Non-Geek TV From The Geek Perspective: The Shield

Gabbing Geek What We're Watching

There’s a lot of TV out there, and some of it has actually been off the air for a while but still worth a look.

This week I am talking about The Shield.  No, not Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  The Shield, you know, the cop show.  No, not The Wire.  The Shield.

Fine.  I’ll explain after the cut.


What’s the premise?

In the (fictional) precinct of Farmington, Los Angeles, Vic Mackey leads the anti-gang Strike Force.  He’s a corrupt cop who’s a moral black hole to everyone around him.  The series follows his rise and eventual fall over seven seasons.

What’s the appeal?

The Shield is, in many ways, a forerunner to Breaking Bad.  It doesn’t shoot for realism, but mixes character dynamics with pulpy scenes and story lines.  The main character is, as mentioned above, a moral black hole who doesn’t realize just how bad a guy he is.  The audience spends a good deal of time wondering if and when Vic’s various crimes will catch up to him.  Series creator Shawn Ryan set up the show to be like a Shakespearean tragedy where a single, high-ranking protagonist would have a large fall due to a personal character flaw.

Surrounding Mackey, played well by actor Michael Chiklis, are a wide range of other characters, each with his or her own moral code dealing with life as cops in a bad neighborhood.  There’s the politically ambitious police captain, a pair of generally moral detectives (one of whom suffers badly from low self-esteem issues), various uniformed cops, and the different members of Vic’s Strike Team.  The series could be seen as how people with various codes of ethics deal with complex problems.

Anything stand out?

A few things.

Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter was one of the top writers for the show, and whatever appeal that motorcycle drama had was probably honed here.

Actor Walton Goggins starts off as stereotypical racist cop Shane Vendrell, but he asked that be toned down and instead he became the guy who just wanted to be Vic but didn’t quite have the smarts and the skill.  The actor’s been appearing in Tarantino movies lately.

CCH Pounder and Jay Karnes offer nice contrasts, both in police style and moral code, as tough-as-nails Detective Claudette Wyms and emotionally-fragile wunderkind Detective Dutch Wagenbach.  Whatever dirty stuff the Strike Team is up to, those two, usually working a different case, manage to get equally impressive results without making their own rules up for their own personal profit.

What I generally say is if you watch the first episode, it looks a lot like a very standard crooked cop show.  Then something happens in the last five minutes of that episode that gets the plot started and will completely change the viewer’s mind about how “typical” the show is.

Special consideration should be given to Chiklis.  He’d mostly been doing family-friendly TV up to this point before this show changed his image and his career.  He’s magnetic as a cop who just doesn’t know he’s the real bad guy.  Vic Mackey honestly believes he’s a good cop.  He does do heroic things and he does bring in the bad guys.  He just personally believes he should also get something extra on the side for his efforts, and many of his actions are to protect himself and his team as much as it is to serve and protect.  The character shares a lot in common with Breaking Bad‘s Walter White.  Both see their actions as towards a greater, personal good, and the more morally upright spouse caught in their husband’s acts took the brunt of hatred from fans of the show who thought the protagonist’s actions were so darn cool that it made whatever they were doing A-OK.  The biggest difference between Vic’s and Walt’s wives was Vic’s actually stood for it less than Skyler did, and Vic was in many ways a much worse husband.

The series managed to get both Glenn Close and Forest Whitaker for extended guest star runs at different points as well.

The Shield also managed to pull of a final episode that most fans actually liked, a hard feat for many shows.  Many fans wondered if the show would end with Vic either going to jail or dying, or maybe somehow getting away with everything he did.  The final scenes showed that none of those scenarios happened, but in a way that few people had any complaints about.

Any downsides?

The series began with a character, Officer Julian Lowe, played by actor Michael Jace, who was supposed to represent Christian morality.  Julian was a very devout Christian but also a closet homosexual.  Jace was apparently uncomfortable with the role and asked the character go through conversion therapy.  Shawn Ryan did some research, found that most cases like that the “converted” person will only last a couple years trying to be straight and that would fit in with his timeline, so he allowed it.  Afterwards, Julian became a rather dull character with little to do.  Recently, Jace was also arrested for the murder of his wife, which does put a damper on the show as a whole.

There’s also a subplot one season where Vic and his wife Corrine are looking into joining in on a class-action lawsuit against vaccine producers because two of their three kids have autism.  That story was eventually dropped and there was a little bit of talk about how vaccines don’t really do that, but the subplot is there for a few episodes.

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