Television is generally harmful to most people. One of the last television drama series I will ever watch regularly is The Shield, which is wrapping up its seventh and final season in November. Season 7 begins tonight on FX at 10pm.
Most television is rehashed garbage. Once in a while, a show comes along and makes an impact, be it The Sopranos and the misunderstood David Chase, the dark-humor specialty of Seinfeld, the fun jabs at modern society in Family Guy, or the mystery of Lost. The Shield is character-driven with an anti-hero as its main character, like The Sopranos, and has retained its quality over seven seasons. They could have ended this show after three seasons; they could have extended it to ten seasons. Either way, the producers did the right thing by ending it now, only a season or so removed from the death of a major character.
The Shield has been criticized for putting its anti-hero protagonist - Michael Chiklis' Vic Mackey - on a pedestal. In reality, the main character is morally flawed, and the show reflects the gritty reality of what an effective police detective needs to do in a place like the rough, inner city neighborhoods of Los Angeles. Of course, as the seasons have worn on, reflection on the characters and questioning whether or not their flaws are justified is more thoroughly explored.
Does being flawed and having to resort to the rule of the street to be effective, excuse the fact that sometimes Vic will do what he needs to do in his own self interest? That's what the show asks constantly, and we see that time and time again, Vic has learned a thing or two from the streets: he can wiggle out of almost any jam. He always has a way out, a trap door, a way to circumvent the rules to deliver the results craved by the public and the politicians. This is partly due to the fact that he's lucky, and partly due to the fact that he's intelligent enough to be a few moves ahead of the people above him in the chain of command - and will lie to their faces if needed. The show asks the viewer to determine if the ends justify the means, and Mackey certainly delivers results. Even Vic's most hated rival, CCH Pounder's Detective Claudette Wyms, now Chief at the Barn, says she needs someone "with a little Vic - the right kind" when Vic's replacement-to-be, Kevin Hiatt, messes up one too many times in his audition for the top spot of Vic's Strike Team.
The Shield's creator, Shawn Ryan, has done a great job extending The Shield: Mach II (Seasons 4-7) with Shakespearian themes of broken bonds and betrayal, focusing inward on the team itself and the surrounding environment instead of cheer leading about how the team can wiggle out of any jam. Surprisingly, Season 3 ended with the team breaking up, a chance not many shows would have taken, but one can conclude in looking back at all that has followed, that the producers and writers have wanted to tell a story and they aren't nearly as concerned with ratings as they are with getting their story across. In that sense, The Shield is a rare treat in a world of spit-shined, low-level entertainment.
Seasons 1-4 saw a building up, a climax, and the eventual decay of The Strike Team. Seasons 5-6 focused on The Strike Team paying for its past transgressions, to the point that one of the team's four core members has killed another on the team, the other two members know it, but no one can do anything about it through legal means because of all the dirt they have on each other. Season 7 will see how the final act plays out: have these men become so accustomed to betrayal that they will keep a decaying organism (The Strike Team) alive, even though they'll be watching their own backs more than each other's (Shane's view)? Will they decide to go their separate ways peacefully and just forget everything, leaving it all behind (Ronnie's view)? Or will Vic settle the score of Shane killing Lem, hauling Ronnie along for the ride, preserving the idea that Vic is king of Farmington and no one messes with him? It will be an interesting end to a well written and well executed series.