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The Shield: "Possible Kill Screen"

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After seven seasons and 87 episodes, we finally saw the real Vic Mackey tonight. We found him in an ICE interrogation room, shoulders slumped and jaw clenched, coldly confessing to every single awful thing we've watched him commit over the course of this remarkable series. We've been with him every step of the way, and yet the overwhelming stink that comes from this man was never more pungent than it was in The Shield's penultimate episode, "Possible Kill Screen." After all this time, Mackey has dropped all pretenses of being a good man who cuts a few corners to do the right thing. If you ever bought into the rationalizations for his crimes, or lived vicariously through Mackey's self-important bad-assery, seeing the true face of this sick, twisted man was all the more sad, shocking, and shameful. And with one more episode to go, it's safe to say we haven't hit bottom yet.

I have no clue whether Mackey's immunity will hold, or if Claudette (or possibly Olivia, now officially the most incompetent federal employee since former FEMA head Michael Brown) will find a way to get around ICE's deal and bring him to justice. It's possible that Ronnie–who was talked out of both killing Shane and going on the lam by Vic, now to his apparent detriment–will take the knife out of his back and stab it in his former mentor. Corinne also might play a role, since her nonexistent arrest drove Vic into the interrogation room and against his last trusted Strike Team comrade. But, again, I have no idea. With The Shield I've learned not to make predictions because, as I've noted many times, Shawn Ryan and his staff are much, much smarter than me. Frankly, I can't begin to contemplate what the end game is because I'm still stunned by what I just saw. I keep coming back to Vic's confession, and how matter of fact and emotionless it was. There were no tears for Terry, no remorse over the collateral damage caused by the stupid Armenian money train stunt, no regrets expressed over all the lives he's demolished over the years. Vic's confession was utterly lacking in catharsis–it was a means to an end, the only way this shark could keep moving forward and survive.

And yet for a loooong moment there… I wondered if Vic had the stones to remove his good guy mask to reveal the son of a bitch underneath. Because there's no going back now. He's (seemingly) in the clear, but he's an O.J.-style pariah. There was an extended pause before the confession where you could see Vic pondering one last time all the other alternatives to the truth and deciding, possibly for the first time, that he had no other choice but to own up to what he did. Somehow Michael Chiklis made himself look 10 years older in those few seconds before Vic acknowledged that, yes, he plotted and carried out the murder of a fellow officer. After that came the familiar litany, as well as the promise that he'd string Ronnie along until the feds could nab him. If a man could ever be described as courageously cowardly, it's Vic Mackey.

While Vic was pulling off his grandest scam ever, his "son" Shane was out in the streets and snorting blow just to keep his head together. Shane and Mara's botched robbery ranks with the series' greatest "pick your jaw off the floor" sequences, and it just got worse from there. Just as we met the real Vic Mackey tonight, we also got acquainted with the real Shane Vendrell. For all his cocksure posturing, Shane at his core has always been a scared, desperate hustler with a tragic flaw–impulsiveness—hard-wired into his DNA. Earlier this season I wrote that Shane was more honest about his true nature than Vic was; actually, Shane's awfulness has been a pose along, a callow impression of his hero Vic. Now, as he told Tina, it's too late for him, a realization itself that has come far too late for him and his family. It's been a long way to the bottom, and now that we're almost there, Shane isn't the one feeling overwhelemed, is he?

Grade: A

Stray observations:

? Like I said last week, pointing out that The Shield is closing out brilliantly seems redundant at this point. But let's be sure to savor these last few original Shield episodes. At the risk of jinxing us before next week's series finale, I honestly cannot recall a more satisfying end to a great show than what we've been treated to the last several weeks.

? I'm so satisfied that I've decided to overlook–blackmail box style–the frankly ridiculous decision by ICE not to check with Claudette before giving Vic total immunity.

? Vic supposedly decided to deal with ICE because he thought Corinne was arrested, but I wonder: Did he really not suspect his ex-wife of working with the police? Or was this merely an excuse to drop the one-for-all, all-for-one Strike Team bullshit once and for all?

? Claudette didn't really fire Dutch, right? (Though I loved it when she said, "You heard!")

? With so much going on tonight, it was easy to overlook the Lloyd subplot. I really hope that we're not being set up for Frances Fisher being gunned down next week. (Is the kid setting up a Dutch frame with all those cellphone calls?)

? The only funny part of tonight's episode was the title, a reference to the awesome 2007 documentary The King Of Kong. Compared to a killer Mackey, Donkey Kong champion and hot sauce impresario Billy Mitchell is relatively benign. Though nothing on The Shield is as sinister as watching Mitchell comb his hair to Leonard Cohen's "Everybody Knows."