Tuesday, September 02, 2008

The Shield, "Co-Efficient of Drag": Project greenlight

Spoilers for "The Shield" final season premiere coming up just as soon as I inform my employers that, from now on, I will be giving them "The Sepinwall"...

Vic Mackey is a straight-line thinker forced to live a very crooked life. He always prefers the simplest, most straight-ahead solution to any problem -- like crashing through a fence in that famous season one foot chase, or here driving his car into the Army surplus store to save Ronnie and company -- yet the rules he breaks and the people he's crossed have led him into one convoluted lie after another, to the point where I have no idea how he keeps it all straight.

I know I'm having trouble sometimes, especially lately. As I said in my column today, the plotting on "The Shield" has always been secondary to the character material, to the point where I zone out sometimes when Vic starts briefing Claudette or the strike team on the latest problem. When the acting is great on both sides (Vic vs. Antwon, Vic vs. Kavanaugh), it's less important, but I'm not crazy about either the guy playing Rezian or the one playing Cruz Pezuela. They tend to shrink when they're on-screen with Michael Chiklis or Walton Goggins, and seem irrelevant when they're off-screen, despite the huge threat they pose. And so I start to get lost in the web of lies that Vic and Shane keep spinning. Shane's lying to Vic, Vic's lying to Shane, Vic's lying to Corrine, Shane's lying to Rezian, Vic to Pezuela, Vic and Shane to Claudette, etc., etc., and there are parts of "Co-Efficient of Drag" where my head began to hurt.

(It doesn't help, of course, that, thanks to the strike, it's been 15 months since the last episode aired. But that's why "The Shield" proudly has the longest "Previously, on..." sequences in the business.)

That disclaimer out of the way, it was still a very welcome and typically stomach-churning return to Vic Mackey's world. The external conflicts provided by the Armenians and the cartel guys aren't that enthralling, but the internal war between Vic and Shane -- and the way it's drawing in Ronnie and Corrine and others as collateral damage -- is as riveting as ever. When you open with Vic and Ronnie binding and gagging Mara and threatening to kill Shane -- all with their baby in the other room! -- you know "The Shield" ain't playing anymore. (Not that it ever did, but that opening scene kicked the whole "It's so wrong" motto to a new level.)

So now all three surviving strike teamers have committed cold-blooded murder (Vic twice), with Ronnie putting a bullet into Zadofian to cover for Vic. Admittedly, the circumstances are different here than they were with Terry or Lem or even Guardo, since Zadofian represented an ongoing physical threat to the lives of Vic and his family, but there are no innocents left in that clubhouse. Ronnie went through a door that closed and locked behind him, and unlike Vic, he can't immediately shut down the guilt.

(Around the time the show killed off Lem, some readers asked whether David Rees Snell would be up to the increased screen time, since for most of the first five seasons, Ronnie was just an extra body for the strike team. His great work in this episode -- and the episodes to come -- should answer that question once and for all.)

What gives Shawn Ryan and his team (in this case, writer Kurt Sutter and director Guy Ferland) the ability to go to such dark and sick places -- Shane chopping off Zadofian's feet, Claudette and the strike team walking along that long, long, long blood smear left by the drag murders -- is that they'll occasionally relent on the darkness with some humor and/or humanity from the likes of Dutch, Claudette and Billings. It's not that the Dutch stories are any less sick than the stuff Vic is involved in (see Dutch as cat-strangler, or Granny-porn), but they're usually less intense, and that gives me a moment to breathe and brace myself for the next Vic/Shane explosion.

I can't say enough about what an invaluable addition David Marciano has been to the show as Billings in these later seasons. Not only is he funny as hell, but partnering up Billings and Dutch automatically makes Dutch seem like less of a clown than he's sometimes in danger of becoming. When Dutch has to carry Billings, it automatically gives him more credibility. Plus, Jay Karnes is funnier when he's rolling his eyes at Billings' laziness -- "Let's just call it 'The Billings'" -- than when other people are rolling their eyes at him.

So glad to have "The Shield" back, and the season only gets better and more intense as it goes along.

Some other thoughts on "Co-Efficient of Drag":

• That's at least two years in a row that the season has opened with a perfect song choice (been a while since I saw the previous season openers): last year, we got the strike team mourning Lem cut to Johnny Cash's "I Hung My Head," and tonight we get Vic and Ronnie sending Shane a message cut to Social Distortion's thrashing "Reach for the Sky."

• I have no idea if it's an actual bit of LAPD slang or not, but I continue to be delighted by the use of "greenlit" (showbiz lingo for a studio putting a movie into production) to refer to gangs putting out hits on people. Sounds clever and disgusting at the same time, like most of the show's humor. (See also Tina's "Dutch, can you fill my box?")

• While this season looks to be carrying through a lot of plot developments from last season, Dutch and Danny's hook-up gets dispensed with very briefly (and hilariously) when Danny interrupts Dutch's attempt to talk about it by telling him about the wife-killer.

• Last season was so focused on the aftermath of Lem's murder that certain storylines got pushed to the side, like the matter of Claudette's health. Dutch asking her how she's doing and Claudette complaining about her new medication was a nice reminder that one of our main characters is struggling with lupus. (If only she had gone to see Dr. House...)

• Before the writing on this season began, Shawn Ryan went back and rewatched every episode to date so he could cherrypick certain stories and characters he wanted to revisit before the end. Some of those are going to be very obvious, while others will be more obscure. Case in point: Beth Encardi, the DA in the Dutch/Billings case, appeared a handful of times early in season four, then disappeared until tonight. Ryan apparently liked her enough -- or wanted a prosecutor character around -- that actress Anna Maria Horsford appears in a bunch of episodes this season.

• Another reminder of seasons past: When Vic tells Aramboles he could do a lot worse to him in that room, it's because that's the place where he killed Guardo.

• Olivia Murray, the blonde fed (played by Laurie Holden), comes from ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), the same agency that gave us Kevin Hiatt last season.

• Unlike Ryan, I didn't go back and revisit the whole series, so there are going to be gaps in my knowledge. Case in point: When Olivia asked Vic whether anyone had ever taken a tumble over the Barn upstairs railing, I immediately started racking my brain and couldn't come up with an answer. Has anyone ever fallen over? Vic's answer suggested that someone had; if so, I'm sure it was startling then but I'm blanking now. Been a long run.

What did everybody else think?

25 comments:

pdf said...

I love this show. Been watching since the premiere, and it always blows me away. The blood-trail walk-and-talk might be one of the most horrifying pieces of black humor I've ever seen; when they walked past that half a leg lying in the street (before even getting to the piled bodies) my stomach clenched. And yeah, the cold open was phenomenal, as it so often is. I think the best use of music re this show was the promo for the last season, the helicopter shots over the city with that song that goes "there's a beast in me, and I let it run/and now it's running my way" - I don't know what that song is, but it worked so perfectly to set up that season. I'm really excited about seeing how this all shakes out, but I'm gonna miss this show.

Anonymous said...

Three cold-blooded murders for Vic: along with Terry and Guardo, he killed the Armenian mob boss played by Kurt Sutter at the end of season 3.

I know Claudette almost got pushed over the rail once by a Hispanic gang member. I seem to remember someone going over, but no details.. maybe I need some sushi to help me think.

happy_go_lucky said...

Way back in season two, the woman Vic was seeing at the time, the head of a battered woman's shelter accidently pushed an abusive boyfriend off the railing in an act of self defense.

Dan Coyle said...

I would TOTALLY watch a sitcom with Karnes and Marciano called That's Our Billings!. It's Barney Miller for a new generation!

Evie Garland said...

Yep, Happy-go-lucky is right, and I loved the smirk on Vic's face when he remembered both how cute that woman was (hey, she looked an awful lot like this woman!) and how he totally nailed her later (sorry for the language, but watching an hour of the Shield will do that to me.)

Tucker Stone said...

Thank god for happy-go-lucky. That's been killing me trying to remember who went over the railing for the last few hours, and I didn't want to google around in case there's spoilers up. I'm such a little girl about this show.

I second the complaint about the actor playing Rezian--am I a total dick, or did he seem to be losing his accent when he was dealing with Shane early on?

And how awful is it that I kind of want Shane to, for lack of a better term, "win?" That character is so fascinating to keep up with.

pgillan said...

I'm glad to hear someone else gets confused about the "plot". It's so difficult to remember what the hell's going on when all of the explicit exposition in the show is false. I too find it easier to just relax and accept it, but I also find that it dulls the tense parts a little, because I'm not really sure why they're doing what they're doing, or what's at stake.

I vaguely recall that sometime last season there were one or two episodes where Ronnie was by himself, and I was pleasantly surprised that he could carry a scene on his own. He has a certain quiet, bad-ass presence that doesn't come through when Shane or Vic are around.

Dennis Wilson said...

What the hell is Paula Garces (Officer Tina) doing in second position in the credits?

Dennis Wilson said...

One more thing: The time between seasons was 15 months "thanks to the strike?" Season 7 had all but wrapped when the writers walked. FX could have started airing new eps the minute the strike ended back in January. The decision to delay was the network's.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Season 7 had all but wrapped when the writers walked. FX could have started airing new eps the minute the strike ended back in January. The decision to delay was the network's.

Season 7 had wrapped, but only minimal post-production work had been done on the last several because FX wanted to let Shawn Ryan do it himself whenever the strike ended. By the time that happened (in February, not January), FX had already made its summer scheduling plans, and so The Shield wound up getting pushed to September.

Alan Sepinwall said...

What the hell is Paula Garces (Officer Tina) doing in second position in the credits?

Alphabetic order, I assume...

(thinks on it for a second)

...except Catherine Dent should come before her. So I have no idea.

Anonymous said...

Catherine Dent is before Paula Garces.Maybe denniswilson blinked during the credits.........

Rev-Views said...

The credit order is:
Michael Chiklis, Catherine Dent, Paula Garces, Walton Goggins, Michael Jace, Jay Karnes, David Marciano, Benito Martinez, Cathy Cahlin Ryan, David Rees Snell and CCH Pounder.

So same as always, alphabetical (with carefull avoidance of any cast members who'd get alphabetical billing before Michael Chiklis) apart from CCH Pounder.

Evie Garland said...

I was thinking about this on the way to work today....Wasn't the motel they were at also the same motel that Connie was killed at?
Perhaps another shout-out to the past/those of us who also went back and watched practically every ep over again?

Butch said...

Alan, I know it's a little early, but what's next for Chiklis after The Shield? He has had a pretty remarkable career, from comedian to The Commish to Mackey to The Thing.

sm said...

Alan, a suggestion: maybe for shows like this where you're going to be reviewing each episode, you should write each review before watching the whole season (or in this case, half the season). You didn't talk too much about the future in this review (just some praise for David Rees Snell, which is pretty harmless really), but I had to stop reading your Wire Season 4 and 5 Reviews because you kept saying far too much about the future - "this will be important, pay attention to this" - stuff that I don't want to hear at all.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Alan, a suggestion: maybe for shows like this where you're going to be reviewing each episode, you should write each review before watching the whole season

SM, people have made that request in the past, specific to those later Wire seasons, and it's simply not realistic. First, you try having 8-12 episodes of one of your favorite series in hand and try to parcel them out a week at a time (or however long it takes to get each review done in between, and for shows like these, it ain't quick). I just don't have that kind of impulse control.

More importantly, my primary job is still to write the column review at the beginning of the season, and the more episodes I've seen, the better informed that review's going to be. And if I need to watch all the episodes before the season begins, there's simply no way I would have time, even with more self-control, to pause in between to write the blog reviews.

That said, I'm aware that I may have stepped over the line in a few of those Wire reviews (mainly early in season 4, which was the first time I blogged about that show) and am making more of a conscious effort now in these situations. There are a number of things in this episode I could have pointed a flashing neon sign at to say they would be more important later, and I specifically avoided doing so.

Dennis Wilson said...

Either my DVR or my IPTV stream hiccupped. There's no credit for Catherine Dent at all on my copy. (Yet on the 11:10 p.m. rerun, there is.)

Rick said...

From pdf:
"...that song that goes "there's a beast in me, and I let it run/and now it's running my way" - I don't know what that song is, but it worked so perfectly to set up that season."

It absolutely did- enough that I bought the album. The song is "This Night" by Black Lab, on their album Passion Leaves a Trace. The whole album is really good. I keep it in my car- it's great for when I'm pissed off, but need to be behind the wheel for a long time.

Dan Coyle said...

You know, I remain continually impressed how characters that initially seemed like oneoffs, just a fep eps arcs, or eternally minor- Ronnie, Billings, tina, etc- have become integral to the narrative. That's some damn good storytelling.

Tucker Stone said...

I've been a huge fan of Ronnie ever since they staked out those strippers and he requested teasing. I love that guy.

William said...

I could be wrong, but at the time I could have sworn that the spot at the end where Vic, Ronnie, and Shane were having their meeting was the same spot the Strike Team broke up at (for the first time) at the end of season three.

Bryan Murray said...

This is pretty much the only show I've ever watched on my own which is tough when the plotting gets dense like this episode and last season. I've never re-watched any episodes either so that doesn't help. Last season was a disappointment to me (mainly because no Lem) so I'm looking forward to a crazy final season. I agree with the above post about Shane--I used to want Vic to win despite his dark side now I'm fully rooting for Shane. Although there's no way either of them come out on top of anything, especially Shane. That blood line was great.

Anthony Foglia said...

Around the time the show killed off Lem, some readers asked whether David Rees Snell would be up to the increased screen time, since for most of the first five seasons, Ronnie was just an extra body for the strike team. His great work in this episode -- and the episodes to come -- should answer that question once and for all.

I might have been one of those people, but I think the problem is more that Ronnie's still pretty bland a character. It might be the writing, it might be the acting is only solid, not amazing. But the result is that Ronnie feels like little more than someone for Vic to talk to.

BF said...

will fx be rerunning the "directors cut" anytime soon? Those of us hit by gustav STILL don't have power and missed the whole thing