The best creators, I’d say, create as God creates: you have to let them succeed or fuck up on their own. They don’t exist to make a point to someone else, and if they destroy themselves, you have to let them.

          • thesplitsaber

            Im into season 2 on my Mad Men re-watch and its astonishing just how good Hamm and Moss are. Hamm might be the most out of nowhere actor Ive seen dominate a show. He reminds me of Donal Logue on Terriers-an actor thats gonna use everything he can every second of the performance, because who knows when its gonna end. But Logue had years of lead and character actor work. Hamm meanwhile went from 3rd male lead on The Division to one of the most iconic performances ever.
            And I still cant get over how good Moss is since I wasnt really a fan of hers on West Wing. But there isnt a mistep scene in her whole first season arc-for my money one of the biggest gambles in tv history.

          • Rory the Major Idiot

            I would also like to add that Don Draper, Walter White, and Tony Soprano are big iconic characters, but I also see them as lived-in characters. We spend 5 seasons getting to know Walter, 6 getting to know Tony, and 7 getting know Don. Tony and Don in particular are on shows that rely more on characterization than they do plot.

        • thesplitsaber

          Do you have a link to that Olyphant conversation?

    • ZoeZ

      Seconded on every count. Goggins really became the first actor where I actually follow his work the way I used to only follow a director’s–I have a whole mini-category of I Watched This for Walton Goggins movies that I sought out because I knew he’d (forgive how paradoxical this sounds) compellingly vanish in them. And off what @disqus_wallflower:disqus said: his characters always seem fully created. I don’t find myself thinking of Shane while watching Boyd, which is achievement enough, but I don’t even think of either of them when I see him in smaller parts like in That Evening Sun or The Apostle, which is pretty incredible.

  • Hanruckkah “Lump of” Cohlchez

    Here, now, he witnesses his last fate, alone in an office with only the pictures of the only four people he didn’t betray or destroy.

    And, of course, the only reason he even has four people he didn’t betray or destroy is because they are the four people he was denied the chance, due to Shane’s and Corrine’s actions.

    There is literally no one left. I’ve always been impressed with the completeness with which Vic burns down his life, with how he spares not even one single relationship from the flames. (I admire its purity, I suppose.)

    • Babalugats

      And it’s only his self delusion that allows him to hold on to those four. Lem died because of his actions. His daughter is on a bad path. You wonder how long he’ll be able to face those pictures.

      • Ruck Cohlchez 🌹

        I suppose it depends on how well he’s able to keep up his self-delusions. Vic can always blame Shane for Lem and Corrine for Cassidy. (If and when Cassidy gets into trouble, he’ll probably tell himself it’s because Corrine took her away from the guidance of her strong paternal figure.)

  • Stuart Rayer

    Hi all, apologies for the amateurish nature of the post but it is my first time and just felt compelled to give my thoughts on what is a simply amazing journey!
    Just watched the whole series through again for the third time – first was week by week when first aired, then box-set by box-set (DVD) as they were released and just now the whole thing straight through in 18 days! Followed that up by reading these (wallflower & nowalk) reviews from S1E1 all the way through to family meeting (took some time!) plus read all the comments of the regular contributors.

    A couple of things have stood out for me. The nature of the story telling in that all the characters are like the separate parts of an ecosystem – although some may be deemed more important than the others – every single one is essential to make the whole thing work. If you remove one character and their story that may seem small or self-contained or insignificant at the start of The Shield, such as Gilroy or Two-Time or Julien, then the whole premise of falls apart. The writing is (was) ground breaking. It may seem simple to just refer back to things throughout seasons, but to keep the whole story so ‘tight’ from beginning to end with no errors or ‘backturns’ across 88 episodes is breathtaking. When you watch it the first through, you are focused on what is happening in front of you. When you watch it the second time through, you pay attention to what is happening in the background. When you watch it the third time through, you know exactly what is coming so you focus on specific characters and their reactions to what is going on around them and how it plays perfectly into what is to come. I know I should give examples at this point but would rather you take my word for it and watch the whole series through again!

    Another thing that stands out, and stands out more and more with every re-watch, is that Ronnie is without doubt the best at being the bad guy on the team. He does all he needs to do (and has the potential to do more – the line “i wish I knew [you killed Terry] sooner so I could have done more to protect you” speaks untold volumes about the capacity of Ronnie and how he knows, not thinks, he is the best at being bad) and does it without emotion (the exception being when he beats on two-man wishing it was Shane) but with a cool calculation about how it it will all pan out. Those who have comment David Rees Snell is not acting his part in his scenes are way off base. DRS played Ronnie exactly how he should be played – cool, calm, calculating and completely in control of body and emotion in every scene bar 2: the beat down and the end-scene.

    All in all, this is a fantastic series of writing, directing and acting that I don’t feel was appreciated in its time but will continue to gain fans as the years go by simply because of its originality and the fact it set an unacknowledged benchmark for many many other series to follow.

    Amazing job everyone, thank one for the journey that is a pleasure to take again and again!

    • Welcome! Conversation’s still going on, snacks are over there.

      That “ecosystem” comment is dead on. What was so necessary for The Shield was its discipline. Most authors and critics mistake inventiveness for creativity and try, especially in TV series, to keep introducing new elements. The Shield knew that once you introduce something–character, setting (from the flooded bathroom to the Quickmealer), or action (killing Terry)–you have to keep it in play until the end. It’s that way that everything has consequences and nothing gets forgotten that defines the morality of tragedy.

  • Snake doctor

    Shane is a statutory rapist, he’s a racist, a liar, a thief, an a torturer.

    He murdered his pregnant wife, and his 3 year old son.

    Why do I cry everytime, I watch the last episode?

    • Empathy. So much older and so much more powerful than judgment; the necessary recognition of the humanity of another, no matter what they do, so different from the political virtue of judgment.

      It’s no accident that the ancient Greeks were the first theorists of tragedy and democracy, because both of them rely on the same fundamental principle: we can empathize and judge at the same time. Shane deserved what he got, Shane made what he got, and it still fucking hurts to see it. If we can’t feel all of this at once, it’s not tragedy–it’s not The Shield.

      • Snake doctor

        1) You are a picture perfect writer. 2) I post your writings on my Facebook to other Shield heads ( I link it, and source it) so you have a solid fanbase, if you ever find yourself in Scotland.

        • Aw thank you! Hmm, I should go back to Scotland for another tour of the whiskey distilleries (GLENMORANGIE 4-EVA) and I’ll look you up.

          The Usual Suspects is so, so good as a straight-up crime noir, and there’s a lesson there: you can’t make your movie’s quality depend on a Big Twist. It has to be a legitimately good movie without it. Here, the twist itself actually requires that too: Verbal’s story has to be good enough to hold Kujan’s attention, and ours, for two hours.

          The action scenes here are also great; Singer is a classical stager of action, using just enough slo-mo and editing to heighten intensity without making it, as they say, fucking distracting. A favorite moment is when McManus starts picking off people in the final heist and Keaton calmly pulls his guns and shoots two of them in the back. You understand why Keaton has the reputation he does.

      • Snake doctor

        What do you make of the Usual suspects? Not the amazing twist, but the other really good crime that is within it?

    • Drunk Napoleon

      I have the same reaction to Ronnie – if I were told what happens to him, I would believe he deserves what happens to him, but that’s not what I feel having seen it.

  • Napoleon Of The Living Drunk

    Something I’ve been thinking about is the concept of characters earning their ending, and it surprised me (but not really when I thought about it) to realise that all the characters get what they really wanted, right from the start of the series. Dutch has spent the entire show throwing out bon mots and observations, trying to impress people, and here he gets to say something that’s genuinely profound, and as you said it’s based on something that happened to him and that we saw happen to him – and if you like, acts as an encapsulation of the development of the series, from the constant Extremely Thematic Statements of the pilot (“I’m a different kind of cop.”) to the profundity of the finale.

    Meanwhile, underneath most of Claudette’s justifications for tolerating Vic was a desire to just keep the Barn going from one day to another; I was about to write that she had to keep redefining what that meant from episode to episode, but I suppose that’s true of all the characters, from Vic to Julian. They wanted something, and that thing never changed, but the definition of the thing did.

    • Conor Malcolm Crockford

      It occurs to me that one of Claudette’s arcs is her realizing that her stance in the pilot to not judge cops was wrong, that she simply can’t ignore Vic’s brutality and corruption when it interferes with cases and is simply a deep violation of the code Claudette lives by every day (cemented by her immortal “But he was innocent, don’t you get that?!”) And you even see her and Vic work together, and it goes well. In another universe they could’ve been partners. But her definition of what she can tolerate changes.

      • ooo that’s good. One of the stories that goes all through The Shield is how the corruption of the Strike Team can’t be contained, not to Farmington, not to the individual members of the Team. It’s actually right there in the pilot with (yet another) civilian complaint against Vic, and keeps going outward. Claudette might say in the pilot “I don’t judge other cops,” but soon enough the Way of the Vic will be something she has to confront. Corruption comes to you, whether or not it’s yours.

        Related to this, a line that’s been on my mind a lot in the Trump era is Hans Gruber’s immortal “Sooner or later I might get to someone you do care about.” If you allow power to someone who stomps over the boundaries to Get Results, don’t imagine there are any boundaries around you. To Claudette’s credit, she learns that fast, like in the second season.

        • Conor Malcolm Crockford

          Absolutely. Part of it might be that Claudette wasn’t completely formed in that first episode but by the first six or seven episodes her morality is fully figured out by the writers, and the quiet decency she embodies is naturally going to clash with Vic Fucking Mackey, swinging dick of selfishness awkwardly breeding with utilitarianism.

          • You can see the discipline the writers had (or the discipline Ryan exercised upon them) in that it takes time for the Claudette/Vic conflict to emerge. The Shield works because it’s a cohesive, continual story, not a collection of Very Special Episodes about Important Issues. (That I think these Issues are in fact Important doesn’t justify any kind of weakness in storytelling.) The writers didn’t present Claudette Good/Vic Bad, let’s have them fight, they waited until there was a specific, organic incident to create the conflict: at the beginning of season two, Claudette had her own investigation and Vic started derailing it to protect himself. And as ever, they never tried to walk that back.

  • Out There

    Vic didn’t show up in a suit and tie the very first morning at ICE. He thought he was going to continue as a front-line officer, so he showed up in his standard comfy attire. Only after the empty threats did Olivia clarify this stipulation.

    • Good catch–I mixed together two scenes there. Thanks, and thanks for reading!

  • Babalugats

    Holy shit.

    • You’re welcome! I’m always grateful for a new Shield fan and conversationalist (GABBA GABBA WE ACCEPT YOU ONE OF US ONE OF US). I’ve really enjoyed your comments so far (and not just on my articles, but in general) and am looking forward to what you have to say now that you’ve seen the whole thing. Again, whatever I’ve done, the show makes its own best argument.

  • Babalugats

    I’m back! And let me reiterate- Holy Shit.

    To have a character do that. A character that we’ve known, and liked, and followed for years. And not have it feel like a cheat. To feel “in character” without turning that character into a inhuman monster… Every great work of storytelling is first and foremost a great work of empathy.

    The reaction to it is right, too. These people were ready to take Shane’s freedom. To kill him. To kill his wife, perhaps even his son. They were ready to drive him to suicide. But they weren’t ready to drive him to that. There are things worse than death. There are things worse than killing and stealing. What Shane becomes inflicts a wound on everyone involved with him. A weight on all their souls. There’s always been a medieval quality to The Shield (even the title is evocative of knights and spartans and ancient warriors. Long before there was such a thing as an LAPD, or an ICE, or the Crypts or the Bloods, there were men with shields). And this feel like an ancient piece of storytelling. Dishonor and the end of family lines. A violation so evil that it spreads it’s curse to all who come near it.

    Vic’s end is perfect, too. A story, in its most basic terms is just a string of character decisions. If Vic were caught or killed, that would be somebody else acting on him. The protagonist must choose his own fate, and Vic does in a way that damns him, and it is the only choice he would ever make. The choice he’s been making since the very first episode. The only flaw in Michael Chiklis’ casting, from the start, is that he’s so short. The performance, and the camera work has gone to great lengths to hide that, to allow him to be the toughest most physically intimidating guy even when he’s acting again men twice his size. And now, that all gets stripped away. He seems to age ten years and shrink two feet, every time we see him. In the end he looks tiny, and old, and bald, and frail. (Once again excellent, subtle costume design. Vic’s dress clothes fit him like a straight jacket.) This is a running theme throughout the show as well. We’ve seen it with Gilroy, Lem, Kavanaugh, and Claudette. The body can’t withstand what the spirit demands of it. The life is draining out of Vic, in three years there won’t be anything left of him.

    What’s remarkable about the end of The Shield is how correct it feels. It’s not just that it ties up loose ends, not just that it’s satisfying. It feels complete, as though every piece of the storytelling, every cinematic tangent, from the beginning, was building to this ending, and no other ending was possible. That sort of completeness just isn’t possible in long form serialized storytelling. It’s not just great writing, it’s a flat out miracle.

    It’s a funny and sad story, reminding us that in the world of The Shield, Farmington will not change. There won’t be a new paradigm, only the stories of the corrupt and the less corrupt.

    I’m not so sure that the show doesn’t believe in its idealists. We’ve talked before about how The Shield is a hodgepodge of conflicting political views. (Lessor critics see this as a flaw. Insightful people recognize this as “having a viewpoint”). One of the more conservative pillars of the series is a belief in “great men”. Exceptional individuals who transform the world around them. Vic is one, and Aceveda. Claudette and Rawlings, too. We’ve seen criminals who are (Antwon Mitchell, Armadillo) and who aren’t (Rezian). And it’s always possible that one of these idealists is the real thing. Poor folks are always looking for Moses, and he doesn’t come along every generation, or even every tenth generation, but sometimes, sometimes, it’s real, and you have to be ready for it. This finale does a great job holding the hope and the despair at the same time, the acknowledgement of the latter illuminates the value and rarity of the former. Which is a long winded way of saying that I would vote for Bobby Huggins, and I think he’s the first real threat Aceveda ever faced.

    • Conor Malcolm Crockford

      I’d have voted for Bobby, no doubt about it – Andre 3000 makes him so effortlessly charismatic and likeable even as he goes on a spiel, but he never lies, and it’s why Aceveda looks so genuinely taken aback by him. He’s not used to dealing with people with ideals.

      Great summation btw. The Shield is elemental even when it’s dealing with contemporary issues and that is its genius.

    • That’s a really good point about Bobby. I’m with you that The Shield has idealists as part of its world, they just don’t last very long in Farmington–like you said, Rawling is another one too. I hadn’t thought about this before, but you’re right that the show does give the feeling that a transformative figure could come out of all of this. I think, though, the way the show is structured–first, focusing on to its central characters and leaving out those above and below in the power structure, and second, using Farmington as a static setting rather than something active to be explained–would make it difficult to follow such a character. That would be a different, and possibly no less tragic, series.

      Given how close The Shield‘s morality is to James Ellroy’s, it’s instructive how Ellroy handled the same problem in The Cold Six Thousand. He took the truly transformative character of the 1960s–Martin Luther King, Jr.–and made him not a character but a force that every other character had to react to. It was a smart play, realizing that the power of King was that no one in Ellroy’s world of corruption could understand this guy, and in the end, killing him wasn’t a last resort so much as a play of desperation. After that, in Blood’s a Rover, Ellroy extended his universe to include some genuine idealists and gave them stories that were just as complex as the corrupt figures that populate all his novels.

      • Babalugats

        None of these figures can be successful during the series for the same reason you can’t have a workers revolution in the middle of Macbeth. If that were the story we were telling, we would be telling that story. But I think the world of The Shield, away from our single story, could support this kind of change. These idealists (that kid who was trying to break his friends free of the gang, is another) are playing a bigger game than anyone else on the show. Vic, Aceveda, the various drug lords, are all trying to dominate the system. Guys like Huggins are trying to transcend the system. Aceveda wants to be mayor, Huggins wants a new paradigm. And why not, the old paradigm was new once, too*. You have to be willing to lay your life down to play that game, not risk it, give it away. But martyrdom is not the same as defeat. There is a sense throughout The Shield of society at a breaking point. And at the end of the series I get the sense of something very old, but still hopeful. Weak people, walking the line as best they can, trying to hold on as long as they’re able, until real change comes.

        *Compare this to The Wire, a show that was very much made during the “end of history”. In that show, the idealists lose, are crushed by bureaucracies that stretch indefinitely in either direction, they’re fools, and they’re forgotten. But The Shield has a very strong sense of history. The generations of cops reflect that, and we see how one generation is not like the last. Gilroy is a dinosaur. Tina will not become Danny, who will not become Claudette. There are aspects of Farmington that are static. There will always be crime and corruption, violence and cruelty. Such is the nature of mankind. But the setting is constantly transforming. The power dynamics are always shifting. The demographics change. The crime stats go up and down. None of this is forever.

        • There’s a benefit, methinks, to not trying to explain or analyze your fictional world and sticking to the story and main characters. That allows meanings and interpretations of that world to develop among the readers/viewers. David Simon has said in interviews that he sees his work as an argument, and the characters and stories are a way to put that argument across. The problem is that it limits his world to what he thinks of it, and closes off possibilities. We can imagine a future for the characters of The Shield, and many of us do; Simon flat-out tells us at the end of The Wire what the future will be. You’re right when you say “none of this is forever” except for the fundamentals of human drama: loyalty, honesty, conflict, love, hubris, fate, family, choice.

          Oh, and picking up on an earlier comment: I love that Chiklis is a short, bald guy, and that The Shield lets him be that way. A commenter wayyyyyyy back in 2013 remarked that Vic reminded him of guys in bars back in Pittsburgh, the kind who have that dense-core strength. Vic is a bulldog, and no wonder FX used that image of him charging right through a fence so often in the commercials.

          • Babalugats

            My opinion has always been that if you want to make an argument, the thing to do is make an argument. Write an essay or give a speech. Say what you have to say, as clearly, articulately and concisely as possible. If you’re making art, you should work towards the goals that art can accomplish. That’s always going to be more about emotion and empathy, than politics. You can’t control what the audience will do with your work, and if you try and force it, they won’t do anything with it.

            I never made it to the end of The Wire (You don’t need to avoid spoilers with me, but you may have to explain them). Idris Elba died two years ago, and I’ve had a lot of trouble motivating myself to start the next season. I watched all of The Shield in 4 months, and had to intentionally slow myself down to stretch it out that long.

          • Ruck Cohlchez 🌹

            I do recommend finishing The Wire; season four is great and terrifying, perhaps even moreso than season three. Season five… eh, well, I don’t think it’s as bad as most people do, but Simon’s polemic side is most clear in it.

            Without revealing anything particular about any of the characters, let’s just say the ending contains a whole lot of “Character X is the new Character Y, and things will keep going on as they have gone before.”

          • Babalugats

            So, the opposite of The Shield, basically?

            In all seriousness, I will probably finish it eventually. It’s not a bad show, and it’s culturally significant enough that I’d still like to know the rest. I’m harder on it than I would be if it didn’t have the level of acclaim that it does.

          • Ruck Cohlchez 🌹

            I’m glad I saw it before The Shield because The Shield has just about ruined all prestige drama for me. I can’t even bother with anything that doesn’t either compel my attention for every moment it’s on the screen (Twin Peaks: The Return) or doesn’t have a significant “What happens next?” factor (Stranger Things, Game of Thrones).

          • Ruck Cohlchez 🌹

            I love that Chiklis is a short, bald guy, and that The Shield lets him be that way. A commenter wayyyyyyy back in 2013 remarked that Vic reminded him of guys in bars back in Pittsburgh, the kind who have that dense-core strength.

            I highly recommend Patton Oswalt’s latest standup, for the description of the funniest bar fight he’s ever seen.

    • Ruck Cohlchez 🌹

      The perspective of 2017 is tempting me to go full Nowalk and call Bobby Huggins the Bernie to Aceveda’s Hillary.

      • Babalugats

        The difference between Aceveda and Hillary Clinton is that Aceveda knows how to win an election. I can accept a Nixonian political operative who offers hyper-competence at the price of questionable ethics, if they can actually, you know, operate politically.

        • Ruck Cohlchez 🌹

          Well, yes. (One of my favorite independent journalists made the observation that Hillary’s biggest mistake was rejecting David Axelrod’s offer to run her campaign because he ran Obama’s, a truly petty reason, and instead going with Robby Mook because he told her what he wanted to hear. Axelrod, at least, knows how to win and knows you can’t just rely on the data and not invest in a ground game.)

          Mister, we could use a man like Lyndon Baines Johnson again

    • Ruck Cohlchez 🌹

      There’s always been a medieval quality to The Shield (even the title is evocative of knights and spartans and ancient warriors. Long before there was such a thing as an LAPD, or an ICE, or the Byz Lats, there were men with shields). And this feel like an ancient piece of storytelling. Dishonor and the end of family lines. A violation so deep that it spreads it’s curse to all who come near it.

      A story, in its most basic terms is just a string of character decisions. If Vic were caught or killed, that would be somebody else acting on him. The protagonist must choose his own fate, and Vic does in a way that damns him, and it is the only choice he would ever make. The choice he’s been making since the very first episode.

      An elegant summation of why this show is so powerful and will last long after people stop being impressed by the period costuming and symbolism of so many other “prestige dramas” of our time.

      • Ruck Cohlchez 🌹

        To follow up on that second quote: We had a discussion a while back about if another fate might’ve suited Vic, and I think just as importantly as the idea that somebody else would be acting on Vic if he were caught or killed, is the idea that either of those things would allow Vic to continue to lie to himself. By having to make the decision to confess, and having to witness the fallout thereof (Shane’s fate, Ronnie’s fate, Corrine and the kids disappearing), he’s forced to confront it, even if he doesn’t want to– hence the scene with the security camera and again in the ICE office, where he almost seems to have a moment of recognition before shutting it out again.