It’s better to burn out to rust. It’s better to quit while you’re ahead. It’s better to leave ’em wanting more than hang around so long you make ’em forget what they liked about you in the first place.
That’s why this Tuesday at 10:00 pm, I will be firmly planted in front of my television to watch the 88th and last episode of the FX network program, The Shield.
I don’t watch a lot of television but what I do watch it’s all or nothing at all. Either a show grabs my attention and I’m coming along for the ride or it doesn’t and I’m done with it. Since 2002, The Shield has been visual crack for me. I can’t quit it, so it’s quitting me first.
There’s going to be a bit of a void in my life when The Shield is gonzo. It took a few episodes before I fully grasped just how far off the beaten path the show was, but once I got it, I’ve been fully invested in it. I can count on one hand how many television shows have had the kind of effect: Miami Vice, Crime Story, Oz, L.A. Law and E.R.
When Miami Vice limped to it’s end in 1989, it was a mercy killing. The show hadn’t just “jumped the shark,” it pole-vaulted it. Crime Story started out dark, gritty and brilliant in its first season, relocated from Chicago to Las Vegas and lost its soul in all the bright lights and bad scripts. HBO’s Oz started out as a show that presented prison life in a raw and up in your face way that had never been seen before on television. Unhappily, after killing off the terrifying, yet charismatic Simon Adabesi, it lost its way and descended into a steadily more ridiculous series of mass bloodbaths, race riots, gang rape and even a dreaded “it was only just a dream” episode.
L.A. Law and E.R. just dragged on and on past their sell-by dates. The starring characters left the show and the supporting charters became the lead characters and when they left the character actors took their place or at least tried to.
The Shield never jumped the shark. Never watered down the soup with dumb stunts or guest stars that drew the attention away from The Strike Team, the cops holding it down in “the barn” in Ryan’s mythical Los Angeles battlezone of Farmington. There has been only major cast member departure and when it happened the ramifications set the wheels in motion for Mackey and the Strike Team’s long overdue fall.
The final season of the show hasn’t been bad, but neither has it been the strongest. Vic Mackey (Michael Chilkis) has seen all his sins coming back to haunt him and not the least of which is the renegade Strike Team member, Shane Vendrell (Walton Goggins) who has been on the run after a botched attempt to kill Mackey and Ronnie Gardocki (David Rees Snell). Shane is Vic’s Frankenstein monster who has turned on the creator and is trying to destroy him.
The pursuit of Shane and Vic’s wheeling and dealing with the feds and two (or is it three or four?) different warring drug factions has been confusing as hell. On Monday it’s the Colombians and next day Vic’s cutting deals with the Armenians, Latino and Black street gangs and all the while trying to suck up to a compromised federal agent for immunity from prosecution. The rest of the week Mackey is manipulating his old boss David Aceveda (Benito Martinez) while his last boss, Captain Claudette Wyms (C.C.H. Pounder) and her best detective Dutch Waggenbach (Jay Karnes) try to catch Shane and bust Vic.
Whew. That’s a lot to cram in a 44-minute episode. Even Stephen King groused in his Entertainment Weekly column how convoluted and confusing this last season has been. I don’t entirely disagree with King. With all the negotiations and Shane’s escape artist act, Vic hasn’t even shot anyone for three or four weeks. What’s up with that.
Final episodes can be depressing events or bring blessed relief. The end of Miami Vice came with a lousy two-parter that was stiched together from separate shows and the seams showed badly. Crime Story’s last episdoe ended with most of the cast going down in a plane crash. L.A. Law just dragged on until nobody cared anymore and E.R. should have closed down when the last of the original cast bailed.
The word is out. Anything short of nuclear war DO NOT CALL me during the last episode of The Shield. The phone will not be answered and if you knock on my door, I cannot be held responsible if I tell you to go straight to hell.
This is my favorite television show and I will miss it terribly, but I would rather it burn out instead of fading away. Let it go out on top and I am confident that series creator Shawn Ryan is serious when he says The Shield will NOT wimp out in the end as The Sopranos did.
Will Vic live or die? What’s going to happen to Shane? Is Ronnie going to be the last man standing? The speculation is hot and heavy over the net and on the fan sites and that’s great that a show seven seasons in can still generate such buzz. Damn that Vic Mackey. Even when the bastard is near the end of the line he’s still got everyone guessing if he can wiggle out of one last predicament.