The Shield started slow for me, but accelerated to new levels in seasons two and three. The fourth season is the best yet, building on the lore of earlier seasons and escalating the war on crime in Farmington to extreme new levels. This is one of those rare shows with a discernible long-term thematic shape to it, and that comes into sharp relief here at the midpoint.
The stresses of past misdeeds have driven the Strike Team apart, and the season begins with them scattered. Only Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis) and Ronnie Gardocki (David Rees Snell) remain at the Barn, relegated to working videotapes in a sting operation. Lemansky (Kenneth Johnson) has left to join the Juvenile division, while Shane Vendrell (Walton Goggins) has – ironically, and most importantly – joined the vice squad. While the others are attempting to go straight to keep Internal Affairs at bay, Shane’s crooked ways continue as he gets into bed with a local drug dealer named Antoine Mitchell (Anthony Anderson).
Unfortunately for the team, Mitchell quickly becomes public enemy number one for the Farm’s new commander, Captain Monica Rawling (Glenn Close). The stern, idealistic Rawling arrives with considerable fanfare, determined to turn the Farm around. She rallies the Barn around a controversial new policy whereby the police can seize criminal assets to finance their work and benefit the community. She turns out to be an unexpected ally to Mackey, but also a threat, for her policy makes her an archrival of Mitchell. Mackey quickly realizes that with Mitchell targeted, if Shane gets jammed up he could bring the rest of the team down with him – a realization that slowly brings the team, reluctantly, back together. Meanwhile, the forfeiture policy turns Farmington increasingly into an urban war zone.
Sharply written and powerful, season four weaves a complex tangle of storylines into the most satisfying season arc yet. Close’s steely presence transforms the Barn, and spins the nature of Mackey’s challenges in interesting new directions. Her policy, for all its idealism, gradually begins to feel like a military occupation – pointed commentary on US foreign policy. And the complicated tensions and friendships of the team are never more developed and compelling. Another intense and rewarding season for this addictive show.