“The Cure” and “Grave” (season four, episodes one and two; originally aired 3/15/2005 and 3/22/2005)
It takes almost a whole hour to get a hold of slippery Shane Vendrell. It’s been months since “On Tilt,” when the Strike Team disbanded. Vic’s been riding a desk, poring over videotapes of a money laundering operation. Lem transferred to some juvenile justice program. Aceveda’s on his last week at the office, and his replacement, Monica Rawling (Glenn Close), is already moving in. The new One Niner leader, Antwon Mitchell (Anthony Anderson), went to jail thanks to her old partner. Now he’s playing community organizer. We even meet a new detective, Steve Billings (David Marciano), who has to put his name on all of Dutch and Claudette’s cases so the D.A. will actually take their calls. The longer it takes to get to Shane, the greater the tension, but by the end you could forget all about Shane. Vic’s on his way to a new informant about to flip on Antwon, but when he gets there, the guy’s just been shot and new vice officer Vendrell’s lurking in the dark. At last the amped up collage of The Shield settles into something more careful, more expressive. Shane’s buried deep in the shot, pilfering through the guy’s stuff with his back to us, making small talk with Vic, who just hangs his head to become a giant moonlit profile. Both of them know what’s going on. This is no fresh start for Vic. He’s tracked so much shit all over Farmington that some of it has gained sentience and started following suit.
Close is the only new name in the credits, and she earns it. Rawling’s introduced by way of a grim joke. Some rookie shot a dog in a frantic bust, which is followed by such a spirit of ass-covering over humanity, pos before moes, that it’s impossible not to see how the season begins with yet another act of police brutality that everyone except the victim finds a way to live with. There’s eventually a cutaway to the dead animal, paws outstretched toward a gun. Mackey says they had no choice since he was reaching. Rawling plays along. Maybe she’s primarily interested in getting off on the right foot with her new subordinates, but it’s telling that Rawling makes her entrance laughing off a shot dog. She’s done street duty. She goes on a tour with Vic and embarrasses a One Niner with his given name, Gunther. She sets up her office, complete with gumball machine, on the floor with her officers. Everything she does in the first two episodes says she’s not like a regular captain—she’s a cool captain.
Mainly she’s pragmatic, which means two things for our heroes. First, after 17 cases overturned and 40 on appeal, she strongly advises Claudette to let things go with the D.A. and Dutch to consider jumping ship. That’s plot expediency, plain and simple. We don’t want to watch Dutch and Claudette on the bench for another season. But it’s also pretty revealing of both Rawling, who isn’t very sympathetic to Claudette’s idealism, and The Shield, which knows exactly what it’s doing by turning all institutional authority against this whistle-blower. Second, Rawling is fascinated by Vic for his assets as much as his faults. Aceveda tries to warn her about him. She doesn’t even look at him because she’s too mesmerized by Vic on the interrogation room monitor and says, “If it’s true, you’ve had plenty of opportunities to get rid of him, but in three years you haven’t. Why not?” She leans in, as fascinated by his performance as we are by Chiklis’. There’s no answer, because that would involve Aceveda incriminating himself, but to her it was a rhetorical question anyway. Vic is a puzzle she’s going to figure out herself.
Aceveda’s on full blast nowadays. It’s invigorating to see him come unleashed with Vic in the middle of The Barn. How absurd to think he actually needs to be held back by unis, but then he watches Vic’s “get off me” maneuver and repeats it beat for beat, and it’s clear he really is just posturing. The reaction shots are great too, Monica intrigued by her new toy, Dutch grinning from ear to ear, Claudette quietly enjoying the show. Aceveda’s a selfish prick, but like Vic, there are moments when his interests align with those of The People where he seems almost like a hero. Rawling tells him she’s instituting an assets forfeiture program to fund her big ideas. He shoots back, “Citizens here can’t afford lawyers to fight seized assets.” At last, someone’s concerned with the rest of us. She says, “I’m not worried about pissing off dealers because we swiped their pimp rides. We’re gonna target the right people.” So that’s what everyone else was doing wrong. They weren’t targeting the right people. The Shield has cops at every level, so we get to meet a civilian who gets shot in a drive-by and refuses to go to the hospital lest the city take his house when he can’t pay his hospital bills. Suddenly Rawling’s plan looks pretty blunt. “And you’re thinking of using Mackey for this?” There’s that question. What do you do with a tool like Vic Mackey? If you have a bunch of drones in storage, you’re going to find something for them to do. The best part is that Mackey’s stuck at The Barn because Aceveda poisoned him to everyone else. He was just trying to keep Vic from getting promoted and he wound up practically ensuring that Mackey gets back on the streets of Farmington inside a week. Chickens are coming home to roost all over the place.
All season three, Farmington had been getting more and more dangerous to the point that there were multiple scenes of various residents complaining about not feeling safe. Enter Antwon Mitchell. Like everyone else who’s ultimately a monstrous egomaniac, Antwon makes some good points. In the middle of his sermon on respect, he notices Rawling and Mackey in the audience. “I guess the police, they need us too. You put more than two black men together and look who shows up.” When they need intel on a local crime, Antwon dredges up a witness who will testify but only because he offered her protection. As the drive-by scene illustrates, the system isn’t serving Farmington, isn’t protecting its people. “This is the city that plants evidence on innocent brothers, shoots us in the back, says we were resisting, takes us to the policehouse and sticks a plunger in our ass.” Rawling corrects him. “Actually that one was New York.” “It’s all white America, lady.” Antwon’s cleaning up his community through cookouts and inspirational messages and reclaiming crackhouses. Only at the end of the second episode do we find out how Antwon’s really keeping his neighborhood safe. “The Cure” refers to heroin in an unrelated crime, but it turns out, that’s Antwon’s cure, too: replace crack and its violent, energized users with black tar heroin and it’s more docile fiends. Increase the peace.
Meanwhile Antwon’s got Shane on the dole for protection, so just when Vic prepares to take down Antwon, Shane’s the one who gets in his way, doing exactly what he learned from the Terry Crowley hit. Shane’s also getting his partner, Army (Michael Peña), dirty, telling him to skim some dope and making him get a blow job from a One Niner girl. It feels like reenactments of things Vic must have done for Shane. The Armenian Money Train fallout ain’t over yet either. They had to find somewhere new to launder their money, and they went with the garage that Vic’s been surveiling. And Gilroy’s found dead by federales. When a coroner finds out he used to be the assistant police chief, she asks what happened. Vic happened. Finally Vic Mackey has a chance to start fresh, if only his crimes could stay buried.
- Best Rawling introduction goes to Claudette. Rawling: “I’ve heard a lot about you.” “I’m sure you have.” “Yeah, but we’ll make it work anyway.”
- Antwon enters The Barn: “My mom used to bring me to church here as a kid. I’m sorry to see it’s gone to shit.” Respect.
- Lem stops by and idly catches up on Dutch and Claudette’s case. Dutch: “Maybe the family sold the boy for sex.” Lem: “No shit? Why?” Claudette: “Because that’s how Dutch thinks.” Dutch: “No, because that’s how the world is.”
- There’s a moment where The Shield pushes its tolerance of evil when a guy in the car sting is caught repeatedly, forcefully smacking his kid. Vic and Ronnie know that if they go after him for this, that risks the whole sting. It’s a tough idea to sit with, and a very characteristic one for The Shield. But then the show remembers that it’s also pretty pulpy, and Vic bumps into the guy at a bar and gets him to violate his parole. Problem solved!
- Aceveda’s in couples counseling and hates it. His wife is as sympathetic as ever: “I’m tired of feeling like I was raped, too.” So David goes into the interrogation room, puts on a tape of an actual rape, and starts rubbing his crotch.
- Shane and Mara named the son Jackson. “As in Michael?” asks Vic. “As in Stonewall.”
- Silver lining to Gilroy’s name popping up again: Katey Sagal gets to show up as Gilroy’s wife. She doesn’t get to do much, but she’s there.
- Corinne’s hot to trot about some anti-vaccine lawsuit. Whatever.
- Claudette has someone to set Dutch up with. “Petite, dark skin, attractive.” “Is she black?” “Never mind.” Later she lets him twist in the wind as he lists the “plenty of sisters” he finds attractive: Halle Berry, Tyra Banks, Beyonce.