Episodes covered: Fire in the Hole, All In, On Tilt
At 15 episodes, the third season of The Shield was only two hours longer than its first two. And yet, it seemed really, really long.
That isn’t to say that season three was bad, per se. Compared to recent “off” seasons of other shows of comparable quality, it was actually pretty solid. Season three of The Shield was overstuffed with plotlines, but it was never as confusing as season three of Sons of Anarchy or as sloppy as season four of Big Love. It was always clear what was going on, there weren’t any outright dud episodes (though “Bottom Bitch,” from the first disc, came close), and there were a lot of exciting moments in any given hour. The season wrapped up in satisfyingly dramatic fashion, even if didn’t end with the insanely amped-up intensity of season one, and didn’t promise as much for the future as the end of year two.
But even if the end of “On Tilt” had set up a bunch of promising developments for the future, I don’t know that I’d trust Shawn Ryan and his writers to follow through on them. The ending of season two involved so much set-up and foreshadowing that it seemed like the third season could practically write itself, which wasn’t a problem since the hinted-at storylines seemed like they would make this the most exciting group of episodes to date. A righteously motivated Claudette was poised to become Captain of the Barn, and she would most likely have been joined in her anti-Vic crusade by master detective Dutch, perhaps the only Barn member smart enough to dig up all of the dirt on Vic and his Team. Aceveda would take his city council seat, and would re-open the investigation into the murder of Terry Crowley from a position of higher power. Tavon would eventually get wind of the rest of the Strike Team’s involvement in the Armenian Money Train heist, and would be placed in the dangerous situation of investigating Vic’s Team from the inside. The increased pressure from these various elements, plus the inevitable involvement from the Armenian mafia, would push the Strike Team’s fierce loyalty to one another to a breaking point. Vic would inevitably find a way to get out of this mess, but he’d do it in a way that would just drive himself and his Team further and further into their web of lies.
That vague synopsis of a hypothetical season three sounds like the best, most dramatic season of The Shield to this point, as well as the logical development after the end of season two. Strangely, the writers took things in a different, more convoluted direction that was somehow less predictable (in the sense that the show’s storylines developed in a counter-intuitive fashion) yet more safe (in the sense that the show backed off of promised character changes, such as Aceveda and Claudette’s promotions, in favor of maintaining the dynamic of the first two seasons). The show added so many subplots and recurring characters this season that few of them stood out from the fray, and none of them had the chance to fully blossom. It’s impressive that the writers managed to juggle storylines about the Money Train fallout, the gang war between the One-Niners and the Byz Latz, Vic’s affair with a crime scene analyst (whose name I still haven’t caught), Shane’s hasty marriage to an emotionally unstable woman, and the Strike Team’s rivalry with the undercover Decoy Squad, among many other plotlines, without significantly sacrificing the show’s clarity or action movie pacing. But the majority of this season’s storylines could’ve played out more organically and satisfactorily if they weren’t constantly competing for attention. Even the one promised storyline that season three did manage to follow through on, the gradual disintegration of trust between the members of the Strike Team, was largely drowned out by all of the other stuff going on. Michael Chiklis, Walton Goggins, and Kenneth Johnson did their best to sell the scenes of the Team yelling at each other at the end of “All In” and “On Tilt,” but those moments would’ve been so much more powerful if they’d come at the end of a focused, streamlined season.
- I have the impression that season three is the lowpoint of The Shield. I know that season four’s arc with Glenn Close is very highly respected, that season five’s with Forrest Whitaker is apparently even better, and that season seven provides what is almost universally considered to be the textbook example of how to stick the landing of a long-running series. At this point, I wouldn’t consider The Shield to be in the same league as The Wire, Deadwood, and The Sopranos (or Mad Men and Breaking Bad), but the fact that the show is often spoken of in similarly high regard makes me excited for future seasons even if I found this one frustrating.
- Strange to see an extended Andre 3000 cameo in “On Tilt.” Ghetto comic-book store owner is a logical role for him, and he did a good job with the part, but it was still a little awkward to see such a big star in such a small role.
- How long before Shane’s wife gets killed off?
- Another waste of a potentially interesting character in Armenian hitman Margos Dezerian. Having not appeared since season one’s “Blowback,” Margos returned for a few brief scenes in “All In” and “On Tilt” before being shot to death by Vic in a scene that would’ve had a lot more impact if he’d been more of a constant threat throughout the season. But then “wasted potential” could practically be the tagline for season three of The Shield.