This review discusses Seasons 4-7 of the FX series The Shield and the recent release of the complete series on DVD by Mill Creek Entertainment. To see Part 1 of this review, which discussed Seasons 1-3, click here. This review will also spoil several pertinent plot points of the series. You have been warned.
For the first three seasons of The Shield, Captain David Aceveda (Benito Martinez) acted as the main antagonist to Vic Mackey (Michael Chicklis) and his Strike Team. Aceveda was always an outsider to Farmington, the crime-ridden district of Los Angeles and the police precinct he leads. He doesn’t come from that part of the city, nor did he initially serve as a police officer there. He was always seen as a slick, university-taught cop looking to rise in the ranks rather than serve in the streets. In fact, the series indicates that he only took the job as captain to raise his profile so that he could become elected to the city council and eventually mayor. While he often worked to bring down Mackey, he also used him and his particular skills, no matter how corrupt, if it served his political purposes.
By Season Four, Aceveda has been elected to the city council and while that still means he will have a hand in police matters in that district, he is no longer a captain and thus somewhat out of the Strike Team’s hair. Enter Captain Monica Rawling (Glenn Close), who is set to run the Barn at the beginning of Season 4. She is almost the exact opposite of Aceveda. She grew up in Farmington, served as an officer in that district, and rose through the ranks based on merit and time on the streets, not formal education and race (as many believe Aceveda did). She has no interest in politics and seems to truly just want to make Farmington a safer, better place.
Before leaving the police force for the city council, Aceveda disbanded the Strike Team and wrote a scathing memo against Mackey, essentially making it impossible for him to be transferred to any other district. Rawling has read this report and it initially seems as if she is going to try to take down Mackey, but soon enough that strategy changes and she realizes that Mackey is at heart a good cop who wants to do good work so she takes him under her wing. He responds more or less positively to this and for this season at least, he is less corrupt and more solid police. By season's end, Rawling's refusal to play politics has left her with few friends. When she burns the DEA by going behind their back and ruin a deal they made with that season's big bad, Antwon Mitchell (Anthony Anderson), she is fired.
If Aceveda was a part-time antagonist who periodically played ball with Vic Mackey and Rawlings was a mentor to him, then Lieutenant Jon Kavanaugh (Forest Whittaker) is his nemesis. He is an incredibly smart, driven, ultimately obsessed man who will stop at nothing to bring down Mackey. He uses all sorts of psychological tricks to bring in nearly everyone in Mackey’s life and use them to destroy him. Throughout the season, they play cat and mouse, giving us some of the best episodes in the entire series.
The Strike Team may have broken up at the end of last season but that doesn’t mean its members were left behind. Shane Vandrell (Walton Goggins) becomes more intricate to the main story, moving from Mackey’s right-hand man to one of his fiercest enemies who comes to a tragic end. Curtis Lemansky (Kenny Johnson) becomes a more central character as the fallout from the Money Train caper slowly breaks him down. Unable to spend the money due to some of it being marked by the Treasury Department, the Strike Team nevertheless has to constantly try to keep their part of the heist under wraps, which puts more and more strain on everybody. When Kavenaugh tries to turn Lemansky over some seized heroin, he eventually burns most of the Money Train cash, an act that ultimately leads to his murder by Vandrell.
I complained in Part 1 of this review that the murder of Terry Crowley (Reed Diamond) in the pilot episode didn’t feel earned. That while Vic Mackey was certainly a corrupt cop, the series generally portrayed him as someone who genuinely wanted the community to be safe. Having him kill a good cop to save his skin seemed like a step to far for him and ultimately felt like a series trying to do something edge to draw attention to itself. Vandrell’s murder of Lemansky, and his subsequent suicide absolutely feels earned. The drama of the series led to those actions in a very real and satisfying way. The last four seasons have reminded me of why I loved this series in the first place. Like in Seasons 1-3, there are moments of excess, and it often feels very much of its time and era. It is obviously a series that was made in the early days of prestige TV, but these final seasons are as exciting and dramatic as television gets.
I’ve spent most of this review talking bout Vic Mackey and the Strike Team with nary a mention of the rest of the cast. In truth, the series shifts its focus from a large ensemble piece to concentrate on Mackey and his team. There are so many plot threads that involve him - from his relationship to Acevedo, Rawlings, and Kavenaugh to the falling apart of his team to constant battles with tougher and tougher drug lords that the rest of the cast has less time for fully developed stories.
They still exist and they are still a part of the series, but just to a lesser extent and with less-interesting storylines. Claudette Wyms (CCH Pounder) and Dutch Wagenbach (Jay Karnes) are still catching the weird cases. Claudette starts dealing with medical issues and Dutch gets in deeper with his profiling ideals and attempts to find serial killers everywhere he looks. Danny Sofer (Catherine Dent) has a baby and there is an all-too-long subplot over who the father is. Julien Lowe (Michael Jace), always the least interesting character, has moved on from his mix of guilt and shame over his being both gay and a Christian, which leaves him even less to do as a character, except train a new rookie who seems mostly to exist to be pretty.
I’m being a little bit flippant. All of the characters have nice moments and the new ones gets some good beats, but in the back half of the series, it is definitely the "Vic Mackey and Strike Team" show. There is a lot I am overlooking, including the rape of Aceveda plotline that goes to some really dark and interesting places, especially for a pre-Me Too television series, but already this review is too long.
I’ll end on the series finale. Since it first aired, it has been considered one of the great all-time finales in the history of television. I’d argue it still belongs there. How they wrap up the various plot threads and especially how Mackey both gets off and yet winds up in his own personal hell is nothing short of brilliant. I had some misgivings watching the first three seasons of The Shield but it made up for it on its back end and the last season especially is well worth your time invested in getting there.
Mill Creek has previously released boxed sets of The Shield: The Complete Series on both Blu-ray and DVD. This appears to be mostly a rehash of those sets with some really cheap packaging designed for those looking to own it without spending much cash. It comes with some new extras including a cast reunion from 2018 and a writer’s panel from the ATX Festival plus a lot of commentaries and features ported over from previous releases. The DVDs are placed two at a time in very cheap cardboard sleeves that will easily get damaged and cause almost immediate scratching to the disks themselves. While I wholeheartedly recommend the series, unless you are seriously strapped for cash or just want to rip them to your hard drive, I can’t say this set is worth the money.