“A Thousand Deaths” and “Judas Priest” (season four, episodes 11 and 12; originally aired 5/31/2005 and 6/7/2005)
The series wasn’t put on hold for Monica and Antwon, but there’s a strong sense of getting things back in gear for the overall story as the case of the cop-killers spirals out of control. And I mean that in two arenas. On the streets, we’re starting to get into serious criminal activity. When the Armenian mob was introduced, it was quite a step up from the neighborhood gangs. Then we got to the season of 50 local gangs, a Salvadoran pipeline, the Russian mafia, and just the man to bring them together in Antwon Mitchell. When C4 comes into play, Vic extrapolates that the Russians could distribute it to any major terrorist network. Suddenly failing to clean up the Farmington streets has much broader implications.
At the same time, the police department is back to turning on itself. It was never perfect, but things were functioning fairly smoothly under Monica once the D.A. put Dutch and Claudette back in. Weak Aceveda was out, the Strike Team was reuniting, they were working together with the rest of the department. Vic has been keeping his nose clean for eight months. The Barn stumbled ass-backward into getting Antwon, but they got him, and they got him for serious crimes. Now look at all the disunity. Army wouldn’t take one for his team in Iraq, and he sure as hell isn’t gonna take one for Monica. The first of her many unravelings begins with a patient lecture to Army about how his polygraph isn’t about him but about The Barn. “It is about everyone in here, and how people think of us out there.” He’s not buying. Billings is the spineless clog in the car-wash shooting case, and after Dutch bails him out, he still has the gall to pick on Dutch. Dutch is dating his co-worker’s ex-wife. Phillips is about ready to throw Monica out himself. Apparently that seizure money isn’t greasing the right wheels. And best of all, there’s snaky David “I don’t like people capitalizing on cop killings” Aceveda, who whispers into Antwon’s ear that he has a solution to both of their problems. Monica vs. Antwon didn’t table the larger story of the Farmington police department. It just arranged all the dominoes.
So after everything—an action-packed episode’s worth of the Strike Team rooting through Nigerian free agents, the Russian mob, and a bright kid who just happens to be Antwon’s half-brother and another of getting past the kid’s initial confession to what really happened with the cop killings—Antwon gets out, and gets protection, because Aceveda has a string he needs snipping. Aceveda isn’t just being a self-serving dick like usual. He was raped, and he’s ashamed, and his rapist is back in his life (with a new accent and a terrible performance to go with his telenovela dialogue). Whatever he may have worked through with the call girl, he’s still in pain. What’s amazing—not unbelievable, although Benito Martinez could have worked a little harder to sell it—is that he has such distorted vision when it comes to his rapist that even though he laughs off his attacker in the prison visit and even though he basically proves the guy has no evidence of the rape, Aceveda’s still so shook up or prideful or ashamed that he’ll have the guy killed to solve his problem, even if it means getting Antwon Mitchell out of prison.
Aceveda is such a terrific plot detonator these days. Even though his role has changed within the series, he’s still playing the duplicitous bureaucrat on the series. Vic’s final line in “Judas Priest,” is “You’re not a cop. You were never a cop,” which has always been the void this character’s trying to fill. Aceveda’s connection to Antwon confuses the larger ideas, though. Police corruption comes from personal profit at first. That loosens things up enough that even those who aren’t personally profiting are fine with a few cut corners. But tying corruption to victimhood, as if the police department would work well if only officials weren’t attacked, raped, and then blackmailed into doing bad things by the indigent, dulls The Shield’s blade. The problem isn’t really that Aceveda got raped. It’s that Aceveda is a man with no loyalties who uses the right thing to do as leverage for his own rise. It’s that Aceveda is the kind of man who would use the justice system to take care of a personal problem. There are ways the producers could have tried to illustrate that particular, like showing us his phone-call to the D.A. and watching him hold out until he gets his, “We owe you one.” Instead we get that evil close-up of Aceveda’s face leaning into frame from the right, over half the screen pure black, cut by the overbearing diagonal of his profile, the flashlight-style lighting giving him all these oozing shadows, as he tells Antwon, “Just one more thing.”
Anthony Anderson just sits back and listens, but still he hangs over the episodes like a gray cloud. As the case of the cop killers unfurls, it turns out that Antwon is such a sinister mother-fucker that he paid for his half-brother’s college like an investment. When the time came, he preyed on the kid’s sense of racial injustice, institutionalized under Monica, to use his language skills to broker deals with international organized crime. The case wraps a bow around this season: Antwon vs. Monica, the racial implications of seizures and injunctions, the cop-killings. As the half-brother says about Antwon, “He’s a leader. His incarceration is a crime against this community and all people of color.” There’s also a sick backstory: The kid’s father was a correctional officer who was fired after knocking up (raping) an incarcerated woman, Antwon’s mother. It wouldn’t be The Shield without stories like that. Everyone’s got something.
The twisty plotting in this pair is a blast. One moment you think Antwon was just fucking with Vic when he said he knew about the cop killings, and the next it’s obvious his crew is just covering for him, and every turn has implications for Monica and Vic. But it hits a few snags, from plot points like the above to visuals like Dutch’s hulking body crowding out Corinne until even her mouth is hidden from view while she’s speaking. What was the implication there? Dutch wasn’t even being pushy, much less intimidating in that scene.
And what is with Phillips’ zeal to turn on the seizures? Based on what we know about the brass, it seems unlikely that the people in charge would be so quick to question a program that’s bringing them money. In fact, one concerned citizen brings up Aceveda’s point that seizures breed corruption in the opening scene of “A Thousand Deaths.” But apparently not? Apparently all the money is going where it was supposed to go. From a thematic standpoint, at least the higher-ups don’t turn on the program because it’s a miscarriage of justice—Monica isn’t even waiting for the sentences to come down! They turn on it because they were retaliated against. Well, actually, they turn on it because they took the cop killings to mean they were retaliated against even though we have confessions on the record that the cops were killed because of a traffic ticket. Any retaliation was just an indirect perk for Antwon. So a lot of willful ignorance is bound up in the decision to cancel the program, which I guess makes up for the elephant of the brass’ clean hands. Like the other half-baked plot points, this could use some fleshing out. Don’t just tell us about the revenue. Show it. Show us Phillips and his bosses. The season suggests a lot about the world around The Barn but doesn’t show that world enough to land its points. The Shield is great with the cops on the frontlines, but come at The Wire, you best not miss.
- “A Thousand Deaths” is written by Adam E. Fierro and directed by Stephen Kay (Get Carter), and “Judas Priest” is written by Kurt Sutter and Scott Rosenbuam and directed by David Von Ancken (Seraphim Falls).
- Vic asks Corinne, “You didn’t tell him about the money I gave you, did you?” “No, of course not. I didn’t tell anyone.” Just a friendly The Shield reminder that everyone is dirty and justice is impossible. Have a nice day!
- Monica: “No. Compromise, retreat, is the worst thing that we can do.” She’s really on a tear this week. “As for the seizures, they stay or I go. Then you can tell the brass how you lost one of L.A.’s two female captains because she was too tough on crime!” That’s one way to put it. The thing about Monica is it’s hard to imagine her sleeping with her partner unless it was part of a case or something, because she doesn’t seem to have much life outside of work. It’s weird to think about Danny and Vic in that car, but Danny I can imagine hanging out with friends or going on a date. I imagine Monica just plugs into her port and recharges.
- Look at all the returning characters! There’s Aceveda’s rapist, there’s Rebecca Pidgeon as the cuddler-rapist’s wife (who buys a gun to protect herself and non-fatally shoots Danny with it because people sure like guns), and most importantly there’s RonReaco Lee’s charming informant, who gets Antwon’s half-brother talking about the bling he lost in the sewer underneath those dead cops. Best part of that sting is the final line, overheard in the frenzied montage, as he mock-covers his ass: “I have a receipt for everything!”
- Dutch chases Billings into the parking lot to give him what for, and Billings tells him to stop. “What are you gonna do, turn off the hose and hide behind your car?”