Saturday, February 19, 2011

TV on DVD: The Shield (Season Three, Disc Two)

Episodes covered:  Mum, Posse Up, Safe, Cracking Ice

Shock value is something that The Shield has been able to exploit to its advantage in the past, but FX’s relatively lenient standards for graphic content can be a double-edged sword.  The Shield wouldn’t be the show that it is if Shawn Ryan and his creative staff weren’t allowed to depict Farmington’s mean streets in all of their squalor, but sometimes the default tone of gritty ultraviolence can be deadening.  The show often manages to raise the stakes and heighten the tension of its already excitingly chaotic storylines by featuring memorably brutal scenes, such as the stovetop burning of Armadillo’s face early in season two.  But there are times when The Shield just seems to be nasty because it can get away with it, or because the writers have a hard time coming up with compelling material when they aren’t featuring their characters doing something scuzzy or “badass.”

One of the more notoriously shocking scenes from the entire run of The Shield occurs toward the end of “Mum.”  But, while the scene is undeniably well-staged and has already had a significant enough impact on this season’s storylines to be fully justified, I feel that it loses some of its potential impact because it is hard, at this point, for The Shield to produce something that stands enough apart from the show’s default violent tone to be truly shocking.  The scene in question involves Aceveda taking a hands-on role in the investigation of the house of someone connected to a drug case.  After waving away another detective helping on the case and deciding to take a look around the house on his own, Aceveda is jumped by two meth-head thugs, who manage to take the captain’s gun away.  One of the criminals forces Aceveda to give him a blowjob at gunpoint in a long, uncomfortable scene that is probably as close as a basic cable show will ever get to the famously unflinching ten-minute rape scene in the film Irreversible.

As mentioned above, the scene is very well directed, filmed, edited, and performed, with Benito Martinez in particular doing some of his finest work to date as Captain Aceveda.  The scene has thematic relevance within the episode “Mum,” with its recurring motif of people not reporting crimes committed against them, and it also supplies much of the character motivation for Aceveda in the following three episodes (basically he is taking a more aggressive stance against violent criminals than he has in the past).  But in a season where Dutch and Claudette are already conducting an ongoing investigation of a serial rapist and we’ve already seen prostitutes being sexually abused by their pimps (in the disc one episode “Bottom Bitch”), the Aceveda rape scene just doesn’t pop the way that it should.  A later quasi-rape scene in “Cracking Ice,” where Decoy Squad member Trish has to have sex with a drug dealer to avoid blowing her cover, also loses some of its queasy impact because it is surrounded by so much similar brutality.  The Shield has desensitized us, to its own storytelling peril.

That said, this group of episodes is a reassuring improvement over the too-safe-for-their-own-good early episodes of season three.  It is still disappointing that the show hasn’t delivered the epically intense season-long storyline promised by the end of season two, when it seemed like Claudette was going to be the new, morally righteous captain of the Barn, Aceveda was going to wield more power than ever as a city councilman, and Vic and the Strike Team would be torn apart by the inevitable fallout from their Money Train heist.  But the seasonal storyline is finally starting to take shape, and the Strike Team is indeed starting to feel the heat for the events of last season.  “Safe” revolves around the revelation that some of the money that the Strike Team managed to steal in the Money Train heist was marked by federal agents investigating the Armenian mob, a great plot twist that really turns the screws on Vic and his Team.  And in “Cracking Ice,” it is revealed that someone on the Team (probably Shane, since he has already bought his new girlfriend an expensive car and a diamond engagement ring) has already spent $7,000 of the money, including some of the marked bills.  This new plot direction is a great reminder of how well The Shield can exploit shock value without having to resort to stomach-churning violence.

Quick Thoughts:

- A nicely executed little story arc for Tommy (the guy who was briefly Julien's partner early in the season) as he loses his wife and child in "Posse Up," then loses his job in "Cracking Ice," and then takes his own life in the same episode. 

- Tavon didn't die in the car crash.  Although he didn't actually appear in any of this disc's episodes, the promise that he will come back by the end of the season and expose Shane's role in his accident is promising.

- As much as I like Dutch having a lengthy investigation to work on, I can't say that I'm crazy about this "serial rapist of elderly ladies" plot.

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