John Walker's Electronic House

Television: The Shield – FX

by on Apr.15, 2007, under Television


Hooray! It’s back! I’ve watched the first two, and am saving the mysteriously appearing third episode for a rainy moment. Following on immediately from the rather stunning climax of season 5’s back-n-forth between Chiklis’ Vic Mackay and Forest Whitaker’s Jon Kavanaugh, it’s maintaining that breath-stealing frenzy of intense wrongness, as everyone growls at everyone else, sometimes without pissing on them and/or setting them on fire.

The Shield has always straddled the peculiar ravine between ludicrously daft and intensely traumatic. Perhaps it’s the ridiculous limitations of semi-deep-cable channel FX, where they can say “shit” but not “fuck”, show a bare bottom but never a nipple. The impression that the writers are constantly trying to see how far they can go within such arbitrary and nonsensical restrictions gives it the feeling of their being a naughty boy constantly testing parental lines. And there’s the idiotic, hilarious phrases like, “I’m going to shit you up.” But fortunately, it’s probably this property that keeps it watchable, rather than leaving you having to seek counselling for the constant emotional brutality.

There was an interesting debate on some forum recently about whether The Shield is racist. It was pointed out that the cops spend a lot more time punching and kicking black and Hispanic criminals than they do for the whiteys. It was also observed that the all-white Strike Team (but for the unfortunate black cop who joined briefly, before meeting his inevitable way out) was constantly helping all those pesky non-white gang members to run their drug operations, which they’d all mess up if left to their own barbaric devices.

I think the second point does stand. The assumption that all the crims are thick is too easily written in. Even the stand-out exception, uber-baddy Antwon Mitchell, was eventually bested by Mackay’s shiny white head. I don’t believe this is malicious writing – perhaps just a bit stupid. The first point, however, simply misses the entire point of The Shield: There are no good guys.

The Strike Team are the baddies. It’s no more complicated than that. It’s not exactly subtle, either. Knocking over the Armenian money train, the initial murder of a cop, and Vic’s additional income from godfathering the district’s drug barrens don’t exactly suggest white hats. The cleverness of the programme is to ensure that as a viewer, you find yourself wanting them to win. And that makes you a bad person too. They are racist. They are deserving of immediate imprisonment. And often, they are far worse than the criminals they so horrifically hunt down. So how come the one person who should be stopping them, Kavanaugh, is the one at whom I’m booing? It’s because they write it really well, and they make you like racist bastards. And that’s tough going. Thank goodness they’re not allowed to say “fuck”.

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