The Shield – Top Twenty Scenes

In 2002, FX, a then up-and-coming network, were looking to corner the market for basic cable scripted dramas. Taking a risk, they unleashed what is now considered to be a landmark series, and one of the most innovative and original police dramas ever made, The Shield. Now 2008, and the series finale less than a week away, I’ve decided to take a look back through the series and list twenty of the best scenes from this intense, gritty drama; scenes that helped define the show as the edgy, unflinching drama that it is today.

20. Season 1, Episode 9, Throwaway – Hector’s Beatdown

In this episode, the first to┬áplace most of its focus on Curtis “Lemonhead” Lemansky (later referred to as just Lem), the Strike Team attempt to right one of their wrongs when an innocent man is shot during a raid. Part of their plan to square things away hinges on the hijacking of a police evidence vehicle, but the standout moment from this episode was when Lemansky pulled an abusive banger from a den of gang members and proceeded to beat seven shades of shit out of him; payback for the banger scarring his ex-girlfriend. This scene offered a visceral thrill, and showcased Lemansky as a true force to be reckoned with.

19. Season 1, Episode 13, Circles – Vic’s Breakdown

Vic Mackey’s actions finally caught up with him in the first season finale. After the Gilroy scandal left a riot and the murder of a few police offers in its wake, it was Vic’s family leaving him that hit him the hardest. Upon coming home to find his house empty, and with a message on his answering machine from his wife begging him not to track them down, Vic begins having a severe panic attack. Chiklis earns the Emmy and the Golden Globe and then some; his emotions run the gamut, from shock, sadness, anger, and back and forth. The scene ends with him hurling his badge across the kitchen. He subsequently steps out into the night, presumably to look for his family.

18. Season 2, Episode 7, Barnstormers – Discovering Ronnie

In what is an otherwise adequate episode, Vic and Emma Prince burst through Vic’s apartment door, ready to do the deed. That is, until Emma smells something peculiar: burning flesh. Vic finds Ronnie Gardocki laying on his bedroom floor, and half of his face seared from an encounter with a hot stove top. This was retribution from Armadillo Quintero, a ruthless drug pusher and gang leader who suffered the same fate as Ronnie earlier in the season at the hands of Vic Mackey. This scene worked at providing a really effective shock; it also further cemented Armadillo’s threatening presence, and it gave Ronnie, up until this point a glorified extra, something to finally do.

17. Season 6, Episode 3, Back To One – Guardo’s Murder

Believing him to be solely responsible for the murder of Curtis Lemansky, Vic kidnaps Guardo Lima, a Salvadoran kingpin, whose grenade was responsible for the evisceration of Lemansky in the fifth season finale. Only, Vic doesn’t know that Shane Vendrell, a fellow Strike Teamer and longtime friend of both he and Lemansky, actually did the deed. This scene works on two different levels: it shows Vic’s seething rage at avenging his friend’s death (in a torture scene that would make the Saw films turn their heads), and it showcases Shane’s agonizing torment and ever-increasing guilt as he watches an innocent man brutalized within an inch of his life for a crime he (Shane) carried out. Guardo’s suffering is finally ended with Vic putting a single bullet into his skull.

16. Season 3, Episode 15, On Tilt – The Strike Team Dissolves

The closing sequence of the third season is brilliant in how it proves that money does indeed do strange things to people, like causing a big enough rift in the solidarity of The Strike Team to cause them to disband. After Lem had burned most of the cash an episode prior, Shane’s increasing displeasure with him blew up when Lem attempted to prove to him that the money was causing more problems than it was solving, and he was right. But Shane, blinded by his greedy lust for the money, didn’t see things that way, and it led to an argument between Vic and himself, where everything that went wrong through the entire season was laid out on the table, finally leading to the (then temporary) demise of The Strike Team.

15. Season 5, Episode 10, Of Mice And Lem – The Disarm Montage

Desperate to keep Lem out of prison and away from Antwon Mitchell’s reach, Vic devises to send him to Mexico. We watch, saddened over what has happened to The Strike Team, as Smashing Pumpkins’ Disarm plays over the soundtrack. Lem and Ronnie hug; it will be the last time they ever see eachother. Shane and Lem hug; we didn’t know it then, but it won’t be the last time THEY see eachother. The music selected for this scene underscores the desperation of the situation, and foreshadows what would happen in the next episode: “the killer in me is the killer in you.”

14. Season 1, Episode 10, Dragonchasers – Dutch’s Breakdown

Spending the majority of the first season looking for a serial killer, and being the brunt of several jokes around The Barn, Dutch finally catches the guy responsible for the rash of murders and brilliantly so. He even gains the much-wanted appreciation from his fellow officers. But the serial killer said some words during the interrogation that struck a chord with him, and the episode closes with Dutch sitting in his car, crying. His big day ends with his emotions getting the best of him. This scene works so well in that it totally goes against the atypical WIN, WIN, WIN attitude of the police procedural. Instead of a victorious self-congratulation, Dutch sits alone in his car; his tears his only company.

13. Season 4, Episode 8, Cut Throat – Shane’s Confession

Realizing he has nowhere else to turn after his involvement with Antwon Mitchell begins to spin completely out of control, Shane confesses to Vic that he was indeed in bed with Antwon, and is desperate to get out from underneath his blackmail. But Vic, thinking Shane is out to kill him under Antwon’s orders, steadily holds a gun on him while Shane desperately confesses everything. Shane’s pleas finally reach Vic. He slowly lowers his gun, closes his eyes, and swallows the lump in his throat; perhaps several different scenarios running through his head.

12. Season 3, Episode 4, Streaks & Tips – Shane And Tavon’s Brawl

Their relationship up until this point was rocky at best. Shane Vendrell: insecure, racist. Tavon Garris: cocky, arrogant, and having the misfortune of being the one black guy on a team of white guys; one of whom is Shane Vendrell. After a verbal sparring over a case starts to get out of hand, Vic convinces Tavon to confront Shane and work out some of their issues. He does so in Shane’s apartment, where their heated relationship reaches a boiling point when Shane racially insults Tavon. Fists fly, furniture is overturned, and Tavon is clocked over the head with an iron by Shane’s wife, Mara. Tavon stumbles out of the apartment and into his van, bleeding heavily and going in and out of consciousness. It doesn’t end well for him as he hits a parked car at full speed, sending him flying through the windshield. It was an excellent cliff-hanger moment that left fans agonizing over the arrival of the next episode. It was also one of the best fight sequences ever put on film.

11. Season 5, Episode 5, Trophy – Kavanaugh Trashes The Hotel Room

Jon Kavanaugh, up until this point, was an intense fellow, but one who seemed reeled in by his sheer determination to nail Vic Mackey and his Strike Team. However, he truly underestimated just how clever a guy Vic Mackey is, as Vic orchestrates Kavanaugh botching a prescription drug sting. Having bugged a trophy in their clubhouse earlier in the episode, Kavanaugh listens as Vic seems to be spilling his guts on alot of illegal activities. But Vic knew all along about the bug, and fed Kavanaugh exactly what he wanted to hear so that he would walk in on a huge bust and ruin it, undermining his credibility. And so, we get to the scene, with Kavanaugh sitting in a hotel room, listening to Vic and his guys subtly laugh and joke about “beating IAD” via recorded conversation – that’s when Kavanaugh goes completely bonkers, screaming in a maniacal rage, trashing the hotel room in a fit of pure anger. This is truly when the cuffs came off.

10. Season 2, Episode 13, Dominoes Falling – The Overcome Montage

Successfully hijacking the money laundering operation known as The Money Train, Vic and his guys stand over an exorbitant pile of cash, their faces slowly sinking at the thought of what they had just done. This was no simple robbery: they stole money from the mob, and clearly there were going to be consequences to their actions. As they solemnly stare at the money, Live’s Overcome scores the scene; the vocals reach a haunting crescendo as the Strike Team begin to mentally process the situation. The Shield has always excelled with musical montages; this just might be the best one they’ve ever done.

09. Season 6, Episode 6, Chasing Ghosts – Vic Confronts Shane

Finally discovering who really killed Lem, Vic meets with Shane at the scene of the crime and slowly takes his temperature; it doesn’t take long for Shane to own up to his actions, and the two tragically discuss Lem’s death in varying details. Vic is seething with anger and shock, Shane is shaking the ghosts that have haunted him up until this point and is trying to accept what he had done. This scene works so well because it underlines one of the key elements of this series: the father/son, mentor/student relationship between Vic and Shane, who’ve essentially become one, only Vic refuses to believe it. Promising to kill Shane should he ever see him again, he sends him away, but not before Shane calls him a “goddamn hypocrite”. It’s such a beautifully-acted scene.

08. Season 7, Episode 8, Parracide – Shane’s Murder For Hire Backfires

Having put a hit out on Ronnie Gardocki, the gunman Shane coerced into doing the deed failed and was caught by the police. The perp managed to stay tight-lipped for a little while, but eventually gave up Shane’s involvement. This was a turning point in the series, as it meant the end of The Strike Team – for good. It was also one of the most nail-biting sequences ever for the show, as Shane knew the jig was up, and he quickly tries to get out of The Barn before the other cops catch up to him. Watch the color run from Shane’s face just as the gunman starts to confess; Walton Goggins truly sells this scene.

07. Season 3, Episode 14, All In – Vic, Shane And Ronnie Versus Lem

Knowing the Money Train stash was causing more problems than it was solving, Lem took matters into his own hands and decided to burn the money. When they finally catch up to him, most of the cash is sitting in a furnace, turning into ashes. Vic, Shane and Ronnie attempt to stop him from burning the remainder of the loot, but Lem, being the big guy that he is, puts up a good fight. It’s an intense scene, showcasing the Strike Team truly unraveling because of the money. The episode ends with them finally pinning Lem to the floor, and the camera slowly follows a trail of bills leading into the furnace. Very powerful.

06. Season 4, Episode 5, Tar Baby – Antwon Gets The Drop On Shane And Army

Shane’s attempts to become Vic Mackey resulted in him finally getting into a situation that Vic would have never found himself in. After a raid on one of Antwon’s drug houses, he blames Shane and Army for not stopping it and, with the help of his underlings, gets the drop on Shane and Army, beating them down and forcing them to watch as he frames them for the murder of a fourteen-year-old girl who was a confidential informant and was responsible for the drug raid. He takes both of their guns and puts a round of shells into the girl. Anthony Anderson, up until this point, played the Antwon Mitchell character as a politician who didn’t seem to have a mean streak to him. This scene showed his true, cold-blooded colors, as he maliciously guns down the girl and lays out his plan for Shane and Army, ending the episode with that immortal “from now on” line.

05. Season 3, Episode 5, Mum – Aceveda’s Rape

Stripping the one character who relied on his dignity the most of said dignity, this episode saw Aceveda foolishly enter a house, where two psychotic gang bangers, one of which was earlier brutalized by Vic Mackey by way of a bong pipe shoved down his throat, got the drop on him. Rather than outright kill him, one of the gang bangers puts a gun to Aceveda’s head and forces him to perform oral sex on him. Up until this point, Aceveda seemed like the one character guarded from harm by his dignity, and watching it being stripped away from him in such a degrading, humiliating manner made for shocking, unforgettable television. Benito Martinez was a real trooper for playing out this scene, which led to a strong arc for his character where the after effects of his violation took him down several dark paths.

04. Season 2, Episode 2, Dead Soldiers – Armadillo And The Stove

After having raped a young girl, killing a couple of gang rivals, and later killing one of Vic’s informants, Armadillo Quintero, a truly heinous villain if there ever was one, was brutally attacked by Vic Mackey, first by a beating with a huge law book, and then having his face nearly melted off on the eye of a searing hot stove. This scene cemented that the second season was off to a breakneck start, and the scene is both hard to watch and hard to look away from. Michael Chiklis does some stellar acting here as he loses control and nearly kills Armadillo, whose screaming and crying masks the glee he’s getting from realizing Vic just kicked the ball into his court.

03. Season 7, Episode 12, Possible Kill Screen – Vic’s Confession

The only way to gain immunity and a Fed badge is to come clean about all of his past indiscretions, and Vic does so in one of the most haunting scenes from the entire series. As Agent Olivia Murray listens and records the incident, Vic takes a long pause before admitting every wrong thing he’s ever done. Michael Chiklis is amazing here, showing a truly evil man confess to some truly evil things. And yet, it’s poetic in that, after several investigations, the one person who was able to finally convince someone of his guilt was Vic himself. Olivia looks as if she was left for dead in a ditch, trying to digest what she had just heard.

02. Season 5, Episode 11, Post Partum – Lem’s Death

While a few characters had died over the course of the series, none of the main cast had succumbed to that fate. Creator Shawn Ryan felt that a main character had to earn a death for it to have a bigger impact than just shock value. While this scene certainly was shocking, it was also tragic and true to the storyline. And Lem was such a good guy despite some of the questionable things he had done over the series; watching him slowly die after that grenade went off in his lap was heart-breaking. Equally haunting was Shane’s agonizing apology for having tossed the grenade into his lap. Feeling he had no other choice under the circumstances, it still tore at Shane’s soul, and this moment was the beginning of the end not only for his character, but for the series as a whole.

01. Season 1, Episode 1, Pilot – Terry Crowley’s Murder

What a way to close a pilot episode. Up until the last three minutes of the episode, we got a good window into Vic Mackey’s character; he was tough as nails, unapologetic, and perhaps a little sociopathic, but when he put that bullet under Terry Crowley’s eye, television history was made, and the birth of a truly complex character unfolded before us. The scene follows the Strike Team raiding a drug dealer’s home (to the tune of Kid Rock’s Bawitdaba, a song I admittedly loathe, but it works well here), with new member Terry Crowley entering the house with them; his first big bust with the team. He had actually been secretly working with Justice in order to get Vic Mackey off the streets. Vic found out about this, and decided to use the raid to eliminate this problem. I’ll never forget watching this episode when it first aired, and feeling the shock of this scene hit me like a bullet to the face.