Wednesday, November 26, 2008

'Shield' S07E13: 'Family Meeting' (series finale)

"Ronnie, I... I thought Corinne--I had no choice--"
"What about MY goddamned choice, Vic?!? We were gonna run! WE WERE GONNA RUN TOGETHER!"

Vic Mackey is rarely at a loss for words. Neither am I, for that matter, but I was pretty much sitting in awed silence following the series' finale. Last night brought our relationship with Mackey full circle. At the end of the series' first episode, he was a cold-blooded cop killer, a completely amoral man who was really just trying to cover his tracks.

At the same time, he was a horrifically-effective police pit bull, unleashed on the shittiest part of Los Angeles where he cracked racist jokes about the residents, but at the same time fought tooth and nail to protect them from [most of the] evil preying on their neighborhoods.

He was a corrupt cop that we thought had a heart of gold. We were wrong. This is what the Vic Mackey lifestyle gets you. When the chips were down, you could almost always count on Vic to look out for himself, and in the end, that's exactly what he did.

When he walked into the clubhouse and Ronnie was crying, I really started getting on edge. I started getting a feeling that Shane was going to off the whole family, particularly at the end of last week's episode, when Mara asked him to "Take me home." It seemed like a very "Tell-me-about-the-rabbits" moment. But when Ronnie and Vic were together for the final time, I thought someone just had to die.

For  longtime Shield fans, specifically those who have praised David Rees Snell for gradually adding more and more layers to his character, it just cuts to the bone to see Ronnie go down for, as Dutch put it, "the last three years." It's just so shockingly unfair, and you could see it in Ronnie's eyes. He just couldn't believe it. All that he'd laid on the line, and in the end, Vic sold him out, too.

That's almost worse than Shane offing Lem with a grenade. At least there was the outside chance that Lem was going to squeal, if not before going to jail, probably sometime afterward. Ronnie was a fucking rock, and this is his reward. If anyone was on the fence about Mackey being a soulless, rotten man, his final double-cross closed that book.

Even when his heart was in the right place, it wasn't. Much to my surprise, the series ended in much the way I have predicted, almost literally: Mackey all alone, his family gone, his team dead or in jail... gun in his hand and no one to kill. You could see it in his eyes, as he watched Barn cops respond to a call like a caged animal up in his ICE office.

At this point I would also like to point out how difficult it is, as an actor to A) summon tears on command, and even more so than that, to B) summon those tears and then choke them back at their very precipice. Michael Chiklis did it twice during the finale, and at the risk of buying into my own joke, it truly was acting genius. Chiklis made you care deeply about man who has

• Killed a police officer
• Covered up the near-death of another (Tavon)
• Performed armed robbery, not just of the Armenian mob, but also of an LAPD police van
• Beat a man nearly to death with a chain before shooting him in the head

That's hard to do. It's even more difficult, after caring for so long, to have his true inner evil come to light, as it did toward the end of the series. In its way, The Shield finale killed with even more quiet than The Wire's final bow. While Shane's kiss-off was brutal, it wasn't unexpected, and I was pretty sure Mackey would get away in the end, at least legally.

I think the final scene was appropriate, but not quite as true to how the best seasons of this show have ended. If I had been in charge of the final scene, I think I would have gone one of two ways, adding a little tiny bit at the end that starts the same in both scenarios:

Cut to a courtroom. It's Ronnie's trial. The prosecutor stands up and announces 'Prosecution calls Victor Samuel Mackey to the stand.'

OPTION A: Ronnie chokes back a mixture of sadness and anger as Mackey moseys up to the stand and places his hand on the Bible. "Everything started when we found out we had a rat on our Strike Team," he says. Cut to credits.


OPTION B: Ronnie chokes back that same mixture, but turns around and looks a little confused as no one comes through the door at the back of the courtroom. Agt. Olivia Murray, sitting in the court gallery, looks around, then back at Ronnie, who smiles for the first time since his arrest as his lawyer makes a motion for dismissal since the chief witness for the prosecution is nowhere to be found. Murray then fights back her own combination of fear and anger as she realizes the star witness against Gardocki isn't coming. Mackey has gone rogue. Ronnie will go free, and no one will ever see Mackey's bald dome again. A final shot shows Vic paying a coyote and getting into the same van he and Shane arranged to take Lem to Mexico.

I think both would have added an extra emotional punch at the finish, and still stayed true to all of the characters.

A few notes:
• The Dutch/Lloyd denouement was immensely unsatisfying... in fact, the Dutch storyline taken as a whole, over the course of the series, has not been nearly as satisfying as I'd hoped. I know it's hackneyed and been written about to death, but ever since he strangled that cat in S3, I've been waiting to see Dutch get nudged off the deep end. Even before that, he had a real yen to go after the Strike Team. And unlike Aceveda, he had the wherewithal to have perhaps pulled it off. He was deep into them during the money-train cover-up (can't think of what sidetracked him off the top of my head... cuddler rapist?). Not only did we not get any resolution with Lloyd, we don't even know if they found his mother's body! All we got was Claudette's "Get ready for your close-up," which could mean multiple things.
• The look on everyone's face when Vic walked back into the Barn a final time was pretty priceless. It was the same sort of look they all gave Antwon Mitchell at the end of S4... the look that says "Cop killer..."
• Ever since a blog commenter characterized Mackey's bull-in-a-china-shop act in S6 as "making me want to yell 'ACTING GENIUS!' a lá Jon Lovitz," it's harder for me to watch those stoic antihero shots of him without thinking of it and wanting to laugh in some small way. But I really would have liked to see more sparks between him and Claudette. She was SO pissed in the penultimate episode that I thought she would really let him have it. And even though she knew she was getting to him by arresting Ronnie, it can't make her feel good that Gardocki's the only bust out of this whole Strike Team shitstorm.

Potentially more to come...

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