Sunday, June 10, 2012

'The Shield' Season 1 (2002)

Starring Michael Chiklis, Benito Martinez and CCH Pounder
Created by Shawn Ryan

Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis) is a different kind of cop.  He runs a unit in the Farmington division of Los Angeles called the Strike Team.  Consisting of Mackey, his partner Shane Vendrell (Walton Goggins), Ronnie Gardocki (David Rees Snell), and Curtis 'Lem' Lemansky (Kenneth Johnson), they are plain-clothes detectives who target gangs and drugs in Farmington.  The problem is that Mackey doesn't always play by the book, often using excessive force, planting evidence, and even cutting deals with crooks in order to get the job done.  His partner Shane is often ruled by his temper, making poor decisions without thinking.

Into Farmington comes Captain David Aceveda (Benito Martinez) with aims to get Mackey off the streets.  He's inserted his own mole into the Strike Team in order to gather intel on Mackey's illegal activities.  But when the mole ends up dead, Aceveda suspects Mackey was the shooter, but can't prove it.

Meanwhile, detectives Holland "Dutch" Wagenbach (Jay Karnes) and Claudette Wyms (CCH Pounder) work a variety of cases that bring them into contact with all kinds of different sickos.  Dutch is intelligent, but a nerd, and unpopular with the other cops who don't respect him, despite his being a great detective.  Claudette is older, more in tune with how people work, using her instincts more than her book smarts.  But the two work extremely well together, and form a close bond.

Uniformed patrolmen Danielle "Danny" Sofer (Catherine Dent) and Julien Lowe (Michael Jace) work the streets in their patrol car.  Julien is gay, but extremely religious, which puts him in a difficult position.

Over the course of the season, these cops are all that stand between the good citizens of the district and total lawlessness.  But with cops like Vic Mackey on the streets, where is that line?

"The Shield" is an utterly fascinating series.  Vic Mackey is a character who is difficult to classify.  He seems to care about his children, and will become enraged when innocents are in danger.  But, he has such an intense need to control everything and everyone around him that it leads to him destroying many of the relationships around him.  He puts the same amount of thought into planting evidence on a crook as he does cheating on his wife... or murdering a fellow cop he thinks is snitching on him.

Mackey is, in many ways, just as bad as the crooks he brings in.  And yet, he does also do many good things on the streets.  He arrests bad guys, but he also has back-alley deals with many of them.  He'll allow drug dealers to do business, as long as they leave kids alone, and he gets a cut off the top and tips on some of the worst crimes going down.  He justifies this as the cost of doing business, but there's plenty of evidence that he's excited by the power he has over others.

The other characters are all equally fascinating.  Aceveda is idealistic, and has political aspirations.  He wants to clean up Farmington, but it becomes more and more obvious to him that doing so will come at quite a cost.  As he's forced to make harder and harder decisions to get things done, he begins to see exactly what has happened to Mackey, and he hates himself for it.

Julien Lowe, a uniformed patrol officer, is deeply religious, and struggles with being a homosexual.  Michael Jace's performance smolders, his self-loathing almost palpable.  A subplot with his romantic relationship with a small-time hustler he's busted is fascinating in that he not only struggles with his hatred of the "thing inside" of him, his homosexuality, but also being a cop dating a criminal.  The calls he rolls with his partner, played by Catherine Dent, occasionally dovetail into the larger investigations of the Strike Team or Dutch and Claudette, but also occasionally provide some some comic relief.

Making the triangle of the Strike Team and the unis is Dutch and Claudette, who are the more typical, "Law and Order"-type detectives.  They cover murders and rapes that aren't gang related, and get some of the most fascinating cases.  Jay Karnes plays Dutch with a nerdy superiority.  He's constantly teased by the other officers and detectives, especially by Mackey, but the truth is that he's a fantastic detective. His partnership with Claudette is a joy to watch, even though it's CCH Pounder who ends up owning a lot of the scenes they're in.  Pounder is a fantastic actress, and imbues Claudette with both a sort of veteran weariness and also a drive to catch the bad guys.  She's seen things, but she still pushes forward to solve these crimes.

"The Shield" is, ultimately, a very different kind of cop show.  It mixes shady dealings and dirty cops, light and dark, at almost every turn.  The good characters are constantly faced with the temptations of going bad, and some of them take the bite and some of them don't.  Some of them are slowly corrupted, and some already are.  It's fascinating and gritty and disgusting and completely entertaining.