Note to David Chase: This is how you end a series. The Shield has always been an audience pleaser, in the best sense of the word. It's not just a tragic character study about the barbed lures of power, the slipknot ties of friendship, or the economics of loyalty, although it is all that. It's also been a double-crossing, blood-spurting, wisecracking belly slither through Los Angeles a cop drama that doesn't think itself above some roll up the sleeves and sock it to 'em! entertainment. In true form, the 90-minute Nov. 25 series finale chooses not to kick its audience in the balls, Sopranos-style, just to show us who's boss. No, it actually wraps up, not neatly and not pleasantly. (My idea of pleasant would have had The Shield's only genuine friends, Jay Karnes' brainy Dutch and CCH Pounder's growly Claudette, paraded down Olympic Boulevard for All-Around Awesomeness in the Line of Duty.) But the tense, twisted finale unfolds with such cocksure precision that you'll wonder why your shoulders are up to your ears, because you are witnessing the inevitable.
In The Shield's very first episode, Det. Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis) said: ''Good cop and bad cop left for the day. I'm a different kind of cop.'' Such is the skill of creator Shawn Ryan and the Emmy-winning Chiklis that we've actually believed Mackey's line of bull for six years. This season it's become ruthlessly clear: We've colluded with this villain, rooting for him despite the fact that we knew so much better for years. Like, since the series premiere, when he killed a fellow cop. We've been willingly snookered by this charismatic badass who talks a great line about family, law, and loyalty. But Mackey's undeniably a bad cop, and not much of a family man or a friend, either, as Shane (the brilliant Walton Goggins) on the run with his wife, Mara (Michele Hicks), and young son tells him in the finale: ''Who you got, Vic?'' This is how the Strike Team, a gleeful, macho band of law-bending brothers, find themselves in the series' final hours: one dead, one on the lam, one wanting to skip to Mexico, and Mackey gone weasel, trying to save his own skin. Going down, they still grab for an out, even if it's pure denial. The most perfect picture of dancing over the abyss occurred in this season's 10th episode: Shane and Mara squatting in a deserted mansion, Mara playing hide-and-seek with her son as Shane plinks on the piano—as ominously gorgeous as anything in Badlands.
When the end comes, it's breathtaking and what's even more stunning is, after you've catalogued all of Mackey's unforgivable sins, you'll still find yourself rooting for him, the bastard. A