Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Farewell to The Shield (No spoilers)

For me the most significant television event of 2008 was the final season of The Shield. For seven years viewers were challenged to explore their own values as characters did or suffered horrible things. A show where the perpetrators of bad things could suffer the consequences at any time, be it the same episode, later in the season, or even seasons later. A show were the line between the good guys and the bad guys was often blurred to the point of near non-existence.

This article is not meant to be a primer for people who haven't seen the show, though for those who haven't, it's about a corrupt cop who leads an almost equally corrupt strike team that ruthlessly maintains order in an especially volatile area of Los Angeles. Again, this is not a primer. I could go on about the incredible performances of Michael Chiklis (Vic), Walton Goggins (Shane), CCH Pounder (Claudette), Jay Karnes (Dutch), and so many others (it was rare for even a guest actor to drop the ball) but I've decided I'd rather this article be about how the show (and its characters) made me feel instead.

I will however say that the friendship between Dutch and Claudette was perhaps the best portrayal of a completely platonic friendship between two people of the opposite sex I've ever seen in TV and movies. With all the stunts pulled by the Strike Team this important aspect of the show is easy to overlook, but it was a key component of the show.

One of the amazing things about the show was its ability, no matter what the strength of the season opener was, to gain considerable momentum as the series progresses, as characters start making decisions that will impact the people around them later on. Vic and Shane in particular often came up with ideas that destroyed lives (sometimes literally, sometimes figuratively) with the less corrupt cops often suspecting things were rotten but never actually being able to prove their suspicions. It wasn't that the other cops were inept; it was that the Strike Team was quite good at covering their tracks. Ironically this was their Achilles heel as they sometimes became overconfident and did stuff that they could not entirely contain. Further momentum, to a lesser degree was gained by the usually unrelated cases of the other cops, with Dutch's cerebral way of capturing crooks standing in stark contrast to Vic's more streetwise approach.

What's great is that every major character had a good and a dark side. The Strike Team survived as long as they did despite their corruption because they were equally effective when used for good; Vic in particular was someone you could route for in one scene and hate in the same episode without seeming like it was two characters, which Kenneth Johnson's Lemonhead's Hell was that he was too loyal, to the point where he did stuff he himself found morale reprehensible. Acevada (played by Beneito Martinez) struggled between his morality and his political ambitions. Claudette's emotions and stubborness would sometimes deep six her good intentions. Dutch's insecurities and his sometimes overly methodical way of doing things made him an effective cop but he could be hard for his fellow cops to be around. Julien (Michael jace) was an earnest cop who faced struggles being true to himself when his own religious beliefs worked against him. Danny (Catherine Dent) tended to be overly hard on everyone, including herself. Corinne (Cathy Cahlin Ryan) was a nurse who struggled to get out of the shadows of a man who used headgames to make her to stuff she regretted. Etc. There were a few great celebrity actors who had a lot of impact on the show, and each of them added a little something to the show, but my favourite characters were the the ones that were in place in the first season. This is no dispect to other actors who did fine work; it was just that the first season case really captured lightning in a bottle.

The show also excelled in making its area of LA a character. This was important because a lot of shocking things happened on the show, but they never seemed gratuitous. Despite the fact that you often couldn't believe that they did that, it made sense in the context of the show, and usually (not always but usually) the more shocking the event, the greater the reprecussions later on.

The Shield was not cancelled. It chose a season to exit on and made its bows then. I find myself wanting more and hope that there will be some sort of special later on. At the same time though it's truly exciting to watch a series last seven seasons without the seams showing. There will be no dropping the show from my list of favourites because the final seasons diluted the show as a whole, no thinking that I'm still enjoying this but hope it ends before too much longer. The show started out great and ended great. It may be over but the characters have earned a permanent spot in TV history. I regret not being able to spend even more time with them, but I'm glad I got to spend the time I did with them.

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