Monday, March 20, 2006

Conscience Is a Killer

I haven't been keeping up with it, but I have to say: this season of The Shield has been frickin' awesome.

I am continually impressed with the writers, who in the fifth season continue to manage a consistent level of sharp characterization and high dramatic tension. It's even more impressive that they've kept to their formula for each episode: each week starts out at a high point of confrontation, upping the stakes, making you wonder how the heck they will get out of that one. And the tension is just ratcheted up from there.

I was a little disappointed that they gave CCH Pounder's Claudette lupus -- too much a typical storyline (how can she balance her disease and her job -- and will she die?) for a woman character on a police show. However, the writers have completely redeemed themselves with the last two episodes, which first saw the Strike Team totally freaking out about Claudette upon her return to the job (Shane wonderfully kept referring to her, "Claudette might see us," "Claudette knows this truck," etc.).

And then there's last week's episode, where she had her great big confrontation scene of the season (so far), taking the deputy police chief and the interim captain to task for the "epidemic of bullshit" in the Farmington station. She wasn't the only one surprised later on when the new chief came in, cleared her medically, and offered to make her the permanent new captain.

At first, I thought this was a bit too sudden and pat, what after the delicious price Claudette had to pay in seasons 3 and 4 -- when she was the chosen successor to Councilman-elect Aceveda -- for refusing to put her conscience in a drawer. (This also led to a wonderful moment between Michael Chiklis and Pounder on the DVD commentary for that episode, as Chiklis pondered the idea that Claudette's conscience is her flaw.)

(Side note -- if you haven't been watching the series at all and want to get into it, the last three episodes of the 3rd season -- starting with "Fire in the Hole" -- are as fine an introduction as any.)

But then there is the little matter of Forest Whitaker's Lt. Kavanaugh, whose far-reaching investigation into the Strike Team, their finances and marriages seems to have been undermined at long last. First, Vic managed to sleep with Kavanaugh's nutty ex-wife (telling him, in perhaps the nastiest line ever in so many ways, "Your wife's pussy tastes like sweet butter"); more importantly, Lem -- the most reluctant and idealistic member of the Strike Team, and the only one over whom Kavanaugh has actual leverage -- decides to take a deal that will send him to prison, to seal off the investigation and protect the other guys (one wonders, of course, whether Vic or particularly Shane would do the same for him).

The problem is that Kavanaugh has made a deal with Antwone Mitchell, the gang leader they took down last season, played with relish by comedian Anthony Anderson, to send the Strike Team to his prison -- effectively signing their death warrants. Vic tries to make a deal with Antwone, only to have it completely and devastatingly fall apart AFTER Lem has signed the deal and is about to report to court to turn himself in. Antwone vows that he will kill Lem and the rest of them, whatever correctional facility they're sent to.

Last week's episode ended with Lem meeting up with Vic and the guys instead of going to court, and he and Vic heading off in the car -- so Vic can hide Lem until they figure out how to get him out of the country.

Meanwhile, Kavanaugh went to see Vic's ex-wife, Corinne, and she let him into her house even though only in her bathrobe. Now Corinne hates him, what with him lying about having an autistic son and getting her to give over the remnants of the $65,000 Vic gave her. But it sure looks (from the previews) like Kavanaugh is going to make his moves on her -- whether or not she goes along.

So here's what I think is going to happen. It's pretty clear that Lem is going to have to die. He can't go to prison, he's not going to live on the run in Mexico or wherever. Remember, he never wanted to rob the money train in the first place (which is why you should really see those eps from Season 3 if you haven't). He's the only one who tried to redeem himself (transferring to juvy when the Strike Team broke up), and it's a sick irony that he's the only one Kavanaugh could nail. It's sad too, because Kenneth Johnson has done some fine work in a supporting role this season, and throughout the series, particularly in those eps I mentioned ("Fire in the Hole" as well as "All In," which cuts right down to the bone). He will be missed.

However, there is a silver lining here, because for a while I thought this was going to be the last season of the show. And, with Lem's exit, The Shield can come back for another round. Kavanaugh might just come back as well, if Lem or Vic doesn't take him out on Tuesday.

And, most delightfully, the writers have set up the series' ultimate confrontation. You'll have Vic and the remaining Strike Team guys trying to hold on to their jobs and their pensions. Kavanaugh may well still be on their tail. And with Claudette as captain, finally the Barn will have a leader who won't put up with bullshit and who won't compromise her conscience with Vic or anyone else. (Remember, Glenn Close's fierce Captain Rawling was aces on the first point, but she was too cozy with Vic despite her mistrust. Although, technically, it wasn't Vic but her "making the DEA eat shit" over Antwone that brought her down.)

I cannot wait to see Captain Wyms and the Strike Team boys go head to head. How much does it suck that it won't be until January?


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