|The Shield: Season Three (2004)
Starring: Michael Chiklis, Catherine Dent, Walton Goggins, Michael Jace, Kenneth Johnson, Jay Karnes, Benito Martinez, CCH Pounder
Just when you thought that the team behind the FX mega-hit "The Shield" would inevitably begin to draw dead on its deck of surprises, the first episode of season three quickly reminds viewers and doubting critics why Shawn Ryan's innovative cop drama is still one of the best programs on television. More intense and jaw-dropping than before, the junior year of "The Shield" promises fans a tangled web filled with heated relationships, new characters and plenty of I-can't-believe-they-just-did-that moments to last you until the next season.
The second year of the series delivered its share of injustice to nearly every character throughout the season: the Strike Team was green lit by a notorious drug lord, poor Danny (Catherine Dent) lost her job, Julien (Michael Jace) was the unfortunate victim of a brutal blanket party, and Capt. David Aceveda was challenged in his own house. It was a breath of fresh air when the Strike Team finally caught a break and successfully ripped off the Armenian money train, but with what consequences? The Strike Team is hit hard in season three as Dutch (Jay Karnes) and the U.S. Department of Treasury begin a thorough investigation of the homicide/robbery case that could put the lives of Vic (Michael Chiklis), Shane (Walton Goggins), Lem (Kenneth Johnson) and Ronnie (David Rees Snell) in danger.
If that wasn't a big enough setback, Lem's waning conscience, Shane's shady girlfriend Mara (Michele Hicks), a pissed-off Armenian mob boss and a competitive Decoy Squad all pose dangerous threats to the future of the team and their friendships. Meanwhile, despite winning the highly coveted seat on the City Council at the end of season two, Aceveda struggles with marital problems and butts heads with Claudette (CCH Pounder) over the presumed vacancy of the Captain position. Danny returns to the force under the watchful eye of Aceveda and Julien finds a new strength by working alongside his latest partner Tommy Hisk (Matt Gerald) in the show's supporting plot lines.
The third season offers some of the best character confrontations yet, and aside from the aforementioned political battles between Aceveda and Claduette, and the already brewing conflict between Shane and Tavon (Brian White), the rest of the Strike Team members begin to wear on one another with the heavy burden of suspicion weighing down their every move. The newest villain to the show, Margos (series writer Kurt Sutter), isn't nearly as diabolically charming as season two's Armadillo, but he fills his purpose appropriately as the unattainable threat. Among the best episodes of the third season are the season opener ("Playing Tight"), the Chiklis-directed "Slipknot" and the season finale "On Tilt."
The DVD release for season three is presented in a four-disc box set and features all 15 episodes in their original 1:33 full-screen video format. Accompanying the video is a Dolby 2.0 audio track that doesn't steal anything from the original experience, but could be seriously improved behind a 5.1 digital track. A widescreen video treatment is also still highly desired, but I wouldn't hold out too much longer for that to happen any time soon. The special features section of the box set was revamped yet again and looks to have been engineered to incorporate all of the positive aspects of the past season releases.
Along with the addition of two more episodes, the third season DVD gets back to its roots with an overabundance of audio commentaries from cast and crew on episodes three (disc one), five and eight (disc two), nine, 10 and 11 (disc three), and 12 and 13 (disc four). The commentary tracks are an amazing collaboration between cast and crew that show the dedication behind the making of the series. Also back from the first season DVD is the Strike Team commentary (this time on episode nine) with Chiklis, Goggins, Johnson and Snell providing one of the best audio tracks on the set.
Just like most DVDs, though, the special features usually have their faults, and this time around it is in the presentation of the deleted scenes. Offered with optional commentary by creator Shawn Ryan, 38 deleted scenes make their way on to the set, but unlike past years where you could access the entire collection on one disc, each deleted scene is cataloged by the disc and in the menu options for the episode that it was cut from. This is a nice format for audiences who wish to watch the deleted scenes as they watch the series, but those of us who usually view these features in one seating are incredibly handicapped by having to constantly replace discs and hunt through menus.
It's nice when these small problems are easily fixed with big rewards, though, and 20th Century Fox has chosen to replace the usual cluster of worthless featurettes with one giant documentary: "Breaking Episode 315." Running just under 80 minutes, "Breaking Episode 315" is probably the best of the bonus material from all three seasons and follows the series' writers as they create the many intertwining stories that make up the final episode of the season. Along with scouting locations and casting guest stars (like Outkast's Andre 3000), the behind-the-scenes featurette provides an in-depth look at the creation and completion of a script in time for the pre-dated shooting schedule while also showcasing the solid writing that has contributed to the lasting appeal of the show.
The third season of "The Shield" may not be as visually entertaining as its previous seasons, but the drama and political tension of the major plot lines skyrocket behind the creative team of writers and the amazing ensemble cast of characters that range from the starring actors to the incredibly talented guest stars. With so many lives put in to emotional/physical limbo within the world of "The Shield" during the last 15 minutes of the finale, the events behind season three were perfectly executed in order to keep the series fresh during the next year. While it seems like the show's steady dose of controversial material and surprises may eventually become difficult to supply, don't count out "The Shield" from making a nice broadcast run for at least a few more well-deserved years.