“Extraction” and “Enemy Of Good” (season five, episodes one and two; originally aired 1/10/2006 and 1/17/2006)
(Available on Hulu and Amazon Instant Video.)
Season five of The Shield immediately lifts up season four. It wasn’t just a delay or a pause. It was a getaway car. The Strike Team disbanded, got on the straight and narrow, took down a big bad. Whatever they’d done, season four gives them an opportunity to get out scot-free. By the end they were already backsliding, but this season is like nothing ever changed. Once you go morally black, or something.
There’s a narrative of corruption in the first two episodes of season five. The Strike Team’s eager to make a name for itself on the streets again. So, once they’ve done their policework for the day, they hit the streets to deal out their version of justice. At the end of “Extraction,” they give Ronnie a good go at the guy who brained him with a crucifix in the opening. Ronnie racks up the scars but we rarely get to see him taking lead on assault. It’s good to spread the guilt around. With the guy bloodied on the cold cement of a parking garage, they leave him a Strike Team playing card. The boys are back! Then at the end of “The Enemy Of Good,” when the case doesn’t go their way, they have this horrific local Salvadoran warlord who calls himself Doomsday kidnapped and taken out into the middle of nowhere. They put on a show for him, too: Vic’s standing there on the street corner at night with everything but the cigarette just waiting for the van to swing around. There’s no reason he couldn’t have been there when Shane and Ronnie kidnapped the hood in the first place, but this makes for a fun surprise. The moment Doomsday believes it’s finally over is absolutely wounding, and this guy is a monster. After playing the badass cock of the walk all hour, the actor Lobo Sebastian gets quiet and down and dead serious. He confesses. Happy ending! They’re not killing him, just illicitly renditioning him to Mexico where he will be tried under harsher gun laws and serve a lot of time in prison. Shane burns his ID. “You can’t do this shit! You can’t do this shit! I’m a citizen!” he screams. Pretty telling in print but it’s about the fifth thing you notice in the heat of the moment.
There’s also a running thread about excessive force outside of The Strike Team. After Dutch’s fight with Billings in the parking lot—which Billings hilariously files under “Dutch’s anger issues”—now he goes way too hard on a handcuffed prisoner who tries to ram Claudette over the balcony, almost choking the guy out. Later Dutch gets fed up with a suspect, and it’s hard to tell how much is an act because he and Claudette are so smooth in those interrogation rooms but he’s sincerely clocking out here, and has the guy booked for murder. At the end the gun residue test comes back negative for the suspect. Dutch equivocates: “He knows when to wash his hands. So do I.” The words have some chill in that “lock him up and throw away the key” kind of way, but Jay Karnes doesn’t put a lot of conviction behind them. Still, Dutch doesn’t do anything about it.
Meanwhile new trainee Tina Hanlon (Paula Garcés) fucks up domestic disturbance procedure and winds up wailing on this guy with her baton. Julien’s pissed, and I’ll take his word for it: If she had followed procedure, she wouldn’t have needed to use force. It’s not that the Strike Team is infecting everyone, which was how season one played it, but more that they’ve fostered a culture in The Barn that allows these kinds of things to happen. There’s also a bit of machismo in the critique, like Dutch and Tina aren’t used to fighting so they don’t know when to stop. If only they’d had more practice, I guess. Fault lies equally with the leadership, with the Barn under (alongside? Near but out of reach of?) the command of Billings, The Shield’s magnificent Lou Avery. As Billings’ opening speech makes clear, in a scene where both Vic and Dutch show how little they respect him, he’s not the one in charge. It’s Vic who jumps in with the actual pep talk. That’s the cult of personality that runs the place in the absence of an iron will like Monica.
Once again The Shield is stuffed to the base of the skull with what literary scholars call sick shit. Maybe that’s a little strong for Vic tasering the metal bar attached to the handcuffs attached to the owner of the taser, but the point is these episodes come alive with creative, visceral violence. It’s been a while since we’ve seen The Strike Team zip tie a guy to a bar in his own home and then beat him as he dangles defenselessly. A little kid shoots an old man in a barber shop—it doesn’t take a straight-razor shave to feel vulnerable in those chairs—and takes scissors to the shoulder for his trouble. Add in the excessive force and the Strike Team’s after-hours shenanigans. Look at the plots too. The first episode deals with a racial kill clock, by which a Los Mag associate must kill any two black people. The second has to do with Doomsday, the aforementioned zip tie gentleman, who responds to The Strike Team’s friendly entreaty by going berserk on his neighborhood, even collecting the heads of some of his victims’ dogs. There’s funeral violence in which the deceased plops out of the open casket, there’s a school riot with flipped cars and fire, there are three murdered community college students bloody on the floor of their kitchen. This is a far cry from property seizure and writing up two black guys for standing on the street together. This is violence so immediate it demands reckoning with.
Amid all the policework and corruption are bad signs galore. Tina has replaced her breastplate with fucking makeup. It doesn’t take Danny saying that’ll get her killed to start wincing at her actuarial table. Claudette’s sick with something, hence the prescription pills. What’s more, her head isn’t in the game at work. The same woman who wouldn’t budge an inch in her fight against the district attorney’s office is now going Zen on the one who got away. Moving on, The Chief wants Vic’s papers at the end of his 15, which is coming up. Vic rips up the paper, but the clock is ticking. On a lot of people.
The spine of these episodes is Lem’s story. Even though it doesn’t really get going until the end of “Extraction,” we’ve known since the end of season four that Internal Affairs has him for a brick of heroin. The only question is when IAD will act, and I already told you the answer. Forest Whitaker’s Jon Kavanaugh shows up at Lem’s house and tries to take him off in just a towel, but Lem very disappointingly demands to get dressed. The cold open of “Enemy Of Good” is Kavanaugh v. Lemansky. “I didn’t commit any crime. I’m a goddamn cop.” Says Lem. “How’d you go from riding with cops to hunting ‘em?” Good luck going after IAD’s sense of disloyalty. Kavanaugh throws the heroin at him but tells him he wants a bigger fish. Then he lists the Strike Team informants who have died over the years, which is a fishy list that I hadn’t really thought about. I have noticed how everyone who tries to join the four Strike Team guys gets washed out, violently or otherwise, but many C.I.s have fallen in duty too. Angie’s the one that hits, because Lem has a conscience and a soft spot for kids. Then Kavanaugh gets him to say that the needle is too good for a cop-killer like Antwon. Boom. What about a cop-killer like Vic? Thanks to Aceveda, he lays out the Terry Crowley “case,” as it were. “The one thing I know for sure is that by the end of the day, you are either gonna be helping me with the truth, or you are going to be behind bars.” There’s a beat where we stay on Kavanaugh before the ruckus of the credits comes through. Great timing.
Kavanaugh is a funny fit. He’s by far the least naturalistic performance on the series. You get a sort of Rust Cohle impression, like he’s been alone too long thinking up ideas. There’s a point to all this—it definitely “works,” in the reductive critical parlance of our times—but there are scenes where it’s just too far-fetched. Take his meet-up with Corinne. He’s allegedly late to pick up his autistic son when he runs into her. So what does she do? She dismisses her kids to the playground and holds him up to chat for a bit. The gum gambit is silly too. It’s supposed to be a sly test of character, but if Kavanaugh kept holding out a stick of gum for me to take, I’d be on guard like a basketball reference. I do appreciate that Corinne takes a stick without eating it (yet). She accommodates him up to a point. Anyway, it’s a giant, theatrical performance on a fleet little show. Could not be further from Monica Rawling.
This all leads to Lem wearing a wire and Aceveda and Kavanaugh pulling some strings to have the Terry Crowley files resurface, ostensibly to wrap up some loose ends. The first time, Lem gets cold feet in the clubhouse and leaves before they say anything shady, protecting them without anyone knowing. But the climax of “Enemy Of Good” is when Vic gets home to find Lem on his doorstep. “I was reading through those Terry files…” is one of those “oh, shit” openings. Is Lem really doing this? Chiklis’ face just plummets. He reaches out to hold Lem’s arm like he’s trying to steady him. What a detailed manipulator (an expert performance). Vic tries to distract him by asking why he’s asking, he tells him the party line on what happened that night, he tells Lem he’s his friend, which is especially brutal because the line comes in opposition to one about poor dead Terry being his friend. Eventually Lem pushes him so that he has an excuse to cover his mic and show Vic what’s going on in the ensuing, garbled tussle. He tells him Kavanaugh has him for heroin, Aceveda’s working with him, and he’s gunning for all of them. The kicker, off-mic so you know it’s not performance: “Okay, I got a decision to make, and I got to make it quick.” If he doesn’t believe Vic about Terry, he’s going to start looking out for himself. Kavanaugh and Aceveda really did start to persuade him. Kenny Johnson plays Lem so heart-on-his-sleeve that this scene is just wrenching. “Tell me the truth.”
The camera jumps a little closer to Chiklis as he appeals to his friend through clenched jaws. “We’re a team!” Lem’s begging him to tell him the truth, searching his eyes for any sign, but Vic gives him nothing but the old loyalty line, and Lem walks away lost and upset. It’s a slow-motion car crash. Lem had to ask, and Vic couldn’t tell. All that’s left is to watch the collision.
- “Extraction” is written by Kurt Sutter and directed by D.J. Caruso, and “Enemy Of Good” is written by Charles H. Eglee and Adam E. Fierro and directed by Guy Ferland.
- I apologize for missing last week, but fortunately it was between seasons. My computer ate my homework (and also died forever and rots in hell).
- We’re in 2006 now, so here’s a TV refresher: The Wire had aired three seasons, its fourth to come that fall. The first half of The Sopranos’ final season was about to begin, and the final half of The West Wing’s final season was ongoing. Lost and Grey’s Anatomy were late in their second seasons. Rescue Me was about to debut its third. And 24 was about to start its fifth season, which would win the Emmy for Best Drama.
- More delightful Shieldishness: Some guy vomits all over the interrogation room and Tina smiles unawares and “yes, sir, right away, sir”s when Dutch tells her to clean up the room. Later he vomits off the balcony and it lands on Billings. “Goddamn, this is a new suit.”
- “You’re no one until somebody kills you.” “Not in this corner of paradise”
- Vic at the community college kids’ house: “These kids aren’t flying colors.” They take a mournful beat. These episodes are partly about choosing a life of violence vs. having it thrust upon you, as in the various CIs vs. Angie and Lem vs. Kavanaugh.
- Kavanaugh sold me with the moment he leans into Lem as he signs his contract in an oblique shot from beneath that catches his mouth and Lem’s ear. “There’s one more thing. If you lie to me, try to screw me, or you just don’t live up to the deal, I will push for maximum for distribution of heroin. Just know that’s the truth. Did you get all that?” “Perfect,” says the sound guy. “Mic’s working great.”
- Excellent wire tension. To greet the return of Lem, Shane tries to rough-house with him, making a bee-line straight for his stomach. Talk about these episodes keeping you in the moment.
- When Lem gets all sweaty and leaves really awkwardly, everyone’s staring kind of suspiciously and then Ronnie inadvertently saves him. “He gonna get paid for today?”