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Reviewed by Jason Zingale
hawn Ryan is a lucky man. After making a decision that could have single-handedly put an end to “The Shield,” he managed to utilize it as a means of only making it better. The death of Curtis Lemansky has been sitting in the minds of fans for more than two years, but when “The Shield” returned in 2007 for the start of season six, no one knew what to expect. Most viewers were still angry with Ryan for doing the unthinkable, but as they soon discovered, it was for the best. The departure of the fan favorite may have left a maddening void in the world of "The Shield," but it also upped the ante for everyone else involved. Season six was all about things getting uglier before they got any better, and though some might have thrown in the towel after backing themselves into such an inescapable corner, Ryan fired back with one of the most intense seasons yet.
The season opens with Lt. Jon Kavanaugh (Forest Whitaker) still deep into his investigation of Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis), but after he’s ordered to close the case for making things too personal, he begs the Assistant Chief of Police to give him a shot at taking Mackey down for another crime: Lemansky's murder. When Kavanaugh takes things too far by planting evidence and coercing an embittered informant into framing Mackey for the hit, however, he’s relieved of duty and tossed in jail. Unfortunately, Captain Wyms (CCH Pounder) is still forcing Vic into retirement within a matter of weeks, and when she brings in his replacement (Kevin Hiatt, played by Alex O’Loughlin) to rebuild the Strike Team on his own terms, Mackey does whatever it takes to save his job.
Meanwhile, as Vic tracks down Lem’s killer, Shane Vendrell (Walton Goggins) deals with the haunting news that Lem was never going to rat them out. Worried that Vic will find out who was really responsible, Shane puts together a document containing information on all of the crooked deals they’ve ever been involved in. Vic doesn’t take the threat lightly, and in order to make some extra cash before running away, Shane partners up with the daughter (Franka Potente) of an Armenian mob boss who's in a power struggle of her own. When Shane lets it slip that Vic was involved in the money train heist from a few years back, however, he must scramble to protect the families of those involved before the Armenians exact their revenge.
Season six is all about Michael Chiklis and Walton Goggins. The duo’s tense face-off in the Frank Darabont-directed “Chasing Ghosts” is easily one of the series’ all-time best moments, and it really shows the range of both actors as they juggle a multitude of emotions in a matter of minutes. Nevertheless, there are still a few cast members that manage to steal some of the spotlight along the way. David Rees Snell is probably the most obvious candidate, since he’s the one caught in the middle of Vic and Shane’s pissing contest for a majority of the season. The relative unknown (who was gifted the role by his friend, creator Shawn Ryan) hasn’t had a whole lot to do in past seasons, but Snell really comes into his own as a major player this year with Ronnie getting more face time in lieu of Lem’s death.
Also delivering an award-worthy performance is Jay Karnes as the methodical Detective Dutch Wagenbach, another fan favorite who is probably the only man capable of truly bringing down Vic Mackey. His arc this year (which involves solving a family massacre with ties to a Mexican bureaucrat) isn’t the strongest material the actor’s been given during his time on the show, but you can bet Ryan has cooked up something special for Karnes in the final season. Additionally, David Marciano has tons of fun as the anti-Dutch, while Franka Potente's turn as a brutal but sympathetic Armenian gangster is good enough to warrant a return appearance.
Still, the fact that Jay Karnes or Walton Goggins have never been nominated for an Emmy during the show’s six-year run is a crime worse than anything Vic Mackey has ever done. The series has remained consistently good since its debut in 2002, and yet no one seems willing to recognize Ryan’s ability to create groundbreaking television year in and year out. Killing off a major character may have no longer been considered shocking by the time Lem met his demise, but the way in which it was handled is something that most shows would never dare attempt. The sixth season of “The Shield” has been called Shakespearean in its pitting of brother against brother, and while that may not be as impressive as referring to a show like “The Wire” as Dickensian, it does give you an idea of the level of quality “The Shield” is operating on. This is great stuff, and it’s a shame no one’s paying attention.
Special Features: 20th Century Fox has always done a great job with their season sets for “The Shield,” and though the DVD rights have since fallen to Sony, you wouldn’t know it from the four-disc release. Along with cast and crew commentary tracks on eight of the ten episodes, the set also includes 36 deleted scenes (some good, others bad), a behind-the-scenes featurette on season six (“Saturn’s Sons”), another featurette on directors Frank Darabont and Paris Barclay (“Two Directors”), and an inside look at how Franka Potente got involved with the show (“Full Circle”).