Judge David Johnson has learned so much from this series, the most important lesson, obviously, being "Don't cross the Armenian mob." True that.
Our reviews of The Shield: The Complete First Season (published February 10th, 2003), The Shield: Season 4 (published January 9th, 2006), The Shield: Season 5 (published March 27th, 2007), The Shield: Season 6 (published August 26th, 2008), The Shield: Season 7 (published July 6th, 2009), and The Shield: The Complete Series (published November 3rd, 2009) are also available.
Who knew the Commish could be such a badass?
The Shield is the hardest-hitting, most balls-to-the-wall show on television, and one of the high points of the seemingly emaciated cop genre. It makes NYPD Blue seem like Blue's Clues. Creator Shawn Ryan and Emmy-winning actor-producer Michael Chiklis (The Commish) have delivered a series that wallows in the thick gray area between right and wrong, where each successive season tosses out the rules the previous season established. Season Three—the most daring and provocative yet—has arrived on DVD.
Facts of the Case
Vic Mackey (Chiklis) is the biggest cop heavyweight in his precinct (known as the Barn). He runs the experimental, though highly successful, strike team, an almost special forces–like squad that has its fingers on the pulse of the street. But these guys aren't crime-fighting boy scouts. Though not full-on corrupt, Vic and his boys straddle the fence between cop and criminal, often manipulating gangs and drug dealers, and sometimes funneling cash into their pockets. The strike team is composed of Shane (Walton Goggins), Vic's best friend with redneck tendencies; Lemonhead (Kenny Johnson), the conscience of the group; and Ronnie (David Rees Snell), the quasi-extra.
Friction often erupts between Vic and his crew and the other cops in the Barn. Detectives Dutch Wagenbach (Jay Karnes) and Claudette Wyms (CCH Pounder, Face/Off) stick as well as they can to the high road, but not without frequent conflicts with the strike team…and, sometimes, each other. Captain David Aceveda (Benito Martinez) commands the precinct, but is often distracted with the game of politics. Finally, beat cops Julien (Michael Jace) and Danny (Catherine Dent) get their hands dirty with the day-to-day stuff on the street.
The end of Season Two found the strike team staring at a mountain of cash, a score they had just ripped from the Armenian mob. It is supposed to be their retirement fund, but as Season Three unfolds, this blessing becomes an albatross around their necks. The Armenians are on a killing spree to retrieve their cash, and the U.S. Treasury Department, along with Aceveda and Dutch, is pursing the thieves as well. To add to the complexities, the strike team has just received a new member, the decent and more-than-capable Tavon (Brian White). Rivalry instantly flares up between Shane and the new guy, and Vic must simultaneously manage these clashing personalities, keep Tavon out of the loop, and placate his best friend. The fact that Shane has recently hooked up with a controlling super-bitch named Mara adds further tension.
Meanwhile, Aceveda is consumed with laying the groundwork for his stint as city councilman and grooming a sometimes reluctant Claudette to be captain, and Dutch, when he's not nosing around Vic's business, grapples with an elusive rapist.
With the Armenians closing in and the government drawing closer, Vic and the strike team must constantly stay one step ahead. But the pressure will take its toll.
The 15 episodes of Season Three are spread over four discs:
The Shield is one of my favorite shows, certainly the best cop series on the boob tube. Creator Shawn Ryan and the writers obviously work exceptionally hard to throw something new at the viewer with each season. In Vic Mackey, they have one of the most complex characters on television, and the first episode of the first season showed exactly what terrain they will traverse. When Vic guns down a cop who's been inserted into his team to spy, the table was set from that point on for a truly bittersweet meal. Is Vic a bad guy? Good question. If he isn't, he's about as "anti" as an antihero can get. He is a calculating man ruled by self-preservation and gratification, be it through shaking down gang members for a cut of their dope deals or cheating multiple times on his wife. The story line of Season Two, his plan to knock off the Armenian money train, is his most audacious play yet, and requires the full cooperation of the strike team.
What drives this season is the onslaught of repercussions Vic and the boys must deal with to protect their money. The balancing act they must perform—between doing their actual job, getting quality busts, taking the heat off of the stolen money, and averting the gaze of all who want the money back—is tense. At the same time it provides a superb mechanism for the writers to work with. This money turns the strike team inside out, and teases out more personality from the guys than we've yet seen.
Kenny Johnson's Lemonhead benefits the most. On board from the get-go with the Armenian job, as he witnesses the unfolding disaster (and body count) that follows, he is weighed down by the guilt, especially as lives are continually lost. He struggles as the dissenting voice.
Walton Goggins is always great as Shane, but when he gets whipped by his new girlfriend, his usually rock-hard relationship with Vic is adversely affected. When Tavon comes on board—an excellent addition and a character I hope will be around next season—Vic suddenly becomes even more the patriarch. Claudette and Dutch do the straight work—you know, investigating and the like. Dutch is given a several-episode-long arc to find a rapist, and Jay Karnes is handed some rich ground to cover with his character (dig the cat scene!). Claudette is a character that has taken some time to grow on me, but this season, with her potential ascent to the captain's seat, brought me in…mainly to root against her. Julien and Danny's stuff never really does much for me, though an episode guest-starring Andre 3000 of Outkast is quite good.
The Armenian story powers this season. Peripheral to this thread is the deeply, deeply disturbing narrative Aceveda must endure. The Shield pushes the envelope so far that it's in another area code (this show is an F-bomb short of an HBO series). Aceveda is brutally sexually assaulted in one episode, which is shot in excruciating detail, and the power that he craves is suddenly, violently stripped from him. It is an ambitious story cooked up by the writers, and it pays off all the way through the rest of the season; Aceveda becomes more complex this season than any other. One more cool thing the writers did was include a rival special-ops team, the Undercover Decoy Squad. These guys provide a great foil for the strike team, who now, besides covering up their dirty secrets, must outperform the new folks.
Overall, this is a fine season. Some elements seem a little too outrageous (Aceveda's "encounter," despite the rich arc it generated), but the addition of some great new characters (Tavon, the Undercover Decoy Squad), and a superb character study on the corroding effects of secrets and guilt among a tight-knit group of friends injects the series with new life. This season also boasts probably the lowest low Vic sinks to: his hospital bedside conversation with Tavon, which you have to see to believe. Repugnant and great.
Fox continues to impress with its DVD releases. The show is presented in its original 1.33:1 format. The picture is rough, with all sorts of uneven color saturation, but this is a purposeful, stylistic decision and it works; it serves the grittiness of the show. The Dolby Digital 2.0 mix is robust.
The set boasts some great extra features as well. The selected episode commentary is insightful, entertaining, and frank (the female cast griping about their characters is jarringly honest). Thirty-eight deleted scenes, spread over the four discs, offer optional commentary. The high point is the "Breaking 315" making-of documentary. This 90-minute feature is the most exhaustive, interesting, comprehensive look into television development I've ever seen. Cameras are allowed in the writers' room, where the viewer is privy to the uncensored brainstorming process that goes into the scripting. Bolstered by cast and crew interviews, along with detailed looks into pre- and postproduction, this is a sterling, substantial bonus feature, and the gold standard for making-of documentaries.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
By the far the worst character on the show is Ronnie, the fourth member of the strike team. I'm sure David Rees Snell is a nice guy, but he just does not fit in with the rest of the team. His dialogue is kept to a minimum, and his personality is nowhere to be seen. Seriously, Ronnie is like some suburban dad running around with a gun.
The most unforgiving show on cable television (and network television for that matter) is also one of the best. The Shield does not shy away from breaking boundaries, and Season Three is no different. The story arcs are satisfying, the character work is the best it's ever been, and Chiklis continues to prove why he won an Emmy for his first-season work. Everyone involved just keeps getting better and better.
Not guilty. Now go beat a confession out of some perp.
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Scales of Justice
• Selected Episode Commentaries by the Cast and Crew
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