Spoilers for "The Shield" coming up just as soon as I pat my head and rub my tummy at the same time...
"I'm in this so deep, and I don't know how to get myself out." -Olivia
"You're talking to the right guy." -Vic
There's an awful lot of self-deception going on in "Game Face." Vic has always been a master at lying to himself, but his blinders are particularly strong tonight. He claims that nailing Pezuela "is a down-payment on me being able to live with myself," when even Shane (Shane!) can see that it won't change much of anything, and certainly won't bring Terry Crowley back to life. He refuses to even consider the possibility that Cassidy (who's been in trouble all season) might have played an active role in scoring the drugs for the party until he has the truth shoved in his face. And when Olivia confesses her own predicament, he suggests he's the best man to save her, when in fact he should know by now -- as Ronnie tried to explain to him a few episodes back -- that all he ever accomplishes is falling deeper into the quicksand.
Even the other characters are starting to be plagued with Vic's affliction. Danny actually lets herself believe that Vic might sign himself out of their son's life, Claudette refuses to see how her lupus might be an ongoing liability, and Dutch convinces himself he can outsmart Lloyd, when the closest he tends to come to matching wits with a serial killer is when he picks up a stray cat. (Claudette was the one who got Kleavon to confess, after all.)
But getting back to Vic's own little circle of self-deception, what's really stuck out to me in these last two episodes is how effective Julien has been. While the rest of the Strike Team is running around trying to put out Armenian and Mexican-related brushfires, Julien is doing the actual job, and doing it well. (So well, in fact, that in the previous episode the others had to work around his effectiveness to solve one of their extra-curricular problems.) For all that Vic likes to talk and talk about how all the crimes he commits are in some way in service to the people of Farmington, maybe he should take a step back and pay attention to what a cop can get done when he's not constantly trying to escape the latest hangman's noose.
In some ways, Claudette (and, to a lesser extent, Dutch) served that purpose in earlier seasons. Their cases weren't exactly the same type -- where Julien's doing gang intervention with the rest of the Strike Team, Dutch and Claudette had to contend with rapists and serial killers and the like -- but we still got to contrast Claudette's dogged, by-the-books approach with Vic's reckless, extra-legal tactics. Neither approach has really put a dent into Farmington quality of life, but at least Claudette hasn't left so many other problems in her wake.
I had nearly forgotten about Kleavon. Though his story was featured so heavily in season five, it was overshadowed (as most "Shield" b-stories are) by Vic's stuff (in that year, Vic being hounded by Kavanaugh), and then it didn't come up at all during season six. This was a nice reminder of just what an evil creep he was, as well as bringing home how Claudette's pride may be getting in her way here. Yes, we know that in an ideal world she should still be able to do her job without having her faculties questioned, but "The Shield" takes place in a particularly non-ideal corner of an already flawed world, and this could keep coming up. At least she had the presence of mind to accept Dutch's suggestion from last week to make Danny her administrative aide and emotional backstop.
Kleavon's presence, along with the return of Dutch's profiler friend, also helped kick the Lloyd storyline up a notch. While there's still a part of me that wishes Dutch would be going into fresher territory, the subplot felt much stronger this week than it did last time, in part because of the various expert opinions Dutch was getting, in part because Lloyd was allowed to be more overtly monstrous, and Kyle Gallner (as any "Veronica Mars" fans knows) plays that particular color very well.
Some other thoughts on "Game Face":
• Though the show has been on the air for seven seasons, the events of each season tend to run so closely together that, for the characters, only two or three years are supposed to have passed. Ordinarily, that's fine, but there are occasional bumps like Aceveda's political career. From brand-new police captain to city councilman to mayoral candidate in 2.5 years seems a bit much.
• Speaking of weird timelines, Vic must have a really good body shop, given how quickly he got the Charger back after crashing it into the Army Surplus store in the season premiere.
• This is, I think, the fourth episode Michael Chiklis has directed, and it's a mark of how strong the house style Clark Johnson and Scott Brazil established is that you can never tell when an unusual person is behind the camera. (See also the David Mamet and Frank Darabont episodes, which were terrific but still felt wholly "Shield"-like.) Chiklis (and the rest of the production team) did an especially good job on one of the series' rare car chases. I'm generally not a fan of TV show car chases, as there usually isn't the time or money to do anything interesting with one of the most overused cliches in all of filmed entertainment. But this was very effectively-done, with all the POV shots and use of the revving engines on the soundtrack.
• One particularly clumsy bit: Danny expositing to Vic (and us) about the quit claim paperwork. We would have been better off having it explained in the previouslies so we could get right to the meat of that scene.
What did everybody else think?