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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Illustration for article titled iThe Shield/i: Party Line
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Illustration for article titled iThe Shield/i: Party Line

I didn't catch up with the first season of The Shield until the DVD set came out, and I still remember roaring through episode after episode–especially towards the end–eager to find out what happened next. I did the same with the Season Two DVD, and then from Season Three on, I've been watching the show in real-time, and dealing with that excruciating week-long wait between episodes.

Watching tonight's installment, I was thinking how much I envy anyone who's going to get to watch The Shield from start to finish on DVD for the first time, once the series is done. And not just because they're going to be able to rip through these last few episodes with no gap, enjoying the dramatic TV series that understands the power of narrative momentum perhaps better than any other in the history of the medium. They'll also be able to appreciate the intricacy with which Shawn Ryan and his writing staff have woven this story. Remember first getting to know Mara? (And her wastrel mother?) Remember when Corrine and Dutch grew closer after she kicked Vic out? All of those little details inform what's happening now as The Shield comes to an end.

Heck, tonight I even thought about Aceveda's rape several seasons ago, and how the humiliation of it must've come rushing back earlier this season when Pezuela started talking about exactly where he was going to put his dick. That, combined with Vic's warning to Aceveda that he should let "the real men" handle Pezuela surely drove him to come rushing unbidden into Pezuela's office this week, thereby tipping his hand and voiding his usefulness to the ICE investigation. The moment was tense and dizzying–a classic Shield scene, meant to be watched by an audience all shaking their heads and burying them in their hands, in unison. But it wasn't just a twist for the sake of a twist. Aceveda's been on his way to that office for years.

Similarly, The Shield earned its moments of pathos with the Vendrell family, squatting in a mansion and dreaming about the better life Shane's sacks of cash could buy them in South America. Watching Shane and Mara go skinny-dipping and grill burgers was almost painful, knowing that there was know way it could last–and that really, given what terrible people Shane and Mara are, no reason it should last. Again, none of those scenes of stolen domestic bliss were wasted. The Vendrells failing to clean up their little party on the patio tipped off a visiting realtor to their "prospective customer" scam, and forced Shane to draw his gun and hit the road again. And knowing just how the Vendrells planned to spend their money added weight to the scene where two gangsters swipe their whole kitty. (Not to mention poor little Jackson, watching his parents in peril, with pistols pointed.)

Meanwhile, in the Mackey camp, Corrine comes to Dutch and Claudette for protection, counting on Claudette's Vic-hatred and Dutch's protective nature to get her out of a jam. And because Dutch just witnessed his weasel partner Steve behave extra-weaselly last week, Dutch shuts him out of the loop, which sends Steve scrambling to the one person who shouldn't know what Dutch is up to: Ronnie, looking spiffy tonight in his detective suit. Dutch, meanwhile, counters by slipping some info to Julien (notably back in uniform, as of last week), and as the sides continue to get drawn, each decision ripples.

Nifty episode title this week, by the way. "Party Line" in this context can have two meanings. It can refer to that drawing up of sides I just mentioned, and whether the people on each side can hold steady. (Witness Mara, tempted by Claudette's offer to turn on Shane, before falling back behind her man; or exhausted Ronnie, irritated that Vic doesn't immediately trust him enough to fill him in on the Pezuela plan.) "Party Line" can also refer to a telephone connection with more than one person on it, as we saw twice tonight: once when Corrine left her cordless phone off the hook so Dutch and Claudette could try to get Vic on tape confessing something, and again at the end as Dutch and Claudette listened in on Corrine's conversation with Mara about her and Shane's latest blackmail demands.

I can't help but marvel at the attention to detail. Everything–and everyone–remains connected.

Grade: A

Stray observations:

-Sorry about the delay in getting this written and posted. (Watching history and all.) Steve will be back with you next week. I thank him and all of you for letting me write a little about one of my all-time favorite TV shows.

-Hey, I'm talking with Shawn Ryan on Thursday. Any questions y'all'd like me to ask?

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