Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Shield, "Petty Cash": It's hard out here for a Vic

Spoilers for "The Shield," season seven, episode 11, coming up just as soon as I start going through gas station men's room trash cans...

"The edge is where we live, all of us, all the time. People try to convince themselves otherwise is just an exercise in self-deception." -Vic
"Philosopher?" -Beltran
"Former cop. Same deal, less horses--t." -Vic

Oh, it's getting bad around Farmington. As Ronnie -- still so clear-headed most of the time it's amazing he ever let himself fall under Vic's sway -- puts it, "The wheels are coming off the whole damn thing."

Shane and Mara are still on the run, and they've gone from having 100 grand to start their pie-in-the-sky new life south of the border to being lucky to get $2500 after taking Jackson along to rob Mara's former employer. (In one of the saddest and yet funniest moments in the history of the show, one of the cleaning ladies being held at gunpoint offers to hold the little boy while Mara focuses on opening the safe.) Ronnie himself is apparently doomed when he has to step in for Vic and get the hundred grand to Corrine under the watchful eye of Claudette's surveillance team. And Vic's playing a very dangerous game by stealing from the local drug kingpins whom he's trying to bring into Beltran's organization.

I feel like I need to ask this question every week: how did it come to this? I suppose if I was a philosopher or a former cop, I might suggest that Vic was so concerned with maintaining his edge that he wound up slitting his own throat.

What's been amazing about this downfall of the strike team arc is how little it's been driven by external forces. Yes, Kavanaugh and the Armenians put pressure on the guys that led to certain bad decisions, but they were only in a position to do so because of actions that Vic and the boys committed of their own volition. They chose to get into bed with drug dealers, to treat Farmington as their personal ATM, to bend and even break the law whenever it suited their purposes. As James Poniewozik argued a few weeks back, "If it hadn't been Terry, it would have been something else."

This is on them, every bad thing that's happening now, and it's a testament to the acting and writing that I find myself feeling bad for them as often as I do as they suffer their deserved comeuppance. Shane's despicable and Mara's not a whole lot better, but when he puts his head into Mara's arms and notes that neither of them has another friend in the world anymore, I briefly forget about Lem and the grenade, just as I forget about the bullet between Terry's eyes when I watch Vic share a nice moment with Cassidy, not realizing that Corrine is taking steps to keep father out of daughter's life forever.

"Petty Cash" is another break-neck episode, as Vic and Ronnie race to make the the Beltran/ICE case work at the same time they're trying to deal with Shane's various demands, while Shane himself is too busy trying to scrape together even a small amount of cash to enjoy how much he's making his old partners suffer. And yet in the middle of all the usual maneuvering and double-crossing -- including Aceveda trying to call a truce with Vic in their war for ICE supremacy -- there's still time for a completely self-contained, satisfying Julien storyline involving the murdered basketball prospect.

I've commented on this before, but it bears repeating: Julien's tenure with the strike team, in which he became a better cop without losing his soul, proves that it's possible to move in Vic's orbit without getting crushed. Admittedly, the others deliberately froze Julien out of the illicit stuff, in the same way they did with Tavon and Terry and Kevin Hiatt, so it's not like they ever placed him in situations where had to choose between loyalty and the law. But when Claudette presents him with that exact choice, Julien doesn't even hesitate. He's a good cop who only has to worry about his own conscience, while Vic, Shane and Ronnie are all busy circling the drain.

Some other thoughts on "Petty Cash":

• We get our first reference to Danny since we saw her packing boxes a few weeks ago. And Dutch's comment suggests not only that everyone knows that Danny left and why, but that she's expected back down the road, once things with Vic hopefully calm down.

• Billings' man-crush on Ronnie continues to be amusing, here with him helping Ronnie look out for Shane's envelope because he has Ronnie's back "in a world of crazy coozes."

• This episode was co-written by Shawn Ryan's longtime deputy Charles H. "Chick" Eglee and Jameal Turner, and directed by Craig Brewer, whom you might know from "Hustle and Flow" and "Black Snake Moan." He joins an impressive roster of Very Special Guest Directors for the series that also includes Frank Darabont, John Badham and David Mamet, in addition to more usual (but still talented) suspects like Clark Johnson, DJ Caruso, Paris Barclay, Peter Horton and the late Scott Brazil. (And Michael Chiklis himself has directed several episodes, including this season's "Game Face.")

• Yet another minor character brought out of mothballs for the final stretch: Van Bro, the scooter-bound, eyepatch-wearing street artist, who appeared a handful of times early in the series, including the second episode ever.

• As with Shane's piano lesson story last week, Vic telling Beltran about his grandparents struck me as unusual because we know so little about these characters' lives before the series began. I have better notes now about the chat a bunch of us critics had with Shawn Ryan right after we watched the series finale, and so I wanted to expand on the Mamet-by-way-of-Ryan quote I used in last week's review:
"David Mamet always talks about backstory being bulls--t in his mind. But I definitely adopted that attitude before I heard it out of David's mouth. As a storyteller, I think I'm a little bit like a shark: I'm about going forward. There are certain ways that I ran the show -- I would like to think a lot more benevolently than how Vic operated in that world -- but the way I ran the show was very similar to the way Vic approached things, and that's where a lot of those stories came from... Those sort of scenes of reflection, you always talk about Vic not liking to be self-reflective, and I guess I didn't, as a storyteller, like to look back too much to the past."
What did everybody else think?


Tucker Stone said...

Another phenemonal Walt Goggins showcase. I feel like I'm a broken record with me buddies and I, but he is top notch every single week. That end was one of the best--and I assume the last--quiet moments the show has done.

Anonymous said...

OK, this show is really veering from reality. Vic brokering a drug deal between the 2 biggest players, and ripping off one for $100k? Claudette not busting Ronnie? Please...she's smart enough to know Vic will be easier to catch, by cutting off his "help". Shane walking out & about when there's an APB for him? The feds working with Vic??? Dissapointment!

Anonymous said...

"I don't know what that means"

It's easy to forget with Marciano around, but Goggins has some great comedic timing. It's worth trying to find the The Accountant, the (Oscar winning) short he made with Ray McKinnon (Rev. Smith on Deadwood) and Lisa Blount. His other work with McKinnon and friends isn't bad, either.


Anonymous said...

Everything is just so sad to me. The depths they've all sunk to are just astounding...the grit, the grime, the lowest of the low. It pains me to see this, and I find myself longing for the days when they were just bad cops doing bad things with a badge and a smile.

This is all over in two weeks. I can't reconcile my feelings about the end. I obviously want to see it, but the anticipation is the thing at this point. One of the greatest stories ever told.

Unknown said...

Excellent episode.

To anonymous above, how is Vic brokering a drug deal between 2 players and robbing one any less realistic than robbing the money train? It fits Vic's personality, the idea that he, Vic Mackey, can make it work.

I can't wait for the finale, and yet, part of me knows that I will be disappointed with the finale. The spoiler scenes suggest very plausible situations the next episode, and yet, I can't but feel disappointed about how things fall.

My one disappointment with this season, if I have one, is that I think they had a great opportunity to really revisit the initial morality question - how much can we excuse? The reality is, the gray that Vic Mackey lives in is a gray that society needs. The question, and it's been asked before, and revisited when Dutch said Billings was like Vic a few episodes back, is really a matter of degree. It's a harsh reality, and I am in no way suggesting that the Vic Mackey's of the world are good ... but reality isn't black and white.

I would've liked the ending to revisit this question, a question society has faced throughout history. Instead, the only falling apart that we've seen at Farmington is Claudette's struggles, but that has to do with her, and not the environment.

Anyhow, can't wait.

Anonymous said...

Also love how the package Shane sent to Claudette was from the greatest name/alias in the history of life: Cletus Van Damme.

Anonymous said...

Best Lines from tonight's episode

(Feel free to correct or add the correct quote)

"You've got a superhero on your team"

-Vic Mackey (aka The Thing from the Fantastick 4)


I also liked the one about the "RPG in the room before I hit the ground."

Anonymous said...

I hope the writers are not going to turn Claudette into another "Kavanaugh". Been there, done that. I hate recycled storylines. It's boring.

Why the hell didn't they arrest Ronnie? That was ridiculous.

Too much Shane & Mara. Isn't he supposed to be in hiding? Dude is everywhere.

Not enough Dutch & Aceveda. And where is Danny? Is she seriously gone from the show? That was the worst send-off for a main character.

Anonymous said...

What happened to Cassidy? There must be some deleted scenes. One minute she's doing drugs, abusing her mother and having Pimps & Hoes parties... now she's acting like a good daughter? Her sudden change in behavior was inexplicable.

Anonymous said...

One detail I guess I missed: why didn't Shane show up for the money?

Anonymous said...

Wait, never mind. Duh.

Shane didn't show up because he knew he'd be arrested. Rather, he was setting Vic up to be arrested.

Sometimes I'm dumb.

Anonymous said...

Beltran or Pezuela will take out Cassidy as revenge. That will be Vic's break from reality. He'll go nuts.

UnwantedTouching said...

Can someone help explain Vic's daughter's reaction to seeing Vic? It seemed like a downright normal, healthy, positive interaction between Cassidy and Vic, which seemed odd to me because it seemed that only a little while ago they were completely dysfunctional?

Anonymous said...

Bonnie & Clod!

Shane walking out & about when there's an APB for him?

LA is a pretty big town.

Why the hell didn't they arrest Ronnie? That was ridiculous.

I think because they need him to get to Vic. He thinks he's playing them, and they think they're playing him.

So this motorcade has to be next week, right? They've been playing this up for so long, I'd imagine this is all going down next week and the last episode is the epilogue. Not saying I know, because I don't, but it seems like that's where they're going.

Anonymous said...

Why, if Shane can get 100 grand out of Vic by threatening to send an incriminating letter, didn't he play the "I've left incriminating evidence with my lawyer which will come out if I'm killed" card?

Alan Sepinwall said...

Just a reminder, because I forgot to put it at the end of the review: no talking about the previews, or about anything you've heard/read/seen about the plot of the final two episodes. Anything along those lines will be deleted.

Susan said...

The kid Shane pulled into his car at the crack house - what did the kid pull out of his mouth and hand to Shane? What about the Dutch storyline with the kid who he thinks is going to be a serial killer. I was hoping something would have been done with that storyline, seems like it's unfinished.

Anonymous said...


I believe it was a taste of what he was trying to sell.


I think the Cassidy stuff has been odd the past few weeks. Did anyone else think she had written something on her test to let her Dad know her Mom was working with the police? When he gave her the 20 I thought that's where we were headed. Their relationship has gotten better these last couple of episodes, and I don't know why.

Kevin Michaels said...

Excellent episode. There's such a sense of impending doom hanging over everything Vic/Ronnie and Shane are doing (as well as Claudette and Dutch in trying to bring them down) - the desperation in their actions has them riding that edge Vic refers to.

Amazing how seamlessly Vic was able to broker a deal with the local drugpins - the same way he has been able to make things happen with Beltran. And the way he pulled Ronnie into his deal with ICE and Beltran was subtle but powerful- he keeps shifting the landscape and positioning himself to suit his needs (no matter how often they change). That's the kind of stuff that made him such a compelling character to watch and root for (even when we knew we should be rooting against him).

A couple of commenters have asked about why Claudette didn't take down Ronnie - I think from a legal stand point they did not have more than circumstantial evidence against him. If I'm not mistaken he never mentioned Shane or the money he was carrying to Corrine - just that Vic had asked him to give it to her. You wouldn't need a Johnny Cochran to bounce the charges - he could deny any knowledge of what was in the bag, and claim that he was only doing Vic a favor by giving her the bag (at this point there are no charges against Vic and there's nothing illegal about asking someone to give your ex-wife a bag/package). A case against Ronnie would be flimsy as hell and never stand up. I think Claudette knew that would stop her from ever getting Vic.

I still think Corrine will back out of the deal with Claudette - you can see the angst in everything about the way she's handling it. It's been noted before - there's such a dfference in the relationship betweeen her and Vic and Shane and Mara.

Also loved the return of "Cletus".

Anonymous said...

Of course I'm going to miss many things about this amazing show, but one of the little things I'll miss, are the throwaway one-liners, mainly passed back and forth from Mackey to Acaveda.

"Well, aren't you a little overdressed for your paper route."

or when Acaveda was waiting to meet Mackey (paraphrasing)

"For someone with so much on his plate, didn't think you'd have time to stalk me for your vote."

Maybe I'm just easy to please, but I always like Chiklis' delivery of those lol.

Seemed like a nice closure moment with Cassidy...which probably means bad things are on the way.

Wait, this is The Shield. Of course bad things are on the way.

Alan, any idea from talking with Shawn Ryan at what point the actors knew of the finale script?

Were they aware mid-season where this was all heading, or were they kept in the dark, and only aware of plot details on an episode-by-episode, or even scene-by scene basis.

Thanks for the reviews!

SPA said...

Anonymous - How is Claudette not bringing Ronnie down unrealsitic? If she brought Ronnie down Vic would know something is up and get to the bottom of it, she has to keep him in the dark.

Anonymous said...

To the folks complaining about Claudette not arresting Ronnie on the spot, the reason for that is very clear.

Right now, Claudette and Dutch don't have anything on Vic. Even the money, they can't tie Vic to that, since Corrine wasn't wired for her meeting with Vic and Corinne doesn't seem all that interested in testifying in open court against Vic. If they knew the source of the money, they might be able to tie it to Vic like that, but they don't know the source either.

The minute Ronnie is arrested, you start a clock that might be as short as a few hours and as long as a day. That's how long you have left to solidify the case against Vic Mackey. If you don't get him in that period, he's either going to slip off the hook or be on the run.

Besides, it's not like they don't know where to find Ronnie, or that the audio they have of Ronnie will degrade and be no good in 2 days. They have a charge they can pick Ronnie up for any time they want. When they're closing on Vic, they'll sweep up Ronnie too, but until then, they're going to wait.

Remember, Kavanaugh pulled in Lem at the start, which led to Vic being tipped off that IAD was investigating him, something he was entirely unaware of until Lem told him. Right now, Vic's completely unaware of Claudette and Dutch investigating him, but he'll know about the investigation if they end up arresting Ronnie.

Not to mention that it pretty clearly gives away that Corrine is working with the police, since there's only a few parties who knew about the money drop. Vic clears himself, Ronnie's getting arrested which clears him, Shane and Mara are on the run which means they're not exactly in a cooperative mood, and only Corinne's left.

Claudette's doing the smart thing by not arresting Ronnie on the spot.

Anonymous said...

I thought Cassidy's sudden sweetness towards Vic didn't fot at all. Great episode and awesome season, but Autumn Chiklis continues to be an acting eyesore (and they've all but removed the other kids from this season) and now her character acts completely out of the norm.

I do send (again) an Emmy nomination for Walt Goggins. But again, if Forest Whitaker and Glenn Close could be shut out from this amazing series, and they both put on acting tour de forces and have the movie star cred to go with it, how's poor Walt Goggins going to get any Emmy love?

I think Vic's going to ultimately get screwed over by his FBI chick. You could see it in her eyes in that scene where Vic hands over her file. He finally made himself weak and vulnerable because this was an attempt by him to have a future clean slate in the event of an FBI job, but he'll get screwed and hauled off to jail. You can just feel it.

Butch said...

I loved some of the shots using glass in this episode.

Vic talking to the dealer in prison, with the reflection making it appear that Vic is the one in the orange jumpsuit... awesome.

And when Shane has his head in Mara's lap, the shadows of the raindrops coming down his face... nicely done.

Unknown said...

I loved that brief moment where Claudette snapped at Dutch. He's tried his absolute best to help her steer what she doesn't seem to realize is a sinking ship, and that was how she repayed him.

Claudette is becoming like every other person who's tried to take down Vic. So emotionally involved and single-minded that she's losing focus of the bigger picture.

No one can come close to Vic and get away clean. Even those who are trying to stop him.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Butch, thanks for making note of some of those shots. The rain against the glass was an homage to the end of "In Cold Blood," where Richard Brooks and Conrad Hall famously shot Robert Blake's pre-execution monologue that way. (Skip ahead to around the two minute mark in that clip to get a good look at the effect.) Still works, 40 years later.

Anonymous said...

If I may speculate (as I'm an unapologetic spoilerphobe), I think Cassidy's sudden warmth for her father portends the ish hitting the fan. Maybe Cassidy has her own designs to turn her father in and she's lulling him into a false sense of security. With respect to Autumn Chiklis's, I don't find her very believable and the optimist in me thinks that maybe she isn't supposed to be believable.

R.A. Porter said...

What struck me was how hard Ronnie was *still* trying to be a good cop while the s**tstorm was swirling around him. He quickly recognized that Julien's instincts about the recruiter were sound and I sensed that he would rather have pursued that lead than run Vic's errands.

And it's not Vic, but Ronnie who realizes something was wrong with the money drop. If not for Vic, who would Ronnie have been? A better detective than Dutch?

For the doubters, I'm going to repeat one, very spoiler-free thing Mo Ryan said about the final two episodes: she cried. Sounds like it goes out the way it should.

Anonymous said...

Also: If they arrest Ronnie, Vic will run.

Another interesting shot was Corinne's POV on the park bench. A bit arty for this show, but I liked it. Showed how freaked out she was.

Anonymous said...

quote from tucker stone: Another phenemonal Walt Goggins showcase. I feel like I'm a broken record with me buddies and I, but he is top notch every single week.

Isn't he great? He's my favorite actor, and since I am 65, I've seen a lot of them.

Anonymous said...

Some comments Alan. First I'm surprised that Mara and Shane felt comfortable going back to Mara's old place of employment. I would have thought that the police would have surveillance at any place the duo could be expected to make an appearance. I mean if I were Claudette assigning people to keep tabs on Mara's old workplace would seem like a logical move.

Also I've really got to commend the writers for involving just about everyone in this final season. Going in, I didn't expect more from Corrine than some scenes here and there with Vic keeping her in the dark until the very end, so I'm very pleased to see Cathy Cahlin Ryan playing such a major major role in this final season. I so look forward to seeing how this plays out.

Anonymous said...

I'm skipping previews for the last two episosed. It ups that anticipation, if that is possible.

Doesn't Vic have to be fit with a pair of handcuffs, and drug throught The Farm for this show to end the way it is supposed to?

tabernacle said...

So many good things, some of them already mentioned:

-The sadness/humor of Shane and Family robbing that checks place, esp. Shane's inability to work the safe and the lady holding the baby

-Vic and Aceveda finding no scruples to working together

-Vic's edge/action hero/self-delusion/grandparents little monologue, as well as his "RPG" sales pitch

More generally, the tension throughout the episode was crazy.

I feel I missed something about the final reveal in Julien's football storyline. Why mention homosexuality if they aren't going to tie it back to Julien somehow?

Unknown said...

t-Why mention homosexuality if they aren't going to tie it back to Julien somehow?

Funny you menttion that. I keep going back and thinking about certain plot elements and have just looked at the Julien situation, the Mackey daughter behavior issues and some others as just stuff that happens in life. Not everything is meant to be wrapped up tidily in a bow. Just like life. Just like we don't expect Tina to become Supercop before the series ends. Even Mackey's daughters' behavior is meant to be taken as something that stresses him out even more in very stressful times.

tabernacle said...

killerlu, I think I know what you mean. I've felt that way about novels sometimes: shouldn't they be messier, so as to better reflect real life? If someone completely foreign to us were learning about the human condition exclusively through our literature, they would think life was this well-structured thing where all details ended up accreting meaning. But the rebuttal, as I understand it, is that the extra, non-meaningful stuff is assumed to happen, but offscreen, so to speak, and that, by design, the novel (or this show) simply _leaves out_ the non-meaningful coincidences and deadends. That still feels like a non-answer; I guess it's simply a conceit, a convention. (I suppose red herrings are the exception: they _seem_ to hold much meaning but end up containing none.) In the case at hand, I don't really know what the math exam was about, except maybe to show what Vic was going to end up losing out on, a certain degree of happiness or success as a father? I didn't get any vibe about Cassidy playing some complicated game where she betrays her mother or tries to be the one who turns in Vic or something like that.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I was talking with Shawn Ryan yesterday for some more post-finale post-morteming, and I brought up the Cassidy stuff and how it didn't seem to follow what we had last seen between her and Vic. He said, "My take for that episode was that Cassidy was making an effort, and it almost seemed a little forced on both their parts. But I bought it for that episode, in the sense that everything I hear about teenage girls is that the needle spins one way or the other."

Anonymous said...


asked this yesterday, hope you can shed some light...

Any idea from talking with Shawn Ryan at what point the actors knew of the finale script and how things were going to end?

Were they aware mid-season where this was all heading, or were they kept in the dark, and only aware of plot details on an episode-by-episode, or even scene-by scene basis?


Alan Sepinwall said...

Any idea from talking with Shawn Ryan at what point the actors knew of the finale script and how things were going to end?

That came up in our interview, and it'll be in the transcript that I run after the finale.

Anonymous said...

I feel I missed something about the final reveal in Julien's football storyline. Why mention homosexuality if they aren't going to tie it back to Julien somehow?

What mention of homosexuality is that? I must have missed it.

tabernacle said...

Julien was asked whether the boy might have been killed because he had recently become friends with a gay guy--something along those lines, I believe. (Julien quickly said No.)