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Illustration for article titled iThe Shield/i: Game Face
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Illustration for article titled iThe Shield/i: Game Face

"Putting away Pezuela is a down payment on me being able to live with myself."–Vic

OK, I admit it: I've been kind of a whiny baby about the blackmail box. And this apparently has annoyed some of you in A.V. Club land. I even had my first ever run-in with frequent commenter, caps lock enthusiast, and apparent Shield fanatic Zodiac Motherfucker, who now "owns" me after an all-caps bitch slap. (I think we're cool again after bonding over a shared love of Jimmy Johns subs in a follow-up comment.) I still maintain that a box containing background dirt on seemingly every important cop and official in L.A.–by the way, how is Vic not in there?–is a stretch even for The Shield, but I decided to set my skepticism aside going into tonight's episode. This whole blackmail box debacle was impeding on my enjoyment of the show, and since this shit is almost over I'd like to try and enjoy it while I can. So, bring on the magical boxes! My disbelief is fully suspended!

I don't know if my check up from the head up made me enjoy "Game Face" more than I would have otherwise, but this was probably my favorite episode of the season so far. I'd like to think that The Shield sort of met me halfway tonight, subtly drawing us back to the larger issues that Vic will have to confront before walking off into the sunset while deepening the developments of recent episodes. The blackmail box, and nailing Cruz Pezuela, has essentially come to symbolize redemption for Vic. I had to rewind my DVR a couple of times when Vic uttered the down payment line to Shane in the episode's opening minutes. Is this the closest Vic has ever come to actually admitting his guilt? Every time he's talked about his crimes–killing Terry, robbing the money train, etc.–he's put it in the context of doing what he had to do for his team and his family. But after watching both fall apart because of him Vic's complex web of self-delusion has unraveled to the point that he's grasping for a shot–any shot—at penance.

Shane, of course, knows better. On one hand, he's selfishly callous when it comes to doing the "right" thing. He wants to simply turn over the box so he can get himself, the team, and their families in the clear. He couldn't care less about Pezuela or what he'll do to Farmington, because as he tells Ronnie " the joint is broken and you know it." This might only add to Vic's disdain for Shane, but the fact remains that Shane is a pragmatist: Ultimately, they won't be able to save Farmington, or their own souls, with this one good deed. Shane might be an evil hombre, but Vic is no better for believing that putting Pezuela away could possibly undo all the damage he's created over the years.

Another somewhat troubling aspect of this season–Lil Autumn Chiklis' higher profile–was also nullified tonight by her character being similarly taken off-camera and turned into a symbol of Vic's need for deliverance from a past that is all but beating down his door. Cass was caught at a "pimps and hos" party tripping on Ecstasy, and after some impromptu 21 Jump Street style high school police work Vic learned she was the mastermind behind all the kiddie pimpin' and hoin'. I predict that next week's episode begins with Cass getting hauled off to jail to teach her a lesson. Will it work? Since her dad is a corrupt cop with two baby's mamas, Cass likely won't buy Vic taking the moral high ground. Maybe that's why Vic has decided not to sign Danny's papers forgoing his rights as a father to their baby. What symbolizes spiritual rebirth and second chances better than an infant son?

In other Shield news, razor-sharp serial killer Kleavon was back to fuck with Claudette during a deposition hearing where he acted as his own counsel and used her illness to get out of the death penalty. (Not to belabor the point, but if Claudette can be burned because of a little old case of the lupus, why hasn't every case The Strike Team ever worked been thrown out of court?) Later on, Dutch tapped Kleavon to lend some serial killer expertise to his investigation of teenaged killer Lloyd, who definitely appears to be the budding monster Dutchman pegged him as last week. (So much for the astute observations of Billings.) Even if Dutch is right about this kid, what can he do? Will this draw him back to his overly obsessive, cat-killing ways?

Anyway, sorry if I whined too much about the blackmail box. But making the box less literal and more metaphorical was a big improvement, no? This episode owned.

Grade: A

Stray observations

—It appears that Vic and Olivia are going to be working together to get out of their respective jams. Does this mean they're also going to be sleeping together by the end of the next episode? Who's got odds?

—Tonight also saw the return of Dina. I was a little disappointed that she didn't get a scene with Aceveda–there was always some sexual tension there.

—Should we be seriously worried about Claudette's health? What is it about Kleavon that brings her to the edge of death?

—How awesome is Kleavon by the way? Big ups to actor Ray Campbell, whose other credits include episodes of Angel and Haunted. Somebody get this guy some more work.

—What do you guys think?

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