Everything good about the first season
of The Shield
is intensified in the second. For detective Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis) and his amoral strike team, these 13 episodes follow "the money train," a stockpile of Armenian mob money ripe for the taking. Mackey's team plots to steal this criminal fortune while under pressure from Capt. Aceveda (Benito Martinez), whose political campaign is threatened by a civilian auditor (Lucinda Jenney) assigned to uncover corruption in "the Barn." The uneasy alliance between Aceveda and Mackey provokes the suspicion of Wyms (CCH Pounder), whose by-the-book vigilance is rewarded while Dutch (Jay Karnes) endures a slump that worsens the Barn's sullied reputation. After being horribly disfigured by Mackey, a vile Mexican druglord (Daniel Pino) plots a territorial coup, prompting the strike team's finest police work while Mackey struggles to save his failing marriage. Post-9/11 tensions erupt when beat cop Danny (Catherine Dent) justifiably shoots an armed Arab civilian, and newlywed Julien (Michael Jace) copes with (literal) gay-bashing following his church-sponsored sexual reorientation.
As always, The Shield supports these plotlines with gritty casework, including a brutal kidnapping, homicide, and gangland warfare. Every episode (shot in grainy 16mm) meets the series' high standard of excellence, but "Greenlit," "Homewrecker" (featuring the death of a recurring character), and "Dominoes Falling" are standouts, while the controversial "Co-Pilot" offers a retrospective look at the Barn's volatile origins. Writing and direction are consistently superb, and Pounder deserves honorable mention among the brilliant cast, striking a stoical balance of world-weary wisdom, procedural diligence, and righteous indignation.
Bonus features comprise a virtual film school for anyone seeking a career in television. While the commentaries explore the nuts and bolts of series development, the "Directors' Roundtable" (with creator Shawn Ryan, Scott Brazil, Peter Horton, and Paris Barclay) is a revealing, frequently hilarious study of the rigors of fast-paced production; "Sound Surgery" presents a track-by-track analysis of sound, music, and dialogue; and "Wrap Day" is a celebratory tribute to the series' hard-working cast and crew. It's all good, and guaranteed to stoke anyone's appetite for Season Three. --Jeff Shannon