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Shield Watch: Come Back, Shane

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Prashant Gupta / FX

Prashant Gupta / FX

Not really a Shield Watch per se, but I’ve been writing about the Shield finale for the print TIME, and it got me thinking. Writing about The Shield, I tend to focus on Vic, but I should probably pay more attention to Shane. Not just because the cat-and-mouse between him and Vic is so central to the endgame, but because he is so much a person of Vic’s creation. 

In fact, in a show that—as I’d been writing about—is so much about children and the transgressions that parents justify in their names, Shane is really Vic’s son. So much of what has gone wrong the past few seasons has been because Vic trained him, raised him and taught him wrong. To return to the Sopranos comparison, he’s a little like A.J. if he had decided to follow in Tony’s footsteps, and turned out unsuited for it. 

Vic wants Shane to be his protege; Shane wants to be like Vic. But he can’t measure up, partly because of Vic’s training and partly because of his own limitations. For Vic’s part, while Mackey likes to think he has a moral code, the failings of his morality become clear when Shane tries to imitate it. He takes the Mackey way and makes it a notch more selfish, more hateful, more reckless.

And more stupid: as much as he wants to be the next Mackey—first as Vic’s partner, then as his nemesis—he just doesn’t have the goods. He panics, he acts on emotion, he gets outsmarted, he leaves himself and his family vulnerable. Even now, as he and Mara threaten to get the upper hand on Vic through Corinne, he’s unsteady. Mackey’s life on the edge requires tremendous discipline; Vic hasn’t taught that to Shane, and I’m not sure Shane would be capable of learning.

Even before Shane and Vic fell out, even before Shane killed Lem, the heartbreak of their relationship was that Vic tried to make Shane in his image, but ended up with a malformed, inadequate parody of himself, a warped reflection—Mackey remade as farce, a little too dumb, a little too rudderless. Even with a pregnant wife and a kid, there’s still something adolescent and unformed about Shane (which Walton Goggins captures brilliantly): he’s tried to live Vic’s supposed credos (family, loyalty, duty), but he’s lived them out childishly, desperately, and disastrously. 

If The Shield is a show about a father ruining his family in the name of saving it, Shane might be Mackey’s biggest fatherly failing of all.