I need to say that again. Ouch.
I loved the first couple of series of the Shield. It was tough, hard, morally ambiguous in a way I hadn’t really seen in cop shows before. Had a killer twist in the very first episode. And featured a superb, eye-poppingly angry and dangerous central performance from Michael Chiklis as Vic Mackie. “Are you the good cop or the bad cop?” a suspect asks him. “I’m a different kind of cop,” he replies, before beating a confession out of him with a telephone directory. This was my kind of show.
It’s a bit of a shame in a way that it was rather eclipsed for me thereafter by the coming of The Wire, which was not only the best cop show I’d ever seen, but probably the best tv I’ve ever seen period. It also felt as if the Shield dropped off slightly in quality in its middle couple of series, though it was still capable of some great moments. But boy did they build back up to a hell of a finale with this final season, which has to be one of the toughest, most uncompromising and courageous endings to a tv series of which I’m aware.
After watching Vic and his crooked pals on the Strike Team beat, blackmail, lie and murder their way out of about six impossible situations in previous seasons, there’s a horrible sense of inevitability about the final reckoning as the walls close in and they begin to turn on each other. Watching Vic and his one-time compadres squirming increasingly desperately for some way out as the wheels come off the wagon is almost unwatchably tense, and the tension builds, and builds, and builds to a series of gobsmacking moments in the final few episodes.
It’s worth watching all seven series for one scene alone, in which Vic finally confesses to his butcher’s bill of crimes. As he’s trying to decide whether to do it they hold an ultra-tight close-up on his face for what feels like about 30 silent seconds, and all the anger, and bitterness, and swagger, and self-disgust that sums up the character is communicated without a word said. It’s a brilliant piece of acting, but Chiklis is ably supported by some great work all round. It doesn’t end quite the way you might have expected. But it’s a perfect ending nonetheless, and one that leaves you feeling raw for days afterwards. Ouch.