Spoilers for "The Shield" season seven, episode 10 coming up just as soon as I ask Walton Goggins for his workout regimen...
"There was a minute today, when you were playing the piano and Jackson was dancing, I actually forgot about everything that was going on. And I was just -- I was just happy." -Mara
I talked briefly in last week's review about the sharp contrast between the Vendrell marriage and Vic and Corrine's relationship. I want to expand on that here, because "Party Line," above all else, is about what starkly different relationships Shane and Vic have with the women they chose to marry.
Though Shane has turned his wife and child into fugitives, has slept with hookers and been beaten up by pimps, has murdered and stole and broken the majority of the 10 Commandments, Mara stands by her man, because he has never lied to her about who he truly is. Even though her freedom and physical safety are at stake, she won't even consider Shane's request for her to turn herself in. She's standing by her man, staying in this family, and oddly seems more in love with Shane than ever during this ordeal. As we see them making out in the pool, or Shane noodling on the piano while Mara and Jackson dance, it's almost like watching them on some wonderful romantic getaway -- until, like Mara, we remember just what dire straits they're really in. Walton Goggins has really thrown himself into Shane's mania; it's hard to look at his smile in several scenes and not be disarmed by this homicidal, racist, fugitive idiot.
Meanwhile, Vic has lied to Corrine through every step of their relationship (both pre- and post-divorce). So all these revelations about what Vic's been up to all these years falls on Corrine like a ton of bricks, and she finally, finally, finally realizes the only hope for her family's safety and prosperity is to get this man out of their lives by any means necessary. Mara won't turn herself in to the cops; Corrine is now cooperating with the cops.
All these changes in allegiance led to one of the tensest scenes of the entire series, as Dutch orders a panicked Corrine to leave the phone line open so he can record her conversation with Vic, even as Corrine, Dutch and we in the audience are painfully aware that they're tying up the line for Mara's call. Superb work from Cathy Cahlin Ryan in that scene, working off of Angela Russo and John Hlavin's script and directed by Gwyneth Horder-Payton.
While Vic has no idea yet that his ex-wife has turned against him in a way it won't be easy to fix, he can see how badly things are falling apart. Olivia and ICE are still shining him on, he and Aceveda keep trying to elbow each other out of the way of the cartel case, and the attempt to put a bounty on Shane backfires horribly when Shane gets jacked for the 100 grand and demands that Vic repay it, tomorrow. Yet his ego (or just his stubbornness) remains so great that when Ronnie quite sensibly suggests it's time to pull a Gilroy and head south of the border, Mexico way, Vic talks him out of it, somehow still confident that they can find a way out of this quagmire.
And, in a way, I can't blame him. Though I've complained in the past about how many Houdini acts Vic has pulled over the years, the cumulative effect of them is that they've given Vic a justifiable sense of invulnerability. We may be able to see just how much worse this situation is than Antwon, or the Armenians, or Kavanaugh, but to Vic, one death trap's the same as any other, right?
One of my favorite moments of the episode is the way that one of Vic and Aceveda's arguments takes place outside of David's campaign headquarters as a neighbor hoses garbage off the sidewalk. Is the garbage Vic's problems, soon to be washed away by his latest scheme, or is it Vic himself?
Some other thoughts on "Party Line":
• On the one hand, it does seem like Beltran the cartel enforcer is just as gullible as the Armenians in his willingness to trust whatever Vic says. On the other, he is operating in a foreign city (and country), trying to clean up an operation that Pezuela was obviously bungling, and I can understand his willingness to listen to this ex-cop who seems so obviously plugged in.
• Is this episode the first time since season two's "Co-Pilot" (the flashback to the early days of The Barn and the strike team) that we've seen a member of the strike team in a suit? It's just bizarre to see Ronnie dressed like any other detective, and amusing to watch Billings try to curry favor with him.
• DeLane Matthews, who appeared in a couple of season three episodes as Mara's crazy mom (maybe the only character hated by the fanbase even more than Mara herself?), becomes the latest old face to make a curtain call in this final season. This one makes a fair amount of plot logic: wouldn't Mara's family be one of the places where Vic and Ronnie looked for her?
• Each episode seems like a chance for Michael Chiklis and CCH Pounder to see who can look more fatigued than the other. Two great Claudette-is-so-damn-tired moments here: when deputy chief Phillips admits that he overlooked a lot of Vic's nonsense in the past "for the greater good," and especially after she gets off the phone with Mara.
• Shane telling Mara the story about how he learned to play the piano reminded me of how little we know about these characters' lives from before the series began. It's like Vic and the strike team sprang into existence only moments before Vic put a bullet in Terry Crowley's brain. When I mentioned this to Shawn Ryan a few weeks ago, he quoted a bit of advice he got from David Mamet: "Backstory is bulls--t."
Once again, let me remind you that from here until the end of the series (three episodes to go), no talking about anything you see in the previews, or anything you read in interviews, or on spoiler sites, or whatever.
What did everybody else think?