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The Shield

By Matthew Yglesias  

"The Shield"

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One thing that happens if you fly back and forth across the Pacific is that you have a lot of time to watch TV episodes you’ve downloaded from iTunes. In particular, I finally watched Season 7 of The Shield and I feel compelled to speak up on behalf of a show that doesn’t quite seem to have made it onto the canonical list of 21st century TV shows everyone says you must watch. The show is not without its flaws. Some plot threads don’t really have much to do with the story arc and a ruthless editor could probably have packed all the good stuff into five or six seasons instead of seven, and the relentlessly negative portrayal of all the show’s Latino characters kind of got me down.

But ultimate you’re looking at a really gripping, really entertaining show that also makes an important social and political point. In particular, you can really see the show as an extended debunking of the notion that what we need to do to solve our public safety problems is to permit the authorities to operate without restraint. As the show indicates, that path ultimately leads to abuses, corruption, and disaster not efficacious law enforcement. But it’s also very good at illustrating the temptations of this path. Vic Mackey and his “strike team” really are effective in certain ways. There really are certain problems that their illicit methods are good at solving. And consequently, higher-ups who really know better keep finding themselves wanting to call Mackey in and being more-or-less willing to overlook his transgressions until things have gone far too far. But even though Mackey’s methods work at times, the systemic consequences of allowing his rogue team to operate are utterly catastrophic.

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