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Saying good-bye to The Barn: Chatting up The Shield's Shawn Ryan as series finale nears

by Jonathan Toomey, posted Nov 17th 2008 2:03PM
(L-R): Michael Chiklis and Shawn Ryan

Over the past several years, TV fans have been fortunate enough to be able to say a proper good-bye to some of the medium's finest dramas ever made. Alias, The Wire, The West Wing, The Sopranos, and Six Feet Under have all bowed out within the past four years, and the list could go on. They all got "endings" - whether you liked them or not. However, none of them (save for The Wire and for entirely different reasons) were as consistently riveting as Vic Mackey's exploits on FX's The Shield.

Since the seventh and final season began airing, FX has sent critics the first 11 episodes. So, despite the fact that I've been in the know, I've tried to avoid sounding like "I have a secret" in my episode reviews. Still, I was in the dark like everyone else when it came to how it all ends. So imagine my glee when I received an invite last month to attend a screening of the show's final two installments followed by a Q&A with Shield creator Shawn Ryan.

Along with a handful of other critics, I arrived for what turned into a mini-TCA session. However, before you read on, rest assured that what follows in no way spoils anything major about the final two episodes, but rather is about The Shield as a whole. I thought I had reached a pinnacle when I interviewed Walton Goggins - I was wrong. Following the screening, Ryan sat down and just started talking Shield. It was like being witness to the taping of a commentary for a DVD release. He made a point of saying how uneasy the show's finale makes him feel:

"This has been the longest ending ever. This show has been ending for me for a year [partly due to the WGA strike]. Between writing the final script, filming it, editing it, and it's airing, I mean it's obviously been a special show for me and it's nervousness, even knowing what's coming."

Cathy Cahlin Ryan & Forest WhitakerWe then jumped right into the previous seasons as Ryan spouted off anecdotes, jokes, and tidbits that only an insider could know. During the strike, he actually picketed his own set one day so he could see his wife (Cathy Cahlin Ryan, who plays Corinne) film her last scene! One of his favorite episodes is season one's "Cupid and Psycho!" The Shield and Grey's Anatomy were on the same lot and McDreamy's house is where The Barn used to be! Did I mention this was heaven?

Without saying what, you'll find out one thing about Vic in the penultimate episode, "Possible Kill Screen" (airs tomorrow, 11/18, at 10PM ET on FX). Something so basic that you'll be amazed when you realize that you didn't know it already. However, that little bit of info really speaks to the basis of the show as a whole and this world that viewers were dropped into on that fateful night when Vic put a bullet in Terry Crowley's face. Except for the season two installment, "Co-Pilot," we know very little about the dark cave Vic Mackey crawled out of. When asked about the lack of info, Ryan stated that when it came to crafting his characters on The Shield, he simply followed a little bit of advice he got from David Mamet: "backstory is bullshit."

Yet for someone who we know so little about, as fans, we've never questioned Vic's ability to achieve ... well ... anything. While the comparisons between Vic Mackey and Jack Bauer are endless (24 premiered in 2001 as well), Ryan said that he agreed with 24's similar style of refraining from showing the main character involved in everyday, "mundane shit" - sleeping, doing laundry, etc. Ryan's reasoning related to why he thought The Shield was different from The Sopranos:

"... if there's one reason I avoided those kinds of stories, it's that I don't think I can tell those kinds of stories as well as David Chase. I can't tell the ... but it's not my strong suit, you know, the let's talk over making a sandwich and in three minutes we're going to have subtle inferences that lead to minor discoveries of each other ... The show was always about cops and only occasionally would you see the people outside those lives."

You have to appreciate an executive producer who's so willing to tell you what he isn't good at, and it's even more impressive to see how he used that humility to make the show better. While Ryan admitted that he takes credit for not letting the show get "bigger" after season one's awards success (Ryan believes that The Shield actually got "less outrageous" over the span of the series), he didn't hesitate to give credit to those who helped him achieve the goal of crafting a show that even he admitted could be dense:

"I'm the first one to say that you have to have a talented group of writers. You know it's hard to write an entire TV season or series and if you're not David E. Kelley or Aaron Sorkin, you can't do it ... but I can't, and the writing staff I had was just fantastic ... you had to come up with so much plot for each episode. A lot of times we'd come up with an idea for what Vic does, and then we'd make that the thing that he tries and then it doesn't work. So we'd have to come up with three different things."

Ryan said that for the life of the show, he would only hire script coordinators who were cult fans (so they knew if something in a plot seemed inconsistent) and often, his SCs were promoted to writers. If you look at the staff and consider where some of them are now (Kurt Sutter is the show-runner for Sons of Anarchy, Glen Mazzara is the EP for Starz's Crash, Adam Fierro wrote for 24 and is now on the Dexter staff -- the list goes on), it speaks volumes to the ensemble that crafted Vic's shenanigans.

Despite the fact that viewers know this never happened because each installment was nearly perfection, Ryan had no problem stressing that "he was deathly afraid of the show turning bad." Ryan, who wrote for Nash Bridges and Angel prior to The Shield, saw his FX drama as a vehicle to escape from those two shows and write something completely different - but he wanted it to be good:

"There's a real temptation to say, for whatever show you're working on, that you understand it better than you did at the beginning ... and that you've got it wired and that you can go home early that night and we just never went home early ... I never wanted to make a mediocre episode of the show, and I know that some were better than others, and I know that some were confused by the first five episodes [of this season] with all the machinations, although I would claim it still all makes sense and that you guys [viewers] love that complexity on The Wire. We tried not to settle."

Of course, that immediately spawned the question - why is The Shield different from The Wire? I mentioned earlier that I thought the two shows were equal but for different reasons, and Ryan was able to articulate it far better than I ever could have: "There's a heightened aspect to it, and there's the difference I think ... The Wire strives to be utterly sort of journalistic but I've always come from a place, as a TV fan, from looking for that cool, entertaining thing."

His point? Ryan wasn't saying The Wire isn't entertaining, but rather that it's completely believable, whereas The Shield, while it has moments that are borderline plausible, they're much closer to "entertainment TV" than to the "utter journalism" seen on The Wire. It's a really accurate distinction.

However, the two shows were extremely similar in that they both had an endless list of minor and supporting characters. Prior to production on season seven beginning, Ryan said he re-watched the first six seasons to try and determine which minor characters he wanted to revisit. We already saw Farrah (Mageina Tovah), Tavon (Brian J. White), Lester (Patrick St. Espirit), as well as many others. The finale features the return of André Benjamin's Huggins. You may remember him as the comic-book store owner in the season three finale. Wait'll you see what he's up to now.

Glenn CloseRyan said that during season six, bringing back Glenn Close was considered, but her filming schedule got in the way and then she got Damages. The same issues existed for Michael Peña, who played Shane's partner Army in season four. They wanted him, but his schedule never permitted it. Anthony Anderson was always at the top of the list, but Ryan said that they could never figure out the right reason to bring back Antwan. That's something I appreciate. As great as it can be to see a favorite character return, it's always lousy when it feels forced or isn't organic to the plot.

The one character Ryan regrets not being able to bring back? Diro Kesakhian (Franke Potente). She was busy filming Guerrilla (Steven Soderbergh's Che Guevara pic). Hence why we saw so much more Rezian instead.

If you think about it, the level of accuracy and attention to detail that needs to be adhered to when dealing with so many plots and so many characters must be mind-numbing. As I mentioned, Ryan gave credit to his staff, but he did say that he liked to go into a season with an idea of where he wanted to go and he even compared this final season to the fifth:

Kenneth Johnson & Walton Goggins "In season five when we killed Lem, that was the plan from the beginning of the season but I told everyone I might pull away from it. I wanted freedom to not have to. I didn't want to paint myself in any corners and then just inevitably, it had to happen. In this case [season seven], we had areas we wanted to go to, but the moment you cut yourself off from doing something, you're limiting yourself in the writer's room I think. So it's good to have a plan, but you want that freedom to go off on side roads."

To me, that's been the beauty of season seven - all these little detours to seasons past that have been explored in each episode. So many other shows don't get to do that because they become so wrapped up in how it's going to end rather than exploring what it took to bring them to that point.

Also in attendance was FX President John Landgraf. Prior to the screening, Landgraf made it clear that he viewed The Shield as being "historically significant" and I'm inclined to agree with his assessment. Back in its early seasons, no other show on basic cable (and don't forget - this was 2001) pushed the limit (and language and content) in quite the same way as The Shield. However, Landgraf, who called Ryan "the original mold breaker," went on about why even something as great as The Shield had to come to an end. He acknowledged that Ryan had been writing towards an end since season four and was glad that the show wasn't going to be dragged out, but rather would exit at a creative peak.

However, the conversation kept coming back to Vic's ability to always get what he wanted, and Landgraf saw that as the impetus for needing closure. While Ryan agreed with needing an end, he argued that Vic's "luck" made sense, since as a cop, he was always dealing with roughly "the same 3% of people 97% of the time." Landgraf saw that as another reason to think about the direction the show was taking:

"That's why it had to end. It would have become The Dukes of Hazzard if it didn't ... was that what this show would turn into? Always getting away from Boss Hogg?" To which most of the room responded with a resounding, "would that be so bad?"

Perhaps it would have reached a point where Vic's endless luck became too much. At this point though, it doesn't matter because Vic Mackey has an ending. While it's going to be great to see why people agree or disagree with it, Ryan didn't appear to have reached that level of curiosity yet. He was still busy dealing with his own emotions:

"It's going to be sad to see that final episode air and know that it's completely over."

The series finale, "Family Meeting" airs next Tuesday, 11/25, at 10PM ET on FX. Be sure to double check your DVRs though, because it runs longer than an hour.

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Sheindla Breitburg

I loved this show, every character, Shawn Ryan and all the creativity this brilliant show brought for seven years.
I will miss each and everyone of you and F/X TV schedule will never be the same.



December 09 2008 at 9:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Sherry

This cannot end, it is too explosive.
Fast forward, it has been 3 years, and ICE is ready to can Vic. During this time he has been searching frantically for his family with no hits.
Then he remembers what Aceveda did and has the telephone photo of the time he was photographed with the gangbangers making him do the nasty.
Vic goes to him to ask him to help him find Corrine and the kids but he refuses.
Vic pulls out the photo and Aceveda almost has a heart attack. Vic tells him to start searching for Corrine or else.
Aceveda agrees, during this time Ronnie has been doing some real hard time and trying to survive. All he can think about is how Vic burned him. He joins the Aryan gang to survive but he knows his days are limited. Before one of his Aryan brothers is released, Ronnie pays him to put a hit on Vic. Ronnie dies in prison because one of Andre's gang members is also in the same prison and has Ronnie killed.
Vic tracks down Corrine and is so happy he thinks he may have his family back. Right when he sees Corrine he is killed by the prison hitman but nobody ever sees him, so there cannot be an arrest.
ICE closes the entire file on Vic, Claudette is very sick but reads the headlines and has a huge smile on her face and states "finally justice" and pulls out the photos of Shane, Mara and Jackson.

Vics funeral is not attended by anyone and the buriel guys lower his casket.
The End..............

December 03 2008 at 9:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
wesley

I have been a huge fan from day 1! I love every minute of it up until last night.....is this what we waited 7 years for? Over just like that. This finale left something to be desired! I loved everything about the shield, the script, the directing, and the acting is awesome. My daughter was concieved on feb 14th, premier of season 5, if that tells you anything. Season 1 2 and 3 were the best, but we lost something leading into season 4. Vic got a little less hands-on. I think we all loved to see Vic man-handle the perps and innocent alike. Why this change? I belive I speak for many when I say that it was nice to see a show start every episode with a bang and not give you a break (commercial) for 20 sometimes 30 min in. SO WHY DO I FEEL CHEATED? Is this the best we could do....Is this really it? I could have sworn we deserved more than we got....and what was with all the commercials....that's where the hour and a half came from.....We stretched it out and I was so hyped up , chompin at the bit at quater till 10.....and then.....Nothing....definatly not what I thought we were going to get. However I complained enough..Thanks to all involved with this program. It is still one of my alltime favorites

November 26 2008 at 3:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
wesley

I have been a huge fan from day 1! I love every minute of it up until last night.....is this what we waited 7 years for? Over just like that. This finale left something to be desired! I loved everything about the shield, the script, the directing, and the acting is awesome. My daughter was concieved on feb 14th, premier of season 5, if that tells you anything. Season 1 2 and 3 were the best, but we lost something leading into season 4. Vic got a little less hands-on. I think we all loved to see Vic man-handle the perps and innocent alike. Why this change? I belive I speak for many when I say that it was nice to see a show start every episode with a bang and not give you a break (commercial) for 20 sometimes 30 min in. SO WHY DO I FEEL CHEATED? Is this the best we could do....Is this really it? I could have sworn we deserved more than we got....and what was with all the commercials....that's where the hour and a half came from.....We stretched it out and I was so hyped up , chompin at the bit at quater till 10.....and then.....Nothing....definatly not what I thought we were going to get. However I complained enough..Thanks to all involved with this program. It is still one of my alltime favorites.

November 26 2008 at 3:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
crabbyjacq

HOLY CRAP! I think I'm more depressed today than I was last night, probably because the shock of the ending of one of the most powerful dramas EVER to end has finally hit me! I wish they'd do a Q&A show with all of the characters that would make me feel better. The last episode was AWESOME and the ending was perfect. Bravo to Shawn Ryan for making me feel so many different emotions, even the day after. I am so bummed. I need more, Tuesdays will not be the same - EVER! Me and my boyfriend are getting the complete series on DVD to start from the beginning. THE SHIELD WILL BE TRULY MISSED!

November 26 2008 at 11:20 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Don

As a former LAPD cop. I can honestly tell you The Shield was best cop show ever. Police Story would be the 1970's second place finisher. The show focused on a mulittude of "good amd evil" issues facing the Cop World, society, gang enviornment, politics, and violence in the streets of LA. The show opened up many wounds in our society, which captured the viewers for the seriies run. My hat is off to all those who made the show possible.

November 25 2008 at 5:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Mark

First: Awesome reporting. Good job, man.

Second: I wish I knew you were going to talk to Shawn Ryan. There's one question I've been dying to have answered. Last season Shane wrote out a 32 page confession that included "every bad thing we've ever done". I want to know if the writers actually created that document. Is there a 32 page book of Strike Team sin floating around the writer's office? And if so, is there a way we can read it?

November 20 2008 at 4:34 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Kasey

The shield is/has been the best show. I have never missed one episode since its inception. I am so mad that this show is ending. There are more stories that could be used and the Cast are so Great..in their respective parts.
All cast will be sorely missed. I appreciate the show and the cast..I am truly going to miss you.

November 18 2008 at 10:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
DavidMac

The Shield is better than The Wire, for me, because it is watchable, has energy, and is always tense.

Aside from the money train, actually I take that back since cops have done the same thing, the show is realistic. While the crap that the Strike Team did may be a compilation of crap that dirty cops from all of the nation have done, it still is realistic. I'm going to miss the show. I wish Kavanaugh would appear again.

November 18 2008 at 9:16 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Joni

Great report, glad to see TvSquad is still able to do these.

I love The Shield way more than I thought possible when I was "forced" to watch the first couple of episodes. Glad I stuck around.

And Jonathan, ahem, her name is Franka Potente...

November 18 2008 at 8:36 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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