Thursday, November 18, 2010

TV on DVD: The Shield (Season One, Discs 3 & 4)

Episodes Covered:  Throwaway, Dragonchasers, Carnivores, Two Days of Blood, Circles

First seasons are rarely the strongest outings for any TV series.  Exposition of a show's premise and introduction of its characters can certainly be interesting, but these things are rarely as satisfying as payoffs to long-building stories or as exciting as significant developments in a character arc.  A mediocre episode of a veteran show can still entertain fans who just want to spend an hour with characters they know well, but it takes time for this relationship to develop.  Writing staffs refine their original concepts as they figure out what sounds natural coming out of their actors' mouths, and what the rhythms of the show are, so early episodes tend to appear less organic than later ones.

Season one of The Shield displays some of these beginner's jitters, but most of the kinks were worked out in time for the fantastic two-part finale "Two Days of Blood" and "Circles."  The show's greatest strength at this point is its multi-faceted portrayal of its police department.  Practically every major character has a distinct agenda, level of experience, and methodology, so there is a lot of dramatic potential in bringing the various detectives into conflict or alliance with each other.  Shawn Ryan and his creative staff have already exploited a great deal of tension from placing various characters in close proximity, but, more importantly, they've built up a strong foundation for future seasons to play off of.

Vic experienced varying levels of antagonism from virtually every character this season, so it seems fitting that his only powerful supporter, Assistant Chief Ben Gilroy (John Diehl), would finally turn on him in the season finale.  Gilroy wasn't a major player in the earlier episodes that he appeared in - to the point that I didn't even mention him in my reviews of the first two discs - but Diehl always gave the character an air of desperation and guilty flop-sweat that conveyed the years of corruption that weighed on his character.  But it was easy to assume that the extent of his corruption was protecting Vic from internal investigations.  I wouldn't have expected Gilroy to be involved in the illegal real estate deal revealed in the two-part finale, yet it seems like a logical outgrowth of what little we previously knew about the character.  The Assistant Chief's scheme also functions as a clever plot device that brings that tension between Vic and a few other characters to a head.

Aceveda has been trying to form a case against Vic ever since the murder of Terry Crowley, so when Gilroy attempts to frame Vic for a murder connected to the real estate deal, Aceveda would seem to have all the evidence he needs to put the renegade cop behind bars.  But Vic cleverly maneuvers his way out of the situation by convincing his politically ambitious boss that exposing Gilroy's corruption would look more impressive to voters than catching a violent but talented cop.  By the end of the season, Aceveda seems poised for his coveted city council position, yet it's his arch enemy who put him there.  It will be very interesting to see where the tenuous partnership between Vic and Aceveda goes in season two; I think it might actually be more interesting than their outright antagonism from this season.  It'll also be interesting to see who winds up replacing Aceveda if he does indeed move up in the world.

And I think it might be Dutch who winds up taking the Captain spot.  Dutch has gained a lot more respect in the department since capturing the serial killer he's been pursuing all season.  Initially, it seemed a little disappointing that the serial killer storyline ended in "Dragonchasers" - I thought it could be an intriguing series-long plot for Dutch, especially since it was a lot more compelling than the various standalone cases we saw throughout the season - but it ultimately serves a necessary thematic function by demonstrating that major cases don't need to be solved by brute force and manipulation (Vic's methods) if a cop is good enough at the by-the-books work (as Dutch is).  It also works as a strong plot point in the season finale, where Vic attempts to use the newly respected detective's skills to expose Gilroy's land deal, but instead winds up having to cover up his own corruption when Dutch nearly stumbles upon evidence implicating Vic in the murder Gilroy is trying to frame him for.  Since the show has established Dutch as a great detective, there is a lot of genuine suspense to be found in his investigating Vic, which is a direction I could see season two going in.  But after the intense and suspenseful end to season one, I trust that whatever course the next season takes will be fascinating.

Quick Thoughts

- The one big flaw of The Shield is still the underdevelopment of the other members of Vic's Strike Team.  At various points in the season, Shane was depicted as the emotional member who might crack under internal investigation pressure or the hothead who would do something stupid that would bring the Team down, but the writers seem to have ditched this in favor of making him a violent redneck.  "Throwaway" is a showcase for Lem, but we don't really learn anything about him.  And Ronnie hasn't been given any personality so far.  Hopefully season two will flesh these guys out a lot more.

- I don't know how I feel about Vic's family leaving him at the end of the season.  It makes plot sense, but we haven't seen enough of them for this to really register as a major crisis, even though Michael Chiklis sold the hell out of the scene where he found his house empty.  The success of this plot point will depend on how they follow up on it in season two.

- I'm aware that the "Armenian Robbery" arc of season two is divisive among fans, but I know virtually nothing about it.  It sounds like next season will be more tightly serialized, which I'm in favor of.

- How is it possible that I never heard of Jay Karnes before I started watching this show?  He had a small story arc on the first season of Sons of Anarchy, but I didn't know his name at the time and I've never seen him in anything else.  But Dutch is my favorite character on the show at this point, mostly because of Karnes' multi-dimensional performance.

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