Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The Shield, "Animal Control": Back to the beginning of the end

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?


Anonymous said...

Thought this was a tense episode worth missing the debate for, even though I didn't think Shane was going to die this soon in the season. I don't think Ronnie emptied the gun - Shane would have noticed the difference in weight. I think he bent the firing pin so it wouldn't shoot.

Anonymous said...

Vic is so deluded and narcissistic. I almost wonder if he could be classified as a sociopath. I chortled when he called Corrine the bad parent. Pot meet kettle much?

Vic Mackey is a disgustingly appalling parental figure. He hardly spends any quality time with his children. He sets a terrible moral example. He constantly endangers their lives. Even Shane is a better parent than Vic.

Vic's kids are a mess because of him. Cassidy is turning out to be a psycho just like her old man. Now he's muscling in on Danny and trying to force his way into her son's life. One look at Cassidy should be enough warning for Danny to keep Vic far away from her own child.

Oh, and nice to see Tavon back! He was always my favorite new addition to the Strike Team. Much better than that lame guy they had last season (I forgot his name already... the one that banged Tina).

bgt said...

The guy from last season was Hyatt (or Hilton?) - something hotel-ish.

I don't think Ronnie emptied Shane's gun, otherwise Shane would have noticed how much lighter it was when he picked it up. My guess would be that he either bent or removed the firing pin. (minor point - obviously Shane has a good idea who disabled his weapon)

Another very solid episode, this season absolutely destroys The Sopranos in the last-minute season-stretch-out department. While it's certainly true that Vic & Shane are essentially in the same place as before the Mexican/Armenian shenanigans, it gave Vic & Ronnie time to digest the fact that Shane killed Lem and decide whether or not they could live with it.

Dan Mac said...

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.

Minor correction, but I only make it because it was one of my favorite moments of the episode. Ronnie does in fact warn Vic that it's likely their plan won't work as they expect. Vic first comes to him, announcing he has a plan, and Ronnie warns him that they're bound to make a mistake, trying to operate under an arbitrary one day deadline.

I liked the moment, because Ronnie expressed his reservations, but was still completely willing to go through with the plan. He's the more reasonable, pragmatic member of the strike team, but perhaps no less bloody-handed and vengeance driven than his counterparts.

mbtoole said...

I don't agree that letting Shane just transfer out of the Barn and off the Strike Team was the more prudent course and that would have ended all of the drama.

Shane did exactly that after Season 3 and quickly got himself in deep trouble with Antwan Mitchell forcing the Strike Team to bail him out of that mess. Which ultimately led to Lem lifting that brick and Kavanaugh finding out about it.

So I think even if Shane left, he'd still be as much of a threat or risk.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Good point on the weight of the gun, guys, which I hadn't considered. Either way, it was one step too many, especially since the odds of Shane surviving a firefight with the Mexicans was so low.

Anonymous said...

bgt, I think you're right about Ronnie not removing Shane's ammo. I agree he would have noticed the difference in weight. Your idea about the firing pin is probably as close as the writers thought, but unfortunately you can't do that without completely disassembling a Beretta like Shane's. Not enough time for that in the lockup.

As others have said in previous comments, Ronnie has changed over the course of the series, and I think he might be the last man standing, perhaps even to the point of pulling the trigger on one of his partners himself.

Vic didn't have the stones to do Shane himself, but wanted to game his death. Ronnie would do it himself to be sure. But where Vic's pride would face his problems (a John Woo moment for he and Shane, for example), I can see Ronnie being a backshooter. A fair fight to him means he wins and goes home...

St Paul

Alan Sepinwall said...

Shane did exactly that after Season 3 and quickly got himself in deep trouble with Antwan Mitchell forcing the Strike Team to bail him out of that mess. Which ultimately led to Lem lifting that brick and Kavanaugh finding out about it.

Damn you people and your points well-supported with evidence from previous seasons!

You're right: as far as Vic and Ronnie are concerned, Shane's too stupid, and poses too great a threat to them, to be allowed to live.

Anonymous said...

Shane is not too stupid to figure things out. He is too stupid though to not tell his idiot wife everything. Maybe they will take out Shane and then realize they will have to take out the wife too, while she is pregnant! How's that for an endgame? The freedom of Vic and Ronnie or the lives of the mom and baby.

Drew said...

What a transformation Ronnie has made. I think that he will be Vic's legacy on the department. Even after Vic and Shane are gone, I believe Ronnie will still be there as he has a clean "aura" about him.

This episode proved that he is just Vic 2.0. Even worse, he doesn't have a family or personal connections with anyone outside the department (Vic and Shane both have families). I think if the show continued a couple more years (or if we had a glimpse into The Barn 2-3 years down the line), we'd see that the real monster Vic has created is Ronnie.

Nicole said...

Wasn't the guy on the team last year played by the same guy who was the vampire on Moonlight? We had better not bash him too much or the Moonloonies will spam Alan's blog again.

I guess I assumed Shane was too dumb to figure out that he was being set up so that last moment woke me up. I can't see how any of the three will pull out of this alive. It's going to get ugly and these convoluted plans Vic keeps making will just get crazier and less likely to work.

Rev/Views said...

Vic's pride has always been his greatest hubris. He's so confident that he can best anyone else in a battle of the wits that no amount of evidence to the contrary will change his mind (at least not so far).

He (and Ronnie) don't seem to realise just how far Shane has come since his season 3/4 screw ups. He managed to kill Lem in a manner that pointed the suspicion well away from him. It wasn't until Vic read Kavanagh's dossier on the killing that he realised what had happened and it clicked.

Since arrived on the scene Mara he's become a changed man, he's been somewhat less impulsive and more inclined to think. Also as noted he doesn't know where the line is with regards to anything, he's seriously dangerous.

Likewise, so is Ronnie. If Vic isn't careful he could end up being caught between those two. And it's quite likely they're smarter and more dangerous than he is.

Anonymous said...

I just hope that next week Vic and Ronnie will start to realize: How is it Shane hasn't realized yet that he got set up? He barely escapes an ambush, he knows his gun was disabled, and he's acting like they're still his buddies? They're too smart to think he's that dumb.

I, too, think Ronnie is going to be the key to whatever ends up happening. And he's not going out like a punk. He's gone from an afterthought by the writers to arguably the scariest character on the show. He can say more with a sidelong glance than Shane can say by clacking those horse-teeth together all day long.

It's a function of Mackey/Chiklis's force of personality that I didn't even think about his hypocrisy toward Corinne until Alan pointed it out. This show really does suck you into his point of view.

"Oh, and nice to see Tavon back! He was always my favorite new addition to the Strike Team. Much better than that lame guy they had last season (I forgot his name already... the one that banged Tina)."

He turned into a vampire and got canceled after 16 episodes.

Anonymous said...

Good to see Tavon as well! He is going to make Shane's life miserable in the coming weeks, I bet! Also, I think Shane will plot to kill Vic and Ronnie seperately to ensure his survival. My thought is Ronnie is going to end up dying. Vic will end up killing Shane, and something in Vic's past will get him leaving Julian standing as the only surviving Strike team member.

Anonymous said...

Can you please remind me during which season Tavon was on? I really like him but can't remember the season. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Tavon was in Seasons 2 (mainly) and 3.

I enjoyed watching Tavon strut into the Strike Team office. Shane looked shell-shocked, like he wet his pants. I also loved Tavon's line to Julian, "These guys are tight but they're not unbreakable". Vic and Ronnie looked so uncomfortable. When Tavon gave his condolences about Lem, there was such an awkward silence.

I really liked that Tavon threw it in Shane's face that LEM was the one who lied and covered for him. Shane looked gutted when Tavon brought that up. Lem had Shane's back. But Shane didn't return the loyalty. Now he's alone.

Anonymous said...

I'm finally finishing The Shield, and even though nobody has commented in two months, for posterity's sake: Olivia has provided the perfect counterpoint to Vic this episode. As soon as she's caught, she wants to turn herself in. Like most of the criminals Dutch and Claudette have uncovered.

On the other end, Vic thinks he can still get away with everything. Just like Kleavon and Lloyd. Someone upthread asked if Vic is a sociopath. I think the answer is and has always been a resounding yes.