SPOILERS AHEAD, up to but not including last night's episode, which I haven't watched yet (don't spoil it for me!).
Last year, I somehow managed to miss out on the entire sixth season of The Shield, which long-time readers (if I still have any) well know I consider to be one of the very best shows on TV. A marathon DVD-viewing session this weekend has rectified that oversight, just in time for me to catch up on last week's seventh and final season premiere (which I've been saving on TiVo).
And holy cow, have I been missing out. As great as I always say this show is, it's only gotten better. The sixth season was brilliant. Possibly not quite up to the impossibly high standards of season five, in which Forest Whitaker's Lt. Kavanaugh debuted, and which was one of the ten (or so) best seasons of any TV show I've ever seen. But season six nonetheless was a whirlwind of violence, emotional trauma, and sheer intensity that had me riveted.
At the center of it all was the fallout from Shane's murder of Lem at the end of the fifth season. Shane is perhaps my favorite character (along with Dutch), but while he was going through his suicidal guilt I was hoping for him to pull the trigger, and when he confessed to Vic, I was hoping Vic would waste him right there. Shouldn't have messed with Lem! Of course Vic let Shane live, which will probably be the cause of Vic's downfall. Walton Goggins' Shane is a terrific character, cold and calculating one second, vulnerable and easily manipulated the next. Watching him react as he found out that he killed Lem because of Kavanaugh's trickery was devastating. I have the feeling that his inability to avoid getting suckered by the people he thinks he's controlling (like Antwon Mitchell, or the Armenians, or even his wife) will be the cause of his downfall.
Speaking of Kavanaugh, I was a little surprised to see Whitaker wrap up his guest role after only two episodes of the sixth season. It was a satisfying end, making complete his transformation into that which he pursued, but he was such an incredible character, and Whitaker so amazing in the role, that I was sorry to see him go. Maybe he'll be back.
According to the DVD extras, Franka Potente will be back in season seven as Diro Kesakhian, the daughter of the Armenian mob boss with whom Shane fell in at the end of the season. And that's fine with me. She was a lot less flashy or intense than Whitaker, but there was still a great deal of power in her character, and I'd like to see where she goes from here.
Jay Karnes as Dutch continues to entertain me to no end (minor trivia note: did you realize that he, Shane, and Vic are the only characters to appear in every episode so far?). He spent most of last season chasing Officer Tina and butting heads with his lazy, conniving new partner Billings, which was good stuff. When Billings tricked Dutch into showing up at Tina's house while she was having a tryst with Hiatt (not sorry to see that character leave, by the way), it somehow managed to be heartbreaking and cruelly hilarious at the same time. I was glad to see Billings return in the final season premiere, partly because David Marciano plays such a great weasel, but mainly because it gave Dutch a chance to nail him to the wall. And what will come of the kiss Dutch shared with Danny last season? I can't wait to see the excruciatingly awkward paths that will take.
With Lem gone, I love that David Rees Snell's Ronnie has had to step up and fill that void (both the actor and the character). Ronnie has been going to some dark places; his killing of the Armenian hitman was especially chilling, one of the coldest moments I've seen on the show. "Do you want me to answer that?" the hitman asks as Ronnie gets the information he needs from the hitman's cell phone. "That won't be necessary," Ronnie calmly replies, and BLAM! BLAM! puts two in the hitman's chest. Damn! I jumped out of my seat at that. Wow, Ronnie is a stone killer. Will he be the next Vic? Or Shane? Or worse?
I'm very glad I watched the sixth season immediately before the seventh season debut. The terrifying momentum has me watching the show like a freight train barrelling out of control. It's going off the tracks; the only questions are when, and who gets out alive? This is the best show on TV right now. I hope you're watching.