Season 7 is the final season of the Shield, and it’s clear from start to finish that the series hasn’t lost any of the hard-hitting, gritty realism, that’s had fans hooked since early 2002. The stories are as edgy as ever, there’s plenty of action, brutality, and a plot that twists and turns so often that once you start watching, you won’t be able to stop. It’s also the most shocking series yet (fans will know that’s a pretty bold statement to make), as there’s about ten or eleven episodes (out of a 13 episode series) with cliff-hangers so surprising that not only will they make any viewers jaw hit the floor, but leave them with only two thoughts; “wow!” and “what’re they going to do next?”
The Shield was created by Shawn Ryan (writer for Angel, showrunner for The Unit, and co-wrote Terminator Salvation) and revolves around the exploits of the L.A.P.D. within the fictional Farmington District. The series’ main protagonist is Detective Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis), who heads the Strike Team; a four man unit that deals solely with gang related crimes, and aren’t above planting evidence on suspects, beating confessions out of them, and even occasionally raising the bar to outright murder and other questionable activities used to keep peace on the streets and supplement their income.
The main issue presented by the series is the use of force, and corruption within the police department, as the actions of Vic and the rest of the Strike Team are not only vicious, but immoral and downright illegal, yet they always seem to do more good than harm; granted now and again they ‘forget’ to turn in a brick of heroin to evidence, or make back-room deals with drug dealers and murderers, but all the beatings, murders and stitch-ups they ever conduct are against people that are truly deserving; serial rapists, paedophiles, murderers, pimps or drug dealers; and because of this no viewer can truly hate Mackey or the Strike Team as a whole.
In the pilot episode Mackey was referred to as “Al Capone with a badge” but as another detective pointed out, as long as people feel safe, and crime is down, as far as the public are concerned “it’s don’t ask, don’t tell,” and while most people may agree with that in real life, we have not only been told, but shown the actions of the Strike Team for the past six years, and as this is the last ever season fans were itching to find out if Mackey would finally get his comeuppance, or what depraved acts he would have to commit to escape scott free.
The next section of the series review should only be read by people that have seen at least the first six series of The Shield, as while it contains no real Season 7 spoilers, it does refer to events from earlier series. People that haven’t seen the earlier series’ should skip ahead to Acting/conclusion, Picture/Audio quality, Extras and the Bottom Line.
Season 6 ended with Shane (Walton Goggins), once again, being in way over his head with a gang; the Armenians, which led to him letting slip that Vic had ripped off the money train, and even kidnapping Vic’s wife and children to protect them from an Armenian hitman. Season 7 kicks off with a bang, as within the first few seconds Shane’s wife is bound and gagged, and Shane is receiving a beating from Vic and Ronnie (David Rees Snell) and is forced to tell them about the Armenians and just how screwed they all are.
From that point Vic, Shane and Ronnie are again forced to work closer together, and the season’s early episodes focus on the efforts to catch and kill any Armenians that know of their involvement in the money train robbery and could, by association, be a threat to their families. Shane is trying to find the Armenians before Vic and Ronnie, in order to keep his involvement in their predicament under wraps, and once more tries to redeem himself for killing Lem back in season 5.
Vic and Ronnie (him especially) aren’t too forgiving; they want to end the Armenian threat, find out how involved Shane is, and if not to avenge Lem’s death outright, to at least cut all ties with Shane. Inevitably tensions boil over, and the surprising actions of some of the main characters shift the story in a totally new direction. Without giving too much away, the remaining members of the Strike Team find themselves in more trouble than they have ever been in before, it’s clear that at least one if not all of them are going down, either to prison or the morgue, and the team’s inevitable descent to hell comes extremely rapidly from that point onwards.
The shift mentioned occurs in episode 8 (titled “Parricide”) and it is possibly the finest episode of The Shield ever produced; it has some of the best writing, best acting and most nail-biting moments of the series entire run. It is an episode that will not only have viewers on the edge of their seats, but holding their breath for the full 45 minute episode simply willing certain characters to do/not to do certain things, and this episode (more so than most, yet all in this season are brilliant) is a perfect example of why The Shield has been so beloved by fans, why the first season gained the most Emmy nominations for a basic cable drama, and just what an all-round brilliant show it was.
Unfortunately however, The Shield has now ended, and most people reading this will be interested in one thing above all else, ‘was the finale any good?’ and in short, it was unexpected. That comment shouldn’t be taken too negatively, as there are many things about the final episode which would more than please the shows legions of loyal fans; the fact that it was written solely by Shawn Ryan (shows creator and sole writer of the pilot episode), that references and even appearances are made by supporting cast members from earlier seasons, and most importantly of all, that every major storyline is satisfactorily and realistically closed.
Realistic is a word that perfectly describes the series’ ending; as whilst it may not be the ending that most fans were expecting, it’s one that would probably have happened, had the events of the entire series been real; and on reflection, it was truly a piece of writing genius to end the series in such an unexpected, realistic and still shockingly powerful way.
As one would expect, the finale is tied up almost entirely with the fate of Vic, and it’s one of many episodes that keeps you guessing right until, and even past, the episodes closing scene. It’s an extremely powerful episode that will memorize just about anyone watching, there’s unexpected twists even at such a late stage in the game, and it is acted so well that the emotions of all key characters can actually be felt by the people watching, an example would be any one of several scenes where the camera holds steady for 30-40 seconds on a close-up of Mackey’s face, with no background noise or anything but his expression to convey the complex emotions felt by the character, and they are all scenes which Michael Chiklis pulls off exceptionally well.
The acting in this series is nothing but superb, Michael Chiklis is as convincing as ever as Vic Mackey, the tough cop that believes he is trying to do the right thing, and effectively carries the wider range of emotions needed to be conveyed by his character this series; having to show sadness, empathy, and convey a feeling that he knows he is taking things to far, and is disgusted with himself, but is unable to stop.
However it isn’t just Michael Chiklis that deserves all the credit, as the acting from the supporting cast is also exceptional; Walton Goggins, as Shane Vendrell, had to carry his character through some especially dark times during the season, and despite being an extremely difficult character to like, he was convincing and created a character that was easy to hate, yet deserving of an innumerable amount of empathy. David Rees Snell has the finest season of his Shield career as the third Strike Team member, Ronnie Gardocki, and it’s a season described in the commentary as the corruption of Ronnie because in several episodes Ronnie is forced to commit acts worse than he has ever done onscreen before. He’s an extremely likeable character, and it’s nice to see him get more screen time than has been awarded him in the past, and while David’s acting might not be as critically praised as that of Michael Chiklis or Walton Goggins, he easily matches their stellar standard and his performance far surpasses simply being believable, making it easy to feel for his character.
The rest of the regular cast also have their fair share of screen time and decent stories this series, Billings’ law suit reaches its climax, Dutch (wonderfully played by Jay Karnes) becomes involved in a disturbing case regarding a potential teenage serial killer, and the extent of Claudette’s (a character played to perfection by CCH Pounder) illness is made clear, and Aceveda (Benito Martinez) edges ever closer to the mayors desk.
To sum up, The Shield is, and has always been, a magnificent series, and season 7 is impressive enough to not only contend with but even surpass some of the earlier series’. The acting from all regular cast members, guest stars and even those reappearing in smaller supporting roles (the return of Tavon was a personal highlight) is as near perfect as possible, the stories are just as shocking and powerful as ever, with Vic barely hanging on through most of the series’, and the individual tragedies that befall a number of key characters are enough to move viewers to tears. This is one of very few series’ that can be classified as essential viewing, as the writing quality, the show’s style and overall impression of the show haven’t failed to disappoint for seven years.
The Shield has always been known for it’s gritty look, and as with all earlier series’ you can expect a good deal of grain on this transfer, something which is so noticeable that it even warrants a mention in the season openers commentary. However, grain here isn’t the result of a bad transfer, but rather a reflection of the series’ on-the-fly style of filming, and use of handheld cameras that provides a near documentary style look to the show. For that reason alone it should not be put down, and the fact that contrast remains consistent throughout and the picture looks a good deal better than the earlier series’ mean that whilst being far from perfect, the picture quality is more than adequate (actually adding to the realistic feel of the show), and doesn’t distract from the edgy storylines contained in each episode.
Audio on previous Shield boxsets has been pretty limited, with seasons 1-6 having only 2 channel mixes, and unfortunately whilst online info states that season 7 has a 5.1 audio track, it only played in standard 2 channel stereo, with no options to change to 5.1. It’s understandable that the fast paced nature of the show, use of handheld cameras and the crews style of filming, would make it difficult creating a full 5.1 track during filming, but The Shield is a show that could really benefit from some decent surround sound; there are numerous action sequences, scenes on city streets and even quiet moments where the low hum of fluorescent lights being heard through the rear speakers would provide another level to the show and help to further immerse the viewer; however this isn’t the case, and season 7 of The Shield still has the same tired audio quality of the first season. A track that will be far from impressive, but boasts clear dialogue, ambient, and action noise levels throughout, and while it will not heighten the experience of the series, neither will it distract from the compelling story.
As with all previous The Shield boxsets there are deleted scenes for every episode (51 scenes in total) with optional commentary by creator Shawn Ryan, and while the scenes themselves may prove interesting (but brief) the commentary really isn’t needed, as it generally consists of ‘this was a good scene but we cut it for time’ and little else.
There is also episode commentary on every episode, with commentators changing from main cast members, to writers, directors and crew, and they are surprisingly easy to listen to and informative. The commentaries conducted solely by the writers can become somewhat tedious, but the ones with directors and cast (particularly the finale) are interesting enough to please both fans and casual viewers alike; as they are littered with stories about the decision making processes, behind the scenes antics, banter between cast members, interesting question posed to one another and funny anecdotes, that all prove worthy of a listen.
Finally there are two making of featurettes: “Last Call: The Final Episode”, which is only really for real fans, as it mainly consists of the cast giving small speeches and heartfelt goodbyes to one-another, and “Nobody Expects to Lose, Nobody Expects to Die: The Shield’s Final Act”, which is more of a traditional making of, with some interesting cast and crew interviews conducted before, during and post filming, behind the scenes shots, and recapping the final season and showing how the ending was reached.
The most puzzling extra(s) of all come on the final disc, as there are ‘deleted scenes’ from the final episode, that seemed strangely familiar, because they were in fact only deleted in the U.S. and anyone who watched the finale on Channel 5 would have already seen these scenes. The scenes even appear in the episode when watching them on the DVD, the only difference being that in the deleted scenes section, they have worse picture and audio quality. Even more baffling, is the ‘bonus episode’ which is the U.S. version of the finale, which is exactly the same as the one that aired here, but with the ‘deleted scenes’ actually taken out, and unfortunately the only way to watch the two-part finale as a whole is to view the ‘bonus episode’ with removed scenes.
In short, a nice collection of extras, with many interesting deleted scenes and commentaries and a nice making of featurette, although the ‘bonus episode’ really wasn’t needed.
The Bottom Line:
Summing up, season 7 of The Shield is pure television brilliance, it’s the perfect (even if rather unsettling) ending to possibly the best show on television and has lost none of its impact since its hard-hitting pilot first aired. All major stories are summed up powerfully well, there’s a closing montage that’s brought many viewers to tears, and no-one could argue that there could have been an ending that better suited the characters and situation that they found themselves in. Granted the picture quality is far from perfect, but that’s a stylistic choice rather than a transfer issue and actually adds to the realism of the show. The audio also isn’t up to scratch with most new releases, but that shouldn’t put anyone off when there’s a plot this intricate, gripping and truly shocking. Season 7 isn’t the place to start if you’ve never seen The Shield, because events from not only seasons 2-6 reach their culmination, but so does the storyline first opened up in the shows pilot episode. If you already own seasons 1-6, then 7 is a must buy as it rounds everything off brilliantly, otherwise the soon to be released, excellently presented, complete box set, comes highly recommended.