Episodes Covered: The Quick Fix, Dead Soldiers, Partners, Carte Blanche
Coming out of the somewhat uneven but generally impressive first season of The Shield, my main complaint was that the members of Vic's Strike Team weren't nearly as well-defined as most of the other cops working at the Barn. Shane's personal issues seemed to change based on the plot needs of any given episode, with only Walton Goggins' livewire performance giving the character any sort of consistency. The portrayal of Lem has been comparatively focused, but that would be more impressive if he'd been given more than a handful of character traits. And Ronnie was featured so sparingly in season one that I don't really have anything to write about him (neither did the writers of the show, apparently).
This flaw hasn't entirely been rectified by the first four episodes of season two, but Shawn Ryan and his writing staff at least seem to be taking steps to address it. All four members of the Strike Team appear in each of the episodes, which is already an improvement over season one. Shane, Lem, and Ronnie still haven't been developed enough as individuals, and the writers haven't really given enough of an indication of how the Team came together or why Vic is so loyal to them. But at least season two is consistently showing us how the Team works as a unit, which is a step up from the previous year, when the four members were so rarely onscreen together.
"Carte Blanche" introduces a storyline where the Team learns about an "Armenian money train," and they decide to rob the huge stash of money rather than arresting the criminals who operate the train. I know that this storyline – which I assume will be the major running plot of season two – is divisive among fans, and I'll obviously withhold judgment until I see how it plays out (at this early point I'm not even really sure if I described the setup accurately). But it seems like there is a lot of character development potential in any major storyline that requires the Strike Team to work together toward a common goal. Especially when the path to that goal is fraught with danger, with threats coming not only from the criminals whom the cops are attempting to screw over, but from the other detectives, who could so easily find out about the Team's illegal activities.
Because the first season of The Shield did such a fine job of giving each of the (non-Strike Team) policemen a distinct methodology, agenda, and personality, the show was able to get a lot of mileage out of simply putting any two characters in conflict with each other. With most of the expository heavy lifting already taken care of, season two cuts straight to the nail-biting character tension, taking full advantage of the series' energetic action movie pace. Aceveda, still on the campaign trail, has decided to maintain his tenuous alliance with Vic. After the Gilroy scandal, the captain doesn't need to expose Vic's corruption to look like a hero; as long as the Strike Team keeps the arrest rate high Aceveda can maintain his image as a justice-seeking reformer. But I think he's going to have a hard time keeping a lid on the Strike Team's corruption after the money train heist actually goes down. I thought that Aceveda would already be on the city council at the start of season two, but now I wonder if he'll end the season not in political power but in jobless disgrace.
Aceveda didn't pick the best time to get in bed with Vic. The corrupt cop has so many distractions in his personal life at the start of season two that I'm not sure that he could maintain his usual control over chaotic situations even if he was only covering up the Terry Crowley murder, much less the potentially disastrous money train scheme. Vic is receiving constant visits from a private eye who's helping him locate his estranged wife, who left with the kids after their lives were put in jeopardy during the Gilroy incident. It doesn't take the duo too long to locate his family – Vic is speaking to Corinne (Cathy Cahlin Ryan) as early as "Dead Soldiers," and she and the kids temporarily move back in with him in "Partners." But the strained personal situation is clearly affecting Vic's ability to perform the basic functions of his job, let alone juggle the labyrinthine stresses brought on by his corruption.
And Vic isn't merely dealing with the many things he already had hanging over his head at the end of season one. An ambitious drug kingpin named Armadillo (Daniel Pino) is attempting to unite two rival Latino gangs in an attempt to dominate Farmington's drug trade. When Armadillo rips off Tio (Cedric Pendleton), Vic's drug dealing partner/criminal informant, Vic and the Strike Team attempt to solve the problem with their trademark mixture of brute force and seat-of-their-pants deceit. But while they manage to arrest a few low-level members of Armadillo's crew, the man himself proves to be a more than worthy adversary. Armadillo is not merely a dangerous criminal – he rapes a twelve-year old girl (offscreen) at the end of "The Quick Fix" – he's also one with a genius-level IQ. Vic is going to have a hard time maintaining his master of the world status with a guy this smart and this ruthless running the streets.
The Armadillo situation is further complicated by the involvement of Claudette, who is brought into Vic's orbit when she is the first detective at the scene of Tio's burnt-down comic book shop (his front business). Claudette refusing to hand over control of the case to Vic makes "Dead Soldiers" one of the most intense episodes of The Shield to date. In season one, Claudette took a pragmatic view of Vic's methods, reasoning that the ends justified the means, and she even encouraged Aceveda to lay off of his investigation of the corrupt cop. But now that she's actually up close to Vic's corruption – and she sees that Aceveda is foiling her case by actively covering for Vic – Claudette is set to become as big a threat to Vic's career and Aceveda's political ambitions as Armadillo. Will she follow up on her suspicions and take her case to Lanie Kellis (Lucinda Jenney), the civilian auditor sitting in at the Barn and hoping to expose Aceveda? I don't know where this complicated storyline is going, but I'm very excited to find out.
- That's Emilio Rivera, the actor who plays the leader of the Mayans on Sons of Anarchy, as Armadillo's brother in "Quick Fix." I hope we see more of him on The Shield; for my money he has more screen presence than Daniel Pino, or any of the actors who have played gang leaders on the show to this point.
- Not too much Dutch in these episodes, but I'm hoping that he joins Claudette's crusade against Vic and Aceveda. Dutch is too smart not to figure out what's going on with his partner, and Jay Karnes is too great in this role, for the character to sit on the sidelines.
- The one-off side plots are a lot more smoothly integrated into the main action than they were in season one. Even the cases that aren't really related to the major storylines - like the creepy one about the serial mutilator in "Partners," and the morbidly funny one about the murdered meter maid in "Dead Soldiers" - are enthralling in a way that the season one subplots generally weren't.
- After reconciling their differences amicably at the end of season one, Julien and Danielle already receive another strain on their partnership when the latter shoots a proud Muslim who poses a questionable threat to her safety toward the end of "Dead Soldiers." I'm not sure how this storyline will wind up intersecting with Vic's ongoing saga, but it's off to a compelling start.
- Deeply closeted homosexual Julien seems to be beginning a relationship with a single mother in "The Quick Fix." I'm interested to see where this is going (probably to some very depressing places), but the show hasn't followed up on it yet.
- Vic's stovetop torture of Armadillo at the end of "Dead Soldiers" was possibly the best "holy shit" moment that this always-intense series has provided so far.
- New Year's Resolution: I'm going to focus on The Shield for the remainder of these "TV on DVD" posts until we're through all seven seasons. I may take a between-season break to check out a one-season wonder show, or a miniseries, but expect most of these posts for the next several months to be Shield-related. We should be able to finish by some time in summer, if not before.