Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Shield, "Moving Day": Fam on the lam

Spoilers for "The Shield" season seven, episode nine coming up just as soon as I give you a business card...

"Well, that's a decision for when we need to make a decision." -Vic

Has it really come to this?

After having to continually pick my jaw up off the floor after all the stunning developments last week, my reaction to "Moving Day" was less disbelief than sadness, with a side of nausea. We've always known that the members of the strike team did bad things and suspected they were headed towards a bad end, but this? The strike team disbanded? Vic reduced to showing his business card in a futile attempt to get information that came automatically with his real badge? Shane dragging his pregnant wife and ill child around the seedier parts of Los Angeles as fugitives? Vic calmly explaining to Ronnie that Mara has to die as Shane's accomplice, but they can probably let little Jackson live because a two-year-old is too young to be a witness?

God, I'm wincing just typing all of that. Again, I've known from the start of the series exactly who and what Vic is, but to see him and the people around him fall this far, this fast? Wow.

Just an amazing hour, with a pre-credits sequence more intense than most episodes are in their entirety. I thought the show could never top the pre-credits sequence from the season six premiere, with Vic, Shane and Ronnie doing the 21-bullet salute at Lem's grave while Johnny Cash's "I Hung My Head" played, but they did. To have Vic and Shane talk to each other that way on the phone, abandoning all pretense of friendship or camaraderie -- or even a desire to see that the other keeps breathing -- left me gasping for air.

What really struck me in this episode is just how tired Vic looks. He has a weariness that we'd previously seen confined to lupus sufferer Claudette, like he knows his clock is running out and there's precious little he can do about it. If you still have the episode recorded, take another look at the moment at Corrine's house near the end of the episode, right before Mara calls again: he is just worn out by all the games, and lying and killing. But he's also Vic Mackey, and, like a shark, if he stops moving, stops doing what he's always done, he dies.

In "Moving Day," we get to see both Vic and Shane have to operate without the literal and figurative shield of the LAPD. Vic can't get instant answers from the pharmacists, and Shane can't pressure the garage mechanic or the nurses in the emergency room, because it would bring too much attention to who and what they've become. Vic is now considered a CI, at best, by Olivia, his dreams of a cushy landing spot at ICE possibly ruined by Aceveda's ascendancy in the case. Shane can't even go back to his house to get his son's medicine, and has to squat in a vacant house to avoid detection. If they weren't such scumbags, I'd feel sorry for them -- and I definitely feel sorry for poor Jackson.

It's also fascinating, throughout the episode, to watch the contrast between Shane's wife and Vic's ex-wife. Mara, though most fans have hated her throughout her time on the show, sticks by Shane because he was always honest with her about who he was. She fell in love with the actual Shane, and whatever you think that says about her, it at least provides the basis for a stronger relationship than with Vic and Corrine, where Vic always lied to her about his biggest sins. Now that Corrine's starting to realize who she was married to for all those years, she's horrified and wants as little to do with Vic as possible.

I have one complaint with the episode: while Vic holding a gun on the Vendrell family in the hospital parking lot was as chilling as it was supposed to be, I didn't like the follow-up to it. Obviously, Vic can't rat them out to the cops, because they in turn would rat him out. But wouldn't the cops want to take statements from these people who were just held at gunpoint? And, after identifying Vic, wouldn't they at the very least hold him until his former commanding officer showed up to question him? It felt like the episode built up to a confrontation that the writers didn't quite know a plausible way to get out of, so they just rushed past explaining it.

But beyond that, "Moving Day" showed that the intensity is only going to keep building and building as we move towards the finale.

Some other thoughts:

• You know who else I feel sorry for? Claudette, who has to deal with Vic's mess even though he's not even on the payroll anymore. CCH Pounder was marvelous with the weariness and anger she brought when Claudette said, "I've had enough blood," and I like that even Ronnie is intimidated by her enough to tell her a somewhat fictionalized version of the story of Shane and Lem.

• Meanwhile, Julien gets temporarily banished back to uniform, and we see that he somehow managed to emerge from his time in the strike team having only picked up the good lessons. He still plays by the book, but he's also the one who figures out that Dina might be able to point him in the right direction towards finding Shane's new car.

• Dutch has two great stories this week. The Lloyd storyline has definitely grown on me, in part because Frances Fisher has been so wonderful as Lloyd's in-denial mom, in part because it's becoming clear just how right Dutch is about the kid. He is absolutely a budding serial killer, and it does feel appropriate that Dutch's final big arc deals with his pet obsession.

• Meanwhile, the sex offender business with Billings worked as a nice reminder that the difference between Vic and other cops could sometimes be a matter of degree rather than kind. Dutch spells out the parallels a little more blatantly than necessary with the line about not wanting to play Shane to Billings' Vic Mackey, but Steve planting evidence to violate the guy's parole was very much out of Vic's playbook.

• It's been a long time since the series started, so I need some help here: was there ever a point when we were supposed to like Aceveda? Refusing to continue the investigation unless ICE starts supporting his campaign is no more selfish than Vic's attempt to use the case to get himself a new job, but didn't David once upon a time try to position himself as being morally superior to Vic? God, I love hypocrisy; don't you?

• I feel like I haven't done as good a job as I could have in highlighting some of the behind-the-scenes personnel that help craft this amazing television every week. Last week gave us "Sons of Anarchy" creator Kurt Sutter's final script for this series, while tonight's show was co-written by Adam E. Fierro and Lisa Randolph. The director, Rohn Schmidt, has been the series' director of photography since the pilot, but this was only the second time he got to direct an episode. Hell of a job by all involved.

Finally, I should add something that came up in the comments last week: I have now seen the final season all the way to the end. You don't have to worry about spoilers. All my reviews will be written based on the notes I took at the time I watched each episode, and I'm being careful not to so much as hint at anything that's coming.

But I will tell you this: the final two episodes are amazing, maybe the best -- and certainly the most intense -- swan song for a great drama I've ever seen. And I wrote that as someone who loved the finales of both "The Wire" and "The Sopranos." I got to watch the last two at a Fox screening room with a handful of other critics, and we were all shaken by the experience of it. As much as I don't want the experience of watching and writing about this show to be over, I can't wait until you all see the finale so I can finally start discussing it.

As for this episode right here, what did everybody else think?


Bix said...

Ronnie in Claudette's office near the end was David Rees Snell's best work in the history of this show. The look on his face when she asked why Shane wanted him dead made me think for a split second that he may actually spill the beans as much as possible. When he spun his new story, it worked well enough that Claudette believing it seemed realistic and he seemed smarter than Vic, who I don't remember ever playing his boss quite THAT well.

Anonymous said...

Loved DR Snell, but his story to Claudette made no sense - if Vic really just wanted Shane arrested, he would have alerted the cops rather than kept silent. Why didn't Claudette call him on that?

Anonymous said...

Aceveda was, at the start, indignant and positioned himself as morally superior to Vic, but even in the pilot Terry told him that nailing Vic would be a nice ticket to the mayor's office.

I think, at one point, despite his flaws, he was man who genuinely cared about his community in a larger sense, but everything that happened to him over the years probably convinced him that the best thing for his community is David Aceveda. And that's all that matters now. Power.

I think it was season 4 where he finally crossed that line.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

"... Steve planting evidence to violate the guy's parole was very much out of Vic's playbook"

Believe it was actually the detective that Billings talked with that did the actual planting. Billings answers to Dutch back at the barn made it seem that way. Maybe not, and really not that important as Billings is complicit either way.

"... wouldn't the cops want to take statements from these people who were just held at gunpoint?"

Exactly. Believe Mara just said that Vic had a gun to the radio car. As Vic likely has a conceal/carry (plus his former status), he has an instant out for just having the weapon so the writers did further the 'blunder' by having Claudette mention that they were held at gunpoint. The former almost can be explained letting them leave, the latter no way.

Anonymous said...

That was one great tense episode of television. I just really wish I didn't grit my teeth every time Mara comes on the screen. I like the character but I can't stand the performance of the actress ever since they first introduced her. She only ever plays one level, "indignation".

Anonymous said...

I haven't revisited the earlier seasons either, but I think we were always meant to dislike Aceveda once his political ambitions were introduced, and that happened pretty early on. It was the reason he didn't bust the strike team in the season two premiere, right?

That said, I read the Aceveda scene (a little) differently in this particular episode. He's just doing what Vic would do if he could -- leveraging whatever he can out of I.C.E. Aceveda holding the picture of Beltran is supposed to echo Vic waving his badge. I thought it paired well with the scene of Vic flashing Jackson's medicine (a more obvious badge stand-in) at the motel owner. And all of this tied to the Billings storyline and the more general theme of creeping corruption/temptation to abuse the badge.

I agree that the resolution of Vic's arrest was unclear; how did he get free without explaining why he didn't alert the unis to who the couple was? But no one has ever stared down the strike team as well as Claudette (no offense to Forest Whitaker), and I will accept an implausible setup for the sake of a scene where Claudette stares down Julien, Ronnie, and her own boss in a single scene without even getting up from her desk.

Like many of the commenters here, I've noticed Mackey's weariness too. I've actually wondered if Chiklis let himself go physically a little bit going into the home stretch, or if they're dressing him in just ever-so-slightly large attire to make him seem a bit smaller. But maybe that's just the impression one gets after seeing Vic so desperate for so long.

And the Vendrell marriage continues to be awkward but strong. Not only did I not expect Mara to leave, I still don't expect her to betray Shane down the line to save herself.


Anonymous said...

I really liked how we got to experience the whammy of Vic's willingness to murder Mara twice. First, when he acknowledged it to Ronnie, but then again, when Corrine got to learn the truth from Mara. That double-whammy really served to heighten the revulsion that I now can't help but feel toward Mackey.

It's all so, so ugly, from the bitterness in Shane and Vic's telephone conversation to Vic realizing that he's nothing more than a CI now, to Mara convincing Corrine that she's now an accomplice to Vic's crimes to Dutch having to make peace with knowing that Billings just had an "innocent" man thrown back in prison.

Really, the only one who emerges unscathed is Julian, and I appreciate his steadfast refusal to go along with anything out of line. It was telling that Ronnie is so corrupt now that he was really taken aback by Julian's refusal to play ball even just a little.

Anonymous said...

It's been a long time since the series started, so I need some help here: was there ever a point when we were supposed to like Aceveda?

The very first scene of the pilot contrasted Vic's street methods with Acaveda's big load of b.s. about them during a press conference. So: No. He's been shown as an ambitious, morally flexible slickster from Minute 1. Yeah, he's made noises about getting rid of Mackey, but more out of self-preservation than anything else.

Glad to see Pezuela finally acting like a bad guy. Week after week, he's come off less like an all-powerful drug kingpin than a constipated vice-principal. His line about how Aceveda has a... um, body part up his... um other body part, that was a nice reminder of how Pezuela got his hooks into Acaveda in the first place.

Claudette vs. Ronnie was choice. If she gave me that look, I'd need to go home to change pants. "Pull the other one, son."

Mara's having a girl. Did we know that? I swear I don't know what's going to happen next, but I have a really bad feeling.

Anonymous said...

Self-preservation and ego, I meant to add. Vic and Acaveda were constantly competing to be alpha male. Acaveda didn't like Vic because he couldn't control Vic.

Anonymous said...

Acevada being forced (at gunpoint), to do "that" a few seasons ago was heartbreaking. Note to Spike- Cut cack on the commercials! This season's first few episodes (limited commercial interuption), was a smart move. I remember the 2 Budweiser ads. Lately, it's just a barrage of white noise.

Anonymous said...

Are we ever gonna see how Julian FINALLY comes out of the closet?

Anonymous said...

David Aceveda reminds me a lot of Tommy Carcetti from "The Wire". He is a smart, shrewd and ambitious politician with good intentions but a dangerous hunger for power. Aceveda used to be one of the most fascinating characters on the show before his role was greatly diminished in later seasons. I found him quite sympathetic and compelling during the rape storyline and the scenes with his wife and daughter. Unfortunately, both Aceveda and Julian's characters basically disappeared after season 4. They used to have much more depth and dimension. Now they are just cardboard background puppets.

Vic's willingness to murder Mara did not surprise me in the least. Mara has always been the "Yoko Ono" to the Strike Team. Vic could barely tolerate Mara's presence and his hatred for her was evident the moment she appeared in Shane's life.

Mara was right about Corrine being a door mat. She lets Vic walk all over her. Now Mara is doing the same. I wish this lady would grow a pair and start taking control of her own life. The preview gives me hope for her character.

UnwantedTouching said...

< It's been a long time since the series started, so I need some help here: was there ever a point when we were supposed to like Aceveda? >

I also like the idea that even if Aceveda had any of the idealism Carcetti had on the way into the mayor's office on The Wire, his involvement with Vic and the Strike Team over time also corrupted him...

Anonymous said...

Please, folks, no references to previews, however oblique! Some of us are taking great pains to avoid them entirely!


Alan Sepinwall said...

Yeah, no talk about the previews. I forgot to include my usual warning about that.

Anonymous said...

Man I hope Shane wins. And Mara is down for her man, besides being a racist I would love to have a woman like that.

I hate Vic I can't wait to see him dead.

Unknown said...

I've loved how the writers have gradually made you lose your sympathy for Vic. It's not like anyone ever illusions of him being the "good man and good cop" he always believed himself to be, but he was always the lesser (for the most part, anyway) of the evils on the street.

But where they've taken him -- his attempt to strong-arm Danny into let him be a father, his ugliness to Olivia last night when she ceased to be "useful" to him, and of course his willingness to orphan Jackson and essentially murder Shane and Mara's unborn baby (not to mention Shane and Mara themselves)...he's become as morally bankrupt as any villain on the show. and the writers aren't glossing over that anymore. I love it!

Fantastic reviews, Alan. as much as i've been looking forward to seeing how it all ends, your "best finale ever" comments are just making the wait that much harder.

Unknown said...

Also forgot to mention how much I'm liking the Claudette-as-a-failing captain storyline.

AC Phillips standing there basically telling Claudette that she doesn't really have the authority to disband the Strike Team...oh, it doesn't bode well for the Barn.

Anonymous said...

Got to re-DVR this weeks episode, and the show after to cacth next weeks preview. Cut off after one the Shawn Ryan credit last night.

A lot has been covered already, since this is one of the best blogs on the internet. Glad I didn't read Alan's stuff during the Sopranos and The Wire- I would have been very unproductive at the office.

Anyway, I'm thinking in some different directions. This Dutch serial killer thing is going to be big. I don't know if he realizes his dream of stopping something before it happens, or gets vindication when this young man kills again. Either way, it's brewing ever so slightly on the back burner. My goodness, Frances Fisher is talented and sexy in such an unusual way. No wonder the subtle Clint Eastwood was with her so long. Her character on The Shield even reminds me of the Marcia Gay Hardin wife in Mystic River. Of course Mara would be the embodiment of the Laura Linney stand by her man role.

My radar may be off, but I see something brewing with Cassidy as well. All the other children have been off screen, and her behavior, including last night, has been curious to say the least.

I thought I was cynical about all politicians. Aceveda's makes Tommy Carcetti look like Ghandi.

Will we ever see Danny again?

Did Pezuela finally enter Antoine Mitchell territory last night?

Will Claudette and Vic meet again- the respective moral center and immoral center.

Four more to go huh?

Unforgivableblackness said...

"When he spun his new story, it worked well enough that Claudette believing it seemed realistic and he seemed smarter than Vic"

I don't think Claudette bought his story at all, especially at the end when he said "we're all on the same side here" and she gave him that raised eyebrow.

Some folks I talked to thought this show was a let down from last week, which it was in terms of action/tense moments. In terms of story telling though and advancing the plot it was excellent.

Vic is becoming more and more isolated, Ronnie coming "clean" in Claudettes office lets us know he isn't going to let Vic drag him down. Corrine FINALLY not trusting Vic. He's on the outs with ICE in terms of a job, I think Olivia will string him along though as a CI just to make their case...but other than that Vic is on an island.

mbtoole said...

Anyone else catch Vic swiping that fake Passport ("the cost of doing business")?

I bet that shows up again in the final episodes.

I wonder if Vic is headed for the same ending as Gilroy?

Anonymous said...

I recall in some Season 1 special features Shawn Ryan saying that Aceveda was a reaction to the trend of making the Captain a "Magical Ethnic Type"--he was meant to be a detestable quota baby from the start.

I've also been impressed with how well they've purged Vic of any sympathy. Every time he makes some pronouncement about redemption this season, I instinctively think "My God, you're full of shit." I didn't think Claudette's rebuke last week was ineffectual, I thought his swagger was. This week they gave him a hilariously over-compensating gun. Every time he pulled that thing, it was intense, obviously. At the same time, who did he think he was fooling?

Jennifer Boudinot said...

I second Josh on how Mackey is much less morally ambiguous now. It's interesting to see what not having a badge does to his character....the look on his face when he gets down on his knees for the cops was a little wrenching--Mackey, what's become of you??

I think the scene where he pulls the gun was prob shortened due to time. I assumed that Shane and Mara were leaving without the cops noticing, and that Vic probably has a permit for that gun so they let him go. But dot is right in that Ronnie's story to Claudette doesn't make any sense, because then Vic would have just said, "there's the guy you're looking for."

I remembering hearing someone (Chiklis? Shawn Ryan?) saying on a commentary once that he was glad Kenny Johnson got his time in the spotlight before he left. I think this season is David Rees Snell's time! He's fantastic, and I love how his lying skills have probably been helped by hanging out with Shane and Vic.

Almost forgot about Danny again in this ep and can't wait till she comes back. I don't know what going to happen, but I know it's going to be good.

One of my favorite things about The Shield is those pivotal moments that you don't realize are so pivotal until later. Vic should have shot Shane when he had the gun pointed at him in season 6, when he realizes Shane killed Lem. Is he trying to make up for his lack of guts then? Or has he lost his soul now?

Anonymous said...

Now I'm trying to figure out if I'm going to stay up an extra hour after election coverage to watch the next episode next Tuesday.

Anonymous said...

Anyone else catch Vic swiping that fake Passport ("the cost of doing business")?

I bet that shows up again in the final episodes.

I wonder if Vic is headed for the same ending as Gilroy?>>

Nice. I forgot all about the passports. No way those don't come up again.

Bix said...


Okay, maybe not necessarily convince Claudette, but play her just enough to diffuse the situation.

The weird Ronnie fans must have loved it.

Anonymous said...

This show-for it's entirety-is without a doubt the most intense cop show ever. There were eps of Hill St and NYPD Blue that left me shaken-but nothing like the sustained brilliance of the Shield (not saying it's a better a series). How many more eps are left?

Anonymous said...

What dot said at 11:47 is absolutely correct.

Also, when her son said that Frances Fisher's character is pathetic, he's absolutely correct. How could she not see what Dutch's real interest is? He barely even tries to hide it.

Anonymous said...

And still no mention of the fact that Danny's disappeared.

Anonymous said...

4 episodes left.

(I hope that's an OK thing from the previews to mention)

Anonymous said...

Vic COULDN'T tell the police (in the hospital parking lot), that Shane was wanted. Vic has to kill him & the wife to keep them from talking about all the skeletons in the Strike Team's closet.

I too hope that Julian comes out.

Anonymous said...

Loved how Ronnie just hesitated on how to spin his story when grilled by Claudette........he came off very well, with just enough half truths to sound plausible. She knows she can't believe anything from the original strike team.

I think Acevada started out decently, but was too ambitious and too willing to play along until things got out of control. He was awesome in the rape storyline when things started spiriling out of control for him. Now he is in too deep with Pezuela's corruption.....will ICE really have his back? I just hope Pezuela gets brought down-he was just so smug & cocky and thinks he can get away with anything.

Love the Dutch storyline, agree with the other poster-does he want to prevent the kid from killing or will another killing vindicate him? Good stuff........feel so badly for the mom........

afoglia said...

Alan, how do you think the finale works as two separate episodes? Should those of us unlucky enough to have not yet seen the final two episodes record the penultimate and watch it back to back with the finale? How much of its strength will be weakened by a weak-long intermission?

Hopefully you can answer this in next week's review.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Anthony, I think they'll work just fine separately. Beyond that, I shouldn't say.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone else get the feeling that as this season has progressed, Vic's agenda of killing Shane is less a matter of revenge for Lem and more of a move towards saving his own hindside? I mean, it seems to me Ronnie, genuinely wants Shane dead for what he did to Lem. Vic, not so much. I could be wrong, but this whole season I've just felt like Ronnie wanted it more for that reason, than Vic does.

Brandon Kosto said...

Saving his own ass (not to mention payback for his own attempted murder) is exactly what Vic's quest for Shane is about.

Just remember he arbitrarily decided to forgive Shane for Lem's murder a few episodes ago when he attempted to call off the hit and justified it the next episode by comparing Shane's behavior with Cassidy's and saying he wanted to work with him. Yes in Vic's twisted mind cold blooded murder is the same as a thirteen year old working out her daddy issues.

Michael Hickerson said...

And still no mention of the fact that Danny's disappeared.

Didn't Claudette tell Danny to take a leave of absense to deal with her issues with Vic a few epiosdes back. Given that only a few days have passed within the show since that moment, I'm not surprised no one has wondered where Danny has disappeared to yet. I predict Julian will be the first to notice and pursue it.

Anonymous said...

I think that Dutch may get confronted/attacked by the serial killer in training. I think that the tip off was that the kid had gone after the teacher who was previously interested in his mother, now the kid's mom has demonstrated an interest in Dutch. Something more has to happen there to tie this thread up, and I think it will be Dutch going down.

- TarDane

Brian said...

I know this was six months ago but I'm just catching up with the final run of The Shield now. Obviously it's amazing. But re: Aceveda. The turning point was the rape. Prior to that, he was morally comprised by his political ambition but still a more-or-less decent captain who truly did want to see Vic go down. After the rape, David went to some dark, dark places. Remember everything with that prostitute? He hasn't been the same since. The writers haven't really brought us into his inner life since then, unfortunately, but it's clear that the rape aftermath took him to the dark side and he never really looked back. He had an opportunity for redemption when Kavanaugh wanted his help to nail Vic, but of course Aceveda screwed that up and ended up indirectly getting Lem killed. Benito Martinez has done a good job of showing us how dead-inside Aceveda has been since the rape, even if the writing doesn't always have the details to back it up.