“Bang” and “Doghouse” (season four, episodes three and four; originally aired 3/29/2005 and 4/5/2005)
You can tell The Barn is just as fucked up as ever when Dutch and Claudette get assigned to a drug crime and Vic goes after a serial rapist. That’s courtesy of the D.A.’s grudge against Claudette. But things get even more corrupt when Dutch goes behind her back to say that he’s willing to play ball and keep his partner in line. In case we don’t get it, Shane pulls that exact stunt with Antwone in reference to Vic. Eventually Dutch finds out exactly what the D.A.’s up to—trying to hang some impending witness with his three marijuana plants—and he goes along with it. It’s low-level corruption. The difference is Vic is onto Shane. Claudette takes the piddling drug case as a sign that Monica’s using her. First Monica says she could use them (as officers, in this case) if they’d get off the D.A.’s shit list, and then all of a sudden the D.A. specifically requests their help on this case. So Claudette thinks Monica made a deal with the D.A. The best part is it’s all unspoken, because Claudette keeps her mouth shut, so all this tension comes just from CCH Pounder’s eyes. And she’s no fan of Monica to begin with, conspicuously taking a drink instead of joining her fellows in applauding their new captain during her inauguration speech. Meanwhile Vic recruits Lem and later Shane and Army into The Barn’s anti-gang task force in a “keep your friends close, keep your loose ends closer” situation. Finally Aceveda comes and goes as he pleases, using equipment as a reservist seeking a pension and throwing his weight around as a city councilman looking to run the police oversight committee. Four episodes into the new command and The Barn is already a nest of rattlesnakes.
“Bang” is Monica’s opening night, a thrilling episode for Glenn Close. She begins with an optimistic speech outlining her assets forfeiture program—a third goes to the D.A. (another reason for Claudette to suspect corruption), a third to the community in the form of social services and playgrounds and the like, and a third to the police in the form of working equipment. Monica Rawling’s a steely motherfucker, but here she almost manages to make this sound like a dream. As a gang war escalates between the One Niners and the Spook Streeters over some girl, Monica gets her opportunity to lean on some banger who bought his mother’s house with cash. But first she has to decide whether he’s a good test case for the program. It’s fascinating watching her calculate. “He’s tough,” Vic says. “He could call our bluff.” She smiles. “What if it isn’t a bluff?” Vic’s jaw drops. That’s how big a moment this is for Captain Rawling. She’s about to evict a woman and her two young children. The whole scene, she’s talking to herself. She wanders around, stares into the future, finds some new space to look at, but she only meets Vic’s gaze when she’s telling him about the implications of getting this wrong. She needs him to help shoulder the burden.
Like clockwork, the plan doesn’t work. They evict the guy’s family in front of him, and they lay out exactly how weighted this situation is against him. “We’re not required to provide your defense.” He goes all Snot Boogie on them. “Quit clowning. This is America.” Monica’s even losing rhetorically. She has reserved shelter space for the family—she’s not heartless, although there is some question as to whether she’d be more compassionate if she had a family, which is partly ironic given Vic’s family values—but it’s a tossed-off piece of dialogue. Eventually Antwone bails the guy out and settles the beef in his own way, and now Monica’s seized some citizen’s house for no reason. Once again she leans on Vic. “The war’s over. Why does it feel like we lost?” He tells her, “Well, we did. Antwone showed the street that he’s got more juice than we do.”
That’s central to the season, citizens choosing between the police, a corrupt and oppressive tool of the establishment, and a protection racket, a known quantity and one that isn’t so dangerous for the average citizen as long as they stay away from drugs. In the first two episodes is a sea of non-witnesses. In “Bang,” there’s the evicted mother screaming, “You don’t know what it’s like living here. You think I can just pick and choose how to go about surviving?” And then there’s a school-age boy hanging out with bangers. Julien and Danny have been assigned to take Polaroids of every associate of every gang in and out of Farmington (and these episodes are really reaching for the 50+ estimate given last week, what with the One Niners joined by the Spook Streeters and some violently religious Latin gang). In their first scene, the boy runs, and Julien quickly catches him, saying, “When a police officer gives you an instruction, you listen.” Apparently he’s trying to be good cop. The Shield loves to offer these models of community outreach by lower-level police while giving the majority of the screen-time to the violent abusers at the top. But that line just triggers all my disobedience, and apparently the kid’s too. That night Julien shows up at his door, going out of his way to give the boy a second chance. Instead the kid reacts like I did. “You need to chill, Oprah. I ain’t never gonna be no sell-out cop.” I think I’m supposed to be disappointed in that boy—for, what, ostensibly choosing a life of crime by not playing nice with some cop who took his picture without permission?—but that line is too funny and that action too harmless. Step up your game, Farmington. Even the decent cops are losing me.
Speaking of which, Dutch and Claudette are on the Danny and Julien detail now, going after a convenience store robbery. Dutch hauls in a prior offender and tells him the details, accidentally creating a copycat. Luckily when this guy throws coffee in the clerk’s face, it’s cold, so he gets caught pretty easily. But then he starts crying entrapment. “I was done robbing until he put it back in my head!” With all the tension, it’s nice of the show to squeeze in some Dutch-related comedy.
Back at the seized house, Vic and Monica have one last chance to change their minds in the final minutes of the episode. She asks why it was the right thing to do yesterday but the wrong thing to do today. Vic offers some good answers: “Yesterday we had to stop the shootings…You said it would be a P.R. nightmare.” Again she’s not really talking to him. She’s already made up her mind. “Either it works or it doesn’t. To make exceptions to put a prettier face on it sounds more like Aceveda than me.” Nailed it. For better or worse (or for roughly exactly as bad), Monica’s not going to buckle on her principles in order to look good. The episode ends in a defining sequence, a slight rightward pan from the door of the house into the street with an inserted close-up as Monica signs a form for some uni. She says, “Take it,” slides on her sunglasses, and doesn’t look back.
“Doghouse” puts The Barn on simmer with Dutch going behind Claudette’s back and Vic actively working against Shane while protecting him, but the main story is the serial rapist and the centerpiece is the capture. It’s important to note that Monica tells Vic to get Dutch’s advice on this, since he’s so good at profiling, and when Vic finally does, Dutch tells him exactly what he needs to find the guy before he strikes again. There’s a lot of failure crammed into that. First there’s the fact that Dutch is onto this guy but sidelined because the D.A. has a grudge against his partner—and the grudge has to do with cops making sure not a single innocent person sits in jail—and indirectly because Monica isn’t willing to fight for them. Then there’s the fact that Vic’s pride keeps him from going to Dutch for advice. Vic instead uses every available body to blanket the neighborhood when a quick conversation with Dutch could have done the trick. Taking all the details into account, it’s likely things would have played out the same, but maybe they could have caught the guy before he leaves the diner with his waitress’ car registration instead of after. The fact remains, law enforcement agencies aren’t running as smoothly as they could.
Regardless, they find the rapist at the waitress’ home, and after Vic chases him down the street, scaring the guy into a hole under some house, the canine unit sends a dog after him. Suddenly he starts screaming, and after a spell Vic asks him to toss out his gun. Julien tells him the guy already lost the gun during the chase. So the dog handler asks if he should call off the dog. Vic doesn’t hesitate. “This guy raped five women, two today.” The handler agrees with Vic’s assessment: “Yeah, he might still be packing.” So these three cops wait outside this hole while this serial rapist gets eaten up by a dog. Essentially they’re determining what a fair sentence is. Toward the end the camera dollies in on the oblique black space where his screams are coming from. Strictly speaking, the police are knowingly using excessive force. But how much damage could the trained dog be doing? Besides, this guy is a serial rapist fresh off traumatizing two women and preparing to go after a third. He could probably take a dog on his arm for a few minutes. The Shield thrives on this tension. Isn’t this particular case of brutality kind of okay? Back at the station, Monica gets to exhibit some empathy, waking a victim and telling her they caught him. She also reveals what the dog did: “ruptured one of his testicles.” Both women smile these irrepressible grins. Surely some viewers will feel he deserves that—and morally, if not legally, I see that—but it’s expert how The Shield plays up the show-defining themes in this one little beat in another rapist case. Now did they go too far with the dog? How was this the right thing before and the wrong thing now?
- “Bang” is written by Scott Rosenbaum and directed by Guy Ferland, and “Doghouse” is written by Adam E. Fierro and directed by Dean White.
- I wish I had seen this in time for last week’s dog shooting, but here’s a brief Atlantic piece about “gratuitous pet deaths” at the hands of the police.
- In domestic news, Aceveda’s into domination with a call girl. Mara’s suffering from post-partum depression. And Corinne’s adamant that vaccines cause autism despite a doctor telling her otherwise.
- The Shield is heavily influenced by Hill Street Blues, from the slam-bang editing to the jargon- and slang-laden dialogue by people in command of the English language, but it also has its glorious Cops moments, like when the arrested banger screams at his mom for not washing his bloody shirt.
- There’s an interesting moment at a rape victim’s house when the significant other starts wrecking a room out of frustration. Danny tries to tell him to calm down, but Vic holds her back. “It’s his house.” Surprising restraint on the part of the Farmington P.D.
- Love the way Shane smiles at Antwone when he repeats one of Shane’s lines back at him. “If the check clears.” He’s not just in business with Antwone. He likes the guy.
- New operating procedure now that Vic knows Shane’s working for/with Antwone. “Shane tipped him off. Good news is we know about it now. So watch what you say around him.” To Lem: “You’re a part of this now.” “Don’t I got a choice?” No. All of this is the inevitable fallout of decisions made back in season one.