“The Quick Fix” (season two, episode one; originally aired 1/7/2003)
Hell of a time for Vic to get sloppy. A month or so after Gilroy’s flame-out, everyone’s riding inertia. Dutch is still pursuing both Gilroy’s hit-and-run and his land fraud scheme when he can. Shane’s escalating the Strike Team’s drug profiteering to stupid new heights. Danny’s hooking up with Vic weekly. But Vic is just a fireball these days. He challenges Aceveda’s authority in front of civilian auditor Lanie Kellis. He’s paying PIs to search for his family with money he doesn’t yet have, all the while isolating himself further from his work family. And he forcibly extradites fugitive Navaro Quintero from Tijuana, barreling through a town he doesn’t know with the trunk open, a ransom in tow, and bullets flying at them over the protests of his own boys. He’s nearly nailed by Aceveda, he’s under the scrutiny of Lanie, and later his tracks are so obvious that both Claudette and Corinne’s PI have him pretty much sized up. And all the while Navaro’s brother Armadillo is effortlessly conquering the Farmington drug trade.
The Shield gets increasingly serialized as the avalanche builds, but “The Quick Fix” breaks pretty cleanly into the set-up for Big Bad Armadillo. While Dutch and Claudette pursue the murders of the drug lieutenants for both the Los Mags and the Toros, Vic and the Strike Team investigate a poisoned package at T.O.’s lab. An episode later, Vic hauls in fugitive Navaro Quintero, but it just distracts him from the real villain. The murdered Toro’s girlfriend tells the story of the dove tattoo on her cheek, a memento from a brutal rape by Armadillo in response to her boyfriend’s refusal to kowtow. After Dutch lures the Toro’s little sister Mayda to the station to testify and Claudette rushes her out, they haul in Armadillo for a few hours, but he knows his rights. The moment they figure out why he was laughing to himself just before they released him, after Vic came home victorious and everything was about to wrap up for the day, your stomach drops. In a nervous, pixelated, blue-and-white close-up, Armadillo finds Mayda’s barrette on the floor. By the time they find her, she’s wearing the barrette on her head and a fresh tattoo on her cheek.
Nothing much happens on-screen and still “The Quick Fix” establishes Armadillo’s psychopath bona fides with a punch. The narrative and visual details slowly piece together a frightening portrait, cheery pictures of a dove and a butterfly curdling into something much darker. First the dove tattoo turns from a peaceful symbol that Jessica sort of defends into a gruesome scar. Then the barrette disappears and becomes a chance for Claudette to get maternal with Mayda, offering to buy her a new one, and then horrifically resurfaces. And all of these elements, along with the drug lord hits, slowly point not to Navaro but to squeaky clean Armadillo. And the cop overseeing gangland is busy covering his ass, dealing with his subordinates, and tracking down the family that’s afraid of him.
And if the absent family is ever far from your mind, every other scene role-plays parenthood. There’s Claudette standing in for Mayda’s parents when childless Dutch is a little callous toward her role in bringing down a violent criminal. Vic buys himself some time with his PI by reminding him they’re talking about his kids. Aceveda continuously hides behind Lanie in an “I would let you, but I don’t think your mother would approve” kind of way. And Julien takes charge in a C-story by vouching for a delinquent with an overworked single mother. “If this happens again you will have to answer to your mother and to me.” Time will tell if it works, but unseen authority has a lot of power in “The Quick Fix,” not only with Julien and the appeals to Lanie but with the all-powerful Armadillo. Mayda’s brother takes her back to Mexico instead of helping Claudette bring her rapist to justice. The Barn has shown how well it protects its citizens already.
- “The Quick Fix” is written by Shawn Ryan and Glen Mazzara and directed by Scott Brazil.
- Kristen Bell plays Jessica, a year before Deadwood and Veronica Mars would capitalize on her way with a teary close-up.
- I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Armadillo is razor-wire-to-the-balls terrifying yet beautiful and fond of spending time in his underwear. It’s complicated.
- The burning tire necklaces are creative and sick, which is to say pure Shield, but I most loved the up-close-and-personal tastes in “The Quick Fix,” from Ronnie siphoning gas to Lem giving mouth-to-mouth to a man who was just vomiting blood.
- Basic cable blues: Vic barely keeps from saying the F-word. “They’re gone, Shane, you—”
- Shane on Mexico: “It’s the goddamn asshole of South America.” Lem: “Mexico’s in Central America.”
- Vic tells Shane what to do about Navaro. “We’ll go and get a bottle of roofies.” “The date-rape drug?” “Don’t pretend like you don’t know what they look like.” Because he’s in law enforcement, right?
- Lanie tells Aceveda he has enemies on the city council. “They’re not thrilled that you parlayed a scandal and a riot into a 15-point lead over Karen Mitchell.” “17-point lead.”
- Julien wants to date the delinquent’s mom, and there’s no way that could possibly go wrong.
“Dead Soldiers” (season two, episode two; originally aired 1/14/2003)
“Dead Soldiers” takes “The Quick Fix” and ratchets up the disorientation. Directed by John Badham, the camera spirals around a staircase and tracks backward like a little coaster, or it loops around a crime scene as sirens flash in a wave. Blown-out lighting seeps into the Barn from every window, same as Armadillo’s house. Best of all, reality keeps getting manipulated, images warping and filtering. Vic approaches his PI in a reflection slinking across the curved metal of his car. Aceveda teams him up with Claudette through the green overgrowth behind T.O.’s burned-down front. Claudette needles Vic through the grainy silhouetted palms and wires splotched across her passenger-side window. Shane waves like he’s got nothing to lose through an extreme high-angle window screen, and a Syrian-American protests his innocence through a slightly thicker, desaturating screen door. And as always, the bleary interrogation room monitors reduce everything to ghostly blue noise, this time joined by the funhouse reflection of Mackey just inches from the screen. In short, it’s hard to get a handle on what you’re seeing. The truth keeps getting intercepted.
Which is exactly what Claudette discovers as the episode goes on. As she investigates the arson of T.O.’s comic book shop, Vic proves more of a hindrance than a help. After T.O. tells him that he keeps a ledger in a safe and Mackey’s in it, under the uncrackable code-name Landlord, Vic shows up just as Claudette excavates the safe from the site. So Vic hauls in a locksmith who can destroy the ledger in the process, but Claudette catches him in the act. When they get the ledger and she gets suspicious about this Landlord fella, she interrogates T.O. on her own for a bit. He fingers the arsonist Vic told him to, but a hilarious surprise reveals the bald-headed suspect has been growing his hair back for six months now. As she wonders aloud to Vic, how did T.O. positively ID a man that only they had a photo of? Moments later she realizes what’s going on in a wild-eyed epiphany. She locks the door, shuts off the cameras, and asks T.O. about his connection to Mackey.
Lucky for Mackey, Aceveda has turned a corner this season, his new motto being “I don’t need a scandal right now.” It feels like writerly ass-covering—wouldn’t exposing more police corruption further shore up his service credentials?—but more slimy Aceveda has its benefits. That boyish smile he throws Lanie at the end is one of the only laughs in the first two episodes. Anyway, just as Aceveda distracts Lanie during the T.O. arson, he distracts Claudette with a similar fire that turns out to have been an obviously different case altogether. But as soon as she leaves the building, Vic rushes T.O. out of the interrogation room, hands him the ledger, and orders him to burn it. When Claudette gets back, she sees how deep it goes, and dresses Aceveda and Mackey down. “Save the statistic-crowing for your civilian auditor. What happened here today was bullshit! I don't know exactly what the puzzle looks like yet, but the pieces I see are pretty goddamn ugly. I have never interfered with how you run your team, or how you run for office. I get assigned a case, I'm gonna find the truth. And if I have to go through both of you, I'll get it.” Her moral code keeps her from even hinting at dissatisfaction to Lanie, who’s been barking up the wrong tree most of these two episodes, and she even refuses to share her suspicions with Dutch. It’s partly that she’s been yanked around enough already, but it’s partly that she feels personally responsible, having carelessly forgotten about Mayda’s barrette. As with Mackey, it’s a case of guilt and isolation driving someone to rage, and CCH Pounder matches Michael Chiklis crazy for crazy.
This visually on-edge episode is full of such explosions, from little bursts of questionable behavior like goody-goody Dutch pushing a parking violations officer to waive his ticket to the literal torching of T.O. at the end, but Claudette’s outburst stands in contrast to both Danny’s clean shooting of the Arab and Vic’s off-the-reservation assault of Armadillo. Claudette loses her cool, but Danny’s in complete control. Claudette is bound and determined to get her crooks the legal way, to accomplish justice, but Vic doesn’t care how he gets Armadillo. He just wants revenge. Claudette and Vic are both clouded a little by guilt, but Danny’s apparent belief in racial profiling doesn’t have any effect on her response to a crazed man waving a gun around a residential neighborhood. Danny is forced into action, Vic is a mostly independent variable, and Claudette is somewhere in between. Claudette’s on her own, Vic just has the Strike Team, and Danny has the backing of the Barn. All of them are trying to protect Farmington to various degrees, but none of them seem to be. Claudette fails to catch Armadillo and her corrupt colleagues. Danny shoots an Arab-American dead atop a crumpled American flag about a year after 9/11. And Vic bursts into a clean-looking immigrant’s house, decorates his shirt with the guy’s blood, and brands him with a stovetop for so long it’s clearly a Kurt Sutter episode. Could there be any more anxiety about American security and authority? When Dutch catches a meter maid’s murderer through a gunshot residue test, the guy explains why he agreed to take the test in a moment of quintessential Shield skepticism. “Well, if I didn’t take it, I’d look guilty, and you said it was a government test, so I figured, how reliable could it be?”
- The neighbor protests his innocence to Danny. “So I am a suspect just because I am Arab?” “No, sir, you’re a suspect because 19 guys who look like your twin brother killed 3,000 Americans.”
- Lest it look like The Shield is straying from its mission statement, the parking violations officer reminds us: “I don’t fix parking tickets, sir. And being a police officer doesn’t place you above the law.”
- Dutch tells his suspect that he just incriminated himself: “You failed the GSR, Barney.” “Oh really? Can I take it again?”