The Shield: Life goes on

November 26th, 2008

It's been seven years, and well, the finale wasn't what I expected.

Of course, I'd be disappointed if it was.

That said, it was phenomenal.  Loose ends were tied up, while many threads were left open, presumably to imply that, after all that has happened tonight, life in Farmington will still be going on tomorrow.

I suppose the most jarring aspect of this episode was the amount of space and silence employed.  It's rare for this show to breathe, but there were several moments of that here.  In fact, there are several minutes of it.

For a show like this, a minute is an eternity.

So, on to spoilers.

Shane dies.  I fully expected things to come crashing down on him.  He wouldn't allow himself to be put away, period.  After all he'd done, there was only one outcome.  I was a bit surprised to see him take his own life, though.  Taking Mara and Jackson with him…well, that was a bit of a stretch.

The scene of his discovery was wonderfully paced and, all at once, shocking and immeasurably sad.

Of course, the aftershocks echo through everything.  Shane was Vic's protegee, but he never quite got it right, and as the series proves time and again, you don't use the devil's own tricks against him.

Shane's suicide note was both tragic and utterly fitting: he modeled himself after Vic, followed Vic unrelentingly, and though Vic wasn't solely to blame for Shane's eventual fate, he certainly helped mold it.

Vic and Claudette finally come to a confrontation, and their conversation in the interrogation room ranks with some of the most brilliant one-on-one dialogue I've seen in any medium.  Think DeNiro/Pacino in Heat, or Dennis Hopper and Christopher Walken in True Romance.

I've always loved CCH Pounder as an actress, and perhaps knowing that this was the finale to a truly gifted run, she turns in a performance that's in turns intense, pathetic (in the true sense of the word), and in the most modest but effective of ways, humble.

She's dying, and nothing else works, but she's going to tough it out.  Not out of any sort of John Wayne maschismo, but for the simple fact that she stays alive by doing what she's always done.

Dutch comes off well.  His inability to keep his personal life segregated from a case nearly derails it, and he seems to be realizing just how destructive a pattern this has been in his career.

Otherwise, Lem's still dead, Julian's still in the closet and Danny's still den mother.

Then there's Gardocki.  He's summoned back to the Barn to be informed of Shane's fate, and just as the thoes of grief are hitting in full force, he finds that Vic's immunity deal doesn't include him.

Gardocki's going away for everything: covering up Crowley's murder, participating in the Armenian Money Train heist, Dezerian's death, you name it.  That's one part of it; the second is when the camera pans to Vic and you realize he knew Gardocki was going down.

This is the first time I've ever considered Vic irredeemable.  Yes, this is a guy who's broken every possible rule, often under the color of authority, but that's always been the charm of The Shield–its ability to paint morals with a wide, gray brush and its ability to make the viewer sympathize with people like Mackey.

In the end, though, he's just out for himself.  I think it was a bit wrong; it sends Mackey over the line from…well, from bad to evil.  I'm not sure I agree that Ronnie, of all of them, should have to suffer for Vic's sins.

Vic's ultimate fate is both fitting and unexpected.  Like Shane, I only saw this going one way, but they pulled something completely different out of the hat.

Vic's final deal to snatch hope from the jaws of death pays off, in a way.  He finds that he's got a cubicle job with ICE.  Wear a suit and tie, leave the weapon at home, file five 10-page single-spaced reports a week and get drug-tested on a regular basis.  Oh, and “we ask people who bring in their lunches to label them.”  Such a situation is the Ninth Layer of Hell for a man like Mackey, and it fits.

After all, he's been able to bargain, bully or weasel his way out of every mess he's ever been in.  He's a perfect sociopath, not only willing to manipulate others for his own welfare but brilliant enough to do so with ease.  He thrives on control, and to be put in this boat is absolute torture.

Mackey won't take his own life.  Men like him see themselves as the center of the universe, and suicide doesn't fit into that.  He could have been put away, but even in prison, he'd find a way to thrive and domineer others.

No, Vic Mackey is paying for his past by being stuck in a situation over which he's got absolutely no control or dignity.

Of course, the end leaves that outcome in question.  During a long, quiet passage, we see him sitting at his desk as the lights go out.  The camera lingers on his face for a seeming eternity, an easy thing to do with an actor as effortlessly emotive as Chikliss.  We see every wave of conflicting emotion wash over it, then the camera locks in on his eyes, going from confusion to despair, then finally towards that look of sinister resolve we're so used to seeing in him.

He hears police sirens outside the window and goes over to watch the cars pass.  He turns back to his desk, pulls his gun out of his briefcase, stuffs it in his waistband, puts on his coat, then stalks out of the room.

Where he's going is anybody's guess.  It doesn't matter.  Vic's arc has always been towards some sort of self-immolation, but we never know what.  In a way, resolving it would be somehow anticlimactic.  We don't need to know.  It's better to wonder, to know that he'll never settle for his circumstances, no matter how hopeless.

So, yeah, this was an utterly fitting and satisfying end to a great show.  Subtle as it was, the "holy $#%*!" moments didn't register for me on first viewing.  Shane's death, Ronnie's betrayal, even Vic's fate…the enormity of each of these events didn't hit me at first, as there was so much going on.

Thinking back, though, it was the same with Lem's death at the end of the 4th season.  The show runs at such a hyperkinetic pace that the viewer isn't accustomed to just stopping for anything.  Like Lem's death, this episode's full-stops didn't register until they were past.

But they resonate all the same.

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