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'The Shield': Crisis of conscience

April 18, 2007 |  9:01 am


"24" has taken plenty of hits for an abundance of torture scenes this season but "The Shield" may be courting controversy of its own with this week’s episode. Of course, on "The Shield," even torture is complicated.

Walton Goggins deserves the week’s top acting honors as slowly imploding Strike Team member Shane Vendrell. His friend and mentor Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis) still doesn’t know that Shane is the one responsible for last season’s murder of fellow Strike Team member Curtis Lemansky (Kenneth Johnson). Operating under the belief that gangbanger Guardo Lima is the guilty party, Vic lured Guardo out of hiding in Mexico and strung him up to torture a confession out of him.

Shane had no choice but to go along with it.

Goggins took inner turmoil to new levels of gut wrenching agony as Shane was pummeled with guilt from all directions: Vic’s estranged wife Corrine (Cathy Cahlin Ryan) unloaded the minor ways in which she feels responsible for Lem’s death; Guardo’s girlfriend revealed that she’s pregnant but hasn’t told him yet; Guardo himself begged for his life between Mackey torture sessions, pleading innocence.

All the while Shane kept his mouth shut, to preserve his secret.

At least he could justify his actions with the knowledge that even if Guardo didn’t kill Lem, he has killed other people and really wasn’t a very nice guy. But remember last week’s lesson in the fall of Forest Whitaker’s Lt. Kavanaugh? Framing a criminal for a crime he didn’t commit is no solution. Guardo ultimately paid with his life. That doesn’t bode well for Shane’s conscience.

With all that heavy stuff it was something of a relief to have a subplot that spotlighted two often underused supporting players. Ronnie Gardocki (David Rees Snell) has always been the fourth wheel on the Strike Team, but he got in on the action in a multiple homicide case. Snell displayed a previously untapped charisma that suggests he could play a vital role in the Strike Team as Vic and Shane continue to self destruct.

The episode’s few lighter moments came courtesy of David Marciano as Detective Billings, who was captain for a brief moment last season and now investigates cases alongside Dutch (Jay Karnes). Billings’ blunt criticisms of his smart but insecure partner were amusingly accurate. It’s always good to see Dutchboy get a little bit riled.

And what about that last minute twist for Vic and crew? Captain Wyms (CCH Pounder) informed Vic that he’s to start training his Strike Team replacement (in next week’s episode). It seems there’s only a month left until he’ll receive a forced retirement after 15 years of service.

Having seen the lengths Vic will go to to protect himself and his friends, it’s safe to say it’ll take a lot more than a technicality to push him out.

(Photo courtesy FX)