34. The Shield: Season 5 (2006)

It’s Got: Forrest Whittaker, THAT Lem and Shane scene.

I gosh damn HATED Vic Mackey. There are some morally reprehensible protagonists in TV, and I have empathy for a lot of them, if not sympathy. Vic, a scumbag cop who murders, steals, and abuses his power, I hated him from Episode 1. Might have felt a bit different if I’d watched the show live, but I saw it all over the course of a couple of months and that’s a long time to live with this guy. Seven seasons I watched, hoping Vic would get a comeuppance that was worthy of such a long wait.

This was the Shield season I got really into, because it was great to see Vic scrambling. In a bit of inspired casting, Forrest Whittaker was brought in as Jon Kavanaugh, a man every bit as clever and dogged as Vic. But instead of being a crook, he was directing absolutely all his energy towards uncovering Vic’s crimes. If there’s anything I love, it’s a conflict between two equally smart characters, especially when it can sustain itself over a full season. That takes a LOT of hard work, constantly keeping characters a step behind each other after selling them as being very intelligent, and I really respect when it works out this well.

Whittaker’s presence alone makes this an outstanding season, but he kicks up a hell of an anthill in Vic’s workplace. The supporting characters, many of whom had been struggling for something to do for a while, get tangled up in the showdown, and the fellow members of Vic’s strike team start thinking about just what they have to lose. Meanwhile, Kavanaugh sinks to Vic’s level as both men steadily make the battle more personal. Season 5 builds masterfully to a tragic, downright Shakespearean confrontation, one that leaves all the characters reeling and marks the beginning of the end for the show.

The Shield was often a show where I appreciated the storytelling of it more than I actually enjoyed watching it, thanks to the contemptible character at the centre of the drama. Season 5, however, has got so much going for it. You won’t hear me say a word against it.

Well…

If I Had to Nitpick…: The Kavanaugh conflict spills over into the first two episodes of Season 6. I wouldn’t change a thing about the ending of Season 5, it HAD to end how it did, but I wonder if there was a way to contain the arc to this year? (Or better yet, keep Whittaker around for the whole of Season 6.)

Notable Episodes: The eighth episode “Kavanaugh,” which really marks the point in which Vic and Kavanaugh start playing dirty, and “Postpartum,” an absolutely A+ season finale.

Honorable Mentions: Season 7, which had an intense second half that put the screws to our favourite scumbags. Also featuring one of the most satisfying TV finales ever made.

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