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All photos © FX
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
or fans of “The Shield,” the series finale couldn’t come soon enough. A bizarre statement for sure (after all, who wants their favorite show to end?), but if you had been watching the critically acclaimed cop drama since Day One, you too would be itching to see what kind of ace of an ending Shawn Ryan had up his sleeve. Compared to some of the more high-profile series finales of the last few years, the simple answer would be “pretty good,” but the real answer is much more complicated than that. Of course, “The Shield” wouldn’t be the hard-hitting drama that we know and love if it ever took the easy way out, and though overall reception to the final season was mixed, it’s hard to deny that “The Shield” went out with any less of a bang than it did when it premiered. Now, how many shows can you say that about?
Picking up immediately where Season Six left off – with Vic (Michael Chiklis) and Ronnie (David Rees Snell) exacting revenge on Shane (Walton Goggins) by holding his family hostage – the story takes an unexpected detour when Vic suddenly forgives Shane in order to help his old friend dig himself out of the trouble that he’s gotten into. That his fate is directly tied to Shane’s certainly makes Vic more inclined to get his hands dirty, but pitting the Armenian and Mexican gangs against one another proves more explosive than even he could have ever expected. Ronnie (who refuses to forgive Shane for killing Lem) would rather just kill him and be done with it, but when Shane manages to dodge the hit and fails at his own assassination attempt, he’s forced to go on the run with his wife Mara (Michelle Hicks) and their son Jackson.
Meanwhile, Vic is playing a dangerous game as a double agent for ICE, working to bring down Farmington’s latest crime boss, Cruz Pezuela (F.J. Rio), while also exploiting the opportunity to bolster his retirement fund. Hoping to score a gig with the federal agency in lieu of losing his badge, Vic strikes a deal with Agent Olivia Murray (Laurie Holden) that would give him full immunity in trade for the drug bust of the century. David Aceveda (Benito Martinez) also has his grubby little hands in the deal with the hope that it will help his chances of becoming mayor, while Claudette (CCH Pounder) is livid at the idea of Vic getting off scot-free. She has problems of her own, however, as her illness has gotten so bad that it’s beginning to affect her job, and while Dutch (Jay Karnes) does whatever he can to help, he’s buried so deep in a case involving a teenage serial killer-to-be that even he’s experiencing questions of morality.
Much like the previous year, however, a majority of Season Seven is dedicated almost exclusively to Vic Mackey and Shane Vendrell (and by some extension, Ronnie), with the supporting cast taking a back seat to all the action. The biggest losers, of course, are CCH Pounder and Jay Karnes, who have been delivering award-worthy performances since the first season. Karnes, in particular, has seen his iconic role as Detective Dutch Wagenbach whittled down over the last few years, and it’s upsetting to see the series end without his character receiving the kind of attention it deserves. Still, with Chiklis and Goggins firing on all cylinders like they do here, it’s hard to argue otherwise. Though they’ve always been worthy of some critical acclaim, their performances are especially good in the final season, and it would be a crime for either actor to be left off this year's Emmy ballot. The scene in “Possible Kill Screen” where Vic confesses to his many crimes is a career highlight for Chiklis, while the underrated Goggins commands “Family Meeting” with some of the best dramatic acting in the history of television.
This brings us to the finale itself, which was a topic of much discussion following its original airing. Though not quite as open to interpretation as the infamous ending from “The Sopranos," Shawn Ryan still left enough mystery in the final minutes to divide viewers. Watching it again six months later (after you’ve come to terms with the fact that the series is over for good), you’ll almost certainly have a new appreciation and respect for what Ryan was trying to accomplish. Is it the best series finale ever made? No, but considering the circumstances, it is the best possible ending for “The Shield,” and one that will assure the show's legacy lives as on one of the best dramas on television.
Special Features: The four-disc release of Season Seven is packed with all of the usual goodies like cast and crew audio commentaries (on every episode) and deleted scenes, but the real highlight is the inclusion of two behind-the-scenes featurettes. “The Shield: Last Call” is an intimate documentary about production of the final episode (including emotional speeches by Chiklis, Goggins and Karnes), while “Nobody Expects to Lose, Nobody Expects to Die” is a broader retrospective on the season as a whole. Both are excellent additions to the set and are a must-see for any true fan.