Spoilers for "The Shield" coming up just as soon as I get my iron...
"Sometimes it's too late to apologize no matter how much you mean it." -Shane
Like the bi-furcated final season of "The Sopranos," this last run of "The Shield" was begun under the assumption that it would run half as long as it ultimately will. And just like the later episodes of "The Sopranos" season 6.0 and early episodes of season 6.5 were in some ways a holding action to get to the same planned end point, we've spent the last 10 "Shield" episodes -- four episodes last year, six episodes here -- stalling the inevitable Shane vs. Vic confrontation before finally returning to roughly the same point that we were at with last season's epic "Chasing Ghosts." The Armenians -- possibly the most gullible group of relentless super-criminals ever -- are out of the way, Shane knows Vic wants him dead, and all sides are basically done with the pretense of being nice to one another.
Now, I'd argue that "The Shield" version of this sort of stretch play was more effective than what "The Sopranos" did -- as frustrating and/or confusing as some of the Vic/Shane/Armenian/Mexican dance has been, we've never been treated to the equivalent of Vito moving to New Hampshire to explore his sexuality -- but I'm still glad to be back to the central conflict. Pezuela's still floating around, but I can deal with one villain of questionable charisma far more easily than I can deal with two.
And if you needed further evidence that the show at this point is at its strongest when the conflict is internal rather than external, "Animal Control" provided it in spades. This was the best, tensest episode of the season to date by a long stretch, as Vic finally made the move to have Shane killed right along with the Armenians. That the attempt failed -- or that Vic tried to back out at the last minute (and note that Ronnie absolutely did not have cold feet) -- in no way lessens what an extreme, game-changing step this was. As soon as I saw that Shane had survived, I knew that things were about to get a whole lot worse for everyone.
Vic and Ronnie made two huge mistakes here:
1)They went ahead with the plan even after Shane announced his intentions to transfer away -- no harm, no foul -- and never bother them again. Yes, letting Shane live free would prevent them from getting revenge for Lem, and yes, there would always be the chance that Shane might get arrested one day and flip on them for leverage, but it was the much safer play.
2)They took the plan one step too far by taking the ammo out of Shane's gun, which tipped him off to the set-up when he tried to fire it. Obviously, there would be some danger of Shane surviving if he was fully-armed, but the odds of that weren't great (one man against a half dozen), and even if he did, Vic might have gotten away with blaming the whole thing on Pezeula and Rios changing up behind their backs.
Some of that's hindsight now, but even if Vic hasn't realized by now that his crazy schemes never, ever, go off without a hitch, you would think Ronnie would have. At this point, I suppose none of them are capable of taking a step back to think with a completely clear head about the situation, and I suspect they're all going to pay for that.
Even though there are seven episodes after this one, I genuinely thought there was a chance the plan might work. Not only is there still plenty that could bite Vic even with Shane gone (not the least of which would be Mara), but the whole Tavon subplot seemed to be setting Shane up for a bittersweet death. With this case, we finally got a glimpse of what kind of cop Shane might have been if Vic hadn't pulled him down the rabbit hole -- he was always stupid and reckless, but Vic magnified all his worst qualities -- and I could have easily seen Shane getting his one vaguely redemptive moment and then getting betrayed by Vic and Ronnie in the same way that he betrayed Tavon. Even Shane's line about how "It's going to feel really good righting this wrong" -- the sort of comment he mocked when Vic made it -- seemed like it could have been preparing us for his demise.
But unfortunately for Vic and Ronnie -- and fortunately for us -- Shane survived, and he's not quite the dumb hillbilly they take him for, and now it's all going to hit the fan. Wow.
Some other thoughts on "Animal Control":
• How great was it to see Brian White again as Tavon? And to have Tavon finally put Shane's feet to the fire for what Mara did to him? I recognize that having an outsider in the strike team long-term would create problems with the kinds of stories the show has tried to tell, but I liked White a lot.
• Tavon's return also provided a neat parallel with Dutch's case, as both stories involved men (Tavon and Jeff the sleep walker) being told they committed some horrible crime that they can't remember, when in fact they're innocent. I thought this one also played nicely off the recent Lloyd episodes, as Dutch's failure there is making him start to see serial killers even when none are around. And it was nice to see Claudette working an interrogation again, and finding out just how much darkness can lurk even in the heart of a man who hasn't done anything wrong.
• The writers aren't backing down on reminding us what a self-righteous ass Vic is, are they? The scene with him lecturing Corrine on what a lousy parent she's been -- when, aside from the autism, every problem in that family can be laid squarely at Vic's feet -- was a particularly choice and ugly bit of hypocrisy. I'm glad that Corrine was at least able to recognize this by the end of the episode, telling Vic "We both know who you are."
What did everybody else think?