Spoilers for this week’s The Shield coming up after the jump:
“How much memory has that thing got?”
How about seven years’ worth? Would seven years be enough for you? There were many remarkable things about the penultimate episode of The Shield, but the most amazing had to be the scene in which Vic finally, and voluminously, came clean in exchange for immunity. Not because it showed him finally willing to do that which he said he never would, screw over Ronnie, a fellow Strike Team member who had stood by him. Not because Michael Chiklis was spectacularly expressive in the scene, even, and especially, before he opened his mouth. But because after seven years, Mackey’s confession enabled us to see him again through fresh eyes.
It’s not as if we haven’t seen what Vic has done and who he is. But watching a character like him on a show like The Shield, it becomes a kind of hermetic environment, with its own standards and rules in comparison with the world we live in. We may not have become inured to Vic’s deeds, but we have become used to them, used to his rationalizations for them, used to seeing them in the context of the lowlife criminals he deals with, and used to being in The Barn, where Mackey’s dirtiness—if not the enormity of it—is generally assumed, even if it’s not condoned.
In other words, we’ve been inhabiting Vic’s world, in which his behavior is the norm. So suddenly seeing his list of crimes recounted to someone from the outside world, all at once, for the first time, makes them breathtaking all over again. Indeed, having to actually enumerate everything he may need immunity for seems, if briefly, to make Vic himself aware that maybe his acts have been a little beyond the pale. (Emphasis on briefly. One great thing about Chiklis’ performance here is how his confession starts grudging and shameful, but gradually becomes more swaggering, as Vic’s defenses come back up. By the end, he almost seems to be enjoying himself.)
On top of that, add the horror and impotent rage that registers on Claudette’s face when she realizes that not only has she lost her last chance to get Mackey, after coming so close, but that his crimes were more extensive and heinous than even she realized. Fighting against lupus and, at various times, other police in order to do the right thing and get justice—then falling this short—Claudette is the real tragic figure of this show.
I don’t want to get into the business here of deciding where The Shield fits in the pantheon of great TV dramas—The Sopranos, The Wire, etc. Around finale time, I think we all tend to get a little hyperbolic about that kind of thing. But I will say, after seeing the last two episodes of The Shield that I have rarely seen any series do as good a job of peaking at exactly the right moment as it ends. (Six Feet Under is a classic example that comes to mind.) It’s like we’re getting a dose of super-concentrated, uncut, premium-grade Shield to send us off.
So: Vic gave up Ronnie. How big a betrayal was it? How cowardly? On the one hand, he was motivated at least in part by Corinne (though he he plenty to gain by cutting a deal). On the other hand, if not for that pressure, would he have held out for Ronnie forever? I’m not positive. Earlier in the episode, when he told Ronnie he wouldn’t sign a deal that Ronnie was excluded from, I had the feeling he might have been hoping that Ronnie would tell him it was OK to sign the deal and save himself. In any event, we’ll never know now. “Ronnie can wait until next week,” Vic says, by way of convincing himself that he’s not totally selling his buddy out—but does Vic really believe there’s a next week?
In the meantime, whatever you think about Shane and Mara as characters and people, their spiral downward has been excruciating to watch. In part, it’s because of Jackson, and the writers’ brutal willingness to focus us on how he and Mara’s baby stand to pay for their parents’ screw-ups. But I also have to feel some sympathy for poor stupid Shane and poor cunning Mara as people. Shane, because he wants so badly to be Vic, but he’s playing out a Vic story as farce: instead of protecting his family, he’s left them horribly exposed; instead of escaping by the skin of his teeth, every time he ends up one tooth-skin too short, and worse off than before. And Mara, because as her reaction to accidentally shooting the woman shows, even she didn’t see her plans going this bad, and this deadly.
In the world of The Shield, for someone to show that she’s still capable of recognizing that she’s crossed a line—and being horrified by it—counts for something. One more episode to go. One more set of lines to cross.
Note: I’ve seen next week’s Shield finale, but I’ve taken care not to include any spoilers about it in the post. So don’t consider any of the above to be a hint as to what will happen next week. If anyone else has seen, or heard rumors about, the finale, play nice and keep them out of the comments, please.