Throwaway & Dragonchasers
Originally I wanted to write about just Dragonchasers, it's an episode worthy of a review/analysis all by itself, but my previous entry in the Urban Jungle series didn't include the episode Throwaway, so initially I'm going to write a little about that episode before moving onto Dragonchasers - the most important episode of the first season after the pilot episode.
Throwaway is the first episode that has the Strike Team dealing with a mess that isn't created by Shane, in this case it's Lem's **** up, shooting a man who turned out to be both a) unarmed, b) completely innocent and c) brother to a hot latina hairdresser. He shoots the man because he believes that he's armed with a gun and about to shoot Vic; this is the start of the pattern for Lem, he tends to get into trouble when he's protecting the people he cares about. In this case it's Vic, the man Lem considers to be something of a brother and a father figure. Lem himself has little family outside of the Strike Team and as such more than any of the others he considers the guys to be his family.
It is also the first episode to give Claudette (side note: Claudette was originally scripted to be a man, C.H. Pounder's performance convinced Shawn Ryan to change the characters gender with minimal other changes - one of the reasons Claudette is the strongest female personality on the show by a long margin, she's given the dominant role in the Claudette/Dutch relationship). It's also the moment where the Julien/Danny rift comes to a head, only resolved when Acevada himself steps in and breaks their heads against each other (figuratively) to force a resolution to the situation. For these two this is something of a turning point, the episode allows them to move forward and cements the foundation of a strong working and personal relationship. Julien and Danny working together is an important part of the show, they're often required to provide the story that contrasts with the Strike Team's high energy acts and Dutch and Claudette's tendency to journey in really dark places.
Mix into this a fantastic heist/set up performed by the Strike Team and Throwaway is a solid episode that works well and develops some of less well developed characters somewhat. Learning more about Claudette, especially Dutch's reactions towards her father, is welcome and entertaining; likewise having Julien and Danny come to some form of balance in their relationship as trainer/trainee is very important as it sets up one of the key elements in the following episode.
Dragonchasers is one of the episodes of The Shield where I experienced a television revelation, the very first episode was, of course, Pilot which stepped over the line of what was considered acceptable to show on television by having the lead character murder a fellow police officer at the culmination of it. As I've mentioned in earlier posts, The Shield then takes some time to distance itself from the pilot episode showing the return to normal that occurs after a fellow officer is killed on the job. Now, you'd be forgiven if you thought that considering the fact that Terry was murdered was going to be a large part of the shows initial thrust, but the truth of the matter here is that with only two people knowing the truth and a solid cover up clearing the evidence for every character in the show Terry's death looks exactly like it does on the surface - the bust went bad, Terry got killed. Police Officers die in the line of duty, everyone at the station knows that is a fact and they've all experienced it before - so they move on and back to the daily grind.
I've digressed, so I'll return to Dragonchasers and why it is the second episode in The Shield that changed the way I perceive television and raised the bar for what I accept as good story writing. Dragonchasers contains two monumental story lines in it, but for the first time neither one belongs to the Strike Team - instead the storys revolve around Julien and Dutch.
Up until this point in the series I considered Dutch to be little more than light relief and Julien to be a secondary character. Julien's antagonistic relationship with Danny (and being set against Vic for a while) made it difficult to access him as a character and Dutch for a long time had little more in the way of defining characteristics outside of "stereotypical nerd-cop".
Dragonchasers changes the game for both of them, for Julien the episode brings together his conflicted and angry emotions about being gay along with his new found resolve to do right by his patrol partner Danny. After a transvestite (played by Jazzmun) bites Danny (attempting to give her HIV - which he blames the police force for) Julien eventually agrees to throw the perp a 'blanket party' - a savage tradition where the perp is covered under a blanket in the back of a police van and then beaten with nightsticks. Julien not only cuts loose here, but his conflicted emotions over his own sexuality (and his commonly misguided notion that transvestites are the same as homosexuals in general) results in his turning the perp into himself in his mind. The resulting violence is exceptionally harsh, while the scene doesn't play out in graphic detail, the damage caused by the beating (as described by Danny) show just how far Julien went over the edge.
The real meaty story though belongs to Dutch, bringing to a head the 'face down' serial killer mini-arc, the initial thrust occurs when Julien and Danny happen upon a man masturbating in an alley - they let him go with a warning, but when mentioning the anecdote to Dutch he makes a connection most wouldn't. The man was jerking off near where one of the serial killings occurred (or at least where the body was dumped), this fits with the profile he was considering for the killer.
After first scoping Sean (the suspect) out Dutch has him come in, not to charge him with anything, but to sound him out and try to see if the man has any levers he can push. What follows is a tour-de-force performance from both Jay Karnes and Michael Kelly (as Sean), Dutch is quite literally broken apart by the intuitive and merciless Sean who disassembled every part of Dutch's personality in an exceptional level of mental bullying and showboating. Dutch himself sits there, trying to regain purchase and being humiliated - this humiliation is compounded even further when the rest of the station start watching Sean's performance for their own entertainment. You're left wondering why on Earth Dutch is willing to sit there and take this kind of abuse, is his obsession with finding the serial killer that large? Is he so desperate that he'll put up with anything to achieve this?
The revelation comes in the eleventh hour, when (watched by almost the entire force via CCTV) Dutch admits that he only took this tirade of abuse and humiliation with the intent of buying time to get a search warrant for both Sean's house and his aunt's. Once found out Sean soon changes track, admitting to everything and laying claim to his body count. The rest of the force watch as Dutch nails Sean and bags himself one serious serial killer - he walks out of the interview room to the sound of applause from his fellow officers. All of them are impressed with what Dutch did.
This just makes the closing scene of Dragonchasers all the more poignant, Dutch - still being congratulated - heads to his car and sits down inside before breaking down in tears. He may have scored a decisive victory (not just for Sean's victims, the public and the law in general, but also for himself and his status in the station), but Sean's attacks and how close they cut to the truth of Dutch's life, took their toll on him. Dutch may stand victorious but was it worth the price?
This entire storyline is amongst one of the best that Dutch and Claudette have, it's a great piece that portrays a lot about a man without needing to spell it out in a simplistic and 'dumbed down' fashion. Dutch doesn't need to vocalise his pain, it's all there for you to see in his actions and expressions.
Quite frankly it's a stunning performance and that's why Dragonchasers is one of the best episodes of The Shield (and possibly one of the best procedural episodes in the genre, it's certainly in a similar league to Homicide's Three Men and Adena).