‘The Shield': Our Vic Mackey Doomsday Clock

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: “Spanish Practices”

After last season’s landmark finale, which ended with an excruciatingly tense argument between Shane and Lem, before Shane dropped a hand grenade in Lem’s lap, it would be hard for The Shield to match, let alone top, itself.

And it did not. Instead, it turned, for one brief night, into an episode of 24. Vic’s got one day left before the review-board hearing! Time to coerce a few improbable confessions and drive crosstown in L.A. in two minutes! Boop! Beep! Boop! Beep!

Armed with the Embarrassing Photo (the one showing Aceveda’s oral indiscretion with a gang member), Vic wrangles Aceveda and the two of them start plotting to bring down Pezuela. Vic arranges for the big suitcase of money to be returned to the One-Armed Man (who has always seemed like a refugee from a David Lynch series), who then conveniently drives one-armed to the not-particularly-hidden hideout of his superior, a former Mexican special agent. At which point Vic impersonates the world’s surliest photocopier salesman and muscles his way into the hideout, which has been left unprotected save for a woman who’s apparently a temp, who naturally tells all. (Seriously, you can’t find good help these days.)

With the info she spills, Vic and Aceveda figure out that the Mexican mob is buying up legitimate businesses all over Farmington. The Mexicans are coming! Soon they’ll own everything! Call Lou Dobbs! It does seem a bit ill-considered/borderline-racist to include such a plot twist, given the current national debate over immigration … but enough about that. We’ve got Armenians to worry about. And those guys are stone-cold loco!

Shane is scrambling to save Vic’s wife and daughter from the unleashed Armenian hit man. When he shows up at Corinne’s house, Corinne basically tells him to take a flying leap, despite his gentle admonitions that she and her daughter are about to get whacked. So he kidnaps them at gunpoint. Now, you’d think with the history they have together, Corinne might take a warning from Shane seriously, regardless of their recent spat. In fact, the whole kidnapping part seemed to have been included only so that, in last week’s teaser, the show’s producers could make it look like Shane had gone to the dark side and was going to kill Vic’s kin. (He didn't.)

Sadly, we’re robbed of the one moment every viewer really wanted to see in the finale: Dutch clocking Billings across his skinny jaw, then giving him a wedgie that draws blood. Instead, Billings bails, handing in his papers and suing the department over his lingering disability. Also in Barn personnel announcements: Hiatt gets a quick boot from Captain Wyms. Turns out Vic can basically shred the rule book and eat it for years while never being shown the door, but once Hiatt (a) canoodles with a subordinate and (b) makes the humiliating mistake of actually trying to save some kids from entering a gang, he’s given the bum’s rush. Well, good riddance: Hiatt was too handsome for the Barn anyway and should probably put in to transfer to the beach-patrolling bike cops of Pacific Blue.

Shane frantically brokers a deal with Rezian, the new Armenian-mob boss who, just last week, Shane was throwing in the clink. It’s not much of a “deal” for Shane, really; though it saves Vic and Gardocki, it ensures that Shane’s now Rezian’s indentured servant, which is a little too similar to the Shane–as–Antwon Mitchell’s–bitch story line of seasons past.

Boop! Beep! Boop! Beep! Review-board time!

Vic heads to the meeting, bolstered by his adoring family and … walks out. He doesn’t need no stinkin’ review board! Not when there are shadowy Mexicans driving around with trunkloads of compromising information on every city official in L.A.

Vic tails the mark, pulls his car over, and after showing the driver his best Joe Pesci–on–Billy Bats impressions, uncovers said mother lode of incriminating info in the trunk. Job saved! In fact, given the depth and breadth of Pezuela’s store of salacious secrets — sexy photos of a financial adviser, drug-rehab receipts for a judge, a disc labeled “Senator Bradwell and the Campfire Boys” — Vic could probably pants the POTUS and still hold on to his job.

All of which leaves plenty of threads to be taken up next season, which will be the show’s last — and which will no doubt find new inventive ways to push Vic toward extinction. (We’re still holding out for that Limping Jamaican. Mark our words.)

For now, though, Vic’s clock gets a total reset. He’s got his job back, the upper hand, and a boxful of dirt. Could it really have ended any other way? —Adam Sternbergh

Clock’s current time: Thirty minutes to midnight.