The Shield (Classic): “Partners”/“Carte Blanche”

The Shield (Classic): “Partners”/“Carte Blanche”

“Partners” (season two, episode three; originally aired 1/21/2003)

(Available on Hulu and Amazon.)

Toward the end of “Partners,” the man who taught Vic everything he knows says, “Looks like I’ve taught you my last lesson. Don’t turn into me.” It’s practically pulp parody, this story of ex-cop Joe Clark giving Vic a glimpse of his future. The obviousness infects almost every performance. Think of Aceveda clumsily trying to play off Vic’s financials, Danny’s bad-news face even after Julien tells her his interview went well, or the Strike Team racing to Vic on the stretcher like the jocks who joined the high-school musical. Hell, just look at the way Bob goes three rounds with his bound victim in the trunk. But beneath all that is a fascinating reversal of some good-po-lice high points from season one. This time when the entire Barn floods the hospital after an officer’s been shot, it’s not for a line-of-duty ambush but an after-hours scam. This time when Dutch thinks he knows a perp’s psychological profile, it costs a woman her life. This time Julien’s honest IAD testimony threatens a pretty good cop. Shane asks, “Do you know what an officer-involved shooting means? It means we’re all involved.” The whole Barn stands behind Vic’s lie.

Vic calls in his old partner because he’s unsure of himself after beating and burning Armadillo. One wonders why the line spares Armadillo and not Terry Crowley, but one should shut up, because Vic’s having a moment. For all the predictable beats and amphetamine camerawork, Michael Chiklis hits some powerfully deep notes in “Partners.” The first is in the diner with Joe. He and Carl Weathers take time between their lines, letting ideas land. Joe says, “Anyway, we always did more good than bad, right?” That’s how Vic has always rationalized himself, but he’s not so sure nowadays. The other strand of exculpatory logic leads back to his family, who supply an even more moving moment. Corinne returns, mostly for the ironic timing, just before Vic gets shot in a scam to help score some money for Joe. Vic refuses to go into surgery before his family shows up, and Corinne comes in with a sound excuse about wanting to spare the kids the sight of their father bleeding from his gut. So Vic gets off his gurney, zips up his jacket, and hobbles into the waiting room to hug Cassidy and kiss Matthew after weeks apart. The Shield certainly has a way with revulsion, but this sweetness is just as vivid. It’s enough to make you want to start a secret retirement stash and kill any partners who might rat on you. Or at least give you an indelible sense of Vic’s motives. The Mackeys have never been so happy together as after they almost lost each other.

“Partners” also gets underneath Dutch’s skin. Someone delivers to Dutch a forearm from a woman who might still be alive in the opening, and he hauls in the next-door neighbors for questioning, targeting the husband, Bob (Marc Vann), instead of his apparently brainwashed wife, Marcy (Melanie Lynskey). Guess he never saw Heavenly Creatures. By the time Dutch finds the arm’s owner in their trunk, she’s dead. Turns out cutting off the arm was Marcy’s idea, and she had been playing along with Dutch’s psychological role-play in interrogation. She even rubs his face in it. The number of times Dutch says something along the lines of, “I got this,” seals his fate, but this isn’t just a know-it-all’s comeuppance. A woman dies in the parking lot to the Farmington police station while Dutch underestimates his only people of interest. Now, Claudette takes a nice, long look at the trunk of their car when they arrive at the Barn, but apparently that’s just for irony. And Marcy’s brainwashed routine gets pretty thick, but she’s clearly whacked out from the start. The final score is awful, but someone’s working way too hard to serve Dutch a failure.

Those other two stories also filter Shane like vomit-colored gels. He starts the episode looking fine and friendly—playing gay hustler in a comic subplot—and winds up physically threatening to rape a woman just to get somewhere before Joe so he can get back in Vic’s good graces. (Speaking of relationships that look like programming.) With a shot in the mix that emphasizes the distance between Shane’s body and the woman’s, it doesn’t look like Shane ever actually intends to go further than he does, but that hardly redeems him. He forces her onto the bed face-down, climbs on top, and unbuckles his belt while promising a good time, all to the cacophony of Lem and Ronnie banging on the door yelling at him to stop. When he clambers off, it turns out her robe has been up at her waist, with nothing between Shane and her bare ass. Then he tells her, “You have no idea what you just missed, darlin’.” So sexual assault joins everything else on the Strike Team rap sheet. Shane’s crimes are certainly different, in kind and degree, from Lem’s, but they’re all connected. As the man said, “We’re all involved.”

Stray observations:

  • “Partners” was written by Scott Rosenbaum and directed by Guy Ferland, who finds a new way to emphasize the constant buzz of the Barn: Dutch talks to Julien in focus on the opposite balcony, and then the camera moves a little to the left and Dutch moves a little to the right, and now he’s talking to Claudette in focus right next to him.
  • That diner Vic and Joe visit looks like a wonderful restaurant! (“It sure is!”)
  • Vic drafts a new CI. “Are you gonna hold this third strike over me for the rest of my life?” “Or I could lie to you. But I have far too much respect for you as a person. Yes, I am.”
  • Vic says, “I’m just trying to do some good. Y’know, and deliver some karmic justice.” Regarding his plan to pocket half of a bust and sell it for a friend. Only Vic’s justice counts.

“Carte Blanche” (season two, episode four; originally aired 1/28/2003)

(Available on Hulu and Amazon.)

“Carte Blanche” feels like the first chapter in a much bigger story, or the second in the case of Danny’s shooting. The Strike Team has to take on a minority member, and Vic discovers the Armenian Money Train, a secret bank for the Armenian mob’s entire western U.S. operations. So instead of action or fallout, all I can see is the beautiful inevitability. Vic never would have found out about the Armenian Money Train if Shane hadn’t been robbed of his badge in Tijuana. That wouldn’t have happened if Vic’s beef with Armadillo weren’t personal because of Vic’s relationship with T.O. And Vic wouldn’t have had T.O. if not for the gangland puppeteering of season one, which leads back to the whole reason Terry Crowley joined the team. Once The Shield seemed like it might dramatize the corrosion of the whole department, but few beyond the Strike Team are compromised, and Claudette looking the other way on some police brutality seems to be her limit. Now it’s pretty clear The Shield’s trajectory is a steady descent for the four Strike Team officers.

That said, “Carte Blanche” is an exciting episode. Until the catch-and-release ending, this Armenian story might have been a standalone, Vic eating his way up the food chain until things get out of control. Every other scene Aceveda interrupts to tighten the screws—“This time, I’m serious!”—and the way Vic keeps compromising his arrests of little fish just to get the big one keeps everything dangerous. Vic even lets a full-scale sting go just to learn more about the Money Train. And then it all comes crashing down when he brings a mobster to the Barn and the guy sees a traitor who Vic pretended was dead. Suddenly Shane’s life is in danger, and all because of pure coincidence. Well, that and Vic getting greedy. Meanwhile Claudette cracks an old case with a sting and performance of her own. She says she doesn’t need a confession to arrest her suspect, and he promptly tries to intimidate his accuser in lock-up. She walks out, pulls a wire out of her ear, and says, “I didn’t need a confession. But it doesn’t hurt.”

Regarding the minority Strike Team officer, Lanie tells Vic, “An all-white unit smashing down doors in a heavily minority neighborhood? It’s just bad policy.” It’s a persuasive image, and coupled with Shane’s talk about “gypsy swill” and Vic’s about “goddamn Eastern Euros,” latent racism is starting to look like a serious problem. Maybe that’s why Danny’s shooting is starting to get more complicated. When she’s not falling for creepy pet undertakers, she’s busy defending herself from a lawsuit from Yassirah, the wife of the man she shot. At the time it seems pretty clean. He ran out of his house waving a gun around, and he moves to aim it just before Danny shoots. What sticks now is this accusation that Danny may have escalated the situation by treating the man like a criminal. As usual, Danny advised the man and his neighbor to use common sense, to stop inflaming each other, but she also retreated to some inflammatory, reactionary profiling herself. “You’re a suspect because 19 guys who look like your twin brother killed 3,000 Americans.” Now, it’s a long walk from that to the weapons that forced her hand. But examining Danny’s contribution to the escalation of violence that night is the whole reason this albatross remains. Not to condemn a decent cop, but to consider the consequences of mixing personal racism with the legal use of physical force.

Stray observations:

  • “Carte Blanche” was written by Reed Steiner and directed by Peter Horton.
  • The episode starts off strong with everyone celebrating a lie as Vic receives a medal for being shot in the line of duty.
  • Compare and contrast the Joe Clark story—he beat a criminal during an arrest, and Joe got fired while the criminal got a hefty payout from the city—and the Yassirah story—“If you did [sympathize with me], you would have signed those papers and given me peace, a chance for my baby.” Both civilians are making money, or trying to, off of the city wronging them. Danny went way past Joe in the violence department. And Yassirah is the more innocent civilian. But I’m far more sympathetic to Danny than Joe. Looks to me like her hand was forced.
  • Vic masterminds a Toys For Guns event where locals can trade in their guns, which leaves fewer guns on the street and allows the cops to connect those guns with possible open cases. Claudette: “Maybe they’ll give him a second medal.”
  • Aceveda is flabbergasted: “You want me to release a murderer so that his mob boss can kill him?” Shane: “It sounded a lot better the way Vic explained it to me.”

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