“Bottom Bitch” and “Streaks And Tips” (season three, episodes three and four; originally aired 3/23/2004 and 3/30/2004)
“Bottom Bitch” and “Streaks And Tips” feel like a very different show from the gun-running season opener. There’s rape, robbery, and prostitution—let’s not get crazy here—but there are also two whole plots about insurance money, a cooler, calmer crime than the usual. The rhythms feel a little slower, the better to stew in a situation. The Armenian Money Train barely comes up once, by way of the changing design of the twenty dollar bill. Even antsy Lem is effortlessly sitting on the second biggest secret at the Barn. The conflicts aren’t boiling. They’re slow-cooking, as in Claudette’s mild but persistent prodding of Aceveda over an arrested john who happens to be of political use to him. The twisted plots are taking a backseat to the character explorations. The silences are longer, the shots a little steadier. Think of the moment the prostitute tries to appeal to Vic’s sense of duty, the camera squaring on him as he just glares at her for a few moments like he’s Malcolm Tucker going in for the kill. In short, The Shield is starting to feel more mature.
The entire dynamic of the Barn is evolving. All of the season-two changes are finally official, or close enough, and on top of that, Aceveda’s sticking around for a while, Danny’s back and on her own, and the Undercover Decoy Squad is shacking up with the Strike Team. In fact, Danny is this fantastic Schroedinger figure, going every way at once. She’s back in uniform but spends no time with her partner. She’s doing detective work in the mean time. She’s over-mothering Julien—I’ve never groaned at Vic Mackey the way I did when Danny interrupted the guys hanging out in the break room and asks if Julien is on his way out—but at Aceveda’s behest. She’s the one on the outs now, but she doesn’t seem at all concerned for her own social standing. Weirdest of all, she seems to soften toward Vic, but then she pounces, or what passes for pouncing anyway in this friendly conversation, implying that he’s a bad influence on Julien, all the while ignoring the fact that Vic’s bro code had Danny rifling through backpacks for a few months. On the one hand it’s no surprise that Danny would confront her enemy face to face, but on the other there sure isn’t any enmity coming off that scene. Is this just Catherine Dent underplaying—which, however unclear, would at least be a welcome respite from the overplaying of Mara and Cassidy—or is Danny so lost in the new world order that she forgets to keep Vic at arm’s length?
She’s right to be concerned about Julien. He already received an excessive force complaint, and the status update on Carlson, the ex-officer Julien retaliated against, reports a broken arm. Now he’s almost indistinguishable from the other bros on the force, and he’s taking advice from Vic Mackey. What is it with people forgetting how horrible Vic has been to them in the past? Yes, Vic has also been genuinely encouraging to Julien, but this is a guy who not only blackmailed Julien about his sexuality but has caught Julien in flagrante. That’s the kind of thing that sticks with you. Weirdest of all, he views Danny as a step back. Is that just because she was his training officer? Is it because Danny knew him when, and he’s transferred all that Vic anger to her? Or is Julien taking to the bro life so well that he’s undervaluing his clingy ex? True, he gets along well with his new partner, but that hardly explains the repeated coldness toward Danny.
Dutch is also incomplete without his partner. He investigates a case where a masked man raped and cuddled with an elderly woman and happens upon a different case with a (developmentally disabled?) sex offender played by Brent Sexton who’s been keeping his urges at bay. That is, until he finds himself on the battering ram end of Dutch’s role-play interrogation. Dutch rewires the guy just enough with his usual “What if we can’t help the bad things we do?” routine that the guy calls Dutch after being released, breathing heavily into the phone and speaking slowly. “I tried real hard. My son just left, she’s alone. Finally got that bitch alone. Now you can stop me.” Dutch tries to stall him, but the guy has so many disturbing responses. “You’ve done so well,” Dutch says. “No, I haven’t.” What does that mean? Eventually he says, “I’ll try not to hurt her too bad,” and hangs up. That’s a hell of an implication. If Dutch had never gotten involved, this woman would never have been raped. In fact, if this woman had never complained to Dutch about the sex offender, she would never have gotten raped. And in the other corner Dutch is showing the original rape victim a penis lineup since that’s the only body part she got a good look at, and the best/worst part is, he’s making her look at a picture of his own penis. Where is Claudette when you need her?
Claudette is busy stretching her authority now that she’s in charge of the Strike Team and the Undercover Decoy Squad. In another great character revelation, compare the way Vic responds to Claudette ordering him to do something he doesn’t want to do to the way he responds when Aceveda does. Maybe it’s just that he had Gilroy in his pocket back then, but Vic also respects Claudette more, sees her as a formidable officer and not just a desk-riding politico. Interestingly, Claudette softens toward Vic, too, now that she has some power over him. She also re-learns the lesson that Aceveda knows a thing or two about keeping up appearances while getting the job done. They make a totally unwitting tag-team in the efforts to process the big-name john, sending a message that things are changing in Farmington without the guy dragging Aceveda and the Kingmaker down with him. CCH Pounder and Benito Martinez are really making the most of their new roles.
Which, after ignoring the junior-high antics of Cassidy and Mara, leaves the Strike Team. Suddenly Tavon is the friendliest of the five interlopers in the clubhouse. The Armenian Money Train robbers are officially outnumbered in their own sanctuary. Better still, the Decoy Squad aren’t the least bit deferential in their new digs. They don’t play the seniority game the way Julien or Tavon do. They’ve been living on the streets for a few days, and they’re happy to take what they deserve, which is a hot shower and the Strike Team’s clubhouse. Nicki Micheaux’s undercover prostitute Trish bounces off Vic almost as well as Shane does, joking with him about a bag of dildos, asking for his advice on whether to obey Aceveda or Claudette when push comes to shove, and going, uh, head-to-head with him when the special teams make a bet to streak through the Barn if they don’t crack a case first. By the time the Decoy Squad parades naked through the church, it’s clear they fit right in.
They were just a distraction. The real war breaks out between Shane and Tavon, once and for all. Although their rivalry has been backgrounded lately, they’ve been at odds from the very beginning, back when Lem stuck up for the new recruit and Shane wanted someone less black. In “Streaks And Tips,” Tavon tells Vic he wants to transfer, he’s not fitting in the way he thought he would, but Vic stays his hand for a moment. Which is interesting in itself. Is Vic actually, finally taking to Tavon? Not that it matters. Shane arrests Tavon’s five-year informant for something that has nothing to do with the case they’re investigating, Vic intervenes on Tavon’s behalf, and later Vic tells Tavon to be the bigger man and work things out with Shane. So Tavon shows up at Shane’s house, and long story short, Mara irons him in the back of the head. There’s a lot to unpack here. Just why has Shane been so adamantly against Tavon joining the team? Is it fear of getting caught or fear of getting replaced or both or what? His racism obviously exacerbates his antipathy. And lately Shane has been drifting apart from Vic, thanks in part to Mara, who’s now pregnant and engaged to Shane. It’s even kind of foreboding when an episode opens with Lem at Vic’s side instead of Shane. Anyway, they start fighting, Tavon starts winning, and Mara starts shitting out more chaos. Tavon, looking like an Evil Dead refugee, stumbles to his car, crashes it somewhere, and flies through the windshield onto the asphalt just as Vic informs Claudette that his guys have worked things out. Yep, clearly everything’s copacetic at the Barn these days.
- “Bottom Bitch” is written by Scott Rosenbaum and Adam E. Fierro, and “Streaks And Tips” is written by Glen Mazzara. Both are directed by Scott Brazil.
- Trish making, um, inroads. “He has got a dildo in there you could snake a drain with.”
- Jesus, the scene where the wire-wearing prostitute returns to her pimp at the barber shop is rough. He chokes, harasses, and threatens her, and she stumbles out of the shop and vomits. Naturally she gets scared, but Vic plays a physical version of Dutch’s role-play, forcing her to fellate his gun and submit to his authority in order to get what he needs from her. It fucks with her head as much as Dutch’s technique fucks with the rapist’s head.
- It also feels like Shane is trying out some of that dom/sub stuff with Mara, but actually that’s just how he fights. His best zinger: “How’s the Lexus driving?”
- The Shield might be a unique forerunner to the much-hated scold wife type of the modern antihero dramas in that it has a few. The difference, though, between Mara and, say, Skyler White is that Anna Gunn actually gets inside of her character and conveys her torment to the audience. Mara literally bounces around—rewatch the argument scene—whining. I mean, Shane is the worst, albeit in an entertaining sort of way, but grow up, Mara.
- Danny, on hearing the news of Shane’s engagement: “Congratulations! Who is she? Is she a cousin?”
- Hollywood has been on the back-burner lately, too, but it’s back and it’s spectacular. An eye-witness to a triple-murder goes home to do her makeup before her on-camera interviews. She’s been in Los Angeles six months and can’t get work without a tape. She’s also hilariously shallow in other ways. When Claudette asks about the dangers of showing her face on the news as an eyewitness to murderers on the lam, she says, “They don’t know my name.” Aceveda says, “It’s on the news, right?” “But they don’t know where I live.” Claudette asks, “Is it in the phone book?” She immediately deflates. Why couldn’t Shane have knocked her up instead?
- Dutch brings Claudette a folder as she toys with a dummy in interrogation: “It’s a quad-rophenia . . . report.”