The Shield: Season 5
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The Shield: Season 5

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It is rare that a television series can maintain a level of intensity season after season. As good as each season of Fox’s FX series, The Shield is, the next one always manages to ramp up the tension and action a notch more. Of course it helps that this show is not on regular broadcast television. Being on cable allows the writers to enter into the realm of realism that would give the standards and practices people apoplexy over at the tamer networks. While some cable series use violence for little more than shock value here it is absolutely necessary to convey the life or death situations of the kind of situations depicted here. The Shield follows a special anti-gang task forces in one of the roughest precincts of Los Angeles. While the members of the Strike Team, as they are known, have an incredible closing rate for the crimes they investigate they are also just a bit shy of being criminals themselves.

Typical of the series the fifth season opens shortly after the concluding events of season four. The captain in charge of the ‘Barn’ has fallen to a low level, unprepared bureaucrat, Steve Billings (David Marciano), after the previous season’s departure of Captain Monica Rawling (Glenn Close). The original boss of the precinct, David Aceveda (Benito Martinez) is now a city councilman with his eye on moving up to mayor and beyond. While such ineffectual leadership would usually be good news for Strike Team leader Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis) and his three team members, Shane Vendrell (Walton Goggins), "Lem" Lemansky (Kenny Johnson) and "Ronnie" Gardocki (David Rees Snell), the team is once again under fire from all sides. Vic has decided that they should quit their illegal activities while they still have a chance. The team as skated by the skin of teeth all too often. But like the famous ‘Godfather II’ phrase, ‘Just when I wan to get out they pull me back in’, Vic and the team find that going on the straight and narrow is not easy at all.

At work things are as hectic as ever for Vic and the team. The precinct is in the midst of a growing racial tension that is escalating to a full on gang war. Adding gasoline to the fire is a high school shooting investigated by the two best detectives in the Barn, Claudette Wyms (CCH Pounder) and her partner "Dutch Boy" Wagenbach (Jay Karnes). Even under the best of circumstances the pervading atmosphere would make work difficult for the Strike Team but they are now under investigation by Internal Affairs. The IA investigator in charge, Lieutenant Jon Kavanaugh (Forest Whitaker) may seem like a quite, unassuming man but as Vic and the others soon discover he is a deadly and proficient adversary. Kavanaugh initiates a two prong attack on the Strike Team. He pushes ethics to the limit by posing as a father of a child with autism to get close to Vic’s ex-wife, Corrine (Cathy Cahlin Ryan). While he is getting evidence on Vic that way Kavanaugh also begins to hit the Team at its weakest point, Lem. This forces Vic to hire a lawyer to represent the interests of the Team, Becca Doyle (Laura Harring). Vic, being the sort of guy he is finds that keeping a strictly professional relationship with the beautiful attorney difficult even though he knows it will only complicate matters. One of Vic’s past affairs also comes up to haunt him. His long time mistress, Officer Danielle "Danny" Sofer (Catherine Dent) is noticeably pregnant and the betting pool for paternity at the precinct has the smart money on Vic. The enemy of my enemy is my friend is more than an old saying here. Kavanaugh pulls Vic’s last season adversary Antwon Mitchell (Anthony Anderson) into the fray with a promise of revenge from behind bars. Vic is not without uneasy allies in this war against Internal Affairs. He manages a rough alliance with his old foe Aceveda using his political ambitions as leverage.

After last season I had to wonder how they were going to top things. The creative writers, directors and actors brought their best game to this season and not only managed to keep the intensity they pushed it up to incredible levels. Not wanting to give too much of a spoiler but the climatic confrontation between Kavanaugh and Vic is powerful television. The ending moments of the season just leaves you wanting more. With season six just around the corner this DVD set offers the perfect opportunity to catch up and get back into the stories. These are very human characters. Their motivations are complex making for a great platform for great performances. Nothing is as it seems on the surface. Each character is forced to put on different personas to deal with the numerous pressures they encounter. What drives this series is how the writers handle the various story arcs. There are arcs that span the entire series, those that are specific to the season and smaller ones for each episode. Like real life the situations are varied and convoluted with no easy solutions in sight.

The casting producer of this series deserves a big bonus for putting together the best possible cast. I have been a fan of Michael Chiklis for a long time mostly for his work in much lighter faire as ‘The Commish’. Here he shows he has the acting chops to handle the darkest of roles. He has a difficult job here making the audience care about a corrupt police officer. He cheats on his wife, steals and kills yet the audience can become emotionally invested in this character and want to see him win out. Chiklis plays Vic has a man who wants to do right for his family and actually wants to clean up the streets but is trapped by his past nefarious activities. There is little doubt as to why Forest Whitaker won an Oscar for a recent film role. He is one of the most powerful actors of his generation. He can play a quite man but allows the audience a glimpse of the power and potential violence that simmers beneath the surface. His story line with Vic is a chess game between two masters. Each man is not above manipulation and deceit to obtain their goals. Whitaker has a level of control in his performance that is a wonder to watch.

Fox really knows how to bring a television series to DVD. Like the previous season box sets this one is well mastered and packed with extras. The video is in a clear full screen with an excellent color palette. The Dolby Surround sound audio provides better than average channel separate with a full, rich sound field. The extras are far beyond the usual for a television season set. Each of the four discs contains deleted scenes with optional commentary. In all there are over four dozen to tantalize the viewer. Selected episodes have a cast and crew commentary track. Like the previous sets these are not your usual remarks but insight into the process of creating the series along with some friendly banter. As if all of this is not enough disc four also has a number of featurettes that will entertain the viewers for some time. There are a couple of behind the scenes featurettes as well as one on Internal Affairs and one featuring interviews with the Television Academy Panel. As we go into yet another dry spell of reruns on television pick up this set and watch something well worth your while.

Posted 03/13/07

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