Season 6: Continues the high standard re-established in season 5 (spoilers)
I came to season 6 not quite sure if The Shield could live up to season 5. After a comparatively weak season 4, season 5 had been dominated by a tremendous Whitaker and as a result had been a fantastic season. Season 6 continues with the same characters following immediately on from it but it did feel a bit subdued with Kavanaugh not quite what he was in terms of being a driving force. The script bundles him out of the way in a thread that is enjoyable even if it ends rather too neatly and easy for The Shield. It was a shame to see the character handled so clumsily at the end but it was going to be difficult to remove him after what he had done in season 5. With that out of the way after a few episodes, we get down in earnest to what drives it this time the destructive search for Lem's killer and the guilty secret eating Shane from the inside.
This is the heart of the season and it is very strong, but it is not the whole show. Mackey is being forced out into retirement but fighting it the best he can, while Wyms finds herself in the trap that her predecessors all did wanting the closures that the Strike Team brings but not the methods they may or may not be using. This threads and others with all the supporting characters are really well woven together so that, while are interest is always with the central drama, it never totally dominates or makes other plots seem weak by comparison. Of course the plots that only involve the other characters are of less significance within the season but good work is still done with Dutch's crush on Tina and his relationship with the wonderful a$$hole that is Billings.
However it is the Strike Team that is the show and this part is really well done with so many things going on that I felt myself dragged through the season rather than just watching it. The approaching retirement, the conflict between Shane and Vic, the new team members and other aspects all sit above the gang-related murders and political machinations that are almost as unseemly as the surprisingly graphic crimes that are alluded to. In terms of where the story goes this season, mostly it is strong but I was not totally taken in by Shane's later dealings with the Armenian mob it just seemed too sudden and too easy, as well as being a link back to the weaker season 4. However I did like the direction it took towards the end with Vic and hopefully sets up an interesting next season. With Vic facing the "proper" appeals process, with his family around him, we get to see the conflict within Vic whether to play the game this way or cash in and go for broke. He goes for broke and, ignoring the plot logic that makes it happen, throws himself in deeper than he has ever been in an attempt to get out from under. It is a great ending to the season and loyal to the character.
The show has been criticised by some for being offensive in the portrayal of the police and I suppose in a way it is if you take it as realistic. I would like to think it isn't being realistic but where it is convincing is within the world that it has set up itself whether it is real within the real world is another thing. By convincing within the world of the Shield though, it makes everything more engaging. The hand-held direction just adds to this feeling and it makes it easier to get into. The style is this very male and tough drama that is brutal in its action as it is in its morality it may not be thoughtful and sharply intelligent as something like The Wire but it is a different animal and, within its own aims, it hits the target regularly.
With this brutal approach, the cast have to step up and mostly they do. Of course the loss of Whittaker is a shame when it comes but everyone else is able to carry on regardless. Chiklis acts with all the driven intensity of his character and I doubt he will ever have a role as good as this again (certainly his film career hasn't given it to him yet). He is utterly compelling at times and even when he is weak he is still tough and enjoyable. Goggins steps up this season and his performance is strong to match the material that sees him broken, guilt-ridden, vengeful and frightened across the ten episodes. Snell is lower down the tree than both of them but is still good. Karnes continues to be a good supporting player and his work with Marciano is good (the latter being wonderfully inept and sleazy). Pounder changes well across the season while support from Jace, Dent, Martinez, Garcés and others is mostly good.
Overall then a strong season that keeps to the standard set by season 5. The plots are well constructed and the whole delivery has an intense, exciting forward motion that pulls the viewer along. Some will look down on it for lacking debate and intelligence in key areas but for my money this is much more satisfying than the smug, clean morality of some other popular cop shows that I could mention.
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