“Dragonchasers” (season one, episode 10; originally aired 5/14/2002)
“Dragonchasers” bluffs so hard you know it has pocket rockets, and still Dutch nailing a serial killer is a fist-pump for the ages. From the moment he walks into that interview room barely suppressing a smile, it’s electric. It’s so exciting that Danny has to get exposed to HIV and Connie has to give up her kid and Julien has to throw a blanket party just to keep The Shield in the red. (Yes, the red—nothing thrives on a deficit like this particular cornered animal). Dutch’s monologue has everything: an underdog’s victory, a know-it-all’s comeuppance, a healthy amount of rubbing it in. But you know it’s The Shield because Dutch drifts through an applauding crowd and retreats to his car to cry. The peacocking is performance.
Still, it’s the rare episode when Dutch so cleanly beats the Strike Team in entertainment value. Right from the get-go (“Sir, do you wanna stop jerking off there?”), the Sean story gets the juices flowing, as it were. It’s funny and odd and freighted with significance. I knew what was coming, but it feels like vindication from the moment Dutch overhears Danny telling the guys about their public masturbator. That he makes the hike from Pasadena to Koreatown to do so, that he smiles so often under questioning, that Shane makes about seven too many comments to the effect of, “Nerdy Dutch is embarrassing himself again,” it all adds up to redemption edit. Even after Dutch connects Sean to the green Taurus with the broken taillight, Shane says, “Someone stop it.” No, “Dragonchasers” gives the game away early and often. The pleasure is in watching it come together.
First Danny confirms that Dutch finds the right guy’s rap sheet. Then he visits Sean’s garage. He points to something for sale. “This any good?” “I guess that depends on what you’re looking for specifically, detective.” It’s such a veiled, controlled response, and there’s something off about Dutch on the other side of a car framed in the V of its open hood. What follows is the best conversation about policework yet as Dutch tries to convince Claudette he’s on to something. He’s giddy to close the case. She’s concerned about getting the right guy. Both know they have to find the hard evidence. This private conversation is shot intimately. It gets to the core of Dutch as much as to the core of the show. Saying the guy fits a profile is unconvincing. Pointing out that he drives half an hour to jerk off in an alley near the latest murder is something.
Sean trying to get the upper hand would be more persuasive if he didn’t insist on the word “psychoanalyzation,” but it’s obvious he’s not wrong, shadowed in profile next to his homework on the white-board. “Detective Wagenbach: Craves respect, fantasizes about being well-liked yet shows no outward manifestation of his low self-esteem, feels ignored, unappreciated, inadequate with women.” Variations on a theme, and who doesn’t feel inadequate dating? On the other hand, I find it pretty hilarious that every letter Sean writes is a capital, and most of what he writes deserves to be underlined, sometimes twice. Sean’s arrogant, unruffled demeanor sets the stage for the climax much better than the peanut gallery on the monitor. Hours later, Dutch walks in and immediately lets Sean know what’s up. “I just like to solve puzzles. I would have told you earlier, but I needed to buy some time so I could do a few things.” Like that, I’m primed. He connects Sean to the Taurus, tells him about the bondage porn they found at his house, and tells him about the warrant they got for his aunt’s house courtesy of Sean co-signing the mortgage. In contrast to Vic, who barely dips his, uh, toes into crime-fighting this week, Dutch catches a killer through methodical, step-by-step procedure.
“Let me draw you a picture, Sean. This is your aunt’s house. This is the porch. And this, this is the crawlspace Pasadena PD just dug two bodies out of. How many more are we gonna find, Sean?” I get why Dutch can’t save the day every episode, but this is riveting. Eventually Sean’s ego gets the best of him. “I killed 22 people, well, 23 if you want to count the hunting incident back in Rockford. Oh, I’m special, alright.” Dutch replies, “If you’re so special, how come a lowly civil servant like me just caught you?” It’s as pure as victories get on The Shield. Dutch is so wasted he can’t even appreciate the triumph, and he’s been exposed in front of the very colleagues that he’s insecure around. Vic’s method seems so much more fulfilling.
- “Dragonchasers” is written by Scott Rosenbaam and Kurt Sutter and directed by Nick Gomez.
- CCH Pounder does a hell of a job with reaction shots, supportive at first, concerned and then bad-cop when Sean pegs Dutch, goofy during the celebration.
- Other things happen in “Dragonchasers,” too, like Danny proving once again that she’s a goddamn hero. Julien beats an HIV-positive prostitute so hard his blood splatters all over the bite wound he planted in Danny’s arm (as well as her face in a lovely image). Danny immediately takes care of herself. In fact, she seems to be the only one who can take care of anything. Then she rejects the idea of wrapping a blanket on the prostitute and beating him. And when Julien does it anyway, she attacks him for it. Danny’s a vital counterpart to the Vic-Dutch poles. She isn’t trying to do the easy thing or the right thing but the best thing, and she’s finding her own way between them.
- Actually I find the prostitute scene quite moving. Nasty, too, no doubt: “I got it in jail. Cops put me in jail. So why shouldn’t I give it to cops?” But what shitty circumstance. “Carnivores” delves further into the subject, but Julien beating someone who’s already been screwed over so much is some corruption worthy of The Shield.
- In case Julien wasn’t pleasant enough in “Dragonchasers,” he tells the prostitute, “Look at you. You’re the reason my people hate faggots.”
- Meanwhile Aceveda gets a hagiographic interview with a surprise ending: “What about your alleged rape of a 21-year-old white girl? Would you like to take credit for that?”
- Connie’s story is a heart-breaker from the Exorcist moments to that hazy finale. That child might be better off without her, but it’s still pretty shattering to see addiction win a fight against maternity.
- Best of all, Shane’s penis once again leads him down the wrong path. This time, the Strike Team is trying to bust a stripper scam. It seems like Shane is playing the stripper, because it’s so obvious that she’s trying to seduce him, but then again, this is Shane. “She was rubbing her ass all over my hands. They don’t just do that for anyone.”
“Carnivores” (season one, episode 11; originally aired 5/21/2002)
Well, Rondell Robinson was fun while he lasted. Never the brightest dealer, or the toughest, or even the most entertaining, Rondell at least made for an easy mark for Vic and the gang. And then he starts to shoot his mouth off. “What kind of good is police protection if no one knows about it?” He has a point, but what a moron. If his days weren’t numbered yet, they sure as hell were by the time he walks out of the Barn shouting, “If I’m going down, I ain’t going down alone, Vic!” Unis are watching, but Vic just smiles and walks away in a conspiratorial low-angle. Later, Rondell even shoots at Vic out of fright. Vic rushes him and dangles the twerp off the edge of the roof. Kern of all people talks him down, citing witnesses. Needless to say, the final shots of “Carnivores” are a pan up to Rondell’s corpse and Dutch flipping over his shiny, blood-splattered “R” necklace with a pen.
Intimate betrayal is the name of the game in “Carnivores.” Vic flips on Rondell as soon as the dealer’s right-hand man T.O. suggests a new world order, and they even involve Rondell’s childhood pal Kern in their conspiracy. Dutch and Claudette are already on another case with no commendation or time off (“You broke one serial killer case. Get off your high horse,” Claudette says), and it’s about a Korean kid and his buddies robbing from his own relatives and leaving quite the blood trail. Danny chews Julien out for the blanket party incident, and Julien tries to get a runner to shoot him from a few feet away. And in the most intimate storyline of all, Aceveda pursues the woman accusing him of rape.
It’s this last bit that’s the most unsettling, for reasons beyond the obvious. At first Maureen just wants an apology and an admission, but Aceveda refuses because he denies that he raped her. He seems sincere, and she has a reason to be opportunistic. Suddenly this tawdry would-be political scandal isn’t just a heightened plot point but a squicky instance of a woman crying rape for attention. So Aceveda spills the beans to his wife. The more we see of her, the more she seems kind of hard and pragmatic. She definitely doesn’t freak out about the revelation. Everyone agrees Aceveda should just do what Maureen wants. He goes to her house, gets up in her personal space like it’s thematic, and sniffs out a recording device. And then comes the knockout. She wasn’t just making stuff up. She was raped by some of Aceveda’s friends back when they were together. They told her that he bragged about her liking rough sex. Aceveda says, “I barely knew them.” “You knew them well enough to tell them how to hurt me,” she replies. It’s twisted Shield storytelling that confronts the consequences of machismo, and it hurts. But at least Aceveda gets to run for city council with a sterling interview under his belt.
The Shield’s caustic take on the American Dream is another thread that stretches from Rondell’s bloody bling to Aceveda’s skeletons to the Koreans. Dutch and Claudette are having trouble getting this tight-knit minority neighborhood to talk. A jewelry store owner does a good deed and calls them when three teens blow a wad of cash, but Dutch and Claudette need to collect the money for evidence and can’t promise the safe return of the jewelry. “Why did I even call the police?” “Because you’re a good citizen?” “Not anymore. Too expensive.” When they happen upon a robbed family with an English-speaking teenager, the kid puts it pretty plainly: “I just want by Xbox back.” When the cops finally catch the robbers, the kids reveal similar motivations: “We just wanted what the other kids had.” Meanwhile, a fat cat squeezes Matthew out of the special-needs school in favor of his own son well past the deadline, but Vic negotiates a quid pro quo with the principal whose ring was stolen. Everyone’s trying to get ahead at any costs, but it’s not for nothing that the only ones who succeed are the guys with the shields.
- “Carnivores” is written by Kevin Arkadie and Glen Mazzara and directed by Scott Brazil.
- Danny again hits the nail on the head: She tells Julien the prostitute he beat is seriously hurt, and he protests that the guy tried to kill Danny. “He’s the criminal, remember, Julien?”
- Danny also tries to counsel Julien in another moving scene about his self-loathing. I’m worried about where this is going and I’ve seen this entire show a few times:
Danny: “I know.”
Julien: “You have no idea.”
Danny: “You’re gay, okay? I’m your partner. It’s not worth dying for.”
Julien: “Fighting this is killing me.”
Danny: “Then stop fighting.”
Julien: “I would rather die than be that.”
Danny: “You don’t mean that.”
Julien: “I can’t go on like this.”
- Aceveda reads the first draft of the article imposingly framed by his nameplate and a desk photo of him and his wife, both his authority and his family at hazard.
- Dutch on the Korean neighborhood crimes: “When I was a kid, we just tipped cows.”