“Mum” and “Posse Up” (season three, episodes five and six; originally aired 4/6/2004 and 4/13/2004)
Halfway through “Mum” comes one of the most upsetting sequences on The Shield. Aceveda gets jumped by two Byz Lats. They steal his gun, bind his hands, and cover his mouth when unis show up looking for him. And then one forces Aceveda to suck his dick at gunpoint. The rapist makes his buddy take a picture. They debate whether or not to kill him. Aceveda begs for his life, the camera positively frantic. And then Vic and the Strike Team show up, and the bangers retreat. They rescue Aceveda, but he doesn’t know that they’re part of the reason he was raped in the first place.
Everyone’s screwing up these days, from Claudette overlooking something on an old case to Dutch reactivating a rapist in “Bottom Bitch.” Julien’s new old partner Tommy concocts a plan to steal back valuables from his ex-wife, but the plan goes awry (in that the hit-burglar Tommy hired also murdered his ex-wife and son), just as Vic’s season-opening search for weapons of mass destruction goes sideways. That little misadventure is what leads Vic to Juan, the rapist, and Ricky, his uneasy sidekick. Vic’s trying to get the marked Armenian bills that the Byz Lats stole from him off the street. Juan greets them with a polite, “Who are you faggots?” apparently unaware of Vic’s new hobby, dominating people by forcing them to suck on whatever’s handy. He shoves Juan’s bong into his mouth and holds it there long enough for the guy to spit up, the vomit spraying out the stem. Juan and Ricky spill, but Aceveda and a treasury agent are already at the stash house.
What is it that makes Aceveda send the treasury agent back? Aceveda says he’ll call some unis for a ride, that he wants to investigate the house to see what else he can find, but why alone, and why can’t the agent just wait a few minutes? There’s a note of Aceveda playing hero here—he later refuses multiple times at gunpoint to open his mouth—and he even gets to draw his gun and be a real, live police for a change. But two beats one, and Juan gets his gun. He asks Aceveda, “So you a cop, huh? That mean you can do whatever the hell you want?” That’s the “oh, shit” moment. With that, whatever’s about to happen to Aceveda is framed as revenge on Vic. Aceveda doesn’t deserve this—even Vic wouldn’t deserve this—but the guy has an axe to grind, and an understandable one. He’s been abused by the people in charge of protecting him.
There’s so much going on in this sequence, and it’s so intense that we’re hyperaware of its implications: the low-angle domination and symbolic gun-waving, the animated grotesquerie of Juan gently petting Aceveda’s lips with the gun and smiling with a tooth missing, that celebratory picture of Aceveda’s dehumanization and its rough contemporaneity with relevant news stories, the parade of near-misses that almost rescue Aceveda but then leave him gagging on an untested tool, the ever-evolving answers to the question of how far this is going to go. The simple act of a break for commercial is a chilling promise that this ordeal is far from over, and whole scenes play out in the mean time, some of which hint at rescue before explaining why that won’t be on the menu (for instance, Vic wants to find Aceveda, but his assistant Nina informs him Aceveda’s phone has poor coverage). But why don’t the dispatched officers actually enter the stash house to make sure Aceveda hasn’t stumbled onto a booby trap or passed out from the heat or something? Time to fire some more unis.
By the time Vic does manage to rescue him, frightening off Juan and Ricky before they decide who should kill their victim, Aceveda wriggles free of his bindings, tries to throw up, covers his face, refuses to make eye contact. He comes up with the world’s worst kneejerk lie, that he managed to fend off two men who stole his gun. Benito Martinez is devastating. At the end of the episode he walks through the main floor of the Barn and it feels like a barrage from all sides: Behind him Danny tells him she arrested a stalker and then gets put out by how little he cares, an officer off to the right immediately greets him, “Captain,” at which point he bumps into Nina, on this side of the camera, requesting his signature. The final scene of the episode is a long profile shot of Aceveda dry heaving into a toilet. The effect of watching a man gag is pretty obvious, and pretty perfect. Like I said way back when, this is a show you feel.
However lurid the rape scene—and the whiplash of hope and despair are certainly that—this is no betrayal of The Shield’s quieter turn. “Mum” is The Shield turning rape from a plot point in a detective story (think of the mother-daughter blackmail plot) to a serious evil. Dutch is still investigating the cuddling rapist by way of a string of robberies, and at the end there’s a moving, real moment in which a tough, old rape victim, blasting classical music and holing up in her house with her gun, maintains she was only robbed. A third victim is coaxed into confession by her son in the interrogation room.
Aceveda is absolutely deflated. He dramatically downplays his injuries for the Barn. It’s troubling enough that he doesn’t even take pleasure in this week’s press conference, handing it off to Dutch instead. He barely participates in his own conversations, as in the scene where Dutch and Claudette petition him for an expensive rapist-catcher. He’s been avoiding his family and sleeping at the office. And now he’s flipping through mug shots to see if he can identify Juan and Ricky. It’s hard to focus on anything else while Aceveda is so depressed.
At the end of “Posse Up” comes another great passage, a casual debriefing down by the pen. Trish is filling out the forms and filling in Vic, who played hooky from their assignment protecting gay hustlers. Claudette joins them to see how it went, and without looking at him Trish references Shane (as a natural undercover gay prostitute), and suddenly there’s Shane in the spotlight in the background of the shot. Now Aceveda’s there by Claudette—maybe he was there the whole time—and he asks Vic about the posse he formed to find the murderer of Tommy’s family. Vic asks how he knew and the camera finds Danny in the background behind Aceveda, following her as she walks through the hall. Vic blows past, and the camera stays on Claudette as she spins around cursing to herself. Alone now, Claudette tells Aceveda he looks like hell, and he half-heartedly deflects. It’s so scrappy set against this pen of chain-link fencing in tight, eye-level compositions of dark but not desaturated colors. Everyone’s on the same level, and it’s tough to get a full view of anyone. It’s a clockwork beauty humming with tension. More rule than exception these days.
- “Mum” is written by Kurt Sutter and Shawn Ryan and directed by Nick Gomez. “Posse Up” is written by Kim Clements and Charles H. Eglee and directed by Félix Alcalá.
- Tavon is still in a coma in the hospital, and Corinne says he might even have soap-opera amnesia. Meanwhile the list of the marked bills is in a safe in Aceveda’s office, and Vic wants to break in.
- Mara won me over with that quick, bad lie about guys pawing her at the bar. But in case it wasn’t already clear, her refusal to confess (and likely but not necessarily avoid indictment through pregnancy) reminds us how much Mara demands of Shane.
- Aceveda’s rape reminds me of Six Feet Under’s infamous season-four episode in which David is taken for a ride, sexually manipulated, and tortured by a psychopath. Turns out that episode would air a few months later than “Mum.” Something in the air.
- Reminders that The Shield is on cable: a lower-half shot of a woman who turns out to be Corinne walking around in red underwear, Diagur the Byz Lat CFO going down on his girlfriend when the Strike Team burst in.
- When Vic shows up at his old house, Corinne’s calm and content, Cassidy’s off to an activity, Matthew’s laughing, and classical music is playing. The Mackeys are so bipolar.
- Why is Julien always out of breath, like, as a performance style? Is that who we have to thank for Ryan Atwood?
- Bad timing: Trish’s case, the one that Vic was supposed to be working on throughout “Posse Up,” begins about two-thirds of the way through the episode when she briefs the Strike Team.
- Speaking of which, you can blame the lack of a shirtless Shane picture on Benito Martinez being so good.
- Shane hanging out with the hustlers and slowly getting, sucked—let me finish—into conversation is delightful. Delightful in a different way is his comeback to Lem’s friendly hook-up advice: “Hey, tube steak, I’m engaged to a gorgeous female who’s carrying my child. You’re the one who knows the names of dick parts.” I could listen to Goggins say “dick parts” in that staccato in that accent for at least a few minutes.