“I’ve heard about this kind of slick shit of yours. It doesn’t work on me.”
With “Coyotes,” we’re back to what makes this show great. (We also clearly got John Diehl for consecutive weeks of shooting.) “Coyotes” has so many defining aspects of The Shield (the consequences of past choices, strong cases of the week, moral choices at every moment, strategizing, the darkest humor, the LA texture) that it could be a gateway episode for new viewers.
Among other things, this episode is a showcase for Aceveda and Claudette, both of whom are playing some tricky negotiations all the way through. Aceveda in the car with Ron Canada’s chief (“my first instinct would be to fire me.” “So far I’m with you”) manages to be both desperate and a little confident; by confronting the absolute worst possibility, he can find a genuine argument for keeping his job. (Perception is reality, as he clearly remembers.) Of course, the Chief is having none of it, and Aceveda’s job is now on a clock. (His interactions with Vic in this episode are great too; by the end, they almost seem to like each other.) By the way, WGA: fuck you. Aceveda’s speech to the Barn later this episode is perfect Shield writing, direct and a little awkward. I can’t tell how sincere he’s being, and neither can he. (We can all imagine an Aaron Sorkin version of this speech, with some stirring background music and people standing in rapt attention and some statistics to back it up and some fucking reference to something that happened at the beginning of the episode. And then we’d quit watching the show, because it would be so out of character for Aceveda. Characters on The Shield are living beings, not devices for the clever or insightful things writers want to say.)
Claudette is in a position of trying to figure out how much she can reveal to Danny (who is just heartbreaking here; she makes us understand the cops’ code when she says “after all the times I’ve covered for you!”) without going into a full-on accusation against Vic; once again, she stops short of being a total antagonist to him. Also, if you want to see how much the style and plotting has improved since last season, compare her rant at Aceveda to the Farmington citizen’s rant that opens “Pay in Pain.” This one has a plot source, and more importantly, a plot consequence: Lanie starts to see Claudette as a way in. It’s also shot from ground level, it doesn’t make the Barn a stage. (Good touch of seeing people listening in the background.) Her investigation into the robbery gives her some great moments with Dutch (nice to see them both happy again, and just doing the job), a rare quiet, silent moment in the house, the shot in the crack den of the two pictures taken from the house, and a great button for the episode (“Neither am I”) with Vic recognizing he’d just better back down this time.
Yes, Brian White’s Tavon will be back (not really a spoiler since that’s stated at the end of the episode), and I for one am glad. He has enough force to be on the Strike Team (that staredown with the gang is great; he plays a tough man who backs down out of intelligence), and he suggests the alternate version of Vic Mackey as “handsome charming rogue.” (Jean-Pierre Melville said that the protagonist of a film should make you want to dress like him. The two characters I wanna dress like are Tavon and Stellan Skarsgard’s Gregor in Ronin. Damn, can they wear suits.) The little beats of the Lem/Tavon relationship give a real sense of both their characters, as Lem pulls Tavon back (this says in one scene what most of “Co-pilot” tried to get across), worries about him undercover, and praises him at the end.
The drive of the episode, though, is the return of the past in the form of Gilroy. The opening is classic Shield, with bam! Lanie’s notes have been leaked and the Strike Team is front-page news and (bam?) I guess Emma stayed the night at Vic’s and bam! Gilroy is in town and shows up at Vic’s house. (The camera is shakier than usual this episode, too.) Gilroy is believably pathetic here; Sedona ripped off most of their real-estate scam money (yep, we all saw that coming, and we all saw that Gilroy wouldn’t) and Vic and Shane know he’ll crack in the first week of prison. This is one of Vic’s smartest episodes; he knows not only how to think quickly, but also plot long-range and recognize his own limits. The plan to have Gilroy pay for his own hit and then dump him across the border is brilliant, never more so than letting Shane be the one to make the call. (“Maybe not. But Shane will.” Walton Goggins does so much acting with his facial expressions, and one of my favorites is his “fuck yes I’ll make the call” look as Vic hands him the phone number/code.) Actors are often called courageous when they do an accent or take a role in an independent film, but a much better example of courage-in-acting is John Diehl’s whimpering, chubby, sprawled-on-the-couch Gilroy; that guy doesn’t care how bad he looks. (Neither does the camera.)
Further quick observations: you do the girl banger’s story with anybody except Catherine Dent and it doesn’t work. (Julien’s offer to her to join him in church is his equivalent of suggesting they get a drink and talk things out.) The coyote’s van is practically a clown car; I counted four shots of it with about half a dozen different people coming out each time. (Sadly, this isn’t even improbable.) The lighting in Gilroy’s goodbye scene is amazing, with its blues and shadows; so is the journey through the crack den, with flashlights and almost nothing else visible (it calls back to the opening of “Homewrecker”). And a great camera move in the Strike Team’s clubhouse: Vic’s face fills up half the frame, and as he leaves, the camera pans to Shane, pauses slightly, pans to Lem, pauses slightly, and then pans to Vic on his way out the door. The moment lasts less than three seconds, catches reactions from all the characters in the room, and keeps the story going. Camerawork on The Shield is so difficult to do, and so effective at communicating story that it’s almost invisible.
THE SPOILER DISTRICT
Much more than The Other Huge Mistake of The Shield, Tavon felt like he really did belong on the Strike Team, which made his fate so much more painful. Nothing about him says “expendable background character”; there’s some real chemistry between Brian White, Chiklis, and Johnson. And of course, Goggins does Shane’s reflexive seething against any black man in a position of power, even of equality, so well. (Just before the Shane/Tavon throwdown, there’s a great shot as Shane opens the door to the apartment and sees Tavon standing maybe a quarter-inch too close to Mara, and you can feel his rage kick in. It’s one of the great images of the entire run of the show.) The fight felt inevitable from the moment Tavon showed up in this episode, but it felt inevitable because of who Tavon and Shane are, not because the writers wanted it that way. That’s the definition of good storytelling.