At the end of Season Six of The Shield, everything was left in a state of uncertainty. The precinct in the fictional Los Angeles community of Farmington was facing closure just as a major move by the Mexican drug cartels to take over local government was discovered by morally corrupt detective Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis), leader of the elite Strike Team. Facing forced retirement, Mackey was scrambling to tie up many loose ends, while at the same time protect himself and his family from the Armenian mafia, which was gunning for his blood. But the real storyline left unresolved--the one that promised to fuel the seventh and final season--was the conflict between former best friends Mackey and Shane Vendrell (Walton Goggins). In Season Five, Shane killed fellow Strike Team member, a crime that Mackey was convinced had been perpetrated by Salvadoran gangsters. But when Vic finally realized it was Shane who killed Lem, the stage was set for final showdown between two morally corrupt men fighting for survival.
The Shield debuted on FX in 2002, and from the onset established itself unlike any other television series. Shot with a grainy, hand-held camera style, the show at times resembled news footage of a combat zone, creating a gritty feeling that would carry the series for its entire 89-episode run. The series itself took place in and around "The Barn," an old church converted into a police station in Farmington. At the center of this universe was Vic Mackey, a hard boiled detective who cold bloodedly murdered fellow cop Terry Crawley in the pilot episode. Crawley was an undercover federal agent investigating Vic and the rest of the Strike Team on charges of corruption. The murder of Crawley was pivotal for several reasons. First, it established the tone of the show and that Vic was at best morally ambiguous. Second, it laid the groundwork for an Internal Affairs investigation led by Jon Kavanaugh (Forest Whitaker), which would fuel all of Season Five, lead to Shane murdering Lem, and the battle between Vic and Shane in the final two seasons.
The first season of The Shield was easily the least complex, as it did work primarily to establish the characters and the universe they lived in. The series used a long form narrative style, but the complex storylines that became the show's trademark didn't really kick in until the following seasons. But the one thing that the show was always clear about was that everything was connected. Events in Season One were directly connected to events in Season Five, just as Season Two and Three had a major impact on Season Six.
With 76 episodes complete at the end of Season Six, The Shield had a perfect record of not turning out a weak episode. But as Season Seven started off, the show seemed to be having trouble finding its footing. In the previous season, Vic had uncovered a complex plot by the Mexican drug cartels to infiltrate the government of Los Angeles. Led by businessman Cruz Pezuela (F.J. Rio), the infiltration of city government involved a massive blackmail operation that Vic became privy to. Pretending to work for Pezuela, Vic managed to get his hands on everything being used to blackmail city officials. Meanwhile, Shane was struggling to maintain control of a rapidly escalating situation with the Armenian mafia, who he sided with in hopes of being protected from Vic's vengeance.
The first five episodes deal largely with the Armenians and Pezuela's operation. Vic manages to convince Pezuela that the Armenians have the box full of incriminating evidence being used for blackmail, hoping that he can ignite a gang war that will result in the Mexican and the Armenians wiping each other out, and him standing on top. Compared to so many other episodes in the run of the series, these first five episodes seemed to be padded and unnecessarily convoluted. For the first time, The Shield seemed to be slipping, and it looked like the series might end with something of a disappointing thud.
Things take a drastic turn in the sixth episode, at which point Season Seven finds its footing, and rises to the level of excellence set by past seasons. Thinking that Vic is finally cool with him, Shane walks into a trap set by his former best friend. Having successfully manipulated the Mexicans and the Armenians, Vic arranges a hit on the Armenian crew that has been threatening his life, and in the process sets Shane up for being killed. By chance, Shane manages to avoid walking into the ambush and realizes that Vic and fellow Strike Team member Ronnie Gardocki (David Rees Snell) have set him up.
From this point forward, things become interesting in the way The Shield has always been interesting. Seldom does the show go in a direction you would expect, and from the beginning it has always been difficult to know what will happen next. By the seventh episode, Shane decides to take out Ronnie and Vic with the help of a gangbanger, but when the plot fails, he is left in a lurch. In any other series, the rest of the season would involve Vic trying to figure out who almost killed him, leading to an epic showdown at the last minute with Shane. But Shane's plan is revealed in episode eight, forcing him to go on the run with his family in tow while Vic, having turned in his badge, doggedly hunts him down.
The last five episodes kick it up a notch or three, resulting in some of the show's best moments, as Shane and his family try to flee the city, with Vic close on their heels. And when he's not hunting Shane, Vic is also trying to insure he doesn't go to prison for his past misdeeds, as he brokers a deal with the feds to give him immunity and a job. While all of this is going, there is of course drama for the rest of the cops in Farmington, including Claudette (CCH Punder), whose failing health is making her job as captain of the precinct increasingly difficult, Dutch (Jay Karnes), who thinks he may be on to a serial killer, and Danni (Catherine Dent) is dealing with the fact that her baby is the child of Vic Mackey, who she would just as soon never see again.
One of the few weak points of The Shield has been that several subplots have gone unresolved over the years, including the personal life of Officer Julian Lowe (Michael Jace), but others like former Strike Team member Tavon (Brian White), are finally resolved. In fact, The Shield does an admirable job of tying up several lose ends, and bidding farewell to several key supporting players, as the series winds down. But the real story here is Vic and Shane, which is what dominates the final two episodes. Vic is left completely exposed as the bad man he truly is. Maybe he was once a good man who did bad things, but now he is just a bad man that is morally bankrupt. Shane, by comparison, who was always the sleazier of the two, recognizes that he has lost his humanity, and is desperately trying to get it back. After six seasons of pulling for Vic to step out of the darkness and into the light, while hoping the worst for Shane, Season Seven turns the tables. We want to see Vic fail, because we know that success for him means ruining more lives. Meanwhile, there is part of us that wants to see Shane get away, and reclaim some shred of humanity that he gave up when he became partners with Vic.
Although it doesn't start out as strong as past seasons, Season Seven picks up the pace and delivers the goods. The writing and direction in the last half of the season are on par with the previous six, as are the performances of the entire cast. The one exception is Walton Goggins, who gives a performance as Shane that outshines the rest of the cast. Season Seven belongs to Goggins as much as it does Chiklis, who delivers a scene in episode twelve that is brilliant, and quite possibly the finest moment in the entire run of the series.
When it is all said and done, Season Seven of The Shield delivers a satisfying conclusion to one of the best series in the history of television. If you have not bothered to watch the series yet, do not start with Season Seven--you'll be lost. But if you've been a fan of the show, and have watched all the earlier seasons, then you'll want to add this one to the collection.