Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Retro Review - The Shield Season 2

The second season of Shawn Ryan’s uncompromising The Shield picks up in the aftermath of the events from the end of the first season.

Vic’s wife Corrine has done a runner with his kids and our anti-hero is using a Private Investigator to track her as she moves around the country, an independent auditor has been assigned to the barn in light of the riot that ended the first season and Aceveda’s campaign for city council is starting to really heat up.

One thing The Shield does brilliantly is to just drop you head first into an episode, the titles are intercut between the on screen action and there is very little exposition reminding you of where we’ve been.

There is an element of ‘crime of the week’ formula to the show, usually in the form of Dutch and Claudette’s case, but the ongoing arcs just organically merge into each episode without beating you over the head with reminders.

This season begins in somewhat graphic fashion with two dealers being burnt alive with a tyre necklace at the hands of well-read but sadistic drug kingpin and child rapist Armadillo Quintero.

Armadillo’s presence is felt across the entire season even though he actually only appears in five episodes; his spectre continuing to hang over the barn even after he is murdered mid-way through the season.

The fallout from Armadillo not only encompassed the whole of season 2 but much of the future of The Shield as well: Danny losing her job, Ronnie’s facial injuries and Claudette making it her personal mission to put a stop to Vic and The Strike Team.

By the end of 2.2 ‘Dead Soldiers’ Armadillo has already got to Vic, burning down T.O.’s drug HQ and then murdering Vic’s hand-picked dealer. The episode ends with Vic and the team busting in to Armadillo’s home and brutally beating him before Vic burns his face on a stove; an attack that would be reciprocated on Ronnie later in the season.

It is also in this episode that Danny’s major arc for the season is formed as she shoots dead a Muslim man during a domestic disturbance call – she is then subjected to a campaign of harassment from the man’s widow for much of the season.

Armadillo then disappears for a while and focus shifts slightly onto Dutch who gets his only real focus of the season as he is humiliated by a couple who torture, mutilate and then murder a young woman and lead Dutch a merry dance whilst doing it. The case is known as the ‘Bob & Marcy case’ after the culprits.

The reason for Dutch’s humiliation is that whilst he had Bob & Marcy in interrogation, the victim was still alive in the trunk of their car, which was parked at the barn. In a bizarre piece of casting, Marcy was played by Melanie Lynskey who plays Charlie’s stalker Rose in Two and a Half Men.

This failure haunts Dutch for much of the rest of the season, especially when the report from the independent auditor leads to firings. This is about the extent of what Jay Karnes gets to do this season, which is a shame because 1.10 ‘Dragonchasers’ where he matches wits with a rapist was brilliant television.

2.3 ‘Partners’ sees Vic helping his old partner Joe, played by Carl Weathers, which ends up with him getting shot; this helps solidify Vic and Shane’s relationship which had been somewhat fractured after Shane pumped most of the team’s ‘retirement fund’ into the drug business which went up in smoke, both figuratively and literally.

This financial predicament is also what plants the seed for the season’s major arc for The Strike Team – to rob the Armenian money train.

While the money train heist doesn’t take place until the season finale, the planning and debate over whether or not to proceed with the plan is a major aspect of most episodes of the season.

The money train plot also first highlighted tensions in the team that would play out over the coming seasons: mainly Lem’s doubts about the heist, Ronnie’s eagerness to go along with it and Vic’s cautiousness. There were also the first signs of fracture between Lem and Shane during this arc.

When Armadillo eventually returns he ‘green lights’ the strike team, putting them on their toes, even more so after they learn that Armadillo had his own brother killed.

In 2.8 ‘Scar Tissue’ it looks as though Armadillo has outsmarted Vic, but before he can do any long-term damage other than arouse Claudette’s suspicions about Vic, Armadillo is stabbed to death whilst in holding.

Surprisingly it isn’t the Machiavellian Mackey that orchestrates this event, but Shane and Lem.

With Armadillo taken care of, the focus for The Strike Team shifts primarily on to the Money Train takedown, Vic though becomes distracted by his home life and by getting caught up in a couple of the ‘crime of the week’ cases.

The Strike Team is also given a new member towards the end of the season in Tavon, who Shane seems to take an instant dislike to. His presence seems to be a fly in the ointment for the money train heist and the case he is working with Vic is what eventually leads to Vic being late for the robbery.

The other big arc that the series ends with is Julien being outed and being routinely humiliated by his co-workers. This is taken to a new extreme when fired cops Jackson and Carlson attack him at the end of the finale and give him a ‘blanket party’ beating similar to the one Julien participated in on the HIV positive criminal who bit Danny in season 1. During the final montage Julien is seen in a very bad way after the beating.

The season ends with the Strike Team all stood round the huge pile of money they have from the money train heist and after a brief moment of joy, the realisation seems to hit home over just what it is they have done.

The closing montage of all the characters in the middle of or at the end of their respective arcs is done brilliantly and is something staff writer on The Shield Kurt Sutter has taken with him to Sons of Anarchy which he also does to great effect on that show.

All in all a great season of one of the grittiest but most fantastically compelling shows of all time. I’ve got to admit that it does start slightly slow, especially with the whole Mexico detour, but once it gets going after the Armenian episode when the money train robbery is first formulated the season unravels at a breakneck pace.

Michael Chiklis is the stand-out as always as Vic, but this is also a great season for CCH Pounder as Claudette and for Kenneth Johnson and David Rees Snell as Lem and Ronnie who come into their own this year and feel more like equals to Vic and Shane rather than peripheral characters.

Second seasons are usually where shows sink or swim and The Shield definitely took to the water this year; expanding on a great debut year and planting a number of seeds for long-running storylines and arcs that would run right up until the series ended five years later.

The mythology of the series is also expanded massively this year and whilst I was initially annoyed that the season was interrupted by flashback episode ‘Co-Pilot’, this stand alone episode didn’t feel like a unwelcome break.

‘Co-Pilot’ brilliantly introduces each of the main characters and depicts the start of threads that became integral to the show; it is also nice to see Reed Diamond back in the role of Terry Crowley – another ghost who hangs over the series after Vic kills him in the pilot.

Season 2 of The Shield is serialised TV drama at its grittiest and most adrenaline-fuelled, it is almost impossible to turn-off and I highly recommend that if you aren’t already familiar with this fantastic show that you get acquainted.

With the current TV landscape somewhat barren for summer, I’m currently working through the complete series DVD box set of The Shield and will review each season as I complete it.

Look out for a season 3 review soon!


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