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‘The Shield’ Doomsday Clock: Behold, the Season's Most Promising Character Yet!

Ever since the opening minutes of its pilot in 2002 — when Detective Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis) murdered an Internal Affairs officer who’d infiltrated his, er, ethically flexible anti-gang “strike team” — The Shield has been fueled by one simple, high-octane question: When will Mackey finally, finally get busted? Our doomsday clock counts down to midnight, his final hour.

Episode: “The Math of the Wrath”

Okay, we admit it: We were getting a little antsy. As discussed here previously, the whole Vic-Shane feud, while potentially explosive, also felt a wee bit familiar. Our worry, we can now confess, was that the rest of this season — just two! More! Episodes! — would play out like a redux of season four, when Shane left Vic to join Vice, and much Oedipal feuding ensued. Except that season had the masterful Antwon Mitchell pulling Shane’s strings.

This season, villain-wise, we’ve had — well, nobody, really. Hernan, the apparently-not-dead-after-all federal agent deep within the Salvadoran gang, is only heard from by text message or hysterical-girlfriend-o-gram. Councilman Aceveda is slimy but not scary. Claudette Wyms, the station captain, is just slightly too likable to ever be a real Mackey adversary. And Kevin Hiatt, the new kid being groomed to take over the Strike Team, is hardly a threat: To the contrary, he’s become the Robin to Vic’s Batman. In this episode, Hiatt finally spilled to Vic what we’ve known all along: Despite Claudette’s assurances, there’s no way Vic can save his job, and he’s getting ousted at year’s end.

But then, The Shield didn’t build its reputation on threats of forced retirement. This is a show that explores operatic moral conflicts, revealing the untapped depravity that courses within good people, or the goodness that lurks in the depraved. And to that end, this episode introduced the season’s most promising character yet — a little late to the party, sure, but welcome nonetheless. Ladies and gentlemen … Ms. Franka Potente.

How happy were we to see Potente, who’s been excellent in everything from The Bourne Identity to Run Lola Run? First of all, she has the most musical name of any actress alive. (Say it soft, and it’s almost like praying.) Second, her character, Diro Kesakhian, already promises to be a classic Shield onion: so many layers, and the potential to make you cry.

When Shane discovers her, she seems simply to be the forlorn and loyal daughter of the dying head of the Armenian mob, blinking and confused like a newborn kitty. Yet, when Shane hands over the names of some two-bit thugs who’ve been robbing her father’s whore houses (the very existence of which leaves Diro shocked! Shocked!), those same robbers wind up with their testicles cut off. (Oh, they’re not dead. Just relieved of their balls.) So … either Diro’s hiding fangs, or she’s got Scarface in her DVD collection and she’s a quick study. Either way, she’s also got her eye on recruiting Shane as her personal Lady MacBeth.

At which point this season got a whole lot more interesting, and a whole lot less predictable. Vic’s busy trying to figure out if Hernan is (a) dead (he still supposedly sends text messages but never shows up for face-to-face meetings), (b) totally corrupted (did he frame and hack up another gang member to protect his own cover? Or just for giggles?), or (c) both. Meanwhile, Shane finally spills the news to Gardocki that Vic offed the IAD agent way back when. Gardocki takes it in stride, even offering Vic a metaphoric man-love hug for reassurance, but still — the more people who know about all that, the tighter the noose around Vic’s neck. And don’t forget the Limping Jamaican, who we’re still sure is going to wobble his way back into the thick of all of this. (Yes, we’re ignoring the lame knockoff-purse storyline. We just think that’s best for all involved.)

And given the fact that Shane’s basically lost everything — his Strike Team position, his friendship with Vic — what will stop him from teaming up with Diro to bring the Armenian mob back to its glory days? Shane and Diro, sitting in a tree, K-I-L-L-I-N-G! A few weeks back, he seemed so shaky and enfeebled we almost had to start a Shane Vendrell Doomsday Clock. But now it’s Vic, once again, who’s rocketing full-tilt toward his personal midnight. —Adam Sternbergh

Clock’s current time: Three minutes to midnight.