The Shield is not your average TV cop show. In the opening episode of the first season, the “hero,” detective Vic Mackey, murders undercover cop Terry Crowley, who has been placed inside Mackey’s Strike Team to gather evidence of corruption. Over the course of the next five seasons, Vic and the team commit a hefty catalogue of criminal acts including obstruction of justice, extortion, theft, and finally armed robbery. This is also a show that’s constantly pushing the limits of how much gore, sex, and violence can be shown on cable.
But for me, what this show is really about is family, and how far a man will go to protect and provide for that family. In Vic’s case, “family” not only covers his wife and children, but the rest of the strike team, Shane Vendrell, Curtis “Lem” Lemansky, and Ronnie Gardocki. These are not evil men, although they commit evil acts. They are fiercely loyal to each other. Out on the streets, facing down gangs, constantly putting their lives on the line, using whatever methods necessary to keep their district safe, they are ruthlessly effective. For Vic and his team, the ends definitely justify the means. In their view, they simply don’t get adequately rewarded for what they do, so they take a little here and there to make up for that. Unfortunately for them, life is not that simple and their lives began to spiral downward after Crowley’s killing. Only Vic and Shane know the truth about what really went down, the others believing the killing was the result of a drug bust gone bad.
Tragedy struck the family at the end of season five (the show’s best season so far) when Lem was killed by a grenade tossed into his car by Shane, worried that Lem was going to come clean about the team’s crooked past to Forest Whitaker’s obsessive IAD detective Lt Jon Kavanaugh. Season six begins and ends with two powerful sequences set to the late Johnny Cash singing “I Hung My Head”. The team gather at Lem’s grave and Vic makes it clear he will go to any lengths to avenge Lem’s murder as he embarks on a frantic hunt for the Latino drug lord Guardo, who he mistakenly believes is responsible. Shane is trying unsuccessfully to deal with the guilt of what he’s done, putting himself in harm’s way during a tense hostage situation at a methadone clinic. Time is running out for Kavanaugh’s investigation, and he is driven to desperate measures to put Vic away.