Judge David Johnson is exhausted by this vicious, relentless beast of a cop show.
Our reviews of The Shield: The Complete First Season (published February 10th, 2003), The Shield: Season 3 (published March 9th, 2005), The Shield: Season 4 (published January 9th, 2006), 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.
Conscience is a killer.
The hardest cop show on basic cable is back for another bout of raw street justice. Can the fifth season measure up the incredible season that preceded it? Yes. Yes it can.
Facts of the Case
Season Four of The Shield brought in the heavyweights (guest stars Anthony Anderson and Glenn Close) and creator Shawn Ryan and his stable of talented writers delivered a killer set of episodes. You had cop killing, blackmail and oral rape. How to top that? By going back to square one.
The pilot episode of the series capped off with one of the most memorable scenes in television. Detective Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis, Fantastic Four) murders undercover cop Terry Crowley, who had been placed inside Mackey's elite Strike Team to investigate wrongdoing. Crowley was set to blow the whistle on the team, and Mackey pulled the trigger. It was an event that colored Mackey for the duration for the series, yet the writers never revisited the shooting in depth…until five seasons later.
Now, Internal Affairs has set loose one of its fiercest investigators, Lt. Tom Kavanaugh (Forest Whitaker, Species), to reopen the case and nail Mackey and his strike team. Unforgiving and uncompromising, Kavanugh dogs Mackey and his partners, Curtis Lemansky (Kenneth Johnson), Shane Vendrell (Walton Goggins) and Ronnie (David Rees Snell), forcing the Strike Team to be even craftier than they've ever been.
Meanwhile, Cluadette (CCH Pounder) hides a secret from her partner Dutch (Jay Karnes), Julian (Michael Jace) struggles with an incompetent, but gorgeous, rookie, councilman David Aceveda (Benito Martinez) plays both Vic and Kavanuahg to preserve his climb to the mayor's office and Danny (Catherine Dent) is pregnant and ready to pop.
Just when I think this show has reached the apex of its creative output, it comes back and kicks my ass harder than it ever did. The Shield is pretty much the best cop show I've seen and one of the most pulverizing dramas you can find on any channel (if you can find it; curse you FX and your year-plus hiatuses!). Last season delivered some scorching storylines with Glenn Close's hard-boiled police chief—every bit the intensity match of Vic—and a memorable villain, Anthony Anderson's awesome Antwon Mitchell. Lots of @#$% went down, and ultimately, the fractured Strike Team reassembled, finally putting Mackey's constantly fluctuation world into a semblance of order.
But here comes Tom Kavanaugh to screw it all up. The crux of this season—and an argument can be made for the series itself—is that you can't escape your past. And no one's past is darker on this show than Mackey's. The killing of Terry Crowley that closed the pilot episode has always cast a deep shadow on Mackey, no matter how much practical good he's done on the streets. The egregiousness of the murder is compounded by a multitude of other Mackey sins like armed robbery, obstruction of justice, infidelity, theft, extortion and a number of other crimes. The guy's a bad cop, a fact the writers never let the audience forget, though some will anyway because Chiklis is such an electric actor, and this season's storyline brings accountability into the picture, in the form of the hulking, relentless presence of Kavanaugh. He knows Mackey's dirty and he's intent on nailing him. His doggedness produces a net, constructed to trap Mackey and the Strike Team, and he knows exactly where to apply the pressure. That point is Lemansky, or Lemonhead, easily the most sympathetic of the Strike Team. The Team has done foul deeds in the past, and no one receives a clean bill of moral health, but if anyone approaches nobility it's Lemansky. He is unaware of the truth behind Crowley's death (Vic maintains a drug dealer killed him), and sticks to a strong code of honor that would see cop-killers get the needle. But his ties to Mackey and the rest of his "family" on the Strike Team are just as strong, and when Kavanaugh nails Lem with a brick of heroin (that he stole last season in a tactic to bail out Shane, who had become careless and destructive), the duality of his allegiance will be tested. The short of it: Lem, easily one of the most appreciated characters on the show, and played with gusto and charisma by Johnson, is caught in the mess that Mackey and Shane and made.
There is just so, so much happening in this season, it's almost impossible to wrap my head around it. Having watched The Shield since the pilot episode, I'm steeped in the mythos of the world, and bringing that baggage into this season has created for me a tempest of emotion and response to the story. Like Kavanugh, the writers of the show, particularly creator Shawn Ryan, know what pressure point to squeeze, and they wring an astounding amount of creative juice from their plot. The official tagline for the series is "the road to justice is twisted," and by the end of the eleventh and final episode of Season Five, if you, like me, are a Shield junkie, you'll be so twisted you won't know what side is up or, more appropriately, right. The tagline for this specific season is "conscience is a killer," and that points to the physical and mental anguish that the Strike Team—really the pulse of the series—will endure, costs of their dark past deeds, some of which are darker than others.
Lazier writers would have smacked the viewers in the face with that provocative scene of Mackey gunning down Crowley in the first season and let it simmer without much payoff. But the exceedingly talented writing staff behind The Shield followed through on the promise of that scene, and though Terry's murder was always present, no matter what Vic may have done to sway the audience from the fact that he is a bad dude, the full force of the action was finally felt here, five years later. And I won't even hint at the mettle these writers possess for what goes down in the finale. Episodes follow the typical Shield playbook, with one season devoted to a full arc, while individual plots, as well as some mini-arcs fill in the rest of the runtime. Nothing is as provocative as Aceveda's rape from last season (thank the Lord), but the storytelling is still hard as nails. Gang warfare, race riots, infanticide and grisly grenade attacks populate the docket of the on-duty cops and detectives of The Barn, the nickname for the dilapidated precinct that our heroes and anti-heroes operate out of. It's all compelling, and the smaller arcs of Dutch and Claudette's strained relationship and Julian's frustration with his bungling partner offer solid support. But in the end, it's all about the conflict between Vic and Kavanaugh, two immovable forces, and the swath of collateral damage that will be left in the wake of a ferocious search for truth.
There's so much more than can be talked about with this season and the show as a whole, but I would encourage you to experience The Shield yourself. It's not for the faint of heart (nudity, gore and profanity push the limits of cable) and the emotional wallops and ambiguous lines of good and evil will leave some people gasping, but it's rare that a television series has impacted me as much as this one. Simply put, Season Five of The Shield is some of the best TV I've seen.
And the DVD set is just as remarkable. Fox always delivers with these releases, and this set measure up to its predecessors. Sadly, we still have to endure the full frame aspect ratio, but the show is so engrossing those black bars on your HDTV will fade out of sight. The show is shot as a documentary, with lots of quick, reactionary camera movements and edits, which may take some getting used to for uninitiated, but eventually the rollercoaster style will suck you in. An efficient 2.0 stereo mix accompanies.
Awesome extras here: every episode features funny and insightful audio commentary by cast and crew members; the three discs house 25 deleted scenes with optional commentary; a very well-done Season Six prequel kicks off Disc Four (which is totally devoted to bonus material); the "Delivering the Baby" documentary about making the final episode is one of the finest making-of features I've ever seen for a TV show; a lengthy panel discussion with Chiklis, Whitaker and Ryan is excellent; real officers give a glimpse into the world of Internal Affairs; the Fox Movie Channel "Making a Scene' series highlights the finale; and the cast and crew offer an emotional 25-minute eulogy to executive producer Scott Brazil.
I love 24 (the mainstream choice for hardcore TV) and all, but The Shield makes it look about as intense as a Roadrunner cartoon. Top-shelf acting, storytelling and execution combines for an utterly can't-miss season of television. The DVD set rocks.
You can't catch Mackey. Not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
• Cast and Crew Commentary on all 11 Episodes
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