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The Shield: Cops beyond good and evil

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January 7, 2003 at 10 PM ET on the FX network is event tv: the second season premiere for the network’s signature show, the police drama The Shield. Among other accolades, Michael Chiklis just took the Emmy for lead actor in a drama for his portrayal of Vic Mackey. This was the only just outcome. The only argument would be how much of the credit should be given to Chiklis’ acting performance versus how much should go to the brilliant writing.

The ethical outlook of the character comes nicely summarized in a scene from the pilot episode in which a child molester perp in the interrogation room asks on first meeting Vic, “Is it your turn to play bad cop?” Vic’s classic character defining answer: “No. Good cop and bad cop left for the day. I’m a different kind of cop.”

He’s coming straight out of Nietzche- he’s beyond good and evil. He’s not evil or even amoral, but neither does he have a real firm set of do’s and don’t’s. He certainly has little regard for the narrow specifics of the law or police handbook “ethics.” He has (mostly) benificient goals, but no regard for external boundaries and few firm internal rules.

Of course, this is slippy and treacherous grounding, lacking clear groundposts. This is particularly dangerous when you are a cop using deadly force. The final scene of the pilot shows Vic’s original sin, which will inevitably underscore the entire run of the series: Vic Mackey absolutely bluntly assassinates a brother officer planted on his team as a snitch.

As you can see, he’s not just a “good cop” who might bend the rules a little in frustration, a la Dirty Harry. He thinks nothing of planting evidence or taking payoffs from drug dealers. Yet he undeniably operates with the principle goal of serving and protecting the public.

Yet Captain Aceveda, his chief enemy in the first season, spoke quite reasonably in describing him as “Al Capone with a badge.” He may do a great service to the community, but he’s WAY over the top. If you had a guy like this on your local police force, somebody would have to kill him.

The truly amazing thing about this show, though, is that if Mackey were killed, you’d STILL have a great show. There are several other characters just as intriguing. Captain Aceveda with his political aspirations leaks a confidential internal affairs investigation of Mackey, who was accused (rightly) with stealing POUNDS of cocaine from evidence. Aceveda is clearly acting in an illegal and self-serving manner, yet you could well imagine his reasonable defense that Mackey needs to be exposed despite the efforts of higher-ups to cover his ass.

Rookie officer Julien Lowe particularly interests me. He comes from a moral viewpoint exactly opposite of Mackey. He has a very clear moral compass based on his deep Christian faith. There is right, and there is wrong. This brings him into inevitable conflict not only with Mackey, but with himself. He’s gay, and he has a level of integrity that won’t allow him to make excuses to justify his sin. His integrity as a Christian places him at war with himself.

This hardly scratches the surface of this show. Almost every scene in the entire 13 episode first season was intriguing and quotable. Available now on DVD, this one is a must-own. Not being typically a big fan of cop shows, perhaps I’m not the best judge of such things. However, I’ll take the 13 hours of The Shield‘s first season over even the entire run of Dirty Harry films, let alone the typical network tv cop fare.

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  • Great. One more reason to re-think my decision to get the cheapest Dish Network package which doesn’t include FX. Argh!

  • Zona

    The way this series ended was brilliant. Perft.

    This show is my personal favorite. Best show ever in my opinion.