Old Sins and New Ghosts Haunt 'The Shield'
In the show's pilot, he believed that one of his elite Strike Team, Detective Terry Crowley (Reed Diamond), had betrayed his compatriots. So Vic shot him and blamed it on the crooks they were busting.
As Vic maneuvered last season to keep out of the clutches of Internal Affairs Lt. Jon Kavanaugh (Forest Whitaker), the pressure came down hardest on Strike Team member Curtis "Lemonhead" Lemansky (Kenneth Johnson). With Lem facing jail, Vic plotted to get him out of the country. But Vic's closest friend, volatile Detective Shane Vendrell (Walton Goggins) -- the only Strike Team member who knew the truth about Crowley -- feared that Lem would turn against the team if he went to prison.
So Shane secretly palmed a grenade from a drug raid on a Salvadoran gang, lured the unsuspecting Lem to a remote location and blew him to bits with it.
"Again, it's the original sin," Chiklis says. "It's the first question posed in the whole series, really, as far as what we're willing to accept from law enforcement to keep us safe. Is Vic Mackey a villain, or is he a hero? So many different questions are posed because of it.
"One of the things that happens as a result of it is he inadvertently creates a monster in Shane, in that Shane really feels like he's doing the very same thing that Vic did. He feels totally justified. As devastating as it was to do, he had to do it, because he knew, once they got him in the system, Lem would turn.
"So, the tangled web."
As season six opens, Vic is frantic to find Lem's killer, unaware it's one of the men at his side. At the same time, Kavanaugh, whose grasp Mackey has thus far eluded, becomes desperate at the death of the man he hoped would crack the case and begins to intensify his efforts to put Vic behind bars any way he can. All the while, Shane struggles to keep his secret from Vic and fellow Strike Team member Ronnie Gardocki (David Rees Snell) while events around him spiral out of control.
"From Vic's perspective," Chiklis says, "Shane is over the top. Shane is far too much of a cowboy, and he's dangerous. He's not nearly as deliberate and thought out. He reacts too emotionally to any situation. That could prove to be dangerous. That's what Vic would say."
Also in the dark is Detective Holland "Dutch" Wagenbach (Jay Karnes), who's assigned to investigate the Lemansky murder. It's not the first time that Dutch -- along with his former partner and now boss, Capt. Claudette Wyms (CCH Pounder) -- has unknowingly piloted an investigation dangerously close to Vic's misdeeds and extracurricular activities. The eccentric, unfashionable Dutch may be the butt of the Strike Team's jokes, but that doesn't mean Vic underestimates him.
"Call him what you will," Chiklis says, "he's a superb detective. He's dogged, and he won't stop. In his own quiet little menacing way, he does pose a tremendous threat to Mackey."
Throughout "The Shield," fans have seen the Strike Team connive, steal, torture and bend the law into nearly unrecognizable shapes. And Vic did kill a cop.
At the same time, he has taken down vicious gangs, rapists and killers. Vic lines his pockets, sure, but he uses the money to educate his autistic son; he beats suspects, but they confess to terrible crimes; and every now and then he shows his soft side by helping a fallen woman get back on her feet.
So, fans had to choose whether they were going to root for Kavanaugh to put Vic and the team behind bars.
So, if Vic is an antihero, what then is Kavanaugh?
"I really think all of us at the show created another archetype," Chiklis says, "the anti-villain. You know you should be rooting for him to get me, but you end up going, 'What's wrong with me?'"
Or fans could root for Dutch. Through his understanding of criminal psychology, dogged persistence and patience, he has come close more than once to foiling Vic's well-laid plans. The irony this year is, neither knows the true consequences if Dutch actually locates Lem's murderer.
"There are a lot of things that Dutch doesn't like about Vic," Karnes says, "but the fact that Lem was killed, and people think Vic did this, I don't think that Dutch even thinks it's possible that Vic killed Lem. Although I think Dutch would be really shocked to learn that Vic killed Terry. In certain respects, Dutch is a naive guy.
"I don't think -- and I've maintained this from the beginning -- that Dutch could believe Vic would kill another cop. Cut corners, sure; steal money, sure -- but actually shoot another cop in the head? That doesn't compute in Dutch's world. This may be the season that he begins to discover that."
If he hasn't already, very soon series creator Shawn Ryan will begin to lay out plans for the show's next and final season. If the 10 episodes of season six leave fans breathless, Chiklis says they'd better hold on for season seven.
"You know our show," he says. "It's relentless. That's not going to ever change, particularly now in what we're about to do, getting into the last season. One of the reasons, aside from Shawn wanting to secure the legacy of the show, is he also wanted to free himself to write with a certain level of abandon. He wanted to be able to just go for it.
"Now we know where the end is, and they can ramp up to it. And trust me, they're ramping."