“Ain’t That A Shame” (season four, episode 13; originally aired 6/14/2005)
There’s a foreordained quality to season four and the finale, “Ain’t That A Shame,” in particular. The ups and downs of Monica’s final days as captain of The Barn could be milked for drama but they aren’t. Once Dutch says that Monica’s hanging herself, The Shield just stands back and watches without even pretending her victories might save her. Glenn Close is a big name, after all. It was still a big deal for movie stars to do TV shows when Damages began in 2007. Who’d expect her to stick around cable as second fiddle in 2005? Besides, the big episode, the hour-long showdown, was number 10. The rest is everything falling into place.
To wit, Antwon loses his deal and remains a guest of the county after all, Monica lets her ends speak for themselves, and—the climax we’ve all been waiting for—Danny and Julien mend fences. The big departure season ultimately restores order. The Strike Team is back together in its original formation with I.A.D. clinging to its legs. Monica and Antwon are gone. At the end even Dutch resists the urge to shake things up by taking the captaincy. “Sometimes you have to take the moral high ground,” he tells Claudette. “One day, you’ll understand.” It’s a good line on the page, but what flesh-and-blood city employee turns down a promotion? What Dutch Wagenbach turns down a promotion?
The whole season feels this planned, this written. So the plot unfurls beautifully—if atypically for a season of The Shield—but the season talks a lot of talk it doesn’t quite walk. The strength of The Shield isn’t explicating the effects of the white establishment’s broken police departments on minority-populated cities. The strength of The Shield is physicality, finding urgent, visceral illustrations of those effects within a rip-roaring yarn. It’s in casting Glenn Close and Anthony Anderson to embody the season’s struggle. It’s in the swiveling red and blue lighting up the hunt for Carl and Scooby. It’s in Monica seizing an old woman’s house and Julien upholding an injunction against two biological brothers. “Ain’t That A Shame” puts Dutch and Claudette on a quinceañera shooting that tangentially and off-screen leads back to the foster house where the girl was Drano-ed just so Monica can sink her career by seizing it against instructions, which also occurs off-screen.
The finale isn’t a provocative, pleasure-denying anticlimax. It has big events (so long, Monica), tantalizing set-up (hello, Internal Affairs), surprise (Emolia’s an informant for I.A.D.), and action (Lem’s fight with the Salvadorans is so clumsy and organic that when he finally gets the upper hand for good he stumbles to the floor and just lies there with the shotgun on them). It’s more of a coda to the more immediate excitement of Antwon’s interrogation and the Carl and Scooby investigation. It takes time to give Monica booking Antwon the ceremony it deserves. It saves a moment for Vic and Dutch both to stand up for Monica against unis come to see her off.
“Ain’t That A Shame” is a hell of a final showcase for Glenn Close. The episode begins with Monica heeling the troops and then immediately shutting the door in the clubhouse and getting conspiratorial with the Strike Team. When the foster home news comes out, she gets another strong law-and-order moment ordering the house seized against everyone’s caution: “This was the Walkers’ second strike. I’m not gonna give them a third, so do it.” And then, in her meeting with Phillips and Aceveda, we see whole new sides of Monica. She’s perplexed, smiley, almost girly. “No one’s gonna fight for me?” Aceveda’s deaf, so she turns to Roy and gets assertive. “You know that Farmington is better off now than when I found it. Because the seizures were working. Because I made sure that Antwon Mitchell paid for what he did to our two cops. I looked after them. Now you’ll look after me, right?” It’s an enormous close-up. She’s confident, she’s pleading, she’s proud, she’s worried. Her mouth is smile, frown, and stone all at once. Monica’s never been so complicated.
In light of the season’s sense of predestination, I.A.D. zeroing in on Lem takes on a certain tragedy, with the best of the bad guys getting caught for one little off-book maneuver after a season of keeping his nose clean. The Strike Team wasn’t even doing anything—by Strike Team standards, anyway. They were trying to find Angie’s body, and Pitario was the guy who moved her. The second time he had to get directions, Lem took some insurance. “We find the dead girl’s body, you get this back.” They did find the body, sort of, and the captain ultimately cleared them of wrong-doing in this particular case. Putting that heroin back in the hands of dealers is bad for the neighborhood, but it’s one of the cleaner things they’ve done. Instead Internal Affairs replaced it with fake heroin and concluded that Lem, at least, is crooked. My first reaction is, “Poor Lem,” and my second is, “Why am I rationalizing?” Just because Lem’s been trying to repent this year doesn’t make up for The Barn’s abuses of power.
The final sequence is this simplistic criss-cross between the guys celebrating their successes at the bar and Monica alone at her house. (She, by the way, does pretty much what I expected she would: sits on the couch, takes a swig, wonders how humans behave.) But it ends with some actual oomph, although, true to the season, the jolt is more suggestive than anything else. In one take the I.A.D. guy walks into the big cop party, takes a look at Lem, and then walks off, leaving Vic on-screen laughing his head off. The penance continues.
- “Ain’t That A Shame” is written by Shawn Ryan and Glen Mazzara and directed by Stephen Kay.
- Danny wakes up to Julien praying. “Oh, Jesus, Julien.”
- Another strong stand from Monica: “Two months since that little girl had drain cleaner forced down her throat, one of their kids is selling prescription meds out of that house. When do you get mad?”
- Monica defends the seizure to Vic, saying, “I think I just bought myself a little cover.” “Or we can quit while we’re ahead.” When Vic Mackey thinks you’re going too far, time to reassess.
- Another example of the season’s writerliness: Cassidy’s all moony about this one boy because he doesn’t take shit from anyone, which reminds her of Vic, and suddenly we’re supposed to be worried about her. “You understand there’s more important things to being a person, right, like being honest, trustworthy, caring about you?” Chill. A tween liking a bad boy is neither evidence of permanent moral decay nor some cosmic consequence of sin.
- Claudette on the captaincy: “They don’t want me. They’ll get some company yes-man jellyfish from outside that’ll keep us all in line.” Later, Dutch repeatedly turns down Phillips’ offer of the position. “To be honest, if you think I’m the kind of guy you’re looking for, you’ve made a mistake.”
- Next week: Season five begins! Forrest Whitaker shows up. Tell your friends.