The Shield is remarkable for its use of the police badge worn by the cops and detectives of the show. When they want a hotel room for the night, the badge is set on the counter as the owner leaves to get the keys. When a cop wants access to a suspect's house, the LAPD shield opens doors that would normally remain shut until the sight of a warrant. It's clipped onto belts, the shirts of uniformed officers and visible throughout every action taken by those who enforce the law in LA. It is, as explained by the creator of The Shield, also used as a term to describe the invisible protection from the actions of the police afforded to the residents of Los Angeles, where there are good cops, bad cops and a different kind of cop and in The Shield, you will rarely be sure as to what kind of cops you're watching.
Created by Shawn Ryan, who had a background in producing the Buffy spin-off Angel and has been asked to bring Remedy's Max Payne to cinema screens, The Shield is about a police department in Farmington, a fictional district within Los Angeles that is home to a racially diverse mix of peoples of varying criminal intent, kept in check by a police department that uses the same tricks as the criminals to stay neither one step ahead nor to fall behind but just to try and keep up. When the crimes under investigation range from extortion and fraud to murder and child abduction, prostitution and molestation, the detectives who work out of the Barn, being the makeshift police station within Farmington, find that increasingly desperate measures are called when trying to do their job in increasingly desperate times.
When the first episode consists of an investigation into the murder of a young mother that leads to a search for her young daughter, sold by her junkie father to a paedophile for cash to feed his habit, it's implied by the series that the police are have to resort to measures we might see as extreme if only to try and protect the young girl. That they reach a point when a suspect is held but all forms of traditional interrogation are seen to have failed, Captain David Aceveda sends in his pit bull of a detective, Vic Mackey, to physically assault the suspect until a name and address is given. That this action works and results in the finding of the young girl, albeit that she was already been raped and is locked in a cupboard in a sealed basement flat, only serves to highlight the thoughts of another detective in that the public don't care how results are achieved so long as they are.
Heading the cast is Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis), a bull of a man who aggressively breaks down suspects with such force that he admits that he is neither a good nor a bad cop, simply that in doing what he can to keep a cap on crime in Los Angeles, he has moments where he is both. Mackey is the star cop within the LAPD in Farmington and is one of the most complex, difficult and amoral detectives to appear onscreen in recent years. Without a doubt, he is on the side of the law, specifically as regards the victims of crime, but his actions are knowingly decided upon with a viewpoint that truly believes that his result fully justifies his means. These actions are not made accidentally, through a reckless disregard for the law nor as a result of stupidity, for Mackey is at all times completely aware of the extent to which his superiors will be unable to cover up his actions and so with the aid of his loyal Strike Team, Mackey does the job for them. The extent to which Mackey works his own brand of law enforcement is obvious in the deals struck with drug dealers, gang members, prostitutes and both good and bad members of the police force as well as in the crimes he commits and in the drugs and cash diverted for his own purposes, all with the aim of controlling crime within Farmington.
An essential part of Vic's management of crime figures is his Strike Team, being a group of young detectives loyal to Vic and his operations, which includes Shane (Walton Goggins) and Lemonhead (Kenneth Johnson) who, when their leader starts running after a suspect, they instinctively follow, hurtling down the street in pursuit and attack with such ferocity and urgency that the suspect never stood a chance. The purpose of the Strike Team is not only to back up Vic but to show the thrill of power and loyalty, for no matter what happens, Vic will be there with the rest of the team - they cover him during busts and he returns the favour back at the Barn. The Strike Team also goes some way to show how far Vic is prepared to go in pursuing a personal goal, demonstrated most clearly in a shocking and violent event at the end of the pilot episode as well as in The Spread whereby they effectively kidnap a basketball star to do what they can to ensure success for the LA Lakers, which is initially funny but ends badly as Shane lets earlier events confuse his handling of the player.
Then again, if this portrays a police department acting as badly as the criminals, then it only tells a little of the story. Elsewhere in the department, Claudette Wyms (CCH Pounder) is partnered with Holland 'Dutch' Wagenbach (Jay Karnes), which appears to be a frustrating relationship for both. Claudette is one of the more interesting characters on the showing, having been originally written to be a man called Charlie until CCH Pounder asked why couldn't Charlie be a woman but one who spoke roughly the same dialogue. Shawn Ryan agreed and Claudette is now a tough female detective but with issues at home with her grown-up children as well as finding herself quietly disapproving of the stand-off between Vic Mackey and Captain Aceveda. Claudette's attitude, unlike her partner's, is that it doesn't matter who solves the case so long as it is done and so far as she disagrees with the Strike Team's methods, believing them responsible for as many crimes as those they lock up, she can understand their methods and their support within the Farmington neighbourhood. Wagenbach, on the other hand, is loudly disapproving of and visibly shocked at Mackey's attitude and it's clear that he would much prefer to be in a precinct where he could make better use of his educated attitude towards policing. Whilst he is ambitious, the obvious manner in which everything leads back to a textbook example of how things get done leads him into regular disagreements with the Strike Team, who name him 'Dutch-boy', steal his food and put dog turds in his desk, but probably his biggest fault is his inability to occasionally thank other members of the team. The uniformed cops, Danielle 'Danny' Sofer (Catherine Dent) and Julien Lowe (Michael Jace) mix with the detectives but conflict early in the series when Julien, a new recruit who is planning a career in the LAPD but who is in denial of his homosexuality, makes a complaint against Mackey, which affects Danny, who is secretly having a relationship with Mackey.
Finally, there is Captain David Aceveda, initially portrayed as a solid police supervisor but, as the series continues, is shown to be a ruthlessly ambitious man with an eye on a political career following his captaincy of the police department concludes. This is shown most effectively in his complete understanding of what Vic and the Strike Team do but so long as they stay out of the headlines, which is something they actually fail to do, and they keep taking the crime figures down, Aceveda lets them get on with it, holding on to an attitude of, "So long as I don't know about it..." A defining moment is in Blowback, where Aceveda knows that Vic has some stolen drugs on him that he will use to pay off a dealer for information but when challenged to carry out a search in front of his men, Aceveda backs down, allowing that delicate understanding to exist between the two men.
If it appears as though these characters are stock roles in a crime drama, what elevates The Shield from a typical cop show with a set of cliched characters to an outstanding series that is rich in drama is the quality of the writing, which is superb throughout the series. Initially, the viewer will notice this in terms of the gritty dialogue, which, aside from a lack of heavy swearing, reflects the manner in which cops carry out their work - rough, ready and a little difficult to appreciate at first but soon, the rhythms within the language becomes apparent and both the tension and the humour used to relieve it begin to be drawn out. It is this last aspect that impresses the most, in that The Shield is often both shocking and blackly funny within the same scene.
However, if there is one issue with the writing it is that The Shield is occasionally all to ready to fall back onto a shocking or disturbing twist to keep things moving. Typically, therefore, it is often difficult for The Shield to present a rape case, as awful a crime as that is, as just a rape case. Instead, it is more likely to be presented as a case of sexual assault or rape of a minor. Similarly, rather than showing a straightforward murder, The Shield is likely to show a pregnant woman being shot in the abdomen, also killing her unborn child. Whilst there is no doubt that crimes just as bad as this occur on a daily basis in a city such as Los Angeles, it can seem as though there are no crimes but these. Whilst such events might initially appear unexpected, The Shield can appear grimly predictable at times, which is surely not what the series' producers intended.
One of the more interesting bits of information regarding The Shield was in the way it was treated by the cable network on which it was shown in the US prior to being green lit for a second series. Following the premiere of the pilot episode on the FX Network in the US, there was a wave of outrage from a number of critics, the LAPD, advertisers and conservative pressure groups such as the Parents Television Council. For a number of parties, this was due to the language, nudity and violence contained within each episode but for the LAPD, it was their portrayal as amoral thugs hiding behind the protection of a police badge that concerned them most. Bob Souza, a retired LAPD detective, took it upon himself to speak on behalf for the entire police force in the city when he said, "It's like they took every bad thing an LA cop has done over decades and put it into a series...I'm amazed that that series has done as well as it has. It's a poor portrayal, with the ends justifying the means. I don't know what redeeming qualities it has." Undoubtedly, these comments may have had something to do with Souza's writing and consulting credits on competing crime dramas but his words were picked up on and the LAPD spoke through an official channel to say that The Shield, "...capitalise[d] on sensational headlines" and that the show would "negatively influence youth" against co-operation with the police in Los Angeles.
Still, the LAPD don't bring in revenue and so would not have necessarily troubled FX but the defection of a number of advertisers such as Burger King, Honda, Gillette and Anheuser-Busch in a campaign led by the PTC did. Indeed, there was genuine concern amongst fans that this loss of income, rather than the outrage over the events in the show, would affect the decision to renew The Shield for a second series. However, when alternative advertisers replaced those leaving, such as Miller buying slots originally purchased by Anheuser-Busch (makers of Budweiser), that nerves were calmed at FX and following the awards given to Michael Chiklis for his portrayal of Vic Mackey at the Emmy and Golden Globe ceremonies, a second series seemed inevitable - a series that is currently showing on Five in the UK with Season Three to follow later in the year in the US.
Spoilers have been avoided wherever possible in describing each episode contained within the box set but where events from one episode have repercussions in another, describing plots that occur throughout the series are briefly mentioned. If you are uninterested in reading this episode guide, please follow this link, otherwise, the thirteen episodes are described below:
Pilot (44m19s): Following the murder of a young mother, Dutch and Claudette arrest and interrogate her former husband but their investigation finds that he sold his daughter to a known child molester for $200 to cover his smack habit. Meanwhile, David, having taken over the running of the police department, sets out to break down corruption in the Barn by using Terry to get closer to what Vic does on the street but his next drugs bust does wrong in a shocking final scene.
Our Gang (44m35s): Following the death of a cop on a drugs bust in the previous episode, Internal Affairs are called in to investigate Vic and the Strike Team but when they clear any officer of a crime, David decides to begin his own investigation into the activities of his reputedly star cop. Meanwhile, Dutch and Claudette investigate a shooting at a food stand run by a street vendor following a pickup by Julien and Danny.
The Spread (43m48s): With a stack of warrants to hand out, the team hit the streets to settle scores both old and new. In delivering their first warrant, Vic and the Strike Team find basketball superstar Derrick Tripp at a premises at which an illegal weapon is found and decide to hold him at an empty flat until that evening's game against the Lakers, the team supported by Vic, is over. Meanwhile, a prostitute friend of Vic shows up at the barn having been raped at knife point. When she identifies her attacker, Claudette and Dutch arrest the suspect and find that he is a single man who is raping women in an attempt to have a child.
Dawg Days (43m40s): After a feud breaks out between two Los Angeles-based rappers - Kern Little and T-Bonz - and onto the streets, Vic gets involved by arresting both and declaring a 24-hour cease fire but when that gets broken, he and the Strike Team decide it's time to sort it out despite the offers of money from both sides. Swaying Vic's decision is the news that one of the rappers threatened Danny at gunpoint. Elsewhere, Claudette and Dutch search for a migrant worker after another is found dead but see instead a male victim of male rape striking back at his attacker.
Blowback (43m54s): When David insists that a number of uniformed cops tag along to a drugs bust on a group of Armenian dealers, Vic and the Strike Team act on their own just before their arrival. However, when Julien and Danny show up as part of the team of blues, Julien sees Vic, Lemonhead and Shane divide the drugs into two bags with only one of them destined for the evidence room back at the Barn, assuming the other is for Vic's drug contact. Shane takes the second bag but his car, in which the drugs were sitting, is stolen from outside his girlfriend's apartment, leading to a desperate search for the drugs before they get onto the street.
Cherrypoppers (44m38s): Dutch's interest in catching a serial killer who kills hookers, first mentioned in The Spread, is re-ignited following the discovery of the corpse of a 12-year-old prostitute whose death matches the trend set by the serial killer. Dutch persuades David to give him 24-hours to catch the serial killer and is given every resource in the department for that time only, even using Vic to crack down on child sex clubs in Los Angeles as well as calling in a profiler from the FBI to assist him when interviewing the suspect. Meanwhile, aided by the information Julien first provided in Blowback, David calls in Internal Affairs to investigate Vic and the Strike team over the division of drugs following the bust on the Armenian dealers.
Pay In Pain (44m21s): When a neighbouring precinct short on resource experiences a shooting incident in which seven gang members are shot, including a pregnant woman, they request assistance from David's precinct only to be sent Vic and the Strike Team. Meanwhile, following the pressure put on Julien by Internal Affairs, David is sent his affidavit against Danny's wishes and resolves to take it as far as necessary to drag Vic back into line. Finally, Dutch and Claudette investigate a fraudulent psychic but are shocked when she delivers a message from the latest victim of the serial killer they are hunting.
Cupid & Psycho (44m33s): Having grown increasingly suspicious of Vic's and the Strike Team's efforts on the street as well as there being front page stories in the local press revealing allegations about the stolen drugs due to a leak from his office, David breaks up that close-knit team and moves them into the group detective pool, meaning that the Strike Team end up working with alternative partners. Vic, therefore, is partnered with Claudette on an investigation into a batch of methadone, which kicks off when a badly burnt body is discovered in the boot of a car - the victim of an explosion in a makeshift methadone lab. Vic, however, takes the time out to threaten Julien by promising to reveal his sexuality should he continue to pursue his complaint. Meanwhile, Dutch and Shane get paired up on an investigation into a year-old murder.
Throwaway (43m47s): After being put back together by David following Julien's retraction of his statement, the Strike Team investigate a truck-jacking but in justifying their actions in tracking down and shooting a suspect, they plant a gun on him after finding that he was brandishing nothing more than a carton of cigarettes. After its discovery and the realisation of that they have actually shot the wrong guy, the Strike Team have to work fast to clean up their mess. Meanwhile, Captain Aceveda finds that he must intervene in the growing dispute between Danny and Julien following the latter's complaint about Vic and elsewhere, Claudette and Dutch investigate the case of an old man chained in his son's backyard and attacked by coyotes.
Dragonchasers (44m28s): Seen previously in Cherrypoppers after killing a john and enlisting Vic's help to cover up the murder, Connie contacts Vic once more to help her kick her habit through going cold-turkey in an effort to hold on to her son. That leaves the Strike Team acting alone to bust a group of muggers choosing their victims as they leave a strip club on the promise of a little further action outside. Elsewhere, Danny gets bitten by a transsexual prostitute who is HIV-positive while Dutch gets closer to finding the serial killer after Danny and Julien find a man masturbating in an alleyway. After Dutch brings the guy in, so begins an interrogation that draws in the whole department.
Carnivores (44m37s): After their drug dealer contact, Rondell Robinson, for whom they stole the drugs back in Blowback, is involved in a feud with the Nation of Islam, Vic and the Strike Team mediate between the two parties before it goes too far. What Mackey finds is that Rondell's friends are working against him to force him to take on the Nation Of Islam, who they feel are bad for business. Meanwhile, Julien and Danny are called to the scene of a violent break-in within the Farmington Korean community but when Claudette and Dutch get called in to investigate, they find themselves stonewalled by the local population.
Two Days Of Blood (44m34s): Despite having the crime investigated by Dutch, Assistant Chief Gilroy calls on Vic to get involved in a hit-and-run and to cover it up before Dutch gets too far in. Vic agrees, knowing what would be in store should Gilroy have to go to prison, which leaves the Strike Team to work alone in an investigation into the activities of a gunrunner who has a history of attendance at cockfights. Elsewhere, when a double murder in a disadvantaged community threatens David's political future, he asks Claudette to investigate before the crime gets too close to him but this action culminates in a riot on the streets of Farmington.
Circles (44m31s): Vic and David agree to join forces to call a halt to the fake emergency services calls that are threatening the lives of police officers in ambushes following the riot in Farmington. Meanwhile, Vic sets out to track down Assistant Chief Gilroy after he feels the lives of his family have been put in danger but Gilroy has plans to play Vic and Mackey against one another to take both men down in a bid to save his own career.
The Shield has been anamorphically presented in 1.78:1, which sounds wonderful until you realise that this is possibly not the correct, or at least not the intended, aspect ratio. The Region 1 release of The Shield had been transferred in 1.33:1, as it was originally broadcast both in this country on Five and in the US but on Region 2, 1.78:1 is all that is offered. At first, watching The Shield in this aspect ratio is a little strange - one had gotten used to a full-screen picture but, as the owner of a widescreen television set, I'm not complaining. Which is correct? I'm not sure but given the number of directors who worked on the show in Season One, it's likely that some framed for 1.33:1 whilst others considered the implication of a widescreen transfer onto DVD. Then again, as has been pointed out in a number of US-based reviews of the Region 1 box set, the deleted scenes are in 1.78:1 widescreen so it would appear that, for one, Region 2 is getting the better deal.
Regardless, the picture looks superb with a sharp image that handles the colours wonderfully - from the rich reds, greens and oranges of external scenes to the bland whites and browns within apartments and the Barn, the DVD transfer does an excellent job. In terms of style, The Shield continues the example set by Homicide: Life On The Streets and Law & Order by being a frantic, rough shoot of the main action with fast cutting used to indicate the urgency of events whilst using long, steadier shots during those scenes with a greater emotional impact, such as when Mackey is finding out about his son's autism. It works but its debt to earlier series is clear, except to say that it has rarely been more suitable than it is here.
Unlike a number of other series, such as the recently released CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, The Shield has not been provided with a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. Instead, the show has been transferred with its original 2.0 Stereo mix intact, which is perfectly acceptable despite the obvious suitability of a 5.1 soundtrack to the show. The soundtrack is immediate, punchy and handles the roughly spoken, overlapping dialogue without a problem.
Otherwise, the choice of music used on the soundtrack is superb, using little-known rock and hip-hop music with a Latin American influence throughout to better portray the murky, claustrophobic atmosphere in inner-city Los Angeles.
Audio Commentaries: At long last, a full series of a television production complete with an audio commentary to accompany each episode in the set. In both Pilot and Our Gang, for example, creator of The Shield, Shawn Ryan, hosts a commentary with the directors and stars of the two episodes including Clark Johnson, produced Scott Brazil and star of the series Michael Chiklis, that offers little in the way of explaining the episode scene-by-scene but provide a great deal of information on the origins of the series, the casting and demonstrate how the show developed from the production of the original script. By the third episode, things have reverted back to how they should be with Shawn Ryan, who hosts each commentary, inviting directors, producers and the regular cast to discuss each episode, often revealing scene-specific information as well as moments in which things didn't go according to plan.
What's clear from each commentary is that the cast and crew have a good relationship together, there does appear to be a genuine love of the show on which they're working and there's an honest appraisal of the onscreen results, brought out by the informal atmosphere in which Ryan hosts the discussions - at one point, the director of an episodes walks out roughly fifteen minutes into a commentary to go to a meeting with Sony Pictures about a possible movie. In hosting each commentary, Ryan also makes sure that each one contains as few periods of silence as possible, continuing to ask questions of the cast and the rest of the crew when it looks as though one might occur. These commentaries are entertaining, interesting and should set an example to other distribution companies who are thinking of releasing box sets of television series. For fans of The Shield, Ryan's work both here and on the series as a whole has made this box set an essential purchase.
Each commentary is subtitled in both English and Dutch.
Making Of The Shield (21m26s, 1.33:1 Non-Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): This features interviews with all the regular cast members as well as series creator, Shawn Ryan about his views on the series. This show is subdivided into short sections on the look of the series, the decisions taken to name it, the development of the characters and the major plots that occur in Season One. Despite the opportunity that the feature gives the actors to puff up their roles and carry out some backslapping, Ryan gives as honest an appraisal as there is likely to be on the series that acknowledges both the good and bad points to the series.
This extra has been provided with both English and Dutch subtitles.
The Shield FX Featurette (2m27s, 1.33:1 Non-Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): This is a very brief extra that is not what you expect given the use of FX in the title. Instead of going behind the scenes with a visual effects unit, this is little more than an abbreviated version of the making-of that culminates in an advert for Season Two of The Shield.
Casting Tapes: This extra features the original videotaped casting sessions for each of the main cast members. Each tape is presented in 1.33:1 and 2.0 Stereo with English and Dutch subtitles:
- Michael Chiklis (1m18s)
- Catherine Dent (1m54s)
- Walton Goggins (1m59s)
- Michael Jace (3m10s)
- Kenneth Johnson (2m10s)
- Jay Karnes (2m07s)
- Benito Martinez (1m39s)
- CCH Pounder (3m39s)
Deleted Scenes: This includes the following deleted scenes, of which there are seventeen in total, with a separate introduction to each one by Shawn Ryan. Each deleted scene is presented in 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic Widescreen with a 2.0 Stereo soundtrack and subtitles in English and Dutch, including Ryan's introduction:
Season One Epilogue (23s, 1.33:1 Non-Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): This exceptionally brief extra sees Shawn Ryan and Michael Chiklis offering a not altogether truthful account of the future of The Shield as it runs into Season Two.
As good as it is, The Shield will certainly not be for everyone, containing, as it does, a fair number of shocking moments and is unlike anything produced in this country. Not even the violent excesses of cop shows such as The Sweeney or The Professionals, both of which have been criticised in the past, will prepare you for The Shield.
It is, however, one of the better crime dramas of recent years and, despite the obviously political stance it takes, even those with a liberal point of view will be in a position to understand why the actions of the police are relevant within Farmington. In this, The Shield does not represent an idealised version of society - if anything, it presents exactly the opposite - but it does show the complexities of law enforcement in a disadvantaged area of a city that is as segregated now as it was before the civil rights movements of the sixties and still along lines of class, influenced by race and colour.
The Shield is also noteworthy for the rich family and personal stories to be told behind the man drama, including Vic finding out that his son is autistic and how it affects his family, Dutch beginning a romance with the wife of a murdered man, Vic's friendship with Connie and his interest in her son's well-being, which intensifies after the news about his own son and finally, Julien's denial of his homosexuality in spite of the evidence. Watching this series back to back can make one long for a shower given how unrelentingly grim it is, a point noted by Michael Chiklis in one of the bonus features, but, similarly, there is enough hope in the stories contained within the background of the show to see that The Shield is much more than just noise on the surface. This is an exceptional series with a superb transfer onto DVD - recommended without question.