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November 25, 2008

'Shield' creator explains Vic Mackey’s fate


>> The following has heavy spoilers from tonight's  just-concluded series finale of "The Shield." Those wishing to remain unspoiled should stop reading <<

After screening "The Shield" series finale for reporters, it was FX president John Landgraf who gave the best summary of the meaning behind Vic Mackey’s fate.

“He managed to preserve his own freedom and his life by sacrificing everything else in his life that was important,” Landgraf said. “And he gave up his loyalty -- which was always considered his most important trait.”

Creator Shawn Ryan -- referencing Mackey’s riveting confession scene -- added, “To get the freedom he wanted, Vic had to be completely honest, which is something he’s never done before.”

Ryan said he always had a “vague notion” of how Mackey’s story would end.

“There was never one moment where you have everything,” he said. “I wanted Vic to give up his badge. I wanted to see some episodes with him without [the badge]. And I always envisioned the final shot of him being stuck in an office.”

So is Hell a cubicle?

“For Vic, maybe,” Ryan said. “Those three minutes seemed pretty tough for him.”

At the risk of sounding like a college term paper, part of the final episode’s impact was making Vic so utterly powerless and emasculated. The cop who looks like a walking phallic symbol, gun ever in hand, using his authority to bully and control others, is stripped of his badge, family, friends, a powerful job and his dignity -- sentenced to wear a tie and act as an office drone in service to a woman he has heartlessly manipulated all season.

In the show’s final moment before the credits, Vic gets his gun back from his desk drawer. Fans will read a lot into this -- suspecting a Mackey rampage -- but the move didn’t seem to have much importance to Ryan, who said the gun grab was a bit of staging that wasn’t in his original script. His final line described Mackey shutting down his computer with something like, “Vic powers off, destination unknown.”

Ryan avoided making an interpretation of the ending, preferring fans come to their own conclusion, but he seemed to suggest Mackey’s fate was indeed to slave away under those florescent lights, at least for a while. (Ryan noted he normally doesn’t get involved with the show’s sound effects, yet he was very specific about the buzzing he wanted the lights to make during Mackey’s final scene -- those three minutes are, in a sense, giving the audience a feel for Mackey’s next three years).

As for the odds of a theatrical follow-up, or a spinoff (“Santa Monica Dutch,” as the joke goes), Ryan seemed very doubtful, yet did not entirely rule out the possibility of a theatrical film.

“I don't think there's anything else to tell in the television world,” he said. “It was always important to give FX an ending. None of this was an attempt to set up anything else. I've seen enough boxers say ‘never’ [and yet still fight again].”

Regarding Dutch Wagenbach, Ryan said he cast Jay Karnes' real-life wife as Billings' lawyer. The move was meant to further suggest that Dutch would finally find a successful romantic partner.

Ryan expressed relief that the ending had not leaked online. It’s remarkable, really. The show wrapped around the start of the year and has had several critic screenings in recent weeks. Yet even today on several message boards, the ending remained a secret and fan predictions were nicely off target.

Few certainly would have ever guessed the murder-suicide of Shane Vendrell and his family -- easily the finale’s most shocking moment. While Mackey’s story was long known, Ryan said Vendrell’s fate was the last piece of the narrative puzzle to fall into place.

“The initial pitch was Shane gets caught,” Ryan said. “There was a pro wrestler [Chris Benoit] who did something similar last year. They have a term for it -- ‘family annihilator.’ You believe you’re preserving for eternity their level of innocence, that you're somehow saving them. To write those scenes was not pleasant. From the moment the family went on the run, I said to the writers, ‘This whole journey needs to bring them a lot closer together.’”

Previous: The first non-spoiler part of the interview. And the earlier pre-season review of the first eight episodes.

Also: Another interview with Ryan about the finale.

UPDATE: "The Shield" finale drew 1.8 million viewers, just 13% higher than last week's episode, ending its run with a relatively modest return.


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