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Was The Shield About Shane?

Written by: Tony Lazlo, CC2K Staff Writer


Shawn Ryan’s latest cop drama The Chicago Code seems to be a bona fide hit, so it’s time to look back at Tony Lazlo’s classic article about Ryan’s previously biggest hit to date.

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Walton Goggins as Shane Vendrell

The Shield wasn’t about Shane — but he gave it a run.

Show creator Shawn Ryan came back to write, among other episodes, the series finale for his brutal east-L.A. crime drama The Shield, and he took the title for his final episode out of the mouth of one of the secondary lead characters and not his leading man, Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis).

A glance at a TiVo lineup or IMDb reveals that the title of the series finale — “Family Meeting” — refers to Shane’s last onscreen words before he murders his pregnant wife and infant son, and then kills himself. It would be tempting to look at that final title and suspect that Ryan had been telling a Shane story, not a Vic story, this whole time.

Such an argument has decent legs. On balance, I submit, Vic wound up being a largely static character, but let me qualify that: Vic’s “static” nature as a character included loads of variance and fluctuation over the course of the series. I don’t think he ever thought he was a good guy or that he ever loathed himself as a bad guy. I think he made his peace with the life he chose long before the series began — a decision that fueled his aggressive agenda during the show.

That said, “Family Meeting” did feature one of the few — if not the only — moment in the series where Vic showed real remorse for choice he made to live as an outlaw. Assuming you’ve seen the finale, you know the scene I’m talking about: When Claudette reads him Shane’s suicide note and shows him the crime scene pictures from his murder-suicide.

Episode director Clark Johnson wisely spends a lot of the series finale holding on Vic’s haunted eyes, this scene in particular. The events of the finale systematically dismantle Vic’s life: His best friend dies. Ronnie gets arrested. Word apparently breaks around the Barn that Vic killed Terry Crowley (among a million other crimes). Corin leaves him and goes into witness protection. He gets stuck with a federal desk job boring enough to make Dante proud.

It would be tempting to look at the show’s final image — Vic grabs a gun and heads out to continue his struggle to survive — and conclude that Shane was the show’s real lead character all along. After all, he really changed in his final hours, didn’t he? His final words — about the primacy of innocence and the totality of his fall — suggest that Shane was the only character who really changed over the show’s three-year internal timeline.

But I don’t think so. I get sucked in easily by dumb little details (like the title of an episode), and I’m content to look at Shawn Ryan’s last-minute feint in Shane’s direction like a chalk outline around Shane’s character.

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Author: Tony Lazlo, CC2K Staff Writer

Robert J. Peterson is a writer and web developer living in Los Angeles. A Tennessee native, he graduated from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. He’s written for newspapers and websites all over the country, including the Marin Independent Journal, the Telluride Daily Planet, CC2KOnline.com, Offscreen, and Geekscape.net. He co-hosts the podcasts Make It So and Hiram’s Lodge. He’s appeared as a pop-culture guru on the web talk shows Comics on Comics, The Fanbase Press Week In Review, Collider Heroes, ScreenJunkies TV Fights, and Fandom Planet. He’s the founder of California Coldblood Books.

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