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SEASON ONE NOTES
Season 1, Episode1 “Pilot”
Written by Shawn Ryan
Directed by Clark Johnson
Air date: 3-12-02
Aceveda: With the continued support of community leaders and ordinary citizens, we can make the Farmington district a safer home for all of us.
Which cuts immediately to Vic kidney punching the cornered and non-resisting dope dealer, who falls down doubled up in pain.
Vic: That’s for running, asshole.
Thus, before the first opening credits for the series roll, he’s set up the basic situation. Here’s the politically ambitious Latino police captain who needs the badass rogue Mackey behind the scenes busting asses to get control of this rough part of town and win him favor with the public.
The biggest ongoing plot conflict of the series comes not exactly as Aceveda versus Mackey, but as how much Aceveda dislikes Mackey and fears blowback from his tactics versus how much Aceveda needs the results that Mackey gets.
Chiklis' best acting comes as he interrogates the child molester, trying to get him to tell where he has the little girl stashed. He's eventually going to get violent, but watch the build-up. See how he talks himself into being mad and crazy enough to do damage to the guy- and makes a point of showing him just how he's doing it.
Vic starts riffing about how he has an eight year old daughter, just like the missing girl. Since the doctor likes eight year old girls, maybe he should bring his Cassidy down here for him to screw. Watch Vic imagining this guy with HIS little girl, purposely working up his bloodlust for this perp. If this doctor were as smart as he seemed to think he was, he'd have been talking about this time.
When the doctor expresses a lack of interest in Vic's girl, Vic is highly insulted. "So you want to have some other guy's little girl, but not my Cassidy?" Oh, so Vic's girl isn't good enough. He becomes right anxious for the doctor to arrange for him to meet this other girl, so he can "see what she's got that my Cassidy doesn't."
Take it as a note of commitment or sickness, but Vic does in fact have an eight year old daughter named Cassidy. Moreover, the actress playing Cassidy is in fact Michael Chiklis' own daughter, Autumn Chiklis.
The beginning of this interrogation scene with the child molester daughter also provided the best main soundbite that they used in the promos for months before the series debut.
PERP: Your turn to play bad cop?
VIC: Naw. Good cop and bad cop left for the day. I'm a different kind of cop.
That is SO incredibly Nietzchean. I've never seen any direct invocation of the man, but he's presenting himself as beyond good and evil (neither good cop nor bad cop).
That's not just talk, either. Vic runs a whole different kind of game. He's not an "evil" guy, some mere gangster running over people. But he SURE ain't anyone's idea of a "good cop" either. He has his own rules and criteria for judging what he considers to be right and wrong behavior- still developing as he goes even a couple of seasons on.
The great genius of this episode is the commitment expressed in the final scene. Vic absolutely assassinates a brother officer in cold blood. [Going, going, gone!] Yup, Terry was a snitch, and an unsympathetic character, but damn.
From this point on, they can dial it down (and they do), but Vic can never, ever take back what he's done here.
Season 1, Episode 2, “Our Gang”
Written by Shawn Ryan
Directed by Gary Fleder
Air date: 3-19-02
Note how Terry's greed contributed to his own death. Vic got wind of his snitching because Moses (Aceveda's federal contact) couldn't authorize all the payoffs that Terry wanted IN WRITING. He had to go up the chain of command in Justice, where Mackey's guy has connections. If Terry hadn't been such a GREEDY snitch, Mackey wouldn't have gotten the heads up.
Season1, Episode 3, “The Spread”
Written by Glen Mazzara
Directed by Clark Johnson
Air date: 3-26-02
One little aspect of this episode that bears note as it glides quickly by is Vic’s seduction of Aceveda over the missing basketball player. Note the male bonding story that Vic concocts to cover the fact that he’s de facto kidnapped a major NBA player. CHECK OUT Aceveda’s conspiratorial smile as Vic tells him what he needs to hear. Yet note how easy Vic’s “snorkeling” theory was for Aceveda to accept, and then the punch line as we hear the more diplomatic version of exactly that same theory which Aceveda offers to the player’s female attorney.
Season 1, Episode 4, “Dawg Days”
Written by Kevin Arkadie
Directed by Stephen Gyllenhaal
Air Date: 4-2-02
Season 1, Episode 5, “Blowback”
Written by Kurt Sutter
Directed by Clark Johnson
Air date: 4-9-02
Season 1, Episode 6, “Cherrypoppers”
Written by Scott Rosenbaum
Directed by DJ Caruso
Air date: 4-16-02
Season 1, Episode 7, “Pay in Pain”
Written by Shawn Ryan
Directed by DJ Caruso
Air date: 4-23-02
Season 1, Episode 8, “Cupid & Psycho”
Written by Glen Mazzara
Directed by Guy Ferland
Air date: 4-30-02
Season 1, Episode 9, “Throwaway”
Written by Kevin Arkadie
Directed by Leslie Libman
Air date: 5-7-02
The climax of this episode struck me as absolutely hilarious. It was just so outrageously wrong, illegal and inappropriate. Yet it was so perfect, and put lots of accounts right. You have to laugh.
In short, Vic et al absolutely hijack a police evidence van to reclaim a gun that they had planted on what turned out to be the wrong guy. Vic got a temporary tattoo like that of the real bad guy, and they frame HIM for the jacking.
Obviously Vic was committing probably a dozen different felonies, and casting a lie as the truth. Yet the bad banger ends up in prison where he belongs, the ex-girlfriend Tigre is safe (and available for Lemonhead), and her innocent brother is off the hook for a third strike he hadn't earned.
As Shakespeare said, all's well that ends well. Which makes it a comedy, and explains why I was laughing my cracker ass off watching Vic pretend to be a Los Mag. Fun!
Season 1, Episode 10, “Dragonchasers”
Written by Scott Rosenbaum and Kurt Sutter
Directed by Nick Gomez
Air date: 5-14-02
Season 1, Episode 11, “Carnivores”
Story by James Manos, Jr.
Teleplay by Kevin Arkadie and Glen Mazzara
Directed by Scott Brazil
Air date: 5-21-02
The whole series has no more gruesome scene than the pre-credit scene of the Korean home invasion. Besides a dead old woman, her surviving husband has had his feet nailed to the floor. The old man cut a very striking image there stuck looking over the body of his wife, so pained and humiliated as to blow his own brains out right in front of the officers.
What's really interesting, though, is the intricate follow through of the story. For one thing, there is a specific explanation of the nailing of the feet. They were very deft in handling the underlying racial politics, saying a lot with a few gestures as the grieving Korean daughter rejects the black cop (Claudette). Note the high mindedness with which Claudette gently brushes that issue away, handing her off to the white cop she will be more willing to talk to.
They also got a whole different flavor with the later scene where the same Korean boys invaded the home of another relative, but these relatives gave up the money and escaped with their lives. How lucky they were was underscored in a fairly artistic manner by having a grandson whose main concern was retrieving his X-Box. If any of these people had any idea of what they had narrowly missed out on, they'd be acting differently.
As Claudette and Dutch track the crimes back through the foolish grandson, it becomes something of an immigrant community Fargo story: a little half-assed robbery becomes a horrible murder/suicide over wanting some stupid jewelry and video games.
Interestingly for something so striking and nuanced, this A-story line was manufactured under particular time pressure, with the writers already several days late for delivering a script. In short, they were wrestling with trying to make a three show arc of the Gilroy hit-and-run story, finally collapsed it to season ending episodes 12 and 13 right after this. Thus, this Korean story was a bit of a rush job.
Some of the writers expressed dissatisfaction with the easy, quickie resolution of the stolen ring story line. They thought it too easy and convenient that Vic would be able to locate this specific item this quick and easy. I can see their point, but it works. This doesn't seem that hard to believe. Call it one part Vic knowing who to go to, and one part of simple luck. You could argue over the exact details of this little play, but it makes sense that Vic would be able to come up with a bit of police type useful practical help to impress this school marm and get her favor as needed- which is the point of the whole exercise.
One thing I was a little dissatisfied with: the lack of recognition for Dutch in the wake of his big serial killer bust. He was absolutely right when he was bitching here to Claudette about not getting any bit of recognition. Not even a commendation.
Now, it's not just that Dutch deserved recognition, but that it seems to me unlikely that such a thing would occur. It seems like breaking Shawn the serial killer would be a celebrity and career making type of case. This TOTAL lack of recognition seems rather odd, even implausible.
Watching these episodes repeatedly shows them sometimes better seeing from the end back to the beginning. Sometimes you can just pick where the break comes from.
For example, take the scene here where Vic shoves Rondell through the Barn and out the back door. It's interesting the first time through. Repeated viewings review the balance in this relationship, as it's gradually tipping away from Vic protecting Rondell. After the half dozenth viewing, it becomes clear that this specific scene showing up high at the Barn making public threats was where Rondell signed his own death warrant.
Getting rid of Rondell was just necessary after this point. The guy was high and unstable. He was not just screwing up business, but he was an active threat to everyone's survival.
The rooftop scene where Rondell took shots at Vic and his own partner Kern rates repeated viewings. The shots, the run across the roof, dangling Rondell off the building, and back and forth with Kern talking Vic back from the edge. He might as well have dropped him off the roof though, as what he eventually did. Take a particular care on repeated viewings to notice the very artful framing and cutting of the shots in this whole rooftop scene.
This is as close to an outright assassination as Vic has come since Terry in the pilot.
This episode was also the debut for Tio, perhaps my favorite secondary character in the whole series. This guy is really fascinating just to look at, a very striking physical specimen. He also has such a calm and intelligent personality as to be very engaging. You could REASON with this guy. He's capable of some violence if necessary (presumably the specific demise of Rondell was his doing). But still, he's not malicious nor hotheaded. He's from a rough neighborhood.
His "job interview" scene with Vic was just priceless. His proposed alternate responses to the Nation of Islam was just beautifully expressed.
Tio makes some sense. Here's a guy that's going to have enough discipline to keep nasty stuff away from kids, and not be doing stupid thug stuff. Unlike Rondell, no way would Tio be having a female police officer threatened at gunpoint. Beyond anything else, he's not that damned stupid. Again, compared to Rondell, this guy is absolutely a braintrust.
Beyond that, he has some sort of force of personality. I wonder how much of that is in the writing, and how much is the skill of the actor in animating the dialogue. Whatever it is, the presence of this character on the screen brings a smile to my lips.
The Nation of Islam members who precipitated the mini-crisis also cut very striking figures. The scene with them lining up down the hall at the Barn, and snapping into their posting position looked super cool. This Brother Xavier would be just dangerous as hell to Vic. He's totally righteous and clean, so Vic has no leverage whatsoever, nothing to offer a true man of God. "Admit that you're evil" he demands of Vic. This is the kind of guy who could bring Vic down faster than anyone.
"Looks like you wandered into the wrong prayer group there, Frosty." Shane Vendrell's priceless comment to a blonde white member marching with the Nation of Islam.
For all that, the most compelling drama in this episode comes from Julien. This is his dark night of the soul. All those feelings of self-hatred, guilt and despair, and perhaps the ugly opening scene with the Korean murder/suicide that he witnessed just broke him down from sense. He made what amounted to a spontaneous suicide attempt, holstering his weapon and demanding that a perp shoot him. The young perp's confusion made a particularly intriguing hanging dramatic moment.
It made for an even more compelling scene back at the Barn when Danny confronts him about the situation right after he's come across the floor collecting attaboys and pats on the back from the whole precinct. That made a perfect setup for their heart to heart, as he bemoans the terrible unspeakable things he does.
Danny gently expresses that she knows he's gay, and it's not that big a deal. The combination of womanly empathy and personal concern over what kind of mentally unstable person she's riding with combine for a beautifully played scene for Danny.
It was also an interesting dramatic decision to cut through some explanation, and just say that Danny had already long since figured it out. She's his partner riding with him all day, and add in woman's intuition. Of course she would have figured it out. Nicely underplayed revelation, and it moves the story along. Good move.
Season 1, Episode 12, “Two Days of Blood”
Written by Kurt Sutter and Scott Rosenbaum
Directed by Guy Ferland
Air date: 5-28-02
He wasn't the most critical character in the advancement of the series meta-story this week, but Shane's storyline going undercover amongst Mexican cockfighters was uniquely touching. Shane Vendrell must be rated one of the most beautiful television characters created in the last decade. This episode makes a particularly good exhibit for why someone would say that.
You might say that Shane is a sensitive redneck, which gives his basic personality dynamic. This episode certainly showed his most uber-redneck characteristics coming to the fore. Screw ANY hint of rules or proper procedure, he's just going to whack an arms dealer on the back of the head with a 2x4 and sell him to the bounty hunters. He totally rammed that down his partner's throat (Lemonhead), dragging him against his very clearly stated wishes into scuzzy, illegal activity.
Yet you have to love Shane. For starting out like the most cynical redneck, for example noting that he found their informant's pride-and-joy fighting cocks "beautiful- in a snack food sort of way" the poor schmuck falls for his own bird. By the time they get to the climax, Shane has made the warned-against mistake of naming his bird, and is seriously hurt over the bird's demise in the ring. He's practically crying in public, in the middle of all those tough guys. He about dropped the ball on his business. He showed more empathy for this noble fighting rooster than he generally does for people of color, for starters. Still, only the stoniest of hearts could fail to be moved by his intense empathy with his ill-fated Fred.
The big gun dealer they were after proved interesting. He was surprisingly genteel and easy going, consoling Shane on the loss of Fred. For being such a big time badass, he was friendly and easygoing. He displayed not the least hint of antisocial temperament up until the moment that Shane tried to jump him. He seemed like a surprisingly sympathetic Joe. Sorry bout that 2x4.
The episode title comes from the Mexican cockfight where Shane lost his bird, and it also comes from the murders and the riots that end the show.
Note how utterly stupidly (but unfortunately realistically) the ghetto neighbors blame the police for the two murdered sisters. Cops can't be everywhere all the time. Sorry if it took a long time to get a response to this critical call, but these people act like it was the cops who killed these women. Dumbasses who act like some of these people DESERVE to live in ghettos.
The subtlety of it slipped by me at first, but the immediate blame for these riots should probably go to Karen Mitchell, the councilman's assistant getting ready to run against Aceveda for council. In the fast breaking scene, Aceveda simply says to Claudette as he's rousting her out to help him quell the building demonstration, "Someone leaked the 9-11 tapes." They never come back to it, but Ms. Mitchell would be the obvious culprit with access to the tapes, and motivation to want to vilify Aceveda. It would appear that a little bit of political positioning spun out of control.
One particularly interesting twist in the construction of the Vic Mackey mythology comes from his troubles when Gilroy melts down, starting in this episode. This is about the most precarious personal situation he's been in during the entire run of the series. Yet it doesn't (at least in any direct way) stem from Vic's bad traits or corruption.
Vic's classic season climaxing crisis comes NOT from Vic being bad, but comes just directly from his most positive traits, his ideas of loyalty and friendship. He's getting in his worst trouble by having his best character traits turned against him. Brilliant writing.
One of the redeeming characteristics of the Mackey character is his honesty with himself. He'll lie to anyone else, but he doesn't try to trick himself. He does not always make excuses to himself for everything he does, but is often willing to entertain doubts about his own behavior. In subtle ways, the guilt weight of his original sin from the pilot clearly weighs on his conscience ever after.
Yet Mackey would look at his own actions during Gilroy's meltdown and quite understandably think that he had tried very hard to do the right thing here. But Crikey, his old partner not only suckered him in to helping cover up a hit and run, but then committed a goddam cold blooded assassination of a witness to his hit and run right in front of Vic, and in such a way as to leave him publicly implicated. What the hell was Vic really SUPPOSED to do at this point?
Still, his attempt to help his old friend leads directly to the practical end of his own marriage- Vic and wife have not lived together since then in the series. He came within inches of being hung with murder of the witness. Much badness enveloped Vic.
You might take this to be an indication that Vic Mackey needs to re-examine his philosophical/moral premises, if his supposed best characteristics get him in the worst trouble. Something's out of whack here.
Discuss amongst yourselves.
Season 1, Episode 13, “Circles” [Season 1 finale]
Written by Shawn Ryan
Directed by Scott BrazilAir date: 6-4-02
Ryan just did beautiful work here with the copkillers story. In the first place, you've got a couple of black kids who decide that police in general were responsible for the deaths of two women because cops took too long responding to their 9-1-1 call- and therefore it should be open season on killing cops. That's a pretty tough take on the culture of victimization, uncomfortable and arguably somewhat brave territory for popular entertainment. Yet as harsh as this comes out, it's not especially unrealistic. I could see a handful of particularly hateful black folks doing something this awful in Los Angeles, or closer to home in Cincinnati.
Better yet were the dramatic implications for Vic and Shane. The scene where they caught the first copkiller at his junky father's place bears multiple viewings. Watch them leaning into torturing this punk, taking out their own unstated guilt over killing Terry in the pilot on this admittedly HIGHLY deserving perp. "Oh, you cop killing piece of shit." The more times you watch the scene, the more little shades of impacted guilt, rage and displacement can be seen washing over them.
The copkiller's junky father himself was a striking characterization in not more than five minutes screen time. How much of the effect of the character was in Shawn Ryan's script, and how much was the nuances of the actor? Hard telling, but the pure junky solipsism fascinates me. Think about the pure cold lack of empathy in luring his son in to the cops by telling him that the long-lost mother is there to see him. "She looks good. She's got Jesus now." This phone call strikes me as quite funny, in the cruelest way.
Vic makes an unexpected show of restraint for the climax of the first season, bringing Gilroy in rather than simply killing him, or letting Shane do it, as he requested. After threatening Vic's family (and planting a murder weapon in the daughter's room), Vic absolutely should have let Shane kill him. It appears that lingering guilt over Terry in the pilot has restrained him here from being violent when it was arguably appropriate. Obviously, Gilroy deserved whacking far more than dumbass Terry.
Ryan gets a whole different refraction of Shane and Vic's guilt over Terry to consider side by side with copkillers earlier in the day. Think of what kind of things must have been running through Shane's mind as he offers to assassinate Gilroy. "Let me do this for you, Vic." Notice Vic's shocked reaction to this offer, jerking his head around like he'd been punched.
I am perhaps somewhat less impressed than others with the final scene of the season, Vic's breakdown in his empty house. Chiklis did a good job and all, diplaying some range of grief and stunned disbelief and all that. But it didn't advance the storyline past the answering machine message from the wife announcing that she's left Vic. After that, it was to a large extent just a couple of minutes of the bull bellowing and snorting around the kitchen. I must admit that while watching it I have once or twice found myself hollering "Acting. GENIUS" in best Jon Lovitz voice.
I did appreciate, however, the final seconds, as he brushes off grief, straps his gun on, and strides purposefully out the door. Where could he have been going? They never actually came back to that question.
Much better than the Chiklis master thespian thing at the end was the basic metaphor of the tore up house. It was not any big acting performance by the wife, but the basic writing. She comes home to find it severely torn up from the boys' rabid search for Gilroy's planted gun, and it's so strong that you can just SEE that this would be the epiphany where she sees how Vic's activities have literally destroyed their home. Yeah, that would be just the thing to cause you to leave your damned husband. Perfect set up, and the answering machine message made the perfect dramatically economical way of paying it off.
By way of negotiating for co-operation, tough street cop Vic offers that he will catch the cop killers and then call Aceveda in to bring them out, just giving him the credit. Notice what was shown but never explicitly said: In the end, Vic did not GIVE Aceveda a damned thing. The captain was right there, and shot one of the perps personally. Aceveda not only earned every bit of the credit he got for the bust, but absolutely saved Vic's life.
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