Yes, the prostitute tells the cop, she did hear a scream. Why, then, didn’t she call for help? “I had a mouthful of dick at the time.” Even after the Clinton presidency made blow jobs a prime-time heehaw, we usually have to pay a premium to hear this sort of thing said out loud on television. But in its first two seasons, The Shield proved to be a premium-cable cop show on the basic-cable tier. And season three begins with Glenn Close, the new captain in charge of the “Barn,” telling Michael Chiklis, who plays detective Vic Mackey, “you’ve got a week to get your shit together.”
Glenn Close? Her character, Monica Rawling, used to walk a beat in this mean Los Angeles. She replaces David Aceveda (Benito Martinez) after his election to the L.A. City Council. His designated successor, Claudette Wyms (CCH Pounder), flunked her audition for the command post by actually trying to fight corruption in the precinct. So Mackey, who almost went down in flames stealing from the Armenians who were laundering Russian Mafia money, gets another chance to work the streets. And Wyms, who refuses to apologize to the district attorney, is not allowed anywhere near a major case. And Rawling, who may be a better politician than the man she replaces, intends to build an empire with the proceeds from the auctioned-off properties forfeited by drug dealers, while using Mackey as her very own heat-seeking missile.
You probably don’t need to know in advance about the family of four, drowned one by one in a bathtub in a welfare hotel. Or the kidnapping of a 3-year-old, the burning of a porno-rap CD, and the confiscating of a set of dentures. Not to mention the leather-jacketed whereabouts of Shane Vendrell (Walton Goggins), the only cop in L.A. who makes Mackey look like St. Francis of Assisi—and what his activities indicate about the ulterior motives of Antwon Mitchell (Anthony Anderson), a former lowlife now making neighborhood-uplift noises but probably intimately connected to the repositioning of the dope market from coke to heroin. All you need to know is that Close is terrific as Rawling, in or out of uniform; that Chiklis as Mackey, who looked vulnerable last season, is all puffed up again, as if testosterone were natural gas; and that nobody except Pounder is to be trusted because everybody else is already compromised, or up for sale, or no longer capable of caring.
The Shield perfectly embodies the postmodern, post-therapeutic, post-due-process cop show. Over the past few decades, we have grown accustomed to the notion that cops serve as both a thin blue line between solid citizens and savage tribes, and a centurion brotherhood with a code of silence. TV cops are permitted to do most anything—fall off wagons, nap in patrol cars, moonlight as bouncers, sleep with partners, prostitutes, or perps, break, enter, search, seize, rough up suspects, plant evidence, lie on witness stands, cover for corrupt colleagues, eat a doughnut when they’re hungry and a gun when they despair—except (see Cop Rock) sing. But The Shield parks us behind their eyes, where the only point of view possible is that chaos theory and depraved indifference are in charge. Evil is mindless and random. Peace of mind is a losing cause, and so is a civil society. There is a sense of the station house besieged, and of angry, cynical, paranoid cops hunkered down inside both their inner-city bunker and a fundamentalist freakview, like a Trotskyite or Hezbollah sect, lobbing jokes as if they were grenades. Which may be why the camera gets jumpier every season—and the nation, too, on the verge of nervous breakdown.