The Shield: Season 2
When a television series is hailed as cutting edge the pressure begins to mount. As they move towards their sophomore season the network is watching carefully to see if they can continue to deliver the goods, ratings and sponsorships. This is especially true cable networks where they have to also struggle against the more established broadcast networks. I greatly enjoyed the first season of The Shield; the brutally realistic cop drama on the Fox owned FX. After watching the second season any doubts that I may have had disappeared. They build one the drama and action of the first season going up to the line and boldly crossing it. Many of the longer story arcs are continued from the first season; expanding upon them in a natural progression. The main focus is still the leader of the Strike Force Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis). His dubious methods have always brought the desired results of bring down at least the crime that Mackay doesnít have his hand in. the pressures that where heaped upon Mackay in the first season are kicked up several notches until his once almost perfect life is in shambles. His wife Corrine (Cathy Cahlin Ryan, wife of the executive producer) tired of the lies and deception, has taken their children and left Vic. This forces Vic to devote an increasing amount of time and money towards finding her.
He makes the almost unbelievable decision to leave the management of the strike force in the hands of Shane (Walt Goggins), the team member that almost destroyed them in season one. Vic is left to clean up the plethora of mistakes while having to delve deeper into an uneasy dťtente with his boss Captain Aceveda (Benito Martinez). Add to this the suspicions of fellow detective Claudette (CCH Pounder) and the presences of a civilian auditor. The cherry on the top of this despair for the lamented Vic is when he discovers that his own wife has started an investigation to his actions.
The story arcs are once again divided into two board categories, episode related and those that permeate the entire season. The main focus is on a Mexican drug lord, Armadillo (Daniel Pino) who sadistically begin to move in on the established drug gangs. Since these actions threaten Vicís much needed source of extra income and the exposure of his teamís activities, Vic is like an old time plate spinner, trying desperately keeping more plates than humanly possible spinning at the same time.
This ensemble cast has taken the working relation of season one and pushed it to new heights. The interaction between the characters is gripping, some of the best acting on television today. Chiklis commands every scene he is in with skill and power. He has certainly come a long way from the lovable, cubby characters that built his initial career. Here he is buff, mean and dangerous. Martinez doesnít so much take the character of Captain Aceveda in a different direction, instead he accentuates this politically driven man and shows that any thoughts of a clean command falls to the side has he moves from Vicís bitter enemy to co-conspirator. Pounder also moves her character from the maternal Claudette to a Claudette bent on finding the truth. Instead of turning a blind eye to Vicís methods she now begins to scrutinize his every movement. One of the most emotional character changes is that of Michael Jaceís portrayal of Office Julian Lowe. In the first season he was fighting his homosexual inclinations, taking on dating a single mother and moving rapidly towards marriage. Instead of playing this as a sudden transformation he does it with an inner reluctance, doing what he feels is correct in accordance with the tenants of his religious beliefs. Even the character portrayed by Jay Karnes, Dutch, undergoes changes. The clinical mind that works a case to completion begins to make serious mistakes resulting in self doubts that start to spiral downward.
Typical of series television each episode is directed by a different member of a pool of directors. The danger here is when the styles of each director alter the way the multi-episode arcs progress. Thanks to the strong sense of direction imparted by executive producer Shawn Ryan. You see the fruits of his labors in the fact that each episode fits nicely with not only the others in the season but are consistent with the first season. The people that fill the role of DP (director of photography) are one of the reasons there is cohesiveness to this show. The jagged, commando style remains. Many scenes are as jumpy as the characters they present. The grainy quality to some scenes give a heighten sense of realism but are not over done, they are mixed with scenes of incredible clarity. The jumpiness persists throughout the episodes giving a visual clue to the emotions presented. There was one shot that particularly impressed me. Towards the end of episode two there is a close up of Vic, standard faire. Then, the camera moves, shifting Vicís face until it is forced into the corner, reduced in size. This showed at a glance what the character was experiencing, being literally forced in a corner, his power and control waning. These are people that know how to tell a story.
The DVD was a little step down from the first one, not in a technical sense but I was disappointed with the decision to cut back on the commentaries. The first season had a different group commenting on every episode of the season, providing multiple viewpoints into the production. Here, only one episode per disc is granted the insight of cast and crew. The Dolby Surround audio is very well done. It provides a sound stage that is realistic and powerful. The video is free of defects. The grain was imparted by decision not fault. The 37 deleted scenes show just how much work goes into this show, how many powerful scenes had to be cut to make this show as lean and mean as the new Chiklis. The five behind the scenes featurettes run the gamut from amusing to serious exploration of the process. There is even a little DVD ROM game but it is not really that well presented. This DVD is a natural addition to those of us that enjoyed the first one. For those unfamiliar with the series or those out there that do not get FX watching this will impel you to purchase the first disc as well.