WARNING: This review contains spoilers that related to all six seasons of The Shield.
Fans of the FX series The Shield know a little bit about frustration. Both Season 5 and 6 were shorter than previous seasons, with eleven and ten episodes, respectively, and the wait between seasons has been unbearably long. The final season (Number 7) starts on FX next month, with the emotionally volatile Season 6 arriving on DVD this week.
For those uninitiated with the series, The Shield takes place in the fictional Los Angeles district of Farmington, where a precinct of cops fights to uphold law and order--at least some of them do--working out of a converted church known as "the Barn." Operating out the Barn is the Strike Team, an elite anti-gang taskforce led by Detective Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis), the morally ambiguous cop who serves as the axis upon which all the action on The Shield revolves. Vic is a hardboiled cop not above breaking the rules if it means getting the job done, who is so corrupt it can often be difficult to differentiate him from the criminals he doggedly pursues. In the pilot episode of Season 1, Vic murdered fellow Strike Team member Terry Crowley in cold blood. As it turns out, Crowley was an undercover federal agent investigating Vic and the rest of the Strike Team.
Season 5 introduced Lt. Jon Kavanaugh (Forest Whitaker), an Internal Affairs Department detective looking to pin Crowley's murder on Vic. Kavanaugh decided to get to Vic by going after Detective Curtis "Lem" Lemansky (Kenny Johnson), the most morally upright member of the Strike Team, who through a serious of odd circumstances found himself busted with a brick of heroin in the glove box of his car. Most of Season 5 revolved around the battle between Vic and Kavanaugh, with Lem caught in the middle, and the other two Strike Team members, Detectives Shane Vendrell (Walton Goggins) and Ronnie Gardocki (David Rees Snell), wondering if they would be busted for the crimes committed by the team. Using the Strike Teams former captain, David Aceveda (Benito Martinez)--now a politician--as his pawn, Kavangaugh manages to convince the Strike Team that Lem is getting ready to rat them out as part of plea deal. This leads to the brutal murder of Lem by his good friend Shane, who tosses a live grenade into his car. As Season 5 ends, Vic swears to avenge Lem, thinking the murder was committed by a Salvadoran gangster the Strike Team busted earlier.
Picking up where Season 5 left off, Season 6 finds Vic doggedly pursuing Guardo Lima (Luis Antonio Ramos), the drug lord he believes is responsible for killing Lem. But time is running out for Vic, as he is being forced into retirement, clearing the way for a new leader of the Strike Team, Kevin Hiatt (Alex O'Loughlin). Kavanaugh on the other hand is convinced that Vic himself is responsible for killing Lem, so much so that he finds himself planting evidence and spinning an elaborate web of lies, just to catch another cop he believes is guilty of being criminal. Meanwhile, Shane, wracked with guilt, finds himself on the brink of taking his own life. While all of this is going on, Detective Holland "Dutch" Wagenbach (Jay Karnes) is called to a crime scene where he discovers twelve bodies horribly butchered in what will become known as the San Marcos Murders. A cause of great concern within the community of Farmington, the San Marcos Murders soon become a political hot potato for both the precinct, which is on the verge of being shut down, and Aceveda, who has aspirations of running for mayor.
The first two episodes of Season 6 effectively wrap up the Kavanaugh storyline from the previous season. Forest Whitaker returns for these two episodes in a powerful performance as a man pushed over the edge in his desire to bring Vic Mackey to justice. With that storyline closed, the rest of the season is spent primarily dealing with Vic's search for Lem's killer, how Shane deals with his guilt, and the San Marcos Murders, which is part of a complicated play by the Mexican mafia to take control of parts of Los Angeles.
Part of what makes The Shield such an incredible show is that it seldom goes the way that you think it will. As Season 6 starts off, it looks as it the entire run will revolve around Vic trying to find out who killed Lem, while Shane wrestles with his guilt. But by the time the fifth episode rolls around, Shane turns a personal corner, confessing to his wife what he has done. This liberates Shane emotionally, as he comes to believe he was right in killing Lem; and by the sixth episode of the season, Vic comes to realize that Shane in fact killed Lem, taking the remaining four episodes into areas of intense personal conflict between the two best friends.
Franka Potente (Run, Lola, Run) joins the cast for the final two episodes as Diro Kesakhian, the daughter of an ailing Armenian mob boss. In Season 2, the Strike Team ripped off an Armenian money-laundering operation, opening up a can of worms that would plague Vic and the others for all of Season 3. Fearing that Vic will try to kill him, Shane tries to strike a deal with the Armenians, not realizing that the seemingly na´ve Diro is as ruthless as any man, and just as he found himself in over his head while dealing with drug lord Antoine Mitchell (Anthony Anderson) in Season 4, Shane once again finds himself in a situation he can't control. Trying to get in good with Diro, Shane tells her that Vic and the rest of the Strike Team robbed the Armenians. When Diro orders Vic and his entire family be executed for the crime, Shane realizes how bad he has screwed things up.
With only ten episodes, Season 6 of The Shield was frustratingly short. But within those ten episodes, series creator Shawn Ryan and his team of writers and directors manage to cram two episodes worth of material into each show, resulting in a series that is incredibly dense and layered with character development. After six seasons, The Shield has yet to have an episode that is disappointing or boring. Within Season 6 may be the single best episode of the series, Episode 6: Chasing Ghosts, directed Frank Darabont, in which Vic figures out Shane is Lem's killer.
Of course, there is even more to The Shield than the main storylines that propel each season. In Season 6, Claudette Wyms (CCH Pounder) is promoted to captain of the Barn, where she faces the possible closure of her precinct, and the difficulty of dealing with Vic, who plays by his own set of rules. Meanwhile, Wyms former partner Dutch deals with his insecurities as a cop and a man when he is paired up with the manipulative Billings (David Marciano).
The Shield has emerged as one of the best written and acted shows on television, with Chiklis' performance as Mackey being the force that drives the series. But everyone in Season 6--Chiklis included--is overshadowed by Walton Goggins, who dominated the season with his emotionally complex, and often reprehensible performance as Shane. An unlikable character from the beginning of the series, Shane Vendrell dominates the entire season, as he deals with the consequences of his actions in the previous season, and then creates a scenario that promises to destroy more lives in the final season.
Setting the series up for the seventh and final season, Season 6 of The Shield lays the groundwork for what promises to be an incredible conclusion, as three major storylines promise to be resolved in Season 7. First and foremost is the ultimate fate of Vic Mackey, who was probably once a good cop, but is now little more than a thug. Second, will be the fate of Shane, who is basically a thug who happens to be a cop, and more importantly, a monster created by Vic. Their relationship is essentially that of Dr. Frankenstein and the Monster. And finally, there is the fate of the Farmington precinct, which is caught up in a complex web of corruption and political scandal that will likely be the driving storyline of the final season.
Much like the HBO series The Wire, The Shield has proven itself to be one of the best, most consistent quality shows on television. For fans of the series, Season 6 delivers more of what makes the series great. But a word of warning, Seasons 5 and 6 might not play as well for anyone who has not watched the show before. Both seasons, in addition to being intrinsically tied to each other, are firmly rooted in the earlier seasons. And as the series draws to a close, it is clear that The Shield is actually the epic tale of Vic Mackey, a cop who has strayed far from the path of law and justice that, who must eventually atone for his sins.