The Shield (Season 4) Review
Last Friday saw the return of The Shield to UK terrestrial television. That will, one would assume, include the return of the special kind of criminal that constitutes the majority of those brought to book on the charge sheet in the Barn, the precinct building in the fictional Farmington district of Los Angeles. It will mean the return of those brought in for the sexual assault and murder of children. It will see men charged with the rape of heavily pregnant women. And it will include cop Vic Mackey resolving some matter in his own unique way. Mackey is undoubtedly the star of The Shield and for six years, he has brought a unique style of law to the screen. He's less a bulldog than a pitbull. Or indeed, perhaps not even something so mild-mannered. Maybe more the kind of carnivorous and bloodthirsty animal that has regularly terrorised children in the Jurassic Park series of films. Or the nuclear weapon that Slim Pickens rides to the ground in Dr Strangelove.
Famously, in the very first episode, to being asked by a paedophile, "Is it your turn to play bad cop?", Vic answered, "No...good cop and bad cop left for the day. I'm a different kind of cop." His partners in the Strike Team are little better. Season 2 saw them rob millions of the Armenian Mafia while the following season saw the fallout when they learned that the money they'd stolen was marked and could never be spent. Having millions of dollars in a freight container and not being able to spend a cent of it took their toll, with Lem burning it in the last moments of the season finale. Joining them is a chap with a beard - six seasons in, he says so little that he is like nothing so much as a bystander who's simply walked onto the set without any further instruction - but there is also Evil Shane. Shane, being Shane Vendrell or, in another guise, Cletus van Damme, is a wide-eyed crazy who, whether by guile, sheer chance or mere folly on the part of the police, was allowed into the Barn and perhaps due to a certain amount of flexibility as regards the law, found himself on the Strike Team. Wide-eyed, twitchy and a footstep or two behind Vic Mackey, Shane isn't just a cop-gone-bad but a whole world of trouble, lawlessness and bad attitude. Racist, sexist and probably homophobic to boot, he's Dixon Of Dock Green from the universe that the Event Horizon returned from. But he's also one of the reasons why this season is as enjoyable as it is.
Six seasons in and, by some miracle of casting, he's still alive. Granted, he's less a loose cannon than the entirely Artillery Corps strung out on crack cocaine but he's still there, with his wayward policing being due, no doubt, to the breaking up of the Strike Team and being allowed to go it alone. And as this season begins, the meeting between Vic and Shane in the shadows in an apartment owned by a recently deceased suspect in a killing would suggest that even Vic is beginning to feel uneasy around a man that he once trusted. It transpires that both of them, Mackey and Evil Shane, are investigating the activities of Antwon Mitchell, who is raising a crowd on the streets to build some civic pride but who is reminded of his past as a drug dealer by Vic Mackey and incoming captain Monica Rawling. Whether it's due to a past conviction or, through years of policing, Rawling and Mackey know a bad egg when they see one and Antwon is a stinking ostrich egg. Indeed, given how shockingly cheap life in Farmington is amongst the gangs, killers, addicts and child molesters, Antwon has got to really stand out to be noticed. And he does, with the bulk of the Strike Team storyline of this season concerned with bringing in Antwon and finding some evidence behind the killing of two policemen. In the midst of that continuing storyline, Danny and Julien and Dutch and Claudette continue in their slightly less eventful way solving the kind of not-so-interesting crimes that the Strike Team deign to pass on while Aceveda hangs around the Barn like someone who despises the place and the people within it but can't quite get away either. Much of this season is concerned with his finding therapy for the sexual assault a couple of seasons back when he was forced to give a man a blowjob while a gun was held to his head and it was filmed on a mobile.
If you're a fan of the show already, you might actually have forgotten all of this given how long it's been for this season to arrive on DVD. This season was produced in 2004 and shown on Five the year after so it's taken two years for it to arrive on DVD. While the most ardent of fans will have bought the R1 long ago, the next rung down who've been waiting for this will probably have forgotten much of what happens in it and will relish the chance to watch this once again. For everyone else, The Shield is like nothing else, a show that's as violent as the British cop shows from the tail end of the seventies but at only thirteen episodes long, just the right length to allow stories to be carried throughout the season. The characters really do matter, its very well written and its perfectly capable of turning from being violent to funny to emotional within a single minute. A good example is Dutch finally snapping at Bellings after one too many humiliations and smacking him one, Vic betting on Dutch to win the fight and asking if this is one more slapfest he'll have to break up that day before Claudette comes out to remind them all that two of their own are dead. It's a moment that almost defines what's best about The Shield and all the better to watch it more than once to get everything out of it.
All that said, though, I have given up on The Shield and did so a couple of years back. Too often, it goes for the most shocking cases that it can and deals with them, thanks to Mackey and his Strike Team, in much the same manner that a bull might handle a shipment of Wedgewood. While other shows might concern themselves with the murder of a woman, The Shield will have the woman pregnant or a HIV-positive prostitute or a crack-addicted mother of twelve children born to twelve different fathers. Children are regularly abused by their friends or relatives while a crucial interrogation late on in the series nears its end with photographs being produced of a man's son being raped in prison, of what it was like to be a fat thirteen-year-old boy and listening to his father rape his six-year-old sister and, as Shane arrives, being subjected to a volley of racist abuse. The rape of Aceveda from a couple of years back lingers even into this season and it finds him running for office and trying to work out his problems via his own kind of therapy. This includes masturbating to a video of a real-life rape caught on CCTV and using a prostitute to live out his rape fantasies, including holding a gun to her head while he forces her to fellate him. There's child abuse in a foster home, a porno tape that starts a gang war and a woman opening the door to the police asking why they'd called just when she'd got a dick in her mouth. Good though it is, The Shield always left me feeling as though I needed a shower immediately after watching it. And thanks to Five currently showing the sixth season and being married to someone who'd happily leave me for Vic Mackey - though she's not so fond of Forrest Whittaker these days - The Shield (and some shots of whiskey) is now the ending of my working week.
However, that's my own issue with the show but there are a good many more reasons to watch it and why it will be remembered as a classic cop drama. Perhaps not over here where Five have buried it in a very late-night slot - although, to be fair, you can understand why - but certainly it's a more memorable show than many recent cop dramas, Law & Order and CSI amongst them. If you can stomach the almost endless child abuse, rape fantasies and Evil Shane, it's absolutely one of the finest dramas of recent years and this, a short, sharp season from between the Aceveda and Kavanaugh years, is one of its best.
There are numerous spoilers in what follows. Anyone who plans on watching this season of The Shield for the first time on DVD would be best skipping this section and moving on with the next. To do so, follow this link to go forward to the next section, otherwise...
The Cure (47m41s): With the Strike Team broken up - Lem is working alone and with Shane having been transferred, Vic and Beard are now partners within the Barn. There and with Aceveda clearing his desk, they welcome the new police captain, Monica Rawling, who begins her first day in the job by encouraging Vic to crack down on a new anti-gang policy. Unfortunately, she's picked the same day that recently released gang boss and drug dealer Antwon Mitchell tries to bring a little civic pride to Farmington. In spite of his rhetoric, his methods appear little different to those that served him well in what he claims to be his old life, one that Vic isn't sure that he's left behind.
Grave (43m47s): Gangs, shootouts and a bottle of mustard in aisle 4. It's a typical day for Vic, which begins when he tries to assist an old friend by bringing in a missing teen. But when it looks as though the kid was involved in a shooting, Vic's search for the teen begins to attract attention and with Aceveda trying to finish Vic on his last day in the Barn, that's the last thing that he needs. Elsewhere, Aceveda spends his time interviewing a HIV-positive rape victim who's assault was taped on CCTV. Packing away the last of his things, Aceveda masturbates to the tape and, before switching off his light, puts it in his briefcase. Meanwhile, Shane is still running loose, leaving Vic steadying his gun as Shane fronts Antwon Mitchell in a late-night deal.
Bang (44m40s): "A drive-by in the 'hood...how original!" Late night or early morning, three members of the Spookstreet Souljahs are gunned down in their car while, hours late, two members of a rival gang were killed near a petrol station. With Farmington on the brink of a gang war, Rawling assigns Mackey to be the touch point in the police effort to bring the feuding to a close. With Mackey working on Antwon, Danny and Julien are joined on the street by Lem but there's a surprise when the cause of the feud turns out to be a backyard porno and a jealous boyfriend.
Doghouse (43m48s): The relationship between Claudette and the DA is still frosty but she throws Dutch a bone from her table, take in a major drug dealer and maybe things will thaw soon after. Rawling takes the call and offers Dutch and Claudette a tentative return to policing. Elsewhere, a man receives a call from his wife, who tells him through the tears that she's just sucked the dick of a stranger and that she wants him to take her up the ass. Mackey identifies this immediately as Oscar Ruiz, who breaks into homes, rapes the woman that he finds there and, to add humiliation to the assault, gets her to phone her husband. Rawling tells Vic that she wants him to catch Ruiz that same day. Vic agrees.
Tar Baby (43m33s): Vic, Lem and Beard suspect that Shane is feeding Antwon information. Thinking up a way to trap him, they invite him into the old Strike Team office to lay out a few lies for him to take to his new friend. But first there's some CCTV footage of Dutch dropping his girlfriend home. Never was the sight of a man singing along to Hungry Like The Wolf funnier. With Aceveda going to extreme lengths in the pursuit of therapy for the attack on him, Claudette suspects that Dutch did a backroom deal with the Captain. Finally, Antwon begins to think that Shane isn't the player that he makes himself out to be when Vic busts one of his drugs operations. As Antwon tells Shane, next time he wants his dick sucked, Shane had better be asking if he wants his balls licked too.
Insurgents (43m50s): Captain Rawling oversees the first sell off of seized property, raising $900k and putting a third of that back into local parks and civic amenities. The police have never looked like such a friend of the rundown communities that little Farmington. But away from the smiles for the cameras, Vic still suspects that Shane is passing information on to Antwon, particularly when a drugs bust comes up empty. Meanwhile, Dutch and Claudette work a case in spite of the silence between them, coming up with a profile for a serial killer when they investigate the murder of a young woman. Finally, the sun shines once again on Dutch when asks Vic's ex-wife out for dinner.
Hurt (44m03s): Captain Rawling takes a moment to congratulate Vic on his recent drugs busts but she speaks too soon. Aceveda arrives at the station with a video showing the bust on the church that will air that night, showing Mackey throwing the priest to the floor and the congregation screaming in panic. It doesn't look good for Mackey, leaving Rawling no choice but to hand over the case - her case, as she reminds them - to the Organised Crime Unit. Elsewhere, Vic and Lem look into cigarette smuggling, Julien and Danny begin seizing vehicles and Dutch and Claudette investigate the rape of a seven-year-old girl, who's critically ill in hospital after swallowing bleach. Finally, there's another surveillance video being shown in the Barn but there are less laughs in this one. It features Antwon Mitchell doing a deal with Shane, a body for a body with it not looking good for Mackey.
Cut Throat (43m41s): When the bodies of two police informants are found, Monica orders a crackdown. Vic interprets this literally, busting down Antwon's door with a crowbar. Just so, in Vic's world, he can check if Antwon's alright. As Rawling and Mackey pull their informers off the street, Claudette and Dutch investigate a robbery and find that an old case refuses to stay in the past. In the episode's final moments, Vic takes a call. It's Shane and he wants a meeting along with Vic.
String Theory (43m41s): When two officers disappear after responding to a 911 call, Rawling organises a sweep of the area. With the only light provided by the street lights and the red and blue of the police cars, every officer is called out to find the two mission cops. Vic assumes that Antwon is behind it and begins to take down Mitchell's strays in the area but no one else is so sure. With Claudette and Dutch finding a witness, they set about interrogating him but it looks like a dead end...the witness is insane. Vic welcomes Shane back to the Barn with a deal for Antwon. It leaves the Strike Team to do a little digging in search of a body.
Back In The Hole (59m51s): Antwon Mitchell is in custody and in spite of naming a suspect in the killing of the two officers, Vic and Rawling give him no quarter on their suspicions that he was involved. Rawling even shows up with some photographs of Antwon's son from inside prison, featuring the kind of back door action that Antwon wasn't expecting from his in. With Antwon fighting back, the little empire that he built with Shane begins to come crashing down, with Vic and Shane going to Rawling to explain the killing of Angie. As Shane and Armie are forced to take a polygraph test, another body turns up, leaving Dutch and Claudette to rethink their list of suspects in their serial killer case. Fortunately, they have one in mind, a Texan who's recently arrived in Farmington.
A Thousand Deaths (43m14s): The investigation into the killing of the two police officers continues with Vic and the reassembled Strike Team putting pressure on the One-Niners gang to uncover anything related to the murders. From the Strike Team and Claudette and Dutch, Rawling finds corruption has crept further into the Barn than she'd thought. Claudette and Dutch bring in a witness to a gang shooting from within the Barn while Monica asks the Strike Team to explain their involvement with Antwon. Vic is reluctant to say very much.
Judas Priest (43m02s): While Claudette and Dutch investigate a fake ID operation and a connection to a recent murder, Monica's attentions are diverted to news that she and Vic have discovered a link between Antwon Mitchell and the killing of the two police officers. Unfortunately, Aceveda finds his political career under threat and Antwon might be the only one who can offer him a lifeline.
Ain't That A Shame (44m34s): Aceveda is still pursuing his political career and is prepared to do anything to ensure his success. He needs Antwon Mitchell but Monica and Vic, after linking Mitchell to the cop killings, need to put the gang leader behind bars. When Vic suspects a connection between Aceveda to the murder of a killer within prison, he confides in Rawling. Together with Dutch and Claudette going back to the foster home they'd investigated earlier, Rawling comes to a decision that forces her to a crossroads in her career.
The look of The Shield and its presentation on DVD has not changed very much from the release of the first season four years ago. Therefore, this following section is largely a reprint of what I wrote in 2003, being that The Shield, anamorphically presented here in 1.78:1, looks good with a sharp image that handles the colours wonderfully - from the rich reds, greens and oranges of external scenes to the dirty whites and browns within apartments and the Barn. The DVD transfer does an excellent job with it handling the particular style of The Shield very capably. In terms of that style, The Shield continues the example set by Homicide: Life On The Streets and Law & Order by being a frantic, rough shoot of the main action. It works very well, slowing things down in the more emotional scenes, such as those that Vic spends with his daughter Cassidy, but its debt to earlier series is clear. However, it's worth saying that it has rarely been more suitable than it is here.
Unlike a number of other series on DVD, such as CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, The Shield has not been provided with a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. Instead, the show has been transferred with a 2.0 Stereo mix, which is perfectly acceptable despite the obvious suitability of a 5.1 soundtrack to the show. The soundtrack is immediate, punchy and handles the roughly spoken, overlapping dialogue without a problem. Finally, there are English and Hindi subtitles.
Commentaries: As with previous sets of The Shield, many of the episodes feature a commentary with the cast and crew, though not all of them. The actual selection of episodes that are graced with a commentary is somewhat random and certainly doesn't reflect what happens on the screen but as with earlier sets, creator Shawn Ryan, the directors and stars, including Michael Chiklis, contribute chatty, informal commentaries that don't only explain the machinations of the plot but some of the behind-the-scenes making of the episode. What is clear from these commentaries is that there's a clear team spirit behind the making of The Shield, something that even the guest stars appreciate during their short time on the set. Also, the cast and crew aren't afraid to gloss over the things that didn't work out or what changed between the script and the screen. The only negative thing that can be said about the commentaries on this set is that unlike those on the first season, Shawn Ryan isn't the host throughout the boxset with the quality of the commentary falling away very slightly when he's not there to keep the conversation flowing. However, this is a small complaint and these commentaries are entertaining, interesting and should set an example to other distribution companies who are thinking of releasing box sets of television series. Each commentary is subtitled in English.
Under The Skin Documentary: It's possible to watch this in one sitting using the Play All function and this is probably the right way to approach this feature. Consisting of eleven very short chapters that deal with the casting of Glenn Close, the sex therapy between Aceveda and Sara and the part that Michael Chiklis' father played in getting his son to act, each one lasts no more than a couple of minutes and offers only the briefest of insights into the making of The Shield.
Deleted Scenes: Like the commentaries, these don't feature on every episode but come and go at random with some episodes featuring only a minute of material cut from the final edit while others go on slightly longer. What we're not seeing is any vital action being cut, however each scene comes with an optional commentary from Shawn Ryan, which tends towards explaining why a scene was cut, why it was written in the way that it was and what, at times, made him uncomfortable with it.
Finally, there's a set of Trailers for Walking Tall: The Payback, Perfect Stranger and Vacancy.