After seven years, The Shield finally came to an end last night, answering the question of whether or not there’d be a happy ending or if one of TV’s ultimate bad guy lead characters would actually pay for his sins.
But even more looming than that question was whether it’d be a satisfying conclusion to the show, especially with the newfound scrutiny delivered by the all around crowd displeasing ending to The Sopranos. So did The Shield wrap itself up nicely?
Put simply: Yes, it did. The ending was both complete and substantial while at the same time leaving everything nicely open ended. And it felt kind of like an emotional pistol whipping.
I’m going to have to assume that you’ve at least heard of The Shield before, but if not, I’m going to give you the shortest recap I can muster: Michael (The Commish!) Chiklis stars as Vic Mackey, super bad cop on the streets of LA, who runs an experimental police strike team of detectives in the fictional district of Farmington out of a former church (called “The Barn,” and thankfully the religious parallels are kept to a minimum, but the idea of sins and confessions works nicely here), based on the real life Rampart police scandal. Vic’s strike team, comprised of mostly dirty cops who don’t play by the rules (they have no problem beating people up for information or planting drugs to make arrests, or worse), have their own idea of justice and will get it any way they see fit.
But Vic isn’t just a bad cop, he’s a monster. He’s Godzilla rampaging through Tokyo. He’s spent the entire series scheming for a higher place in the world for his family and he (at one point they organized a major robbery from the Armenian mob that had violent, lasting reprecussions throughout the rest of the series) and will take down anyone who gets in his way or could possibly expose him. To prove this, at the end of the first episode, Vic shot a fellow cop and member of his strike team (placed there to get dirt on him) in the face.
That one act, the first of many horrible things we’ve witnessed Vic do, still resonates to the last episode, “Family Meeting,” which doesn’t wrap up everything, but provides ample amounts of closure.
Shane, former strike team member who murdered a fellow strike team member for fear he’d rat the rest of them out and Vic’s best friend once upon a time, met a grisly end. He’s spent the last few episodes on the run with his pregnant wife and their sick child, being hunted by the cops and Vic alike, and it’s been a gorgeous white trash tour of desperation and impending doom. There was an episode a few weeks ago that showed Shane his wife squatting in an unsold mansion somewhere, the wife playing wide and seek with the child while Shane hammered away jovially on the piano. Very Badlands-esque. It was so sad and tragic you could hang it on a wall in a museum.
But as we approached the end, we knew Shane and his wife would never make it out of this in any decent way. The wife, Moira, accidentally killed a girl who was involved with some guys that Shane was trying to roll for money, and broke her collar bone in the process. Shane, in that same dustup, got hooked on drugs and has been trying to stay just coked up enough to claw his way towards a happy ending for his family. Theirs is the titular family meeting that gives them the happiest ending they could ever want, Benoit-style.
Shane and Vic do have one last confrontation in this episode, a powerful one that sets up the ending for each character nicely, but it’s sadly done over a phone call. It would’ve been nice to see these two sharing the same scenery again, chewing it up and spitting it out one last time. Especially since every time Shane has one of these moments with Vic, no matter what he says, his eyes plead tenderly, as if he’s having to lash out at a former lover.
“We made each other into something worse.” So sad. So true. So very, very true. Just ask Shane’s family.
Vic himself gets immunity for all his past crimes in the second to last episode, on the condition that he participates in a federal bust on the Mexican cartel trying to push drugs into LA and comes to work for the feds for three years (if he doesn’t, his immunity deal is up). Oh, and he has to confess to every dirty crime he’s ever committed that he could want immunity from. Which he does, shocking his new employers who had no idea what they were getting into, starting with the murder of a fellow cop in the first episode leading up to present day. It’s a powerful scene, one that should win Michael Chiklis an award if, for nothing else, moving away from his always pushing foward force of nature style of playing Vic Mackey, and showing restraint, pause. Mackey has spent all these years doing his best to not have to admit to his crimes, so when it’s finally okay for him to, he has to pause. he has to briefly wrestle with those demons himself, and push them out.
But he doesn’t get away completely clean from there.
Everyone around him is burned in his wake. Shane and his family. Ronnie, the most loyal member of the Strike Team, who was actually foolish enough to believe Vic when he said “We’re in this together,” will go to jail for everything Vic’s confessed to. And Vic’s own family, choosing to hide away in federal witness protection for fear of ever being found by him.
(Side note: It would seem that Aceveda’s political aspirations pay off nicely and they cast Jay Karnes’ real life wife as Billings’ lawyer, I presume to suggest that Dutch finally gets himself a lady friend? Nice. They kind of touched upon Julian’s “curing his gayness,” just a little. Hell, even Billings got a happy ending, of sorts. )
In the finale, all his work on the streets down, Vic is then forced to pay witness first hand to what he’s wrought and be made accountable, even if only emotionally by Claudette, the CCH Pounder (one of my favorite actors ever, and one most under utilized), in a very powerful scene. Watching the show all these years, a part of you wanted Vic to die for his crimes, or at least end up in jail (though a bigger part of yourself, the part you don’t admit to, is that you want him to get away clean), trapped amongst the criminals that he put away (the lucky ones got put in jail), but in a small way, this is just as good. If there was any pride in Vic’s confession to all his crimes in the penultimate episode, it’s all gone now. Because Vic has survived all these years by always moving forward like a shark, and for one small moment, he’s forced to stop and stand still, and let it all not only catch up to him, but wash over him.
From there, Vic goes to report for his first day of work with new masters in the federal government. He’s ready for action, assuming he’ll be doing the same thing he did with the police, but just on the government’s payroll. Wrong. They have an even more cruel, more fitting fate for him: An office job. A suit and tie. Sitting at a computer in a cubicle typing up reports from 9 AM to 6 PM five days a week. The last scene resides there, with Vic sitting in his desk chair, putting up pictures of his family that wants nothing to do with his monstrous self, and realizing that he’s no longer wanted. He’s no longer needed. He’s practically useless, with only a future of utter banality to look forward to. For seven seasons, we’ve watched how he’s sometimes masterfully schemed and bullied his way throught he world, alway struggling to stay ahead of the game, even if just a little, even if only just barely, but always surviving in some way. And now, there’s no more options. This is it. He’s dug a grave and he has to just sit in it, having lost everything.
The metaphor compliments itself nicely when the lights in his federal office building, which are on a timer, go out on him. As much as I loved Michael Chiklis‘ performance in the previous episode (I always liked the show, but with the conclusion of last week’s airing, I loved it), struggling to find the words to start his confession to all his crimes, his performance at the end of this last episode is near perfection. No words, everything on his face, and in his lost, crushed gaze. This isn’t the last image, and I wont’ tell you what that is, but it does leave this series open ended, but in the best possible way. Now that the monster is trapped, what does he do with himself?
It doesn’t cut to ten seconds of all black, that’s for sure.
The Shield is over. It hasn’t always been great, but it’s had more great moments than most shows get. And it’s always been fun and it’s always been a hell of a ride. Part of what made it so fascinating, is the way we all rooted for Vic Mackey deep down, wanting to see him get away with his crimes. We’ve been in total collusion with him this whole time, whether we admit it or not, in this last episode (with also featured Andre 3000 doing another guest spot on the show, I just forgot to mention that earlier), his sentence is our sentence. Whether or not, there was enough satisfactory closure for us here, this is our open ending.