Shane... oh, Shane... what have you done? "Conscience is a killer" is the catchphrase that made season 5 of The Shield the most intense season of the series to date. These 11 tightly scripted episodes comprise the first half of a 21-episode arc, with series creator Shawn Ryan referring to the sixth season (broadcast in 2007) as "Season 5.1." This is The Shield at its finest, culminating in a climactic 11th episode ("Postpartum") that ricochets the series toward a complex range of dramatic complications. Jumping the shark? Not a chance, pal--not when you've got soon-to-be Oscar-winner Forest Whitaker in his outstanding guest-star role as Det. John Kavanaugh, the upright, tormented Internal Affairs cop determined to destroy Det. Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis) and his corrupt LAPD Strike Team. As Kavanaugh mounts an obsessive campaign to reveal Mackey's shameful secrets, conscience is a killer in the Strike Team's midst: Ronnie (David Rees Snell) maintains a stoical voice of reason, but as Mackey recruits (and seduces) a savvy lawyer (Laura Harring) to defend against Kavanaugh's harassment, Curtis "Lemonhead" Lemansky (Kenneth Johnson, never better) desperately protects the Strike Team with a sacrificial gambit that provokes Shane (Walton Goggins) to commit a crime that's both shockingly tragic and dramatically ingenious, since it forcefully propels The Shield toward a bold and unpredictable future.
Supporting-character arcs are equally fresh and involving: Officer Danny Sofer (Catherine Dent) is eight months pregnant with Mackey's child; Wyms (CCH Pounder) struggles with a disabling case of lupus before assuming Captaincy of "The Barn"; Dutch (Jay Karnes) is reluctantly teamed with the ethically challenged ex-Captain Billings (David Marciano), leading to a perfect blend of comic relief; and while Aceveda (Benito Martinez) is frantically wedged between Mackey and Kavanaugh, beat-cop Julien (Michael Jace) copes with an eager but incompetent rookie (Paula Garces) who benefits from Dutch's self-serving mentorship. And while season 5 dishes up plenty of crime-fighting action, it's Kavanaugh's presence (and Whitaker's offbeat, intimidating performance) that keeps these 11 episodes focused with laser-like intensity. (Kudos also to Cathy Cahlin Ryan for her superb work as Mackey's anguished but cool-headed wife.)
As usual with The Shield, the DVD bonus features are outstanding, emphasizing the series' cast and crew as a close-knit family, deeply affected by the departure of a major cast member and the death (on April 17, 2006, from complications of Lyme Disease and Lou Gehrig's Disease) of veteran director/producer Scott Brazil, whose contributions to The Shield were nothing less than essential. Beloved by all, Brazil is honored with a memorial featurette, and the powerful 88-minute documentary "Delivering the Baby: The Making of Episode 511" intimately chronicles the production of "Postpartum" and its emotional impact on everyone involved. Audio commentaries for all 11 episodes add to the series' rich familial history (these rank among the best TV-related DVD commentaries ever), and the "TV Academy Panel" is a well-moderated Q&A (by Entertainment Weekly reporter Lynnette Rice) with Chiklis, Ryan, and Whitaker. In the "I.A.D." featurette, The Shield's police consultants analyze Whitaker's character and the essential role of the Internal Affairs Division, and a wealth of deleted scenes prove, yet again, that The Shield maintains its excellence even on the cutting-room floor. No doubt about it, season 5 will leave you begging for season 6. --Jeff Shannon
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