Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The Shield, "Snitch": Number five with a bullet

Spoilers for "The Shield" season seven, episode two, coming up just as soon as I dance in my slippers...

So here's my fundamental question with this one, tied in part to my recent comments about "The Shield" at its most convoluted: Do you honestly believe, under these circumstances, that Vic would let Aramboles live?

Now, the key to Vic is that, no matter what kind of bad thing he does, he justifies it in his mind and convinces himself he's still a good cop. His body count over the life of the series is relatively low -- Terry, Guardo, Margos Dezerian, plus a few others (like Kern) by inaction -- because it would be much harder for Vic to rationalize his actions if he was killing people right and left. All three men he murdered posed threats to Vic's life and/or livelihood (Terry less so than the others, which is why I've always had a problem reconciling that murder with the way Vic has been written over the life of the series), and while Aramboles can't physically harm Vic or his family, he can sure as hell put him in the crosshairs of either Pezuela or Rezian if the truth starts to come out on how Vic and Shane are playing puppet-master in this manufactured gang war. At this stage of the game, with so much at stake and so many bad guys in a position to kill him if they get even a sliver of information, do you really think Vic would just send Aramboles south of the border and chance word getting out? Yes, Aramboles is scared now, but anything can happen in Mexico, where we've learned in the past Vic has no real reach or power.

Vic's moral compass has a tendency to point in unexpected directions at times, so I'm not going to flat-out declare his decision here to be out of character. But it was distracting enough -- especially since the far less conscience-driven Shane never suggests the more permanent solution -- that I had a hard time keeping track of the latest twists in the Armenian-Mexican "war" at the same time. I was able to follow the plot well enough in the end, but of the eight episodes I've seen of this season, "Snitch" was probably my least favorite.

Most of my issues, though, were with the arc stuff. This was a rare "Shield" hour where the episodic storylines -- Vic trying to clean up the mess made by the Top 10 list, Dutch and Billings getting on each other's nerves enough that it inspired them to close the cinderblock case -- were more entertaining than watching Vic and the strike team find a way out of the latest corner they'd painted themselves into.

In particular, I loved seeing Claudette tear into one of the junior Spook Streeters over his embrace of the worst aspects of the stereotypical gang culture. It didn't make a dent at all -- and wound up giving Claudette, who already isn't feeling well, another headache to deal with -- but stories like these are a reminder of the larger point of "The Shield." Yes, it's perversely entertaining to see Vic escape the latest trap, but the question at the heart of the series isn't "Will Vic get away with it in the end?" It's "How much power should we entrust to a man like Vic to maintain order in such a perverse and violent world?"

As Phillips puts it to Claudette, "I'm under no illusions, but a day like this one? I can live with him."

Some other thoughts on "Snitch":

• I'm glad that Michael Chiklis loves his daughter enough to want her to be on his TV show, and when Autumn first got cast as Cassidy six years ago, the part was small enough that it wasn't a big deal. But as Cass has grown in prominence -- and especially now that she's being forced to confront the truth about her old man -- I really wish there were a stronger actress playing her. Cassidy going to Billings and demanding that her father be charged with a crime is a moment that should have had a lot more bite than it did.

• "On a clear night, you can see Guardo's house from here." Ha! Even funnier if you know the blasphemous joke about Jesus on the cross. And speaking of which, I loved the old lady witness with the two sons in jail, the lesbian daughter who wouldn't give her grandchildren, and an urgent desire to see Jesus as soon as possible. One of the better throwaway expository characters I can remember the show using.

• The Al Qaeda thing eventually turned out to be an excuse for Vic to sic Olivia and her buddies at ICE on Aramboles' weapons stash. But it also reminded me of all those times on "The Wire" where the cops would go to the FBI for help with various homicidal drug lords, only to be told the feds weren't interested unless terrorism or corruption were involved. As McNulty said there and Vic more or less says here, in what way is what's being done to the civilians in these neighborhoods not terrorism?

What did everybody else think?


Tucker Stone said...

I was kind of disappointed in the whole thing with Aramboles as well, but less so in Vic, and more so in Shane. Why wouldn't he just give him to a coyote who guarantees murder? I think I was just so sure I knew that was coming that it took me a good minute to register that it didn't.

I'll also give you the same feelings about Terry--as the show progresses, that murder has seemed less like something that was completely in sync with the Vic I've gotten to know, and more the sort of thing that made the pilot such a great episode. The knowledge that he did that, in a situation where the Vic now would have found another way, hangs on the show like a millstone. I just keep waiting, and sort of worrying, that it's going to have to be acknowledged, and dealt with--and I just don't care. The Terry thing just reminds me that it's a television show, and the rest of the show just feels like an organic story.

But I'm glad those are just nitpick complaints--I'm still really stoked to be on board watching this go down. Like The Wire, I'll miss it when it's gone, but I'd rather it fire out on cylinders than drag on past all reason.

UnwantedTouching said...

I love Michael Chiklis, and I have watched The Shield from the beginning - and marveled at its consistency over such a long period of time. Even though the show generally follows the same pattern of the Strike Team getting into/out of trouble in every episode, it's always been appointment TV for me. Sadly, Alan's dead on about his daughter on the show, whose stilted performance is awful - in fact, she plays it in such an odd way that it seems like her character is disabled or has some sort of disability.

And how about Dutch manning-up and taking the entire neighborhood into the Barn? No way the Dutch of Season One would ever do that.

BF said...

Vic's two other kids have autism. Maybe Cassidy's is just late onset.

Adam P. Knave said...

" Do you honestly believe, under these circumstances, that Vic would let Aramboles live?"

I really can see it. Given the body count in recent times, the fact that everything is coming at him from all sides in ways it simply hasn't before and the priximity to Shane, I can see Vic deciding to let this guy off the hook. Also, given that he is now being gunned for by Mexican cartels for his supposed betrayal, sending him to Mexico is kind of an invitation to have him end up dead, isn't it?

It feels like Mackey is starting to slip, here and there, when he's around Shane, again. He realized, when he's with him, that he DID make Shane - even if he can't conciously say it - and I think that is coloring some of his actions, for good or ill.

Phil Freeman said...

I can chalk the murder of Terry vs. the non-murder of Aramboles up to Vic being a little bit wiser than he was back then, and being a little more scared now than he was back then. His status was pretty much unquestioned as the series began; he was the attack dog that nobody dared question. When Aceveda put Terry on his trail, it offended Vic (how dare this guy step to me?), and he reacted by smashing Terry down ASAP. As the series has progressed, though, Vic's status has been reduced more and more - he's a dinosaur and they're trying to be rid of him - and consequently he's running scared and not killing people he might have killed in Season 1.

As far as the rest of this episode, I thought two things were very Wire-esque: the terrorism angle, and the Top Ten list itself. That seemed like exactly the kind of dumbass thing Tommy Carcetti would have done, at one of his hyperbolic press conferences, and then Landsman would have had to get everyone ready to clean up the bodies.

I was initially uncomfortable with Claudette's ranting at the gangbanger; it felt like a cheap homily, like something Stephen Bochco or the producers of ER would slap on the table like a slab of ham. I felt it diminished the character. But the inevitable bureaucratic consequences made the whole thing work for me. The series creators were (again, like The Wire) showing us that nobility and attempts at uplift have no chance. Not a welcome message in the real world, but within the universe of The Shield, note-perfect.

Anonymous said...

the question at the heart of the series isn't "Will Vic get away with it in the end?" It's "How much power should we entrust to a man like Vic to maintain order in such a perverse and violent world?"

Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer my corrupt cop killers with as little power as possible.

It's also worth noting that Vic Mackey did exist with near-unquestioned power to maintain order in the beginning of the show, and it put no dent in his "perverse and violent world" - as a matter of fact, he made things worse.

Do you honestly believe, under these circumstances, that Vic would let Aramboles live?

Now, the key to Vic is that, no matter what kind of bad thing he does, he justifies it in his mind and convinces himself he's still a good cop.

In one of his books, profiler John Douglas relates the story of a serial killer (I want to say it was Ted Bundy but don't quote me on that; I no longer have the book) who told him that occasionally he would stake out a victim, prepare everything for her abduction, torture and murder -- and then just let her live. He did this because it helped him justify that deep down he was still a good guy; after all, he could have killed more.

dronkmunk said...

"When I am in my apartment, I like to be naked."

She knew just what to say, didn't she?

Anonymous said...

Speaking of The Wire, the little Spook Streeter was like a west coast, slightly older version of Kenard.

Filipe Furtado said...

About the whole Aramboles thing I imagine that Vic knows there's a shot of him come back later, but he likely believes that Aramboles will stay in Mexico at least for a few months and I'm pretty sure Vic thinks he will take Aramboles boss out of the picture before his hearing.

As for the comparisionsbetween Terry's murder and Aromboles situation, I've been watching the whole series again, so two things that one should have in mind:
1) As someone has already mention when the series started Vic was in the way up and had a lot of power and good back up to help him believe he was above everyone. Also he was leading the strike team for nine months prior to the pilot and although we know he was never a by the book cop, he clearly was far from what he become prior to get that unlimited power and the Terry thing was the first time that power was truly challanged. Also Terry wasn´t just a treat, he was a rat, which for someone who clearly rationalizes his bad actions by telling himself that he was doing something good for his family and friends was certainly a very serious offense.
2) One can't take out the importance of the whole money train arc. There's two Vics troughout the series one till Lem burns the money and another after. Every bad deed he does in the first three seasons has some financial upside for him, every bad deed he does after that is to protect him, Corinne and the other members of the strike team. An he is much less worried about consequences in those early seasons. So I'd argue that S7 Vic would probably find a non-murder solution to Terry.

Butch said...

One other thing about Terry -- it was an opportunity that presented itself and Vic took it. It wasn't like he had elaborately prepared before hand and thought it through.

Anonymous said...

IIRC, the whole point of the raid was to get Terry shot. Two-Time didn't manage to do it, so Vic had to do it himself. Am I remembering wrong?

Filipe Furtado said...

Lyle, you're right. It was a trap to get Terry shot.