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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Shield: Coefficient Of A Drag

Image for article titled The Shield: Coefficient Of A Drag
Image for article titled The Shield: Coefficient Of A Drag

"I don't know God but I fear his wrath."–Drive-By Truckers, "The Righteous Path"

Tonight's season premiere of The Shield felt like an event, and not only because it was sponsored by a shitty, shitty beer whose name escapes me at the moment. The Shield, for my money, is one of the greatest TV cop shows ever, and among the best dramas of the decade. But The Shield does not always feel like it should be in the company of the Deadwoods and The Sopranoses of the world, perhaps because of its association with mass-marketed gutrot juice. It's not like you see The Wire going on about the rich flavor and drinkability of Hamm's. The Shield has never been what you call classy, but it deserves the kind of dignity normally afforded great art, no?

Anyway, tonight's premiere also felt like an event because it's been a really long time since we've had a new Shield episode. Like a lot of fans I've wondered how this season, the series' last, will play out. Mackey appears headed for a reckoning of some sort, but does that automatically mean jail? If Shawn Ryan and I were involved in a wacky body-switch scheme, and he was writing about The Shield and I was writing it, I'd have Vic finally sent to trial for the murder of Det. Terry Crowley and have him get off on the kind of legal technicality he normally despises, depriving him of the justice he deserves and exposing him as a killer and liar to his fellow boys in blue. That would hurt Vic where it counts.

I started off The Shield Season 7 blog with a quote from DBT's "The Righteous Path," because it's one of my favorite songs of the year and it always makes me think of The Shield whenever I hear it. There's another line from the song that applies to this season, in case FX or the shitty, shitty beer company wants to use "The Righteous Path" in a show promo and pay Patterson Hood lots of money: "I've got a whole lot of debt, and a whole lot of fear." To me that's Shane Vendrell—Vic's n'er-do-well surrogate son, and his shadowy reflection–in a nutshell. Shane is "neck-deep in Armenian shit," as Ronnie put it tonight, and if the mob doesn't kill him superbitch wife Mara surely will. (Has a skinny white woman not associated with a VH1 "celeb-reality" show ever been so scary?) Shane's debt has grown nearly as big as Vic's, and unlike his "father" Shane can't hide behind quick thinking and slick double-dealing to cover the terror emanating from his big, bugged-out eyes.

While tonight's episode was predictably low-key (for The Shield, anyway) there were three big shocks. The first occurred during the opening scene, when Shane walked into his apartment–to a song that, in spite of my fantasies to the contrary, wasn't "The Righteous Path"–to find Mara bound and gagged on the couch. After a quick crack to the back of Shane's head, the assailants were ID'ed as Vic and Ronnie, smarting from Shane locking Corinne and Cassidy in a trailer while he fended off an Armenian hitman. (Hope you bought the Season 6 DVD last week, because reviewing the finale episode came in handy tonight.) It was a slam-bang opening, for sure, but I almost preferred the follow-up scene where Shane tried to explain away his former partner tying up his wife and beating his ass. The stories crooked cops tell their wives to cover up their shit would awe even David Duchovny.

The two other big shockers were when Ronnie casually blasted the hitman twice in the chest, followed closely by Shane chopping the guy's leg to make it look like an Armenian mob hit. Ronnie, for whom ever-changing facial hair comes first and everything comes a very distant second as far as character development goes, appears ready to finally become a major part of The Shield, at least until he's inevitably discarded by Vic. But the way he murdered that guy took my breath away, and it's possible I haven't given him nearly enough credit for his potential malevolence.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the triumphant return of Billings, who appeared headed to Easy Street until his suit against the department crashed and burned. I gotta say I didn't always appreciate what Billings brings to the table. While a show as relentlessly intense, violent, and even gory as The Shield–tonight's bloody gang murders and Shane's emergency leg amputation were new extremes–calls out for a little levity, Billings is a little too overly oafish at times to go with the grittiness of his surroundings. He can't be this stupid and live so long working as a cop in Farmington, can he? But David Marciano eventually won me over with his sometimes annoyingly convincing portrayal of a world-class shitheel. And tonight's storyline involving his forced return to the Barn was a nice respite from the typically fast-moving main stories involving Vic going Yojimbo and starting a gang war by playing both sides against each other, and Shane selling out his future survival to prevent short-term retribution from the Armenians.

There are 12 episodes to go before this all blows up in an incredibly bloody and dramatic finalapocalypse. Clearly there was no need to rush into anything too important tonight; all that was needed was to get us all back on the same page again, and that happened. I'm sucked in and ready to see some debts get repaid.

Grade: A-

Stray observations

—We get it, Tina is a bad cop. She didn't clear that room out and almost got Danny raped and killed. Let's hope they aren't going to make Tina's ineptitude a major plot again this season.

—I did like how Dutch filled her box, though. Very tight, he was.

—Speaking of boxes, are we going to learn more about what's in the big blackmail box Vic stole from Pezuela? It seemed awfully convenient when Vic found this magic box at the end of last season. I'm not sure it's a good idea to make it a major part of this season.

—What say you, dudes?