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.
The Vic-versus-Shane dogfight is definitely on, with lots of snarling and scratching, and Vic in full pit-bull mode. With his forced removal from the police force now so close — just one episode away! — both longtime foes (Aceveda) and newly forged enemies (Shane) spend the episode mocking him to his face. "There's no trap door this time, Vic," Shane snaps. "They've got you boxed in." Is that the tick-tick-tick of the doomsday clock we hear, nearing the midnight hour?
Even the Deus Ex City councilman, planted a few episodes back, turns out to be a red herring: When it comes time to pay Vic back for protecting his daughter's reputation, said councilman basically shrugs and gives Vic his best whaddyagonnado? face, claiming Vic faces "a mountain of bad will too high to climb."
Mother of Mercy! Is this the end of Mackey?
In a last-ditch effort to impress his value upon Captain Wyms, Mackey happily hands the reigns of the Strike Team to Hiatt, who turns out to be a pretty-boy waffler. Vic's message: You can't be dragging suspects back to the Barn to interrogate them nicely when what's called for is a quick ankle-dangle off the nearest building. Strangely, this fails to save his job.
But when Cruz Pezuela, the shadowy Mexican developer who's been riding Aceveda's shoulder like a pirate's parrot, offers up some convenient jailhouse gossip that helps break the case of the massacred Mexicans, Vic pulls one of his trademark
you-tell-me-the-names-of-the-other-two-killers-and-I'll-save-you-oh-wait-no-I-won't tricks. (You'd think after six seasons, thugs would stop falling for his sweet ministrations and his patented bait and switch.)
In any case, the San Marcos case is finally cracked. Of the three alleged machete wielders, two are rounded up and left by Mackey and Gardocki to the tender embrace of a gangster mob, and the other (the loose-lipped one who spilled on his accomplices) is now stuck in prison waiting to be, well, stuck. (We must admit that, having recently immersed ourselves in a remedial course in HBO's The Wire, we're now more struck than ever by the ludicrousness of the police work portrayed on The Shield. Where The Wire is all about warrants and wiretaps, Mackey and his Hardy Boys reliably solve every case with a few hissed threats and a well-timed headlock.)
Which leaves only the to-the-death tag-team match between Mackey and Gardocki, in this corner, and Shane and Diro Kesakhian, the alluring gangster's daughter, in the other. First, Shane tells Diro about the Armenian Money Train job (we know, we know: It sounds like a bad Yakov Smirnoff comedy) and she decides she's got to off Vic herself. Then Pezuela, in an effort to convince Vic to stop poking around the San Marcos aftermath, unearths a convenient photo of Aceveda orally servicing a gang member at gunpoint (remember season four?), for Vic to do with as he sees fit. Oh, not to mention the complicated subplot in which Billings proves to be a skilled Iago, planting poison in the ears of Hiatt, Wagenbach, and the comely Tina Hanlon, and orchestrating an awkward rendezvous at which Dutch catches a peak of Tina, his longtime office crush, riding naked and sweaty on Hiatt's welcoming lap.
Let's hope this will lead to a no-holds-barred smackdown between Billings and Dutch in the finale. Also, it's hard to see how this Vic-and-Shane face-off can be resolved in any way that doesn't involve one of them winding up dead. Then again, we thought for sure that councilman was going to save Vic's behind, and we're still expecting an increasingly unlikely reappearance of the Limping Jamaican, so what do we know? —Adam Sternbergh
Clock's current time: One minute to midnight.