The Shield: The Best Episodes of the Series, Ranked – MovieWeb

The Shield was an incredible TV show that ran on FX for seven seasons. Here are its best episodes, ranked.
The Shield was a different kind of cop show; one with a lot more gray than we usually see on TV, as it has an anti-hero at his center in Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis). Vic and his Strike Team: Shane (Walton Goggins), Lem (Kenny Johnson), and Ronnie (David Rees Snell), did many inexcusable things during the seven seasons the show ran on FX. There are many reasons why you should rewatch the show, and here are its best episodes, ranked.
In the second season, Armadillo (Danny Pino) was the big bad. He was smart, scary, and loved assaulting young girls. He was so bad, Vic, always the antihero, burned his face on a stove, and nobody batted an eye. In retaliation, Armadillo did the same to Ronnie and tried to kill the whole team. It was a surprise when Armadillo got killed in police custody with half a season to go, proving the show always liked to play with conventions and expectations, surprising its viewers. It might have been because the actor playing Armadillo got a role on another show, but the surprise made us think that every episode could be amazing and surprising. It also showed how far the Strike team was willing to go when someone threatened them, as, during the chaos that follows Armadillo’s stabbing, everyone is freaking out, while Shane and Lem are just there, calm, knowing what just happened.
Dutch (Jay Karnes) was a detective obsessed with serial killers. In this episode, he catches “The Cuddler” (don’t ask, you don’t want to know why they call him that), and the detective is led to believe that when you kill, you can see God in the eyes of your victim. So, Dutch does something despicable: he strangles a cat, and understands he’s been duped. For a moment there, this episode looked like it could’ve been the start of a killing spree for Dutch, the serial killer student, who might become one himself. It didn’t end like that, but it still has an incredible performance from Karnes, both during the interrogation and after killing the cat, as we see his shame for what he has done, and he’ll never talk about it with anyone.
This episode was directed by the great David Mamet, and it shows; as everyone's performances are on point. Shawn Ryan told Entertainment Weekly: “The first two seasons we were working in relative anonymity," Ryan recalls. "But this started the run of people being really interested in coming and spending time on our show: David in season three, Glenn Close (and her incredible acting), Anthony Anderson in season four, Forest Whitaker in season five, Frank Darabont in season six. It gave such energy and juice, and everyone wanted to do their best work for David.”
Kavanaugh (Forest Whitaker) was an Internal Affairs cop brought in to, finally, find all the bad things the Strike team did, and put them in prison. During his investigation, he becomes obsessed with taking down Vic. This episode is almost entirely shot through his point-of-view, giving Whitaker the lead, and letting him make a meal out of the material. It also explains his relationship with his ex-wife and some of the many personal problems that have made him the obsessed cop we’ve seen all season. The end where he loses his temper and arrests Lem, just to hurt Vic, is one of the saddest, as Lem was always the heart of the team, and it didn't spell anything good for the character's future.
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The last episode of the second season sees the whole police squad dealing with gang executions. It ends with the Strike team stealing the Armenian train money they’ve been surveilling for many episodes. The scene where they steal the money is incredibly thrilling and surprising, as there are killings between the Armenians before the Strike Team even starts with the thief, and at the end of the episode, counting the money is an image hard to forget. Even if they don’t know it, this is the beginning of the end for the strike team; till now, nobody could catch them, and they did as they pleased on the streets, but from this moment on, the downward spiral started as they are always trying to cover for the last bad thing they did.
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As Vic is trying to catch a Mexican drug king and his shipment, he gets a new job, and with it, an immunity deal for everything he has done in the past. The second to last episode ever of The Shield has one of Michael Chiklis's best acting moments as Vic Mackey (and he had many during the seven-season run). He has a long, long, silence before deciding he can spill every bad deed he’s ever done, starting with the murder of police officer Terry Crawley. We can see in his eyes how he’s doing the math of how he’s free from everything he’s done, and can finally breathe (both literally and figuratively), as his sins will be in the open without any repercussions (at least for him, Ronnie is going to prison).
This episode is one of the most heartbreaking of the show: the one where Shane kills Lem. Lem has been on the run for the last couple of episodes, and when he finally meets with Shane (Vic and Ronnie are trying to lose their police tails), he does what Shane always does; be a selfish, dumb, act-now and think later piece of garbage, and decides that the only way to save himself is to kill his friend. Walton Goggins gives a masterful performance, as we see everything that’s going on in his head, waiting, hoping, that Lem will say something that will mean he doesn’t have to use the grenade to end one of his closest buddies. It’s an end that’s both surprising and inevitable and gave the show electricity and momentum that would last until the end of the show.
The episode where everything starts. We see how the Strike Team uses the streets for their advantage and don’t mind using excessive force, but we also meet the rest of the Barn, the place where everything will happen. We have the chief. Aceveda (Benito Zambrano), the detectives Claudette (CCH Pounder) and Dutch, and the police units, Danny (Catherine Dent) and Julian (Michael Jace). From the first moment, it’s evident this isn’t your normal police show: a case about pedophilia, a captain more interested in politics than helping people, and, especially, in the end, Vic kills another police officer, creating shock and awe that wouldn’t leave our bodies for the seven adrenaline-fueled seasons. As creator Shawn Ryan told The Ringer: “I remember sitting in the theater, thinking, ‘Wouldn’t it be a great twist right now if Al Pacino walked in and shot Johnny Depp in the face, and you realize that he knew that Depp was an undercover cop trying to take him down?’, that idea appears in the pilot episode of this show that, like its shark leading man, never kept moving.
The last episode of the show is also its best, and one of the greatest by any show ever. Every action we’ve seen during the last seven seasons comes crashing as every member of the Strike Team suffers the consequences. Vic might be out of jail, but his new office work is his personal hell; Shane kills himself and his whole family, and Ronnie ends up in jail. This is a tough episode to watch, but all the actors hit it out of the park. The last conversation between Vic and Shane might be on the phone, but it still shows all the vitriol between them, and how they know how to hurt each other, as they bring out the worst in each other (and probably have always done).
Claudette’s confrontation with Vic, making him seat on the perp side while showing him the end of Shane and his family, is an all-time classic as CCH Pounder is relishing in finally, cracking Vic’s smile, while Michael Chiklis is trying to show he’s not affected by any of it when he really is. Both know that if Shane hadn’t met Vic, he wouldn’t end there, even if it’s never said. In a show where the bad cop protagonist is always left unharmed, this might be the cruelest fate for him, even as we end the show thinking about what might happen next, knowing it is not going to be pretty.


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