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The Shield: "Family Meeting"

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And that's all folks.

Since I'm sure all you Shield fans are dying to talk about the series finale, I thought I would make a quick post so the commenters can get this party started while I get my thoughts together. So, what did you think? Were you satisfied? What did you think about what happened to Vic? Did this finale own? I know I have my opinions—give me an hour or so and I'll join in on the discussion.


At the end of The Shield, after Vic Mackey tucked his gun behind his back and affected the sneer of the big tough guy he used to be, I was reminded of an old Little Richard song: "He got what he wanted, but lost what he had." To the end, Mackey wanted to be the smartest, most conniving guy in the room–and like he told Shane the last time they ever spoke, he succeeded where everybody else failed. On the surface at least, he came out the best of anybody from The Strike Team, avoiding prison and death, and landing with a decent job and immunity. But there are fates worse than death, and transplanting the big, bad Mackey from the mean streets of The Shield to the sterile environs of The Office was a stone cold masterstroke: predictable only retrospect, darkly comic, and the only possible fate for a man too clever to get caught and too damned to ever escape his demons. He's not in prison, but in his stifling, oversized gray business suit, Vic looked like a castrated bull. As he decorated his desk with idealized remnants of his broken life–pictures of his three kids, and Lem–Vic gave himself over to the darkness of his reality for a long moment, recalling the heart-stopping pause from last week's confession, yet somehow with even more hopelessness. Then, inevitably, Vic pulled on what remained of his shield and marched away, a shark looking to cause more damage because that's what sharks do.

It was obvious that a man this macho and deluded would probably prefer an orange prison jumpsuit, which is why the ultimate fate of Vic Mackey is so damn perfect. What's become a mantra on this blog bears repeating: The Shield has come up with one of the best, most satisfying, and emotionally overpowering conclusions for a TV drama ever. And "Family Meeting" was the best of the series, no question. I'm on record in this blog saying that the Season 5 finale episode is probably the most devastating hour of TV drama I've ever seen–this episode tops that one. And we all know why.

And yet, it's hard for me to even type the words. We all know what the title "Family Meeting" refers to, and it's a scene that will haunt me long after I get over my sadness that I have no more Shield episodes to look forward to. Look, I know we're talking about a TV show here. In the grand scheme of things, especially at times like these, this stuff does not matter. I know that. It's just that, well, it actually does matter, doesn't it? The reason why we're drawn to shows like The Shield—to great drama–is that we want to care. And why do we care? Because incredibly talented people create characters and situations that draw us in and become part of the fabric of our lives. You knew Shane Vendrell was a despicable character, and yet you (or at least I) loved the guy like you do any of the real fuck-ups (no matter how stupid or dangerous) you've known and forgiven repeatedly in your life. But even while there was no possible escape for Shane from fate, the murder-suicide sequence was just so damn sad, unexpected, disturbing, and strangely beautiful–I keep playing it over in my mind, and while part of me wishes I never saw it I can't help but feel that he got the better of Vic in the end. He got to say goodbye to his wife and child, got to tuck them in, got to leave this world without them really knowing who he was.

When I re-watch this episode–which I'll do right after I finish writing this–I'm going to pay special close attention to the moments right before the Vendrells finally left L.A. forever. Like when Shane is in the convenience store and flirts with the underage store clerk, his last real "Shane" moment coming at a point when he's already decided to kill himself and his family. (He hands the clerk a wad of 20-dollar bills before leaving.) When he gets home, he doesn't worry about being recognized by a neighbor, who quickly calls the cops. Then there's Shane standing in the hallway listening to Mara read to Jackson, his final moment of peace with his "innocent" loved ones. "I wish I never met him," Shane writes of Vic in his unfinished suicide note–how tragic that Shane seemed so vulnerable and sweet as his situation grew more desperate in the final episodes. Just as Vic was stripped away as the show drew to a close, so was Shane, only he was more than just a shell of a man. He still had good in him, but it was too late for him. And in the end, he took the coward's way out, and, like Lem, he dragged down those closest to him.

So much death tonight–Claudette finally admitted the true gravity of her illness, and though we were spared seeing her final destination she doesn't appear long for this earth. But at least she achieved some measure of satisfaction, forcing Vic to take a walk of shame through The Barn to look at pictures of what the hero cop left behind before walking out the door. Dutch was also vindicated in the case of teenaged serial killer, but at a heavy cost–he almost certainly provoked the kid to lash out and murder his mother. Aceveda is on his way to be mayor, but like Vic he's also a shell of what he used to be, a huckster politician who holds press conferences while idealistic challengers to his authority are murdered outside crackhouses. He got what he wanted, but lost what he had. So did the audience–we got one hell of an ending, and lost one of the great cop shows. But it was a magnificient ride while it lasted.

Grade: A

Stray observations

Shield fans always loved to hate Mara, but Michelle Hicks? Simply incredible. Also, who else does Walton Goggins have to murder to get some award show hardware? The Shane-Mara fugitive scenes from the last several episodes should be edited together and turned into a short film–it really is some of the most impressive stuff this show has ever done.

—Ronnie is The Shield's most chronically overlooked character, but David Rees Snell had a remarkable moment of rage when he got to confront Vic: "You told them all of it?"

—Great to see Andre Benjamin back as Bobby Huggins. Is there a more charismatic dude on the planet?

—Some other casting notes: Jay Karnes' real-life wife Julia Campbell played the lawyer that ends up hitting on Dutch, and long-time Shield director Clark Johnson played the agent that shows Corinne and the kids their new home in Rockford, Ill.

—If A.V. Club rules allowed it, I'd have given this episode an A+.