Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Spoiled by 'The Shield'

SPOILER WARNING: I'm going to discuss the finale of "The Shield" in a lot of detail, so turn away now if you haven't seen it yet.

Speaking of spoilers, sometime spoiler hints aren't such a bad thing. Michael Chiklis did a lot of press in the last few weeks suggesting that one or more regular characters were going to bite it by the end of this half-season, so when we got to that scene with Shane and Lem, it was pretty clear what was going to happen, if not how. But that assumption actually made the scene work better I think, then if it had been an out-of-the-blue shock. Because I suspected what was coming, I could see Shane agonizing over what he felt he had to do, trying desperately to get Lem to say something, anything, that would make him change his mind. I know Chiklis and Forest Whitaker are getting all the acting hype this year, but hot damn was Walton Goggins good there. He actually made me feel sorry for dumb, racist, selfish, remorseless Shane even as he was preparing to murder one of his best friends to save his own ass.

I e-mailed Shawn Ryan to ask whether the viewer was supposed to realize Shane was going to cap Lem long before he did it, and this is what he wrote back to me:
I knew that advance publicity might "color" that big scene some, but I figured we'd concentrate on the process, not the shock, and try to keep it as real as possible. I always had the feeling that the audience might think two or three times in that scene that Shane might pull a gun, and then, as he continues not to, maybe they'd figure it wasn't going to happen, but we'll see how people react.

Felt like the "surprising, but inevitable" conclusion to this season and we tried to plant clues and hints all the way through the season. We knew as far back as July of last year that this was what we were going to build to, so if you go back and watch the season and see the Shane/Mara scene in Episode #503, it would seem like an obvious setup, or if you watch the music montage at the end of last week's episode, the lyrics "The Killer in me is the killer in you" hit right over Shane and Lem in a way I think is very prophetic now.
While I'll miss Lem, this murder had to happen, not just to keep Vic on the streets until the end of the series, but to begin the massive karmic payback he's deserved since he murdered in the pilot. He's always taught Shane, by word and by deed, that the ends justify the means, up to and including murdering a fellow cop if he's threatening your livelihood. He's had this coming for a long time, and I cannot wait for the scene where Vic finally finds out what happens and confronts Shane about it, and Shane pulls the "I learned it from watching you!" card.

And now, of course, Shane is going to have Dutch and Claudette on his ass (Billings, too, but he's a waste of donor organs), not to mention Kavanaugh, Aceveda and Vic himself -- each investigator with his or her own agenda, which could make for some strange bedfellows next year. Again, I cannot wait.

Some other thoughts on the finale to the best season of "The Shield" to date:
  • So Vic is Danni's baby daddy, huh? It seemed so obvious that I figured it couldn't be him (maybe Ronnie?), but they do have the history together, and it means that Kavanaugh was dead-on when he told Corinne about it. And speaking of the ex-Mrs. Mackey...
  • The unofficial on-set motto of the show is "The Shield: It's so wrong." Maybe a sub-motto should be "Nepotism: It's not so wrong." Obviously, Shawn Ryan's wife Cathy has been around from day one, and she's done a much better job than you would expect from the boss' wife; she actually held her own in that scene where Kavanaugh stayed in her kitchen just a little too long. And on top of that, we got Ally Walker -- aka Mrs. John "President of FX" Landgraf -- as the world's highest-class low-class ho. After she left/got dumped from "Profiler," Walker all but gave up acting to raise her kids, but she's been doing a few guest spots lately, and Ryan got a great, creepy performance out of her. Plus, as Shawn says, "How many showrunners ever get the chance to 'turn out' their network's president's wife?"
  • Claudette as captain works really well. Other than maybe Monica Rawling, she's the only person to ever occupy the job who Vic's respected and/or feared, and she knows enough about how Vic does business to cause him a lot of problems. And it now makes Dutch the wise and mature member of his partnership. Also loved Dutch once again trying to pattern his behavior after a sociopath. First he strangles cats, now he's trying to pimp out the precinct cutie. I know he's not the main character, or even the audience identification character like Bayliss was on "Homicide," but what are the odds that the ol' Dutchman turns serial killer before the series is over?
So, what did everybody else think?


Alex said...

Alan - Enjoy your stuff here and in the Ledger. It's nice to find intelligent discussion of The Shield. The forums I've been reading have tended toward blind hero worship of Vic or silly speculation.

Anyway, I loved the finale, too. The last few episodes - since Kav exploded in The Barn and arrested Lem - really elevated the season for me. Before that, I ranked it behind S4. Kavanaugh seemed out of his league. Through the middle of the season, I never believed he'd take down any of the Strike Team. But the character developed, for me, from unstable and overmatched to feral and dangerous. Guess the writers were setting me up all along.

Vic as daddy - eh. Made sense, felt right, but it was so obvious that it left me feeling the writers had wasted my time with the guessing game.

The Lem-Shane scene was agonizing to watch, in the best way. Also loved the long, quiet take when everybody shows up to discover Lem's body. I have to disagree on sympathy for Shane, however. Every time he whined, "I'm sorry," I only despised him more. Yeah, good time to feel sorry for yourself and ask for forgiveness, after you blew out your buddy's freakin' stomach!

I usually snicker at fans who declare their undying love or hatred for a character. It's only a TV show!, I think. But The Shield cracks that barrier for me. I really, really want Shane to die a slow, painful death.

Alan Sepinwall said...

No, Shane is completely despicable in every way. But Walton Goggins made me see Shane as Shane sees himself, and in that brief moment, I felt as horrible as he was feeling. And then he fragged Lem and I went right back to hating him.

Mase said...

The most "Its so wrong" scene for me last night was the Dutch/Precinct Hottie scene with him using the pimp's technique. Strangly, it was much more uncomfortable to watch compared with the Shane/Lem scene.

As to Vic/Shane -- I've been waiting since Shane hooked up with the horrible Mara (hate the character/love the actress) for Vic to take Shane out. Cannot wait for that to play out.

Finally, as for Forest Whitaker. Must say I'm in the minority in thinking that he has been horrible in the role. When Glenn Close was announced before the last season, I groaned thinking she'd be horrible and was more then pleasently surprised at how incredible she was. Wish she would have come back. Conversely, when Whitaker was announced, I thought he'd be great and make the role snap. Unfortunately, he's come across as out-of-his-league in serialized TV. Would have expected more.

Anonymous said...

As far as I'm concerned, last night was when The Shield left The Sopranos in the dust.

I hope we see more of Ronnie next year. He's the one I can't figure out. He's obviously smarter then Shane and poor Lem, maybe even smarter than Vic, but he's still loyal to them. What's this guy about?

Alan Sepinwall said...

I have to wonder if we don't see much of Ronnie because the actor's not up to more than he's been given. There was a lot of mileage to be gotten out of Ronnie getting burned by Armadillo, but they mostly blew it off and had him grow a beard to cover the scars. But with Lem gone, they'll have no choice but to give him more screen time in the next batch of episodes.

Anonymous said...

Alan: Any insight on the Jimmy Johnson gag casting in the middle of the season? "Where's Terry!" I thought it might be Fox's version of product placement, but, thankfully, it never went beyond that. What was the point?

Alan Sepinwall said...

I'm sure the point was that Jimmy is a fan of the show, and someone involved with either the show or the network is a fan of the Dallas Cowboys, and they thought it would be a funny little in-joke. I didn't even recognize Jimmy in that scene, so I was baffled why they were spending so much screen time on this random guy in the cage.

SM said...

Wait, when did Jimmy Johnson appear?

I've got to say, the one thing I felt the Shield dropped the ball on was Lem's reaction to finding out about Vic and Terry. Lem tears off his wire, confronts Vic, Vic doesn't admit killing Terry but doesn't deny it, Lem knows and runs off. And then...nothing? Lem's ok with it?

Alan Sepinwall said...

Jimmy pops up in "Man Inside," the episode before the all-Kavanaugh, all-the-time show. He's wearing a beard, which is why I didn't recognize, and he spends his entire scene screaming that "Terry" should be in the cage with him. Obviously, a Bradshaw shout-out, but confusing given all the recent talk about Vic killing Terry Crowley. And speaking of that, the way I remember that scene, Lem busts the wire and then Vic convinces him that he didn't kill Terry.

sm said...

Hmm, that's not how I remembered it.

When Lem was talking to the lawyer in the park in the last episode, he says to her something like "We've done really bad things. We've killed people." She says something like "Terry Crowley?" Lem doesn't answer. If Lem was convinced that Vic didn't kill Terry, wouldn't he say "No, of course not" instead of just saying nothing there?

Alan Sepinwall said...

I think Lem believed Vic at the time -- or, at least, wanted to believe him -- but as his situation got worse over the course of the season, his doubts started to creep in again, to the point that he didn't bother protesting when Becca mentioned Vic killing Terry.

Anonymous said...

About Lem knowing or not knowing about the Crowley murder, I think he had a pretty good idea. Early in the season, when Vic talked to Shane about his confrontation with Lem, Shane asked if Vic told him (Lem). Vic said, "No, but he knows." The way Vic hesitated when Lem asked him was enough.

Anonymous said...

"I have to wonder if we don't see much of Ronnie because the actor's not up to more than he's been given."

Ouch. Pretty much all they give him is "Vic, you need to take a look at this." Maybe if they gave him at least as many lines as the hot Latina chick, maybe he could stretch a little.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I don't want to take undeserved shots at David Rees Snell or anything, but in general, when I've asked TV showrunners off the record why Actor X doesn't get a whole lot to do on Show Y, the answer is because they don't trust him or her with more material.

I've never asked Shawn Ryan about Snell, so I have no idea. He was a guest star for a long time, and the show has a lot of characters as it is; maybe they just needed him as a body up until now. He did pretty well in the scene where Kavanaugh interrogates him, and with Lem gone, the only way he won't get more to do is if they think he's not up to it. We'll see.