“Fire In The Hole” and “All In” (season three, episodes 13 and 14; originally aired 6/1/2004 and 6/8/2004)
There’s a mole in the Treasury Department. Of course there is. Every week season three reveals how fragmented the authorities are. This isn’t just Aceveda and Claudette vs. the Strike Team anymore. This is the Strike Team actually making a bet with the Decoy Squad to solve a crime faster, both teams hording information from the other. This is Tommy getting fired, getting in trouble, and sucking in some of his less rigid ex-colleagues to buzz around another district’s police. This is The Assistant Chief swooping in to rearrange players at the Barn, and a mole in the judge’s office, and the Strike Team turning on itself to the point where one member has been in the hospital most of the season.
But all of that is changing now. “Fire In The Hole” is full of cooperation. Vic gives the firefighters his card, Lem visits Tavon in the hospital, Danny gets friendly with a uni. Aceveda repeatedly encourages Dutch to work with Vic, and Julien asks for Claudette’s help thanks to some information Dutch shared with him. Aceveda even spells it out for Claudette and Vic: “You. Work. Together.” Actually Claudette ends up working with the Decoy Squad—and what’s more, she goes undercover herself like it’s atonement—to bust a kiddie porn ring. Trish is still pretty no-nonsense about What Happened (“We’re cops. Shit happens.”), but that’s an awfully buttoned-up line for Trish. By the end, when she’s bantering with Claudette, it’s clear that only then is she back on-board with Mama. Even Walon admits: “Not a bad bust.” Family Love Claudette!
Yes, everything is wonderful in the land of The Barn. Vic even has a line about connection he says to Dutch: “Let’s connect after you get back from the Smog Jumper.” All the record scratches in the world could not live up to Michael Chiklis’ reaction to letting slip that he has a little bit too much information about the Armenian Money Train. He stammers and gets raspy and looks every which way. He’s excruciatingly good. Dutch just stops what he’s doing and looks over at him, standing there in the spotlight of a showdown shot. Later, when they find what’s left of the O’Brien crime scene, it’s the same thing. Vic’s eyes are all fidgety, and Dutch is just trained on him like a sniper. “Did they get O’Brien?”
They (the Armenian mob) did get O’Brien, even after the Strike Team impressed upon him how dangerous his situations are with both the Armenian mob and not washing his hands after he pees. (“What? That’s disgusting,” Shane says.) But Vic thinks O’Brien’s body will keep the feds in Farmington until they’ve figured out everything up to Terry Crowley’s murder or something, which seems a little far-fetched. Why wouldn’t the Armenians taking out the number one suspect in the Money Train robbery bring the Treasury case to a decline? Sure, there will be more bodies afterward, including poor, hungry Diagur, likely to raise suspicions that O’Brien wasn’t the thief, but that’s a problem for later.
At least O’Brien brings the Strike Team together, sort of. After Vic confesses his slip-up to the Strike Team, they’re all pretty ambivalent about helping him out. Vic bellows, “I can’t do this alone!” which reads like a plea but sounds more like a command. Lem is already getting ready for “All In.” He gets in a high-school fight with Shane about O’Brien’s disposability, and when they find his body, he shouts obscenities into the night. Naturally, he’s the one who comes up with a plan to get rid of the body (Vic thinks O’Brien needs to be a fugitive, not dead, for the feds to evaporate, so just go with it), because getting rid of the body would hit him so much harder than it does everyone else.
What’s less exciting is how easy it is. Breaking Bad learned a lot from The Shield, but this they improved upon. Lem has a two-step plan: First there’s a sequence of the guys stuffing O’Brien into a conveniently nearby couch, and then there’s a cut to the guys shoving him into an incinerator. Walt and Jesse would have made an episode out of the complications with every little detail of the process. Anyway, Lem has an ulcer over all this, and it’s not getting any easier. “All In” opens with two even scarier complications. The first is that the Armenian mob called the Treasury mole to ask about the Strike Team specifically. The second is that Aceveda is aware of this.
Lem has to get put through even more along the way, though, when Vic takes him to plead with Tavon to change his story for Internal Affairs. He lies like a champ, telling Tavon he hit Mara a couple times. Even Vic is recoiling in awe, standing back to watch his creation fly. “Did I hurt the baby?” Tavon’s crying, and Lem starts to ease up. “No, no, the baby’s fine,” says Lem. “Though Mara did have some bleeding for a couple days,” Vic interjects. Again, Chiklis nails the body language. Lem turns to glare at him, and he’s just staring at the floor, you know, like a nonchalant person would. Now Tavon wants to apologize to Mara. It’s kind of amazing. They’ve manufactured actual guilt.
Meanwhile Margos Dezerian is at least two feet ahead of the Strike Team at every turn, Dutch is starting to catch onto Vic, and Aceveda’s personally investigating. Dutch wants to know why Aceveda told him to keep Vic out of the loop. He confronts Vic about the Smog Jumper info, and Vic chalks it up to an oh-so-convincing case of deductive reasoning. But the best part is when Aceveda shows up at Shane’s. “I talked to a guy who said he rented out a storage locker to you. He ID-ed your photo but said you used the name Cletus Van Damme.” He lies about as well as Mara, but he bluffs all the way to handing Aceveda the key to the locker.
So all of that is what’s going through Lem’s head when he decides to steal and burn the money in the O’Brien Memorial Incinerator. It’s FX: The Scene, four macho men weeping in a pile next to cash and fire. There’s violence as intimacy, and assertions of male bonding, and complaints about leadership. “I’ve always gone along with everything you ever wanted, and all it’s done is get us deeper and deeper into shit!” The way Kenny Johnson’s voice cracks on that last word is everything. The money is down to most of one trunk, but what’s left of the Strike Team is what’s really up in the air. Ronnie’s the only one who hasn’t egregiously compromised team unity this week.
Aceveda, Dutch, and Claudette split up, too, when they find out a defense attorney has been an Oxycontin addict for a few years. The second Claudette starts probing, Dutch tries to cover. “If you establish a timeline for her addiction, any lawyer worth their salt’s gonna push to retry her cases.” Claudette says, “If she were high in court, they should.” They’re talking about hundreds of cases, many of which convicted well-known criminals. Aceveda isn’t thrilled. Dutch appeals to her sense of justice. Aceveda appeals to her sense of responsibility. But Claudette ultimately has the stronger case. “What if one of the people she was representing is innocent?” That, Lem, is how you show some spine.
- “Fire In The Hole” is written by Kurt Sutter and Charles H. Eglee and directed by Guy Ferland. “All In” is written by Scott Rosenbaum and directed by Stephen Kay.
- Vic buzzes off a homeless guy at his window. “Hey, take a walk.” Walon shoots back, “You take a walk!”
- Aceveda tells Dutch to bring in Vic. “As a resource, right? I’m still running this thing.” Aceveda sarcastically puffs him up: “Yes, Dutch, you’re in charge.”
- The Hollywood theme returns when the kiddie porn director frames up a shot with a big, pink teddy bear. “That’s a nice touch.” This is such a dark, fascinating side of The Shield. As someone will say in season seven, “Everybody comes here to get famous.”
- Claudette is so contemptful that she gets surprisingly vulgar with the “director.” “Let’s see how dirty you get in prison. You ever suck a dick?”
- Don’t get the wrong idea. The Shield is also full of romance. Like Danny refusing to date the charming/annoying CI, and Natalie Zea in an emotionally abusive relationship, and Mara living up to her sitcom stock type by giving Shane an ultimatum that he can’t hang out with his ex (Vic).
- Topical Time: Is it me or did the arrest of The Horde seem like an Iraq scene transplanted to a grungy dive? Everyone is armed to the teeth, the Strike Team is at a makeshift roadblock, and The Horde dudes barely respond to commands.
- Say goodbye to the Undercover Decoy Squad, because it’s the last time you’re going to be seeing them. I’m really going to miss Walon and Trish and that other woman and the fourth one.
- Mara gets an admirable moment at last. “What if I come forward? I take responsibility for hitting [Tavon]?”
- But speaking of Mara, the Treasury mole is also motivated by a gold-digger girlfriend. The Shield doesn’t have that much faith in most people, but now it’s just getting sexist. At the very least Mara could have some off-screen life. As it is you imagine she just lies on Shane’s bed whining all day.
- SPOILER ALERT: 1) Lem in the driver’s seat isn’t getting off to a great start. 2) Shane draws a gun on Lem. Yikes.