Friday , September 18 2020
A look at Season Two's premiere of The Shield

“He Was Some Kind Of A Man”

Perhaps it’s the proximity of the two season premieres that did it, but watching the first ep of The Shield‘s second season, I found myself thinking, “Vic Mackey is Greg Stillson w./ a badge.”
Both characters affect a high moral ground when it serves their purposes, yet their base modus operandi rest on physical intimidation & violence. For both characters, public well-being is secondary to their drive for personal profit, though their capacity for self-deception is boundless. Stillson is a psychopath, while Mackey at the very least is a sociopath: one look at those blank blue eyes as he blew a fellow cop away in the show’s debut ep was enough to establish that.

The difference, of course, lies in the characters’ respective places in their teevee universes. The Dead Zone‘s Stillson is an antagonist, a political candidate who we see will reduce the nation’s capital to radioactive ash if he ever attains the presidency. Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis) is The Shield‘s protagonist – Tony Soprano’s only real rival in the TV Anti-Hero Sweeps – a ruthless & opportunistic cop in the meaner-than-mean streets of Farmington, CA. Shielded by his politically ambitious Captain (Benito Martinez), Mackey and his special unit underlings cut deals w./ local drug dealers and stomp down hard on those dealers’ competitors. Oh, yeah, and occasionally they arrest some real bad guys, too.
This season opens w./ our main man frantically trying to find his family (they left at the end of last season), leaving the unit’s well-being in the hands of spikey-haired second-in-command Shane Vendrell (Walton Goggins). The problem is that Shane has even less of a sense of boundaries than Vic. Wanting to “take things up a notch” (okay, no more Emeril references ever again, people!), he spends the unit’s cached money on a big drug buy and winds up purchasing poisoned coke – no longer just abetting local dealers but actually becoming a middle-man supplier. This angers Mackey, primarily because the big doof has lost all this cash just when Vic needs $50,000 to pay a p.i. looking for his missing wife. So he and the boys hie it down to Mexico to get their money back. When confronted by Captain Alcevedo about the reason for this sudden trip, Mackey gets all huffy and talks about wanting to stow the flow of poisoned coke onto the streets.
Mackey, we’re repeatedly told, has been off his game since his wife ran off (woman’s a lot quicker on the draw than Carmella Soprano). Which leaves the bulk of the real police work to Detectives Wagenbach (Jay Karnes) & Charlotte Wyms (C.C.H. Pounder, who continues to shoulder the role of moral center with her customary professional aplomb). One of the show’s repeated ironies is the fact that, for all his ethical emptiness, Mackey gets results more consistently than the tough-minded Wyms.

In season two’s premiere, for example, Vic and boys smuggle a dealer across the border (along w./ a big satchel fulla cash) where a federal warrant awaits; Charlotte winds up seeing the dealer’s brother go free even though she and we know that this scumwad is a murdering rapist. To be sure, the writers have set things up so it’ll work this way – brother one, after all, has the feds after him, while numero two only has a sealed juvie case against him – but in a time where legal niceties are being progressively downplayed over expediency in the War on Terror, it certainly feels like The Shield is reflective of something zeitgeisty.
For all the promo blather about Vic Mackey being a “different kind of cop,” the reality is his brand of corruptness-cum-controlling-effectiveness has long been a film noir tradition. Think Orson Welles’ Hank Quinlan in the classic Touch of Evil: now there (as Marlene Dietrich notes) was some kind of a man. Chiklis is surprisingly commanding in his role, but the fact is without the equally strong work of actors like Martinez, Karnes & Pounder to ground him, he’d quickly become tiresome. Even a different kind of cop needs hard-working mainstreamers to back him up and play against.
(Reprinted from Pop Culture Gadabout.)

About Bill Sherman

Bill Sherman is a Books editor for Blogcritics. With his lovely wife Rebecca Fox, he has co-authored a light-hearted fat acceptance romance entitled Measure By Measure.

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