DVDs in Review - #26 - The Shield: The Complete Fifth Season

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Michael Chiklis as Detective Vic Mackey
Walton Goggins as Detective Shane Vandrell
Kenny Johnson as Detective Curtis "Lemonhead" Lemansky
Benito Martinez as Captain David Aceveda
CCH Pounder as Detective Claudette Wyms
Catherine Dent as Officer Danielle "Danny" Sofer
Jay Karnes as Detective Holland "Dutch" Wagenbach
Michael Jace as Officer Julien Lowe
David Rees Snell as Detective Ronnie Gardocki
and Forest Whitaker as Lt. John Kavanaugh

For reviews of previous seasons see here (spoiler potential for each season in the reviews):
Season One
Season Two
Season Three
Season Four
A Why You Should Watch (I recommend reading this if you want to know a bit more about the show without spoilers) and a direct link to the short entry for the show in My Top 50 Shows.

Right, I'm going to round off reviewing The Shield's previous seasons before the final season starts, first of all I'm placing this one behind the cut because this season has a lot of impact on the final two and it's impossible to talk about it without spoiling events for people who want to watch the series from the start.

Full review after the link:

Final warning here, this is not for someone who hasn't already seen this season.

The Show:

"Remember, the Team comes First" - Detective Vic Mackey

The fifth season of The Shield raises the stakes of the show even higher and sets in motion events which will finally come to a head in the final (seventh) season. Tensions in the Barn are high when the Internal Affairs cop Lieutenant John Kavanaugh (Forrest Whitaker) arrives with the intent of bringing down Vic Mackey. This harks back to the shooting of Terry in the pilot episode and also links with Lem's illegal confiscation of heroin during the fourth season. Things may have been gone for a while, but they're not forgotten.

Kavanaugh is a driven man, obsessed with taking down Mackey and willing to go to any lengths to manage this. A large thrust of the season is about Kavanaugh's fall from grace as he attempts to take down Vic, it seems he's willing to go to almost any lengths in an attempt to expose Vic for what he is. But in doing so he plays directly into Vic's hands, turning the game into one that Mackey is a pro.

Elsewhere in the Barn things are equally strained, Claudette and Dutch's partnership breaks down, Danny is pregnant but refuses to reveal the father and Julien has to deal with a new rookie for a partner. All of this; with Kavanaugh's actions on top bring things to a boiling point and it looks like something has to give.

It does, Kavanaugh's one serious hook into the Strike Team is Lem; he has the man bang to rights on a charge of confiscating heroin without checking it into evidence. This happened in the previous season while Lem was attempting to assist Shane by locating the body of a young girl named Angie. The girl had been killed by Antwon Mitchell (see season four) with Shane and Army's guns; forcing them to work for him.
Kavanaugh uses this as a lever to try and force Lem to turn on the rest of the team, because “...cops always give it up at the threat of jail… always.” But Lem shows the strength of his character throughout this, even saving Kavanaugh's life from a grenade during a bust by throwing it away seconds before it detonates.

Lem never turns on the rest of the Team, even when arrested and threatened with jail. Kavanaugh sinks to an even lower level by apparently arranging for Lem to be locked up with Antwon, who will clearly have Lem murdered if he gets the chance. But eventually Kavanaugh realises that Lem would never turn on his fellow officers and is impressed with the strength of character Lem shows. Sadly by this stage it's too late and Vic arranges to meet up with Lem in order to help him escape the country.
But Shane, thinking mistakenly that Lem has turned on the team meets up with him first and in the most gut wrenching scene of the show kills Lem with a grenade. Lem survives just long enough for Shane to realise and regret what he's done, but at this point it was too late.

Later when Lem's death is discovered Kavanaugh taunts a grief stricken Vic (one of the few times he cracks in the show) Vic loses it, attacks Kavanaugh and after being torn away from him vows to Shane and Ronnie that they'll find Lem's killer.

I've gone into this in more detail than I normally do because this is the season which affected me more than anything else in television. I was left stunned for a long time afterwards and I still struggle to watch it. There's no doubt that it's a storytelling masterpiece; it charts the fall of John Kavanaugh and Lem with great care and attention. It sets up an incredible sixth season and marks the end of hope in the Strike Team, if it can happen to Lem - the conscience of the group - all bets are off for everyone.

The Other Stuff:

Until now I've tolerated you. Come near my men again... I'm gonna lose patience. " - Detective Vic Mackey

While the material in the fifth season is probably the finest level of gut punching brilliance you'll get in the show. The UK release of the DVD is subject to quite a few strange decisions. For a start the standard colour scheme used for The Shield's boxes is black, white with heavy yellow/gold - this evokes the feel of the show plus the broken brass badge logo - but unfortunately someone in marketing or design decided to use the image styling you see at the top of this post. It's almost a negative image of the standard set. This means it looks terrible on the shelf when placed with the rest...

...and it also signals just how ground shaking and significant the season is when compared to the rest. You know straight away that something massive has to happen in this season, and in my opinion that's a pretty poor decision to make for the box art. Especially when (as you can see) the sixth season returns to the standard spine style.

The second, even poorer decision made is in the editing, the UK version is missing a full 30 minutes from that earth shattering finale and it's not just inconsequential events that are cut, there's some major stuff in there that is relevant in the following season. It's a completely inexcusable decision made and as such it's hard to recommend buying the UK/Region 2 version of this boxed set. I'd go as far as recommending you purchase the American version instead - while it still has that strange colour choice at least you get the full experience as originally aired...

These two strange issues aside the fifth season brings a lot of extras, you get:
Commentary on all episodes from a wide range of people involved in the show
Deleted Scenes with optional commentary
The prequel for season 6 (and final hurrah for Lem)
Special Behind-the-Scenes featurettes

These extras are up to the standard set by the previous lot and at times exceed them. The Shield never skimps on it's extras. Ever.

The Final Word:

The fifth season of The Shield is the show at it's finest, it even manages to excel ahead of the previous season by giving solid continutity, cause and effect delivered in a way which hits the viewer in the hardest place possible. Of all the strike team members, Lem is the hardest one to lose outside of Vic and certainly the least deserving. He's always been the conscience of the team, the one who looks to the rest as his family and to have Shane - the one who's always been the problem case in the team - actually perform the deed makes it even harder to take.

On top of this you have the excellent Forrest Whitaker providing a stunning foil to Vic, the way he plays Kavanaugh's fall from grace in this series is stunning. Vic corrupts everything he touches and Kavanaugh is no exception.
It's stunning season of television and it's just a shame that poor choices on the part of Sony have marred the final product somewhat.

Price wise the winner is sendit who have it up for £12.89. It runs at 468 mins so that's 2.7ppm. Impressive. But if you're an avid fan with a region free dvd player (like me!) I'd seriously consider the US version which is 498 mins @ £19.99 (ish) 4ppm (but you get the extended final episode).

The Final Score:

4.5 - I want to give it more; the season deserves a 5, but the boxed set brings it down.


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