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

Last week Vic, Ronnie, and Shane had a Strike Team reunion of sorts, working together–if not always intentionally—to set the Armenians and Mexicans against each other in a bloody gang war. Tonight, Vic and Shane were riding together like the not-so-good old days, subtly intimidating witnesses and engineering incredibly dangerous but impressively lucrative side deals with crime lords. (I half-expected Sticky Fingaz to make a guest appearance like it was Season 2 all over again.) According to the preview for next week's episode, the Vic-Shane reunion appears to be short-lived. But don't bet on it. Vic and Shane's father-son dynamic—like Terry Crowley's murder, Claudette as Shield moral compass, and Dutch's all-too-easy mockability–is one of the common threads running throughout the show's run. Their relationship has been bruised, battered, and nearly broken, but after all these years they're still together, if only because the game of Whac-A-Mole they keep playing with the past requires them to be that way.

At this point a flow chart would come in handy for keeping track of all the people currently out to get Vic and Shane. At the top of the list are the Mexicans and/or Armenians, who surely will find out about the duo's risky–even for this show–Yojimbo act of working both sides. Then there's IAD, though any kind of legal action against The Strike Team seems to have been put on hold since Cavanaugh was put away last season. That surely can't last, nor can Vic's position of power with L.A. gangs. Don't these people know that Mackey is probably on his way out? He can't keep negotiating gang war détentes once word gets out that he's finished. (His review got pushed back four weeks. Can we really expect the board to sign off on Vic in The Shield's final season?)

If you haven't figured it out yet, I'm doing more speculating about future episodes than recapping the action of "Snitch" because, well, not a whole lot happened tonight. The Dutch-Billings storyline was interesting, though the "Billings is a jerk until he comes up with an idea that breaks the case" card is beginning to seem overplayed. I don't buy that Billings is as dumb as he's often presented to be, but it also seems random that he pulls brilliant acts of police work out of his ass whenever he feels like it. Is Billings the Farm's worst cop ever, or a sleuthing genius with a bad work ethic?

The most interesting part of "Snitch" was its pointed depiction of self-destructive impulses in the poorest black communities. The episode's title was referenced during its lightest scene, when an elderly black woman stepped forward to ID some teenaged Spook Street assassins and didn't care about the potential blowback because she has two sons in jail, a lesbian daughter who can't give her grandkids, and a hankering to see Jesus ASAP. Nevertheless, the woman is called a snitch by one of her neighbors. Later on, the neighborhood reveals its utter dysfunction when it celebrates and glorifies the actions of the murderous middle schoolers with an impromptu block party as they're hauled away in cop cars.

The "Stop Snitchin'" movement was criticized (and sensationalized) in white mainstream media around the time of the Don Imus "nappy-headed hoes" controversy, as was the prevalence of the word "nigger" in hip-hop. "Nigger" also appeared in tonight's Shield when Claudette–of course–confronted a young gangbanger over his excessive use of the epithet. Claudette's speech to the youngster was fine, but a sharper point was made later on when the banger's lawyer filed suit against her for using "nigger" to intimidate his client. Admonishing these darn kids for cheapening centuries of racial indignities is one thing; criticizing blacks who overuse the world's worst insult and then get offended when it suits them is much bolder, especially for a show that's written and produced mostly by white people. If The Shield didn't have one of the most ethnically diverse casts on TV–and it wasn't as great or morally complex as it is–I'm not sure it would get away with it. But the questions that popped up in "Snitch" are central to the whole series: What role do we play in our own demise, and are "good" and what we think is "good" two completely different things?

The Shield is a good enough show to keep you sucked in even when there's an obvious placeholder episode like "Snitch." So far Season 7 has been pretty subdued, though, again, big action is promised for next week. But side trips like this one have their place, too, when there's time to ask tough questions that don't really have answers.

Grade: B

Stray observations

—I can't decide whether the Danny/Tina spat is building toward something interesting, or if I don't give a flying fuck what happens from here.

—What do you guys think?

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