“Two Days Of Blood” (season one, episode 12; originally aired 5/28/2002)
Ben Gilroy is a delightful fuck-up. He’s more powerful than all of the regulars, but that never seems to help. In most of his scenes he’s nervously approaching Vic for some reason or another. Mackey has the power. He breaks up with Vic out of pure jitters, and he runs away so fast he looks scared. He tries to look smooth, but his hair, sweat, and rumpled suits put the lie to that. Now he’s the driver in a hit-and-run, and he’s desperate to keep it a secret. “Two Days Of Blood” finally flips the tables. Mackey is not a liability to Gilroy. It’s the other way around.
Gilroy’s cover-up is most impressive as an elegant sidestep into the usual examination of Vic. He tells Gilroy he’ll find out who’s on the case and bury it. Smash cut to Claudette and Dutch at the crime scene, once again pitting dogged detective-work and criminal theory against Vic’s reactionary physicality. There’s a great scene when Vic tries to breeze past Dutch while dropping a little hint that his made-up gang war explains the “roadkill,” but Dutch stops him in his tracks. “I found her.” He’s talking about Gilroy’s passenger. Vic tries to play it cool. “What are you waiting for? Let’s go.” “I was just there,” Dutch says. He’s ahead of Vic all over the place. When he tells Vic that the woman, Sedona Tellez, is the CEO of a Cayman shell corporation buying up property in Farmington, Vic says, “You’re gonna put me right out of a job.” Close. A banger is just about to ID Vic in an interview with Dutch when Vic blackmails Julien into interrupting so that Vic can threaten the banger. It’s like the garage sale Danny and Julien try to bust up. Nobody will testify in front of the seller that he stole their property to sell it back to them, even with the law on their side.
Then there’s the way Gilroy blackmails Vic into helping him by using what he suspects happened to Terry. Vic captures the witness, a young Francis Capra, and successfully intimidates him. Just as he’s writing down a Get Out Of Jail Free card for the kid, Gilroy shoots him, and Vic is stunned. It’s a rare sight, Vic in shock, pointing his gun at a superior. “What did you do?” he shouts. “Nothing you haven’t done before.” That drives them into the finale, the tension between Gilroy’s conviction that these two are the same and Vic’s that he’s better. Vic comforts himself with the idea that his illegal activity is just in service of keeping the streets safe. “Look around, Ben. Where’s the good in what you’re doing?”
He’s talking about a grisly meat-tenderizer murder and attempted garbage-disposal of two black women in a Farmington neighborhood called The Grove. It’s one of the most gruesome crime scenes yet, the camera lingering on the dead woman with her arm down the sink, and the recorded 911 call, a cacophony of screams and broken glass, is equally upsetting. Vic’s position as a sort of double agent allows him to get the pieces from the criminal, Gilroy, and the detectives, Dutch and Aceveda, to put everything together first. It turns out that Gilroy reduced police coverage of The Grove in order to sink property values for Sedona Tellez’s company so that he could eventually reinstate the police, raise value, and profit. Two black women are dead, a white cop gets rich, but at least Vic fights crime. Where’s the good in Gilroy? “The good,” he tells Vic, “Is I’ll cut you in.” He must not have heard about the “I am never for sale” scene.
The ending is one of those searing sights on The Shield. The Grove is rioting over the hour delay that cost two innocent women their lives. Even though Aceveda plays it politically, surrounding himself with Claudette (“Coming from you a plea for peace will sound more…” “Black”) and Karen Mitchell, a black rival candidate for city council, the civilians aren’t having it. The final shot is a jaw-dropping scene of retreat. The cops cautiously back out of frame, leaving The Grove a blazing inferno.
- “Two Days Of Blood” is written by Scott Rosenbaum and Kurt Sutter and directed by Guy Ferland.
- Meanwhile, Shane and Lem get into cockfighting. It’s comic relief, yes, but it’s also another sideways look at Vic. As the plan starts to spin out of control, Lem gets fed up. “Jesus, for once, can’t we just do what we’re supposed to do and then stop?” When it’s all said and done, Shane tells him, “We take this guy in and his case’ll be tied up in court for years. I say we turn him over to the Mexicans, where he’ll be properly hung by his balls, and if we make a few pesos in the process, so be it.” Nobody’s very concerned about justice this week.
- A bounty hunter argues math with Shane: “I only get 20 percent, Einstein. 10 percent is half my fee.” “You sure about that?” Shane asks.
- By the end, Lem’s had enough of Shane. “You do this to me again, I’m gonna kick your redneck ass. Don’t even give me that look, bro.” Adorable.
- Also Julien meets an ex-gay. Danny incredulously asks him, “God’s gonna make you straight?”
“Circles” (season one, episode 13; originally aired 6/4/2002)
“Circles” is easily the hardest episode of The Shield yet. The perps of the week aren’t easily rattled dealers but stone-cold cop killers, animated not by weakness and greed but by righteous fury over police neglect. Danny and Julien unwittingly race to be their first victims, happening instead on a dangerous crime scene where their friends lie bloody in a car. In the best chase of the season, a runner hops a fence and Vic barrels through it, crashing on top of him. He taunts one of the killers with the police badge the kid took as a trophy, pointing the pin at the kid’s eye for an excruciating period and suddenly jamming it into his chest. Claudette—not Shane or even Danny but Claudette—tells the kid she doesn’t see anything, although she also throws Vic a WTF side-eye. Desk-jockey Aceveda shoots one of the cop killers in defense. Gilroy turns on Aceveda and then tries to use Aceveda to get Vic, and Vic tries to turn that chain around. And just when Vic gets everything under control by the skin of his teeth, his family leaves him a message saying not to come looking for them. His family is the excuse for his entire lifestyle. What’s Vic gonna do without his beard?
As the season comes to a close, Dutch and Claudette are the only ones who don’t really find much resolution. In fact, Dutch just abandons the Sedona case when a bigger emergency requires all hands on deck. At the end, another case usurps their attention. “Husband just shot his wife because she lost his car keys.” So morbid, so petty, so appropriate. Dutch and Claudette don’t have a big story to resolve, because they tend to keep their heads down. They will forever be working the daily grind. It’s not glamorous, but it’s effective. On the other hand, Danny and Julien actually reach some sort of peace in these final two episodes. Their squabbling sometimes feels arbitrary, but the overall effect of the season is a sense of hard-fought victory, partners who really grow to appreciate each other.
But the focus of “Circles” is the human pyramid of Gilroy, Aceveda, and Vic, each scrambling to be on top. None of them like working with either of the others, and they all try to gang up on the others. At various points it looks like Gilroy short-circuited Aceveda’s political career, like Aceveda is out of a job, like Aceveda might flip on Vic, like Gilroy might hurt Vic’s family, like Vic might kill Gilroy. It’s almost as exciting as the 911 killers. Aceveda is the linchpin. Vic proposes a way for them both to get what they want. “Help me take down a dirty cop.” That’s rich. But that’s what it’s all about. After finding the gun used to kill the hit-and-run witness in Cassidy’s room, Vic and Shane confront Gilroy. Gilroy says, “Just kill me, Vic. But don’t act like you’re better than me.” It takes someone else pulling a similar stunt for Vic to realize how heinous his crimes are. And this time, as Vic and Shane stand over their target, Vic just pistol-whips him.
It’s surprising, to say the least. Gilroy still has information, if not exactly evidence, he could use against Vic. But more than that, Vic Mackey, that almost-anything-goes capitalist, seems to be losing his edge. Look close and he’s still barely cleaning up after himself, obstructing justice, profiting off of the drug trade, what have you. He’s hardly a model police officer. It’s just that Vic introduces himself by killing a fellow cop, and his freshest crimes can’t compete. Is Vic getting a little soft? Has the sight of Gilroy persuaded him to turn over a new leaf?
The final scene has some answers. Vic’s back at home after an intense day. The cop killers confessed or died. Aceveda arrests Gilroy and walks him through a stunned Barn before a glorious press conference. And Vic finds his house ransacked from their prior search for Gilroy’s gun, Corinne and the kids gone and Chris Martin apologizing via “Trouble.” He sits there upset and desperate and angry. And then, in a motif in the making, he straps on his badge and his gun and heads out into the night. A shark has to keep moving.
- “Circles” is written by Shawn Ryan and directed by Scott Brazil.
- Foreshadowing: Much of these two episodes echoes in later seasons and the series finale in particular. I tried to allude to some of the omens without pointing neon lights at them, but feel free to discuss.
- Gotta love Shane Vendrell: “Since when did we start catching guys by diving into financial records?”
- There’s a lot of great comic relief, emphasis on the relief, in this heavy episode. Danny and Julien get a 911 call two blocks from the previous night’s ambush. They check each other for vests, and then bust in on a bedridden woman who can’t reach her arthritis medication. “Would it kill you to get me a glass of water?” Later, in the middle of the intense raid on the cop killers, some guy walks around the corner, stares at the cops with their guns, and then walks off muttering to himself.
- More Claudette rage: “It is everything in me not to slap you silly.”
- Shane has come a long way from crying about killing Terry. Now he’s running his own side scams that result in selling some guy to a gang and offering to kill Gilroy. “Let me do this for you, Vic.”