Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Summing Up: The Shield

I’ve always considered “The Shield” to be the best show I’ve ever seen, since there’s never been a bad episode and it’s stayed consistently good throughout its entire run. “Six Feet Under” ranks a close second, while “The Sopranos” had a weaker final season and poor final episode, and “24” and “Scrubs” would be at the top of this list if only if their early seasons were considered. But “The Shield” went in on top and came out on top. I wouldn’t necessarily say it got even better, but I was incredibly impressed at the end of the show’s sixth season when the game was completely changed yet the show stayed just as good. The show’s second-to-last installment was incredibly powerful if only for the way that it made me feel so bad for Ronnie. For five seasons, he was sidelined in favor of Shane and Lem, but last year he took the spotlight and did a terrific job with it. This year, he’s been the only one who Vic could really count on, and to see Vic get tricked by Corinne into trying to save her and sell out Ronnie in the process was gut-wrenching. Hearing Vic confess to all his sins was intense enough, but then to realize that Ronnie, who’s always been a nice guy, would be the one who would have to pay for them drove the power of the episode home. The closing line of the penultimate episode was also a great preparation for the series ender: Olivia asks Vic if she realizes what he’s done to her and he simply replies, “I’ve done worse.”

On to the series finale: it aired almost a month ago now but my thoughts are still fresh in my mind and I’ve ever headed over to YouTube to browse for some clips to refresh my memory. I’ll point out first in simple bullet-points what I loved about the episode:

  • Billings gets some appropriate resolution for his character. It’s nothing terrific, but altogether fitting since he was always comic relief, but here it turns out that he’s just sort of a sad sack, but a lovable one who’s come to make peace with Dutch. Dutch, for that matter, also gains a potential new love interest.
  • Claudette and Dutch’s last onscreen case go unsolved, but you know they’ll get there. Instead of trying to wrap things up neatly or make this one case seem so much more important because it’s a series finale, it’s simply left that Claudette and Dutch know that this kid is guilty and they’re determined to put him away, whatever it takes. Claudette’s taunt for him to get ready for his close-up and Dutch’s call for him to pick a name for himself are not glorifications of the killer himself, but of the way that they work as a truly unbeatable team.
  • Along the same lines of a continuing narrative, Claudette congratulates Aceveda on his victory despite the election not having happened yet, Dani blows out the candles when she calls all the officers away to a robbery, and Claudette proclaims her determination to keep coming back until she can’t. These characters will continue living on even after the show is long gone.
  • It was heartbreaking to watch, but Ronnie’s arrest was an incredibly moving scene. He’s crying because of Shane and Vic tries to comfort him, and he feels better once he remembers that they’re clear of all this and they’ll be free soon. Once again, Ronnie’s always been a nice guy, but Claudette uses his arrest as a way to get back at Vic. In that last second, Vic finally tries to warn Ronnie, but it’s no use. Ronnie screaming at Vic that they were supposed to rot together is just another reminder that Vic is going to be alone in his future.
  • Shane was never going to have a happy ending, but I never expected this. His family meeting (the title of the episode) leads to the deaths of the entire Vendrell family. Watching Shane shoot himself as the cops burst in didn’t prepare me for the sight of Mara and Jackson lying lifeless on the bed and the real horror in the eyes of the cops who knew them. Seeing it all over again through Vic’s eyes is just as traumatizing.
  • Vic’s fate is the final component of the episode and the series, and it’s a perfect though entirely unexpected one. He has complete immunity for all his crimes, but he’s being punished by not being able to see his family and having to come to a boring job every day for three years without a single friend in the world. The sight of Vic in a plain suit is shocking (he wore a far more stylish one to Terry’s funeral, if I remember correctly), and the mundane nature of his job is all the more saddening. Vic’s an anti-hero, but he’s very much sympathetic. No one wanted to see him end up like this. The pictures he puts on his desk are only of the people who were too innocent to have ever betrayed him – his kids and Lem – and omit the people who he’s betrayed, like Ronnie. Going over to that window and looking out at life on the streets is an incredible reminder of where Vic should be, and how unfortunate for him it is that he’s confined to this life. The last few moments were nerve-racking, but all he does is sternly put his gun in his pocket and walk out ferociously, seeming determined to make it through the next day.
  • The end credits are a wonderful way of paying tribute to a terrific show. The shots of all the characters who came and went is an excellent method of recognizing such fantastic talents as Glenn Close, Anthony Anderson, Forest Whitaker, and Alex O’Loughlin who had recurring roles on the show, and of remembering dearly departed characters like Lem and even people like Connie. What a great way of showing that this show valued all its participants.

Putting it simply, this was an amazing finale. Maybe not as good as “Six Feet Under,” but certainly close. I’d love to go back and watch the whole series, since it was completely awesome through and through. I’m still comfortable saying this is the best show I’ve ever seen. I’d hope no one who hasn’t seen the show has read this far, but if you haven’t watched it, go do it right now. It’s that good. I really hope that come Emmy Awards time, people remember how incredible this show really was.

Series finale: A
Season grade: A-
Season MVP: Michael Chiklis
Series grade: A+
Series MVP: Michael Chiklis

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