Finalewatch: 'The Shield' -- Let the rain fall down on me...
Twice during FX's broadcast of the The Shield's 90-minute finale here in Los Angeles, the emergency broadcast system broke in to warn of flash flooding. From Santa Barbara to Yorba Linda, heavy rains are falling on scorched earth, threatening deadly floods and mudslides to the rich and the not-so-rich alike, to the honest and the cheaters, the young and the old, the righteous and the heinous.
Life is not fair.
But, the measure of justice is not about how long one lives or how much stuff one accumulates. Instead, it's weighed out in friendships made, families created, love shared, help given, wisdom passed on.
Whether or not you believe any of the above is true will likely affect how you feel about the final scene of The Shield. After seven seasons, born in murder and raised in corruption, does rogue LAPD Detective Vic Mackey get what he deserves?
I'm getting ahead of myself. Family Meeting begins...
As the episode opens, Vic is negotiating with drug-cartel boss Beltran, his ace in the hole in his deal for immunity from Olivia Murray and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) -- a deal which conspicuously does not include his last remaining Strike Team member, Ronnie Gardocki, who is blissfully unaware of his own impending doom.
Meanwhile, Dutch tries to convince Corinne that her husband going scot-free won't wind up with her and her kids facedown in a ditch somewhere, but she's not buying it.
Back on the run with Shane and pregnant Mara and little Jackson, the Vendrells finally come home, at the end of their wits, their resources and, with Mara's injury and her shooting of an innocent woman, their will and ability to keep running. Mara frets that her son will wind up in foster care -- which might as well be "death by hanging," the way she says it -- and that her daughter will be ripped from her after birth in a prison hospital.
Together, Shane and Mara decide to name the unborn child Frances Abigail, or Franny Abby for short. Father-of-the-year Vic Mackey swings by Corinne's to give her the good news that she's off the hook for her fake arrest, and she gets an Academy Award pretending she's relieved and OK with having him in her house.
Here, let me pause for a theory. I've come to think Vic is a sociopath, incapable of true emotion. His extravagant devotion to his wife and children is a way he convinces himself he's still human. As long as he's doing his "heinous sh-t," as Dutch puts it, for them, it's excusable. Of course, life won't be worth living if he doesn't have them. More on this later.
Shane confronts slacker Steve and offers him surrender terms to pass to Claudette -- Mara stays out of jail, and he'll come in.
Vic leads ICE in a raid and comes up snake eyes. Things aren't looking so good for that immunity right now.
Back at the Vendrells', Mara needs Shane's help to get out of bed and go to the bathroom. Anyone who's ever had a major injury or surgery knows what a nightmare it can be to perform the simplest necessary bodily functions. The scene plays out with honesty, pathos and tenderness. It's sweet and sad and foreboding all at the same time.
Out in a patrol car, uniformed officer Tina muses if she'll get a cake for being one year out of the Police Academy, while partner Julien flicks on the mental wayback machine upon seeing some hot young men. Ah, the graveyard of abandoned plot twists...
In the middle of this reverie comes a call, and the two are confronted with loud and proud mayoral candidate Robert Huggins (Andre Benjamin from OutKast), who's whipping up support on the street for his New Paradigm Party, which promises radical change. He's a young African-American, and his buttons are round with a round design. Mark this moment -- it's about as close as The Shield has ever come to commenting on the real world. The parallels thankfully grow less obvious as we go along.
Shane, having found Los Angeles' last working pay phone -- and it looks it -- gets bad news from Steve. He rings up Vic and tries to bully him into helping, but Vic's all immunity-wunity, boo-hoo for you. Shane rears back and throws a haymaker, telling Vic that Corinne's working behind his back to bring him down, while he, Shane, still has his family on his side.
Vic hits back where it hurts, threatening to pay visits to Shane's family while he's in jail, tell them bedtime stories about the good old Strike Team days. Shane, who worships the innocence of his wife and children, goes into a blind panic.
Back at the Barn, the subplot about Ted Bundy Jr. -- a k a Lloyd -- and his mysteriously dead mother starts looking like a frame-up for Dutch, whom Claudette yanks off the case. His fate now rests in Steve's hands. Looks like the dam just burst all over our Dutch Boy.
On the bright side, Steve's lawyer -- who looks suspiciously like Julia Campbell, the real-life wife of Jay Karnes, who plays Dutch -- drops by to chat with Dutch. When he stalks away, she gives him The Look...you know the one.
Shane, now calm and even a bit cheerful, enters a convenience store to buy a pad, pens and a toy police car, then drops a wad of cash on the luckiest Asian-American teen girl to ever sit behind a bulletproof glass panel.
Vic, the same as ever, bulldogs forward with his plan to take down Beltran and make Olivia happy. In another part of town, Huggins makes life tough for campaigning Aceveda, who is plainly irritated at having to go through all these boring electoral formalities. It all ends with a slavery reference and some very nice singing.
Shane comes home and calls a family meeting, unaware that a neighbor has ratted him out to Claudette, who has just been doing her best and silkiest mindfrack on young Lloyd.
Mackey makes the nice with Aceveda, who's willing to play. I always thought these boys protested too much.
Arriving at Shane's house, Claudette and the team decide to go in quiet. Inside, where it's already awfully quiet, Shane is writing a note. The cops come in. Turns out Shane's sitting on the toilet. The cops fan out. There's a bang, and Danny looks into the bathroom to see Shane slumped against blood spatter on the wall.
Claudette is taking this in when she's called into the bedroom. Lying on the bed are Mara, holding yellow flowers on her belly, and Jackson, one leg slightly bent, wearing white socks and holding the toy police car on his belly.
I'd like to say I was surprised when I saw this scene at a screening of this episode, but I wasn't. Shane signaled his suicidal intent at the convenience store by giving away money. He also fits the profile for a "family annihilator," a white male in his 30s or 40s who has lost control over his fate and sees no way out.
But instead of taking out his rage on his family, as many annihilators do, Shane's motivation is love, but also a good dose of narcissism (the same word Claudette will eventually throw at Lloyd). Shane is his family; his family is Shane. Preserving his vision of their innocence -- even at the cost of their lives -- is both his penance and his redemption.
Of course, Mara, Jackson and little unborn Frances Abigail have to make the ultimate sacrifice for this to happen, but that's beside the point.
Anyway, Ronnie and Vic head in to take out Beltran and his boys. Olivia shows up and is immediately all, "So where's the drugs, big boy?" But, hey, there they are. Vic wins the immunity lottery.
Back at the Barn, lawyer lady drops the date-me hammer on Dutch, who's too dense to realize he's been hit. Luckily, Danny is there to clue him in.
Aceveda, true to form, throws on his Superman cape and explains to credulous member of the press how he managed to run a mayoral campaign and work undercover to bring down a drug cartel, all at the same time. All hail Super Aceveda! He don't need no stinkin' election..
After metaphorically slapping Lloyd around a bit more, ailing and pained Claudette falls, metaphorically, into the arms of Dutch, who mother-hens all over her, until she drops the "dying" word on him. But it's OK, the lupus won't get her today, and Dutch just has to go on being her good friend.
While his romantic skills are nonexistent, that, the Dutch Boy can do.
Things are not so indefinite for Huggins, who is gunned down. In the ambulance, he loses his life, but first he gets Tina's vote.
Summoned back to the Barn, Vic sees Ronnie sobbing, partly in grief over Shane and his family but, I think, mostly in relief that the last one who knew of their crimes is now gone. Good one, Ronnie. As long as you come out of this smelling like a rose, it's all just ducky. You're dead to me.
Vic meets Claudette in interrogation, where she crisply orders him into the perp's chair. She then reads him Shane's last words, which are:
"I guess enough painkillers can make even the worst kind of hurt go away. The thing you need to know is that Mara was innocent, and Jackson was innocent. They didn't know what they were drinking, and their last moments together were happy ones. They left the way I first found them, perfect and innocent. They were innocent; they're in heaven now; and we'll always be a family.
"The guilty ones are me and Vic. Vic led, but I kept Following. I don't think one's worse than the other, but we made each other into something worse than our individual selves. I wish I'd never met him. I can see it all now, there's no apologies I can make, no explanations I can give.
"I was who I was, and I can't be that person anymore. I can't let myself..."
Oh, yeah, and she also brought pictures.
"You must be very proud of yourself," Claudette says, cool as an executioner. "This is what the hero left on his way out the door."
Vic takes a look then takes out his anger on the camera. At least he didn't punch the wall. That's so bad-action-movie.
He tells her to bill him for it, and his first payment is to see Ronnie arrested and dragged off, howling in rage. Eat it, Ronnie. You're no Boy Scout.
Vic shows up for work at ICE, and Olivia informs him he's going to spend his days at a bland cubicle, writing 10-page, single-spaced memos on gang-crime patterns, all while pissing into a cup once a week. Oh, and lose the leather jacket, bucky, this is a suit-and-tie kind of place.
Vic's every kind of pissed, but Olivia's like, oh, well, you're my rented mule now.
Aceveda drops by to see Claudette, who congratulates him on winning the election that hasn't happened yet. He waves her off with false humility. I'm sure he'll do just dandy.
Back at the ICE offices, Vic, wearing possibly the worst-fitting gray suit the wardrobe department could find, gets the HR briefing. Most important -- don't mess with the thermostat.
Somewhere in America, a Handsome Marshal -- no kidding, that's what the credits said -- played by director (and former Homicide: Life on the Street star) Clark Johnson, shows Corinne and the Viclets their new small-town home, proudly proclaiming that a local museum has "the largest and finest juvenile T-Rex" around.
Corinne's cool with the house, the new life and the T-Rex.
Dutch takes one last swing at Lloyd, asking him what serial-killer nickname he wants, telling him about public-works employee Mack Ray Edwards, who murdered children and buried them under the Los Angeles freeways (totally real, BTW). Then he muses that 50 percent of known serial killers have spent at least part of their lives in Southern California.
He asks Lloyd why, and Lloyd says it's because folks come to L.A to get famous.
Nah, it's the weather. Nothing's worse than burying your victims in snow or rain. It just sucks all the fun out of it.
Down in the Barn's kitchen, Tina's gotten her cake, but a call comes in before it can be sliced, and off go the real cops.
At ICE, under humming fluorescent lights, Vic puts out pictures of his progeny and a two-shot of himself and the unfortunately fragged Lemansky. A police siren wails outside, and the old firehorse sprints to the window, looking like a Dickensian orphan peering at a bakery display full of sugary goodness.
Poor Vic, stuck behind a desk. He sits, ponders, ponders some more, starts to get a bit misty -- then the lights go out (but at least that stops the infernal humming). But, wait, Vic's got a gun in the lockbox. He pulls it out, smiles at it, tucks it in his belt, tosses on his ill-fitting suit coat and prepares to head out and do ...what?
Who knows? But I have another theory.
Look at it this way, now unencumbered by family, friends or having to maintain a facade of upholding the law, Vic is finally free to be the soulless shark that he is. If you doubt me, watch last week's episode again, as he confesses his many, many crimes to Olivia. Gosh, he's been waiting for years to tell somebody about all the cool stuff he's done. He enjoyed it. Oh, yes, he surely did.
Sadly, I think Vic will be just fine. Oh, he's likely to get himself or a lot of other people killed, but he's going to have plenty of fun first.
And the rain falls down...