The Shield: Season 4
With cable television having less in the way of restrictions networks like Fox’s FX are now able to push the envelope more than the regular broadcast stations. While this has been a source of controversy with many watchdog groups in the case of the series, ‘The Shield’ the result has been a much more dramatic, powerful crime drama. Now the forth season of this series has been released on DVD and like the previous season sets it is hard hitting and pack with extras the way a season presentation should be.
As season four opens six months after the close of season three and all the characters have undergone major changes. The elite Strike Force, headed by Detective Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis) has been dissolved. Vic remained in Farmington with Strike Force alum, Detective Ronnie Gardocki (David Rees Snell) but they have been relegated to busting bootlegged DVDs, stolen goods and other small time busts. Detective Curtis "Lemonhead" Lemansky (Kenneth Johnson) is repenting for burning the illegally gotten money the Strike Force stole from the mob by transferring to Youth Division. The last Strike Force left over, Detective Shane Vendrell (Walton Goggins) as taken his street wise ways and moved over to narcotics. Ace detective team Claudette Wyms (CCH Pounder) and her partner "Dutch" Wagenbach (Jay Karnes) are persona non gratis with the District Attorney’s office after Claudette uncovered an ADA with a substance abuse problem resulting in many cases being overturned on appeal. Captain David Aceveda (Benito Martinez) is able to relinquish his command at the Barn to move on to his newly elected career as a City Councilmen. His replacement, Captain Monica Rawling (Glen Close) shows up a week early to ‘observe’ but actually begins to make major changes in the way the command will be run. While all this is going on in Vic’s professional life his personal affairs are as much in the air as always. His divorce from his wife Corrine (Cathy Cahlin Ryan) is amicable but she has drawn Vic into a class action suit against a pharmaceutical firm that made a vaccine that predisposed her children to autism.
This season witnesses some major personality shifts with the characters. Vic is so bored and frustrated with his current assignment that he is willing to capitulate to the new captain just to get a shot at heading up her new gang task force. Rawlings may be the captain but she is a former street cop who knows that sometimes the rules have to be taken to the edge. She makes it clear to Vic that while he can play rough he has to stay within those limits. Her style of management is very different from Aceveda. She moves the command office from the second floor to down with the troops. Rawlings plans to seize property from drug dealers to help fund better equipment and procedures in her command. She comes in like a force of nature. Shane has a new partner in vice, Armando 'Army' Renta (Michael Pena) who is fresh back on the force after a tour in Iraq. Shane wastes no time in leading the younger detective to the dark side. Vic also discovers that his former partner Shane is involved with the new season bad guy, Antwon Mitchell (Anthony Anderson). Mitchell is a former gang banger who now uses a façade of being a community activist to cover his plan to replace the crack cocaine trade with tar heroine. Vic finds himself in the difficult position of taking down this new drug lord while trying to save his friend, even if there is animosity currently between Vic and Shane.
It is often problematic for an action oriented, plot driven series like this to remain fresh in it’s forth season. Often the writers and producers are too afraid of changing things around, moving away from the formula that made the series a success. With the Shield the changes have been grown organically right from season one. As such, they progression and major personality changes in the characters are natural allowing the show to remain cutting edge. Even if Vic has to shy away from his former dirty cop tactics of the previous three seasons he remains one of the most compelling characters on television. The writing and direction here remains at the top of their game always bringing the best to the audience.
Michael Chiklis once again nails his performance in each and every episode. This season shows that his talent is such that he can make such a drastic change in his character. Here Vic is motivated by basically the same things that have always driven him. He has pride of his prowess on the streets and getting the job done. While his marriage is all but done he is still committed to his family, especially his autistic son Michael. In the forth season Vic also has to content with possibility of a fresh start with a new captain, a chance to put behind him the tactics that ruined his last command. He also has to worry about Shane’s continued involvement with drug dealers. If Internal Affairs gets a hold of him he could tell about the money train rip off. It was a real stroke of brilliance to cast Glen Close as Rawlings. This five time Oscar nominated actor brings her professionalism to an already great show. Her portrayal of Rawlings is that of a tough as nails police officer, she worked the same streets in her uniform days and now has worked harder than any man to command the Barn. Coming from the streets she knows that all of the rules do not always work but she has to reign in Vic to get the best out of him. As always Walton Goggins is a sheer delight to watch. As Vic watches his old friend spiral deeper and deeper into trouble Shane is bent on pulling his new partner in with him, just as Vic once did to him. Goggins plays a good ole boy with street savvy and a down right mean streak. The season’s new villain, Mitchell is well played by Anthony Anderson. Best known for his comedy roles Anderson is quietly menacing as the new drug lord in town. This shows he has the talent for both drama and comedy.
The look and feel of the series continues along the lines of the previous three seasons. Many scenes are shot with a hand held camera giving that bumpy documentary feel. They also push the film stock to give a grainy appearance almost like surveillance footage. The language is taken to the limits of non-premium cable and may be offensive to some. After all the people portrayed here are not likely to say ‘Oh drat’ during a shoot out.
Fox has hit another home run with the DVD presentation. Many of the episodes continue the tradition of a round table discussion for the commentary tracks. Several key actors, writers and directors gather together to let the audience into some of the behind the scenes work necessary to obtain the end product. The full screen video is crisp and clear with excellent contrast. The Dolby Surround does the job with very good channel separation. Too bad they never brought this series to anamorphic video with full 5.1 audio. This is far better than much of what you can see on ‘regular’ television and well worth adding to your library.