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'The Shield': Puppet masters

May 30, 2007 | 12:23 pm

Shieldtp One thing is clear as “The Shield” nears the end of its sixth season: this show is for dedicated viewers only. And rightly so.

That’s always been the case, but with this week’s episode dropping casual insider references to Terry Crowley, the Armenian money train and Antwon Mitchell, anyone who wasn’t already well-versed in the show’s elaborate narrative must have been completely lost. Their loss.

“Shield” devotees were rewarded with another densely packed hour that turned the delicate art of manipulation into a bloodsport. There were so many glorious power plays and acts of one-upsmanship you’d need a scorecard to sort it all out.

It’d be premature to declare a winner before next week’s season finale, but Detective Billings (David Marciano) scored a big victory over poor Dutch (Jay Karnes) by sending uncommonly attractive officers Hiatt (Alex O’Loughlin) and Tina (Paula Garces) into each other’s arms, and then giving an unwitting Dutch a frontrow seat to their lovemaking. The perverse delight Billings took in fooling Dutch, who has been nursing a not-so-subtle crush on Tina, was unabashedly cruel, provocatively transforming an often comic side character into a darker, more disturbing force.

Not that Billings was the only one pulling strings. Mackey (Michael Chiklis) let Claudette (C.C.H. Pounder) know that he’s on to her plan to force him out (so much for her secret power play) as he continued to look for an angle to help him keep his job. Meanwhile, Shane (Walton Goggins) dug himself in deeper with Diro Kesakhian (guest star Franka Potente) and gave the aspiring mob boss information that may result in the death of his former friends and partners.

The biggest player of all turned out to be Mexican land developer Cruz Pezuela (guest star F.J. Rio) who apparently has high-level involvement in the season-long conflict between Mexican and El Salvadoran gangs, may be involved in the disappearance of an undercover agent and ultimately, in the jaw-dropping final scene, gave Mackey the ammo he needs to stay on the force: an incriminating picture of Councilman David Aceveda (Benito Martinez).

Of course that photo harkens back to a memorably unsettling event from season three. Fortunately, for those in the dark, there are always DVDs.

-- Geoff Berkshire

(Photo courtesy FX)