The Walking Dead‘s six-episode premiere season felt like a snapshot of a greater program to come. From a narrative standpoint, the show successfully examined both the collective scope and individual cost of civilization’s rapid disintegration in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. While segments of season one felt incomplete and rushed, The Walking Dead always managed to pay homage to horror/western tropes while making them feel new again, even dangerous. Showrunner Frank Darabont, fired from his post in July of last year, instilled a sense of lived-in dread and solace by advocating a profoundly cinematic style of filmmaking (tracking shots, wide angles, etc.) and effects (such as lens flares) for precise dramatic pacing.
The Walking Dead: Season 1 is the beginning of a beautiful and bloody long-term epic. But with only six episodes last Fall, we only got the tip of the iceberg. The show is uneven in certain parts, but overall a highly enjoyable genre hybrid made up of equal parts action, horror, and melodrama. I highly recommend investing your time, because the best has yet to come.
Certainly one of the definitive documentaries of the decade, if not one of the best films period. Spike Lee’s epic 4+ hour HBO mosaic on Hurricane Katrina, the city of New Orleans, and the horrific aftermath of the event, crosses cultural and economic divides by recollecting stories, lessons, observations, and critiques from a diverse group of first-hand accounts. Everyone from Mayor Ray Nagin to Kanye West to Wendell Pierce to Terrence Blanchard compliment the countless other human voices without celebrity status, those still affected by Katrina in indescribable and innumerable ways. Lee intercuts archival footage, amateur video, and news reporting with direct confessionals eliciting a number of different emotions – anger, heartache, rage, guilt, sadness – and on and on. Lee also manages to get at the complexities of New Orleans itself, a city plagued by terrible infrastructure yet blessed with vibrant culture and sense of identity. The film creates a platform for a logical and justifiable questioning of the Bush Administration instead of pandering to political mongering, letting the facts of their failure speak for themselves. Because of the length and television format, Lee is able to create a strong rapport with each of his subjects, making every story sting with a certain tragedy and hope. After watching When the Levees Broke, recycled “historical facts” of Hurricane Katrina seem inconsequential, moot when considering the actual complexity of how and why New Orleans was nearly destroyed by indifference and lack of government will. We still don’t know, and may never will, the human and psychological toll of this event, but Lee’s film goes a long way toward beginning the process.
During the final season of The Shield, retribution comes in many forms. For some characters it’s death, while for others minor victories reveal themselves as lifelong triumphs. But for corrupt cop Vic Mackey there’s a special kind of comeuppance. This makes the excellent Series finale directed by Clark Johnson all the more involving, because Mackey finally sheds his false image of American hero and reveals himself to the viewer exactly how Dutch and Claudette have seen him the entire tenure of the show; as a lethal disease. Mackey infects everyone around him and Shane’s final note lyrically states that he “wishes he never met Vic”, a closing statement of great weight and honesty. Moments like these finally complete the disturbing mosaic The Strike Team has created over the years. Despite the arrests they’ve made, the drugs they’ve confiscated, or the innocents they’ve saved, it was all done with a plagued moral objective that favored vice over virtue. Series creator Shawn Ryan avoids tying up every loose end, even allowing Vic one last moment of antiauthoritarian rage. Cornered and alone, Vic retreats to his two instruments of power; his gun and his street smarts, succumbing to the reality that his fatal flaws are the only traits that have kept him alive this long. For all the many fascinating characters of The Shield, Season 7 ultimately shows the ties that bind family together and the moments that break them apart forever. It’s a thin red line between one or the other.
I lump these two shortened seasons together because Forest Whitaker’s Lt. Tom Kavanaugh appears over the course of both, becoming the lighter fluid to Vic’s fire. Cavanuagh, a manipulative and forceful Internal Affairs officer, sets out to prove Vic was behind the murder of Terry Crowly, the inciting incident in the Pilot episode three years before. The battle between both men gets incredibly personal and dirty, challenging the loyalty of the Strike Team and ultimately leading to the tragic and horrific demise of one member. After the emotional roller coaster ride of Season 5, it’s predecessor feels like a bit of a downturn, as Kavanaugh exits and a new, more universal force becomes Vic’s key adversary. However, both Seasons expand the universe of The Shield to new heights, giving credence to Claudet’s lasting strength (and CCH Pounder’s incredible performance) and Dutch’s weaknesses, while solving a few notorious cases that have been haunting The Barn for years. The finale of Season 6 promises a great ending to the show, forcing Vic and Aceveda to align in the face of insurmountable odds.
Season 4 belongs entirely to the compelling Glenn Close as new captain Monica Rawling, a forceful presence who mandates a key seizure program that ruffles feathers with the general public and police brass. During the many contradictions within city ordinance, institutional hierarchies, and back room dealings, The Shield finally delves into the territory of The Wire, but still devotes itself entirely to the intricacy of this particular war zone. Rawling gets results by using Vic as a spearhead to battle brutal drug dealer Antoine Mitchell (Anthony Anderson in a devilish performance), but it’s the tension between community pressure and reform that drives almost every narrative burst between this brilliant character triangle. Social issues begin to creep into a show that previously had little room amidst the shocking moral ambiguity and violence. The addition of Close, Anderson, and Michael Pena lends new layers of credence to the already crowded and complex Farmington landscape, uprooting previous relationships between the now defunct Strike Team and new Councilman David Aceveda. Performance takes precedent over plot for the first time, and as the seasoned veterans grow deeper, the expanded cast exhibits a fresh angle on this universe. We get a sense that the idealistic global perspectives battling inner city realities is beginning to take a toll within every dark corner of The Shield.
A return to form, if not a return to the sadistic, brutalizing narrative gambit established in Season 1. Season 3 takes on an uncomfortable obsession with sex, intimacy, and friendship, showing how the subversion and perversion of each resides on both sides of the law. Dutch spends a goodly amount of time investigating and solving a devastating serial rape case involving old women, which leads him down a dark path of his own (the crescendo episode is brilliantly directed by David Mamet). Shane falls in love with a Maura, a young woman who at first seems like another inconsequential tart, but turns out to be a raging force all her own when challenged for attention by Vic and the Strike Team. Aceveda comes face to face with a sexual act that confounds his very grasp on sanity, driving him deeper into a well of repressed horrors. Season 3 re-establishes the stakes of The Shield by forcing its anti-heroes to the edge of reason, a place where ambiguity overwhelms any clear cut notion of good and evil and each character begins to crumble under their own personal tremors.