More than once, The Shield’s final three seasons kept me up until the middle of the night. If I’d had the time, though, I probably would have watched them all in one glorious three-day binge. What an amazing series.
Season five introduces intense Internal Affairs officer John Kavanaugh (the scene-stealing Forest Whitaker). Kavanaugh senses what everyone knows: that Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis) is corrupt, and needs to be taken down. Kavanaugh’s investigation forces the Strike Team to new extremes of bullet dodging to keep their criminal behavior buried. Mackey is so slippery and deft in his street dealings that he extends the game masterfully, but there are only so many angles he can cover, and gradually his handle on the situation starts to spiral out of control.
To say more would reveal too much, but suffice it to say that The Shield continues on its intense, convoluted path, filled with action, intrigue, and tragedy as it accelerates toward one of TV’s strongest series finales ever. After season four’s brilliant conversion of Farmington into a metaphorical war zone, I wasn’t sure if the series could improve, but it does. Season five is both riveting and gut-wrenching, with one of the most shattering season-ending episodes ever, and the final two seasons continue the show’s remarkable vision. The plot contortions in the show’s latter stages grow increasingly Machiavellian as Vic, Shane, and the guys struggle to dig themselves out of a constantly escalating jackpot. It’s almost sad watching these antiheroes, who love each other like brothers, start to lose their grip as the noose tightens. Until, of course, the show reminds you of how heinous they are, and how their corruption has spread to infect everyone they touch, including their families and colleagues. As a social critique of the Bush era, it’s brilliant, with Mackey as a rogue maverick so busy weighing his good deeds against his crimes that he fails to recognize the poisonous consequences of his actions on the world around him. Through it all, Claudette Wyms (CCH Pounder) stands strong, emblematic of a crumbling, final vestige of integrity in a hopelessly flawed system.
Given the chaos of television production, The Shield’s overall structural arc is a remarkable achievement. It’s smartly written throughout, with only the occasional, easily overlooked plot misstep, and the performances only get better as it continues. Chiklis and Pounder are the dramatic counterweights, delivering much of the firepower, but the rest of the cast is in fine form as well, especially Walton Goggins, who really comes into his own in these later years. As the Strike Team’s loose cannon Shane Vendrell, Goggins delivers some positively wrenching moments that make you care about these horrible men, and then leave you to consider why you’ve spent so much time rooting for the bad guys. It’s a dark, dark message, incredibly well delivered; one of television’s best shows ever.