The Shield (Classic): “Cupid & Psycho”/“Throwaway”

The Shield (Classic): “Cupid & Psycho”/“Throwaway”

“Cupid & Psycho” (season one, episode eight; originally aired 4/30/2002)

(Available on Hulu and Amazon)

For an episode of such a visceral show, “Cupid & Psycho” takes its sweet time building to anything moving. Even the cases feel like some other cop show, give or take a burn victim. That guy is The Shield to its core, a sudden shock, a lingering second look, and then one more surprise before the credits. But he’s just the grisly entry into a story about frat hazing and well-off thugs who turn on each other up the chain of distribution until the guy at the top leverages his own ability to prevent further harm into a release. Then there’s a year-old murder mystery, which could at least get the pulp juices flowing. But it reads more like a New Yorker story, less about the crime and the solving than the widow who finds momentary relief with the investigating detective. The case itself is so tidy you wonder how the hell the original detective never made any progress, even with periodic calls from the widow. And the final case is another Cops episode with returning stars Lamar, Hooper, and Fran. Every time Danny and Julien show up Fran has the other guy on her arm.

What stands out about “Cupid & Psycho” is the Vic-Julien-Aceveda dynamic. Vic in handcuffs is nothing but charm. The consummate family man makes it clear he’s fighting for his guys. He gives Julien a plausible out: Julien was far away, peeking through a crack in a door when he saw what he thinks he saw. Vic wards off Tomas, keeps a lid on Julien’s secret, tells Danny to give Julien another chance. He even tries to give Julien some good advice. Naturally that’s all at least partly self-serving. “You can’t go through life hating who you are” is a comforting mantra to a closeted gay man but a somewhat disturbing one for a remorseless murderer/dealer/etc. Even in this episode’s Vic-Aceveda showdown, Vic gets in a biting exit line: “Sorry your headlines got mixed up.” Aceveda cares that his cops are dirty, but he appears more invested in turning that into a promotion for himself. (See also the car thief’s thick performance for the investigators.)

Julien’s strict moral code has never been flattering. Even though he’s right about Vic and Shane, he’s too dogmatic, too righteous, too Javert-like for a halo. He’s not ratting because he’s worried about the effects or it’s the right thing to do. He’s ratting to make himself feel better, consequences and strategy be damned. “Cupid & Psycho” fills in the gaps beautifully. He asks his reverend, “What do you do when the man that you are isn’t the man that you want to be?” He’s not talking about being able to stand up to Vic. He’s talking about being gay. In the final act, he tells Vic, “I’m not gay . . . I’m not. It’s this thing inside of me. I push it down, it goes away, but then it comes back stronger… I’m so weak. I hate this thing inside of me.” Clearly “Cupid & Psycho” is saving up for this. Julien is so overwhelmed with self-loathing that every time he opens his mouth a new dead puppy falls out. No wonder he can’t deal with one more thing. In a way, he reveals his priorities. To Julien, homosexuality is far scarier than anything Vic could do to him.

And then the final montage kicks the viewer in the stomach so hard it sets the standard for an entire network of alt/indie rock helping men brood their way out of an episode. (“Bawitdaba” came first, but that’s an event episode; “All My Little Words” just wraps up a day in the lives.) Part of what makes the sequence so great is that it isn’t the usual misery parade but rather a whole spectrum from comic relief to gasping-for-air tragedy. Dutch is in the shower after a tryst with the widow Kim, and she hangs up his coat in her dead husband’s closet. It’s nothing more than elusive. You could read it in a number of ways, reflecting well or ill on one or both parties, but the concrete details like Kim handling Dutch’s gun and the closet are laced with darkness. Then the Acevedas prepare for David’s coming-out party where kingmaker Jorge Machado will officially back him for city council. They look into the mirror and a political ad smiles back. Shane concludes his very funny episode by admiring himself in the mirror. Vic watches Cassidy show Matthew how to eat pizza. Julien just broods on the balcony. And then there’s one last crime scene, blood splattered on the walls, an overturned black man, and then it hits that the victims are Hooper and Fran. The montage gets a little on-the-nose in places (circling Julien to the bit about being “un-boyfriend-able” for instance), but the haunting quality only grows as LD Beghtol sings, “I could make you pay and pay / But I could never make you stay,” over the aftermath of a violent love triangle.

Stray observations:

  • “Cupid & Psycho” is written by Glen Mazzara and directed by Guy Ferland.
  • The first line of Claudette’s living will: “Keep my machines juiced until the Hoover Dam’s out of business.”
  • Reunited after a day with other partners, Claudette asks Dutch, “How was your day?” He can barely restrain his grin. “Shane wants to hit the monster truck rally on Friday.”
  • The last fairly serious note before the montage is Gilroy breaking up with Vic. He can’t keep explaining the Strike Team to his superiors.

“Throwaway” (season one, episode nine; originally aired 5/7/2002)

(Available on Hulu and Amazon.)

The unfortunately titled “Throwaway” is another low-octane episode where most Shield-ian touches are the crotch piercings delivered by one of Vic’s informants. The spine is strong, at least. A couple of Los Mags hold up a delivery driver, and when the Strike Team investigate, Lem winds up shooting an ex-Mag and current model parolee who happens to reach for an object in the dark. And who also has nothing to do with the hold-up. “What if I killed him?” Lem asks. “You didn’t,” Vic says. “Yeah, but I could’ve.” Even more than Shane, Lem has a problem with killing. No other illegal activity, such as evidence-tampering or wailing on a guy for branding his ex-girlfriend, raises the alarm. But Lem is seriously upset about the hypothetical universe where he shot innocent Chaco fatally.

After the shooting, instead of reporting the accident and following procedure, Vic plants a gun on Chaco because they have enough negative press attention as it is. They spend the rest of the episode setting everything straight without getting Lem in trouble. It’s a very Strike Team thing to do, digging out of one hole and into another, but the ends are seemingly right: the Mag who held up the original delivery driver gets arrested for a similar crime but with the added bonus of obstruction of justice to cover whatever other crimes he’s committed; Chaco gets off on lack of evidence; and Vic, Lem, and Ronnie successfully save their own asses with Aceveda none the wiser. When the suspense evaporates, what’s left is the moral question.

Really, though, Vic bends over backward to save Lem because this is an episode about being there for family. Claudette finds a way to be there for her daughter without necessarily embracing her decision to leave her husband for some other guy. Danny and Julien, who are apparently and suddenly fighting in spite of Vic’s intervention, are told to prove they can cover each other before Aceveda will consider reassigning them. Even Dutch has a happy relationship with the widow. At the end, Claudette asks a victim of elderly abuse, “Maynard, why do your kids hate you so much?” The answer is obvious: “I was a bastard.” Vic isn’t a bastard at home, but he’s never there, and he’s somewhere else even when he is there. With Matthew’s autism and a babysitter without special-needs training, Corinne has finally had enough. She tells Vic the three dreaded words, “This isn’t working.” The season has been building this tension in the background. Vic’s a family man, but his work family keeps taking precedence. But that’s mostly for his retirement fund, for his home family. The point is the noose is tightening. And that’s just the beginning.

Stray observations:

  • “Throwaway” is written by Kevin Arkadie and directed by Leslie Libman.
  • Shane’s off in Vegas working on a better contract for season two, but I believe this is the last of his three season-one absences. Our long Walton Goggins shortage is over.
  • Dutch learns all about Claudette’s childhood when her father visits. “It’s only stalking if you work at it.”
  • The new boyfriend says, “I’ve waited a long time to meet you, Claudette.” “It couldn’t have been that long.”

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