By Kate O'Hare
Saturday, January 07, 2006
12:02 AM PT
Usually, Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis), the volatile, ethically challenged LAPD detective at the heart of FX's edgy crime drama "The Shield," is the predator. But as season five opens on Tuesday, Jan. 10, he looks more like the prey.
Dedicated fans will remember that the show's pilot ended with Mackey shooting and killing fellow officer Terry Crowley (Reed Diamond) after discovering that he was a plant in Mackey's freewheeling Strike Force, assigned by his politically ambitious boss, Capt. David Aceveda (Benito Martinez), to find out if the squad was smuggling drugs.
Crowley's murder is a secret that Vic and best buddy Shane Vendrell (Walton Goggins) have kept ever since -- even from Strike Team members Ronnie Gardocki and Curtis Lemansky (David Rees Snell, Kenneth Johnson) -- and it's hardly been mentioned since a season-two flashback. Aceveda tried for several seasons to bring down Mackey, but now that task falls to Jon Kavanaugh (Forest Whitaker), the lead investigator from the Internal Affairs Division.
"I'm a good guy," Whitaker says during a break in filming on the show's sets in Los Angeles. "I'm very obsessed. I like to win, but what I want to do is take this bad cop off the street, who's harming people, killing people, extorting people's money, dealing drugs.
"For me, I get into the zone by any means necessary. When you get into that zone, other people question you, but you know what's most important is to get him off the street. If he's going to kill somebody else, it'll be my fault."
Chiklis, who is doing double duty as director on this day, says, "It's really interesting to go back to original sin and ask questions about crime and punishment. Do we ever really get away with anything, whether the justice system actually catches us at it, or whether it's a matter of conscience?"
In the scene currently being shot, the Strike Team is concocting a legal strategy to deal with Kavanaugh's investigation, which is slowly overtaking the converted church, called The Barn, that houses Mackey's precinct in the fictional Farmington district.
In one wordless scene, the Strike Team members stare up at Kavanaugh in the captain's office as he opens the blinds and stares right back down at them.
Chiklis believes that Whitaker, an accomplished actor, producer and director, brings a unique rhythm that offsets Vic's bulldog tenacity.
"He's got a phenomenal arrhythmic thing going on with this particular character," Chiklis says, "very syncopated. I hate to make a musical analogy, but I'm sort of a fat backbone, and he's coming with all this poly-rhythm, which is bringing a great new jazz energy to the whole thing."
Whitaker says that in some recent film roles -- including "The Last King of Scotland" in which he plays Ugandan dictator Idi Amin -- he had to concentrate very hard on accents and other specific details.
"I started to question, not that I'm harming my work," he says, "but I wanted to try something where it's more alive, where I can see what I can do naturally.
"If it's well-written, maybe I can just walk in there. But I want the character to have more and more edge, become more and more sharp, so I go through a physical transformation, a clothes transformation. I am doing certain things. I can't let it all go, you know what I mean?"
The pilot for "The Shield" was shocking enough, but to wait until the fifth season to address the murder of Crowley is daring. There's no word on whether this is the last season for the show, but it is an extended one. Twenty-one episodes (the previous longest season was 15) are being shot in two sections, with a short hiatus in between. This allows Chiklis to film the sequel to his hit movie "Fantastic 4" next summer without causing any major delays.
Since Whitaker currently is set to appear in only the first group of episodes, it looks doubtful that he'll succeed in taking Vic down. But it's very dangerous to assume anything on "The Shield." Either way, a little more than halfway through his run, Whitaker has definite ideas of what should happen to Mackey.
"I think he should be in jail," he says. "I think it would be the greatest end to the show if he actually was caught and put behind bars. It would blow people away. They'd never expect it, and rightfully so."
One way that Kavanaugh goes after Mackey is through Lemansky, a good-natured guy whose mixed feelings about the squad's antics have left him chugging Pepto-Bismol.
"I would not call him the weak link," Chiklis says. "I would call him the most plagued by conscience. It's not to say Vic doesn't have a conscience. If he were devoid of conscience, he'd be strictly villainous. He'd just be a villain, pure and simple, and there wouldn't be any discussion about it."
Kavanaugh tells Lemansky about Crowley's murder, which causes him to question Mackey's tactics and his own loyalty.
"This time around," Johnson says, "I get to confront him and try to find out for myself, more than anything, if we went that far. When I make the revelation, I don't want to know. I get very emotional.
"It's a soldier's loyalty; that's how I've always seen my guy. I want people to think maybe he could break. I don't want it to just be the obvious."
"As ever with 'The Shield,'" Chiklis says, "there are shifting alliances and shifting agendas. You never quite know who's going to side with whom."