The Shield: Thoughts and Opinions

5 Jun

The Shield

Over the course of approximately three months, I watched seven seasons of The Shield, and the thoughts bouncing around my brain are too numerous to mention, especially after still processing the crackerjack series finale, generally considered to be one of, if not the best ever. There’s a lot to like, and a little bit not to. In the first season I worried I wasn’t really going to be on board with The Shield at all. I absolutely did warm up to it, though I’m still not sure how high on my all-time list it would actually ascend. Because I just have so much to say and I want to get it out there, I’m going to bounce around, focusing mostly on Vic and the strike team. Please don’t read further if by chance you’ve started this and have not seen The Shield because there are spoilers aplenty.

Vic Mackey, one of the great antiheroes in television history, had the good fortune to come at the beginning of the antihero era, when his only primary competition was Tony Soprano. Having to follow his antics after the runs of Walter White, Don Draper, and other lesser antiheroes who played a huge role in prestige drama in the past decade put me in a distinctly different viewing mindset than those who followed along with The Shield as the show aired. I had less patience with Mackey than I might have, and I hated, hated him, from day one. Still, his charisma is impossible to deny, and I became invested in his increasingly complicated plans and plots, even while rooting for him to fail.

The problem for me with the first season, which gradually improved over the course of the show, was that in the first season everyone treated Mackey as if not only was he a model cop, but that he was one of the best. What drove me crazy was the fact that no one at the department could see that this guy was trouble, that he was a problem, that he didn’t and wouldn’t listen to anybody, even aside from the far worse deeds he had already committed that no one even knew about or suspected at the time.

Vic Mackey was poison to himself and everyone he touched. He was morally compromised beyond the point of no return in the pilot. In Breaking Bad, Walter White starts off a relative innocent; a mild-mannered science teacher with cancer and everything starts to ramp up very slowly. Not so with Vic. What may, even after all the crazy and illegal and detestable shit he pulled over the course of seven seasons, have been the single worst and most severe act happened right at the end of the first episode. This wasn’t a crime serving a convoluted and unethical but justice-minded attempt to keep the streets safe or round up bad guys. This wasn’t even taking advantage of others’ illegal activity, thieving from thieves, like the robbing of the Armenian money train. Nope, this was a murder of an innocent fellow police officer who had done nothing but look into Vic and his team. There was never any coming back from that.

And so that was the story of The Shield, when boiled down. The four members of the strike team, who dabbled in all sorts of illegal activity trying to keep out ahead of their misdeeds, believing they could as long as they stuck together, while pausing to occasionally do some police work.

It’s all about that strike team, and the dynamics between the core four. They’re a family, until they’re not. Family, we hear that term so often. Lem, Vic, Shane, and Ronnie.

Vic is the ultimate narcissist, messianic, with a god complex; he believes he’s well above the law. Nothing can stop him. He has a plan for everything, and he’s gotten away so many times, that the law is his own personal play thing.

Shane was the Vic’s closest friend; he had been with Vic the longest. He was the weakest member, he would have caved fastest, he was the most foolhardy member, and he was the biggest follower. At the start of the show he would have followed Vic anywhere in the world. Unlike Vic, he’s open to what they are; corrupt and willing to take advantage of their position for a buck whenever the opportunity strikes; he’s more craven about it, but more honest. When he thinks Vic is being unnecessarily pious he calls him out, but his lack of caution gets him into trouble with Antwon Mitchell. Maybe that’s what helped put him on the path towards his assassination of Lem, which was the single key moment in the strike team’s downfall. Shane was never quite able to shake Vic, and what he said in his murder-suicide note in the finale was poignant. Once he met Vic, his road to ruin began. He was a born follower and Vic a leader, and they were set from there. The murder-suicide at the end was probably the most heartbreaking moment in the finale, and was another sign of Shane’s weakness, and his inherent tragedy. No matter what he tried, he could never beat Vic at his own game; he would never be as far ahead.

Lem was the conscious of the strike team, which is a relative designation. Jon Kavanaugh couldn’t turn him because he was loyal above everything else, but he was right to target Lem. Lem had a heart, and though he was influenced willingly by Vic’s charisma, he remained softer, less coarse than the rest of the team, and is the member who would most likely have had his career run above board had he never met Vic and the crew. And it’s not a coincidence that Lem, who looks angelic by strike team standards, had no idea about Terry. He was innocent of this foundational event but when he bit the apple and found out, which might have turned him against Vic when it happened, it was already far too late, he had already done far too much to come back from.

Ronnie was cold and calculating and smart. Ronnie wasn’t as craven about hording money when he could as Shane, but he was always willing to pick up a cool buck, and was the biggest supporter of the Armenian money train robbery initially. The most risk-averse, Ronnie was the only member of the strike team who was smart with his money and didn’t show his hand to Kavanaugh. Of course, Ronnie’s personal mistake came in trusting Vic. Ronnie might well have turned on Shane or Lem, I think. Shane was weak, and Lem had a conscience, and both of those could have been considered flaws which Ronnie would capitalize on and then make the best deal for himself. But he never would have doubted Vic. Oh, he would have persuaded Vic to try another plan and he did, but when it came down to it, Vic was his leader. Ronnie wanted to run, and Vic wouldn’t let him. Ronnie says that Vic taught him everything he knew, and he’s not lying. He was in his debt up to the point where Vic stabbed him right in the back.

Vic seemed to engender that loyalty from many, but particularly from the strike team who over and over and over he said he considered family. This loyalty was the one so-called-admirable quality of Vic’s that remained by the end; he had done all these terrible things, but stayed true to his guys at all times, even when their mistakes had nothing to do with him. And then he turned on Ronnie.

Vic held out when many would have caved. There can be no doubt about it. When the time came, however, he showed his true colors. He sold his man out. I’m not saying this because I respect Vic’s loyalty, though I suppose if I’m forced to respect something about Vic, it would have been that. I’m saying this  because Vic cares about Vic’s loyalty, and though he’d never admit it, because he’d never admit a personal flaw, because he’s simply not capable of that level of self-reflection – always forward, never backward – and his betrayal of Ronnie shows that the emperor has no clothes. Claudette knew as much; that’s why she arrested Ronnie with Vic right there to watch up close and personal.

A second entry of thoughts will be coming soon.

One Response to “The Shield: Thoughts and Opinions”


  1. The Shield: Thoughts and Opinions, Part 2 | Television, the Drug of the Nation - July 17, 2015

    […] to part 2 of my thoughts on The Shield. Part 1 can be found here. Plenty of spoilers […]

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