By David Chen
Starring Michael Chiklis, Walton Goggins, Catherine Dent, CCH Pounder, Jay Karnes, Cathy Cahlin Ryan
Premiere: September 2, 2008, 10PM
SPOILER WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE SHIELD: SEASON 6 AND MINOR SPOILERS FOR THE FIRST FEW EPISODES OF THE SHIELD: SEASON 7.
It’s been over a year since we’ve seen a new episode of The Shield and, for me, it’s like waiting for an older brother to come home from a brief stint in juvie: Although deep down you know he’s a bad influence and you probably shouldn’t hang out with him, you giddily can’t wait for his return. When we last left Vic Mackey, he had seized Cruz Pezuela’s blackmail box full of material that could compromise every city official in LA. Pezuela was about to use the box as leverage to buy massive portions of Farmington uncontested. Vic was determined to take him down, but with only days left on the job, how would he complete the task?
Unlike 24, where years can transpire between seasons, The Shield has always tried to give us a continuous storyline, regardless of how much time has taken place in real life. Season 7 continues that trend, as the opening scene occurs only hours after last season’s finale. In the season premiere alone, a woman is bound up and gagged as bait for a cop, Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis) painfully tortures a criminal for information, and someone is murdered in cold blood. The Shield is back, baby. As the season continues, we see Vic and Shane scrambling to deal with their new Armenian boss, Rezian, while Vic and Aceveda simultaneously try to figure out an angle on how to take down Pezuela.
What this season is able to do better than past seasons is to craft a vast network of allegiances that seems to sprawl in uncontrollable and unpredictable ways. As an audience, we struggle to keep up with who is loyal to who, and who might turn on who else. At the center of this brilliant, tangled web of lies is Vic Mackey. Mackey plays the puppeteer and watching him try to pull the strings correctly (and sometimes failing) is what gives this season its narrative force. This season pulls you from episode to episode, refusing to let you go until the whole affair comes to what will likely be an unfortunate end for many of the characters.
All of the actors are at the top of their game here, and it’s such a joy to see how they’ve matured as characters and as actors over the years. Walton Goggins completely owns the character of Shane, who, like a dog that craps all over your sofa but then flashes you those cute puppy eyes, somehow makes you angry yet sympathetic towards him at the same time. David Rees Snell is finally able to sink his teeth into a character arc, as Ronnie has to make difficult decisions that will affect his life as well as those on the Strike Team. Catherine Dent, who I think has been terribly underrated in this show, is finally given something to do with Danny and she acquits herself rather nicely. And of course, the relationship between the characters Claudette (CCH Pounder) and Dutch (Jay Karnes) continues to develop nicely and gives us some of the most tender and moving moments of the season.
If there is one flaw in season seven, it’s the amount of time that the show spends on Vic’s personal life. I understand what The Shield creator Shawn Ryan was trying to do, inserting themes of fatherhood and the cyclicality of Vic’s amorality into the mix. But there are two reasons why this plotline is tiresome. First of all, the show is at its best when it doesn’t wallow in melodrama but rather shows people solving crimes and Vic and the Strike Team kicking down doors and taking down gangsters. Secondly, there’s the fact that matter of Cathy Cahlin Ryan and Autumn Chiklis, who play Vic’s wife and daughter, respectively. These two have never been bad actresses but next to the other enormous talent on the show (e.g. CCH Pounder, Michael Chiklis, Jay Karnes), they pale in comparison.
Season seven has been confirmed as the show’s final season, and given all the information that’s come out from FX studios, I doubt that will change. That The Shield is finally coming to an end is extremely bittersweet. On the one hand, Shawn Ryan was able to create something new, something that we’d never seen before on the television landscape of cop shows. The Shield seemed to be some perfect combination of Se7en, 24, and The Practice. It allowed us to vicariously experience the intensity of torture for the sake saving a life or solving a murder. It showed us the extreme ways in which people’s personal lives could collide with the profession of law enforcement. And for those that didn’t care about any of that, there was always some incredibly sick and twisted serial-killer-of-the-week that allowed us to stare into the face of true evil, while simultaneously reveling in justice being served to them with a side dish of Dutch Wagenbach’s detective work.
As viewers, we were able to share in this gritty creation for seven wonderful seasons. While I’d love to see the show go on forever, I’m grateful that Ryan was able to tell his story and enthrall each of us along the away. So to one of my favorite shows on television as it rides off into the distance, I have to say the following: I’m really going to miss you, buddy. Thanks for all the good times.
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