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File:The shield1.jpg
"Good cop and bad cop left for the day; I'm a different kind of cop."
Vic Mackey, right before one of his Establishing Character Moments

The hyperactive Shakespearian counterpart to the Dickensian The Wire, The Shield is a fast-paced, tense cop show about a team of police officers working at The Barn, an experimental police precinct in Farmington (a fictional area of Los Angeles). Although Michael Chiklis is the star of the series, the show is mainly an ensemble show, as the series explores the goings-on within the Farmington Precinct, including the various power struggles and interpersonal drama (often with Chiklis's character, corrupt police detective Vic Mackey, in the midst of the chaos and intrigue).

The central focus of the show is corrupt detective Vic Mackey and the elite anti-gang task force known as "The Strike Team" that he leads. Tasked with the monumental job of keeping the streets of Farmington safe from drug dealers and gang members, Mackey and the other members of the close-knit team generally go about their task with violent efficiency and the occasional act of police corruption. The Strike Team often create Faustian deals with the criminal elements of Farmington, giving them free reign to run the drug trade within the city in exchange for bribes, intel on other gang members, and a promise to keep their illegal antics at a reasonable level so as to ensure the illusion of peace within Farmington.

Other aspects of the show deal with the rank and file members of the Farmington Precinct — most notably, detectives Holland "Dutch" Wagenbach and Claudette Wyms, who generally deal with more general crimes of rape and murder within the district. They serve as the moral opposite of Vic Mackey and the Strike Team, which leads to much tension between the two sides when they are forced to work together on related cases (or when Dutch and Claudette are forced to clean up the inevitable fall-out from the Strike Team's corrupt antics, with them knowing Vic was involved somehow in the bloodshed but being unable to find the smoking gun linking him to it). Several patrol officers, ranging from Danielle "Danny" Sofer, her protege Julian Lowe, and rookie cop Tina Hanlon, are also featured; these officers find themselves struggling to advance up the ranks while dealing with the unappreciated job of keeping Farmington safe.

Other characters include police captain-turned-politician David Acaveda, whose disdain for Vic Mackey and his corrupt antics clash with his political ambitions (which ironically drives him further and further into bed with Vic as the series progresses). Vic's estranged ex-wife Corrine, who spends the bulk of the series trying to separate herself and her children from her ex-husband before his crimes destroy their lives, is also in the mix.

Like The Sopranos, the show goes to lengths to show that Vic — and, to a lesser extent, the rest of the Strike Team — have both good and bad sides. In spite of being a corrupt cop and a dangerous man capable of great violence, many of Vic's criminal actions are motivated by the stress of his job (due to the unrealistic pressures placed on him to shut down crime in the district) and the desire to provide for his family, of which two of his three children have been diagnosed with autism. There are some lines he refuses to cross, and he has absolutely zero tolerance for rape, pedophilia, and domestic violence. He also shows a great deal of loyalty towards his teammates, often preaching the message of team loyalty to bond the four men into a surrogate family.

For the most part, however, Vic's conscience is driven mainly by the influence of Strike Team member Curtis "Lem" Lemansky. Lem serves as the counterpart to Vic's much abused "yes-man" partner, Shane Vendrell. Rounding out the group is Ronnie Gardocki, a quiet and nerdy police detective whose silent loyalty to Vic balances Lem and Shane's polar opposite personalities.

Season summaries: spoilers follow!

Season One

The series opens with Vic and Shane carrying out the murder of Terry Crowley, a new member of the Strike Team that Aceveda convinced to gather evidence on Vic's corrupt antics in order to rid himself of Mackey and the Strike Team. Though he gets away with the murder, Vic's life starts falling apart: Shane has a nervous breakdown due to the guilt over what they did (a breakdown largely brought about by Vic's refusal to let Shane vent his feelings over what they did with him), his son has been diagnosed with autism and requires expert treatment, and he frames an innocent man of trying to kill Lem after Lem accidentally fires on the man (leading to Vic, Lem, and Ronnie having to rob a police vehicle to steal back the gun Vic planted on the man). These things pale in comparison to the revelation that Vic's mentor/patron within the LAPD, Assistant Chief Gilroy, is even more corrupt than he previously imagined. Gilroy triggers a full-scale riot as a result of his manipulation of department resources in areas of the city, leading to multiple deaths in the name of lowering property values within the city as part of a real estate scheme that Gilroy has cooked up. Meanwhile, Dutch and Claudette investigate a serial killer who (upon being caught) tries his best to destroy Dutch emotionally during a lengthy interrogation, while rookie patrol officer Julian Lowe struggles with his homosexuality, which is used against him by Vic as leverage to silence him after he sees Vic pocketing evidence from a crime scene. In the end, Vic brings down his mentor and talks Shane down from the proverbial edge when he finally snaps over the guilt of Terry's death — but the damage is already done. Vic's wife leaves in the middle of the night with the couple's kids after an encounter with Gilroy makes her realize that her husband is involved in something not on the up and up.

Season Two

This season is roughly divided into two arcs. The first arc pits Vic (having arranged for a truce between himself and Aceveda) against Claudette as the two try to take down ruthless drug dealer/rapist/murderer Armadillo, who disfigures Ronnie in retaliation for Vic doing the same to him. Shane and Lem arrange for Armadillo to be killed as payback for what he did to Ronnie, but it's too little, too late — Claudette goes from turning a blind eye to Vic's antics to wanting to bring him to down for his corrupt antics.

This is followed by a one-off flashback episode, "Co-Pilot"; this is a Continuity Snarl of an episode that reveals how Vic and Shane formed the Strike Team, Aceveda's first encounter with Vic, and how Dutch and Claudette became partners.

The second half of the season focuses on the growing tension between Claudette and Vic as the Strike Team starts planning to covertly take down a money-laundering exchange (a "money train") being run by the Armenian mob and keep its contents for themselves. Dutch and Sofer deal with professional problems due to a series of screw-ups both individually suffered during the first half of the season, and Julian (having "cured" himself of his homosexuality) marries a single mother, only to later be outed by an ex-lover. The Strike Team also takes on a new member — a black detective named Tavon — who is oblivious to the Strike Team's corrupt nature. At the end of the season, Vic is able to work out a cease-fire from Claudette once Vic and Tavon help catch the man who murdered Claudette's estranged ex-husband — but the cease fire might turn out to be temporary when Claudette reveals that she's been selected to replace Aceveda as the Barn's Captain (since Aceveda has won the primary in order to be his political party's candidate for an opening on the Los Angeles city council). The Strike Team carries out the Money Train heist, though their moment of triumph is quickly replaced by growing dread and fear: stealing the money was the easy part, but keeping possession of the money a secret — let alone surviving the incoming shitstorm of the Armenians looking for those who stole it — is the hard part.

Season Three

The aftermath of the Money Train Heist starts to tear the Strike Team apart as the group tries to stay on the straight-and-narrow to avoid suspicion for the robbery. Dutch and Claudette stumble upon the aftermath of the robbery, and the Feds on the group's heels as well. Vic's stranglehold over the Strike Team begins to slip when Shane's relationship with a real estate agent named Mara. Mara and Vic instantly take a disliking to each other, creating tension between Vic and Shane — especially when Mara discovers their involvement in the Money Train Heist. Making things worse is Mara's unexpected pregnancy, leading to Mara and Shane eloping and creating a schism between Vic and Shane (as Shane's new family leads to him seeking independence from Vic and the Strike Team). Things go further sideways with the revelation that the Money Train's loot is at least partially comprised of marked bills (as the Feds were investigating the Armenian mob), which renders half of the money essentially radioactive — and things take a bigger turn for the worst when the Armenians send a ruthless hitman into the city to find the men responsible for the robbery. Lem (suffering from ulcers and guilt-stricken after being forced to cover up Shane assaulting Tavon because Vic took a liking to the new guy, which led to Tavon being removed from the team due to his injuries) burns the remaining money; in a fit of madness, he proclaims it to be the only way they'll ever be able to stop any further inquiries into who stole the money. Shane's greed, however, refuses to let him go along with Vic and Ronnie's attempt to move on with Lem; this leads to Lem putting in for a transfer to a new precinct and Shane proclaiming that he doesn't need Vic. After putting in for reassignment, Shane and Vic finally have it out with each other

Outside of the Strike Team drama, Aceveda is sexually assaulted at gunpoint as a side-effect of one of Vic's attempts to cover up his involvement with the Money Train Heist. Aceveda takes dramatic steps to get revenge on his attackers; he kills one and blackmails the other with threats against his family if he ever talks about what he did. Claudette and Dutch separate as Claudette prepares to take over as Captain, leading to both detectives falling apart; Claudette becomes drunk with power, while Dutch ends up killing a cat after being goaded by a rapist/murderer he spent the bulk of the season chasing after (who said that Dutch doesn't truly know how the criminal mind works). The duo ends up working together again — just in time for Claudette to commit political suicide by blowing the whistle on corruption within the city's public defender's office and causing several dozen convictions to be overturned as a result.

Julian (separated at work from Sofer) finds himself being torn between the forces of evil (Vic and Julian's new amoral partner Tommy) and good (Danny) as he becomes more aggressive in his job in order to compensate for being outed. Things turn bad when Tommy is implicated in the murder of his ex-wife and son; Vic wants to get Julian to help him kill the guy who did the actual murders so that Tommy can claim deniability, while Danny wants to keep Julian from being drawn into Vic's world of corruption and nihilism. In the end, Julian refuses to kill the man (a decision that, to his shock, ends up gaining Vic's respect), Tommy ends up killing himself rather than go to prison, and Danny and Julian get paired up again.

Season Four

The Strike Team has disbanded and Aceveda has been elected to the city council, and in the wake of Claudette's whistleblowing, new arrival Monica Rawlings (Glenn Close) takes over the Barn's Captain slot; she immediately begins implementing the controversial policy of asset forfeiture towards criminals. Her belief that seizing property bought with drug money will scare the masses away from the drug trade as a viable means of making money doesn't win her much favor with the public or her superiors.

Rawlings' arrival coincides with the return of drug baron Antwon Mitchell to Farmington; his goal this time is to unite all of the gangs in the city under his control. Mitchell has brokered an alliance with Shane, putting him at odds with Vic and Ronnie, who reunite with Lem to find a way to neutralize Shane; the trio fears that when Shane inevitably screws up, he will rat out the Strike Team in order to save himself. When Shane is unable to warn Mitchell of a raid on one of his major drug labs, Mitchell murders a young girl with Shane's police firearm in order to frame him for her murder (and permanently bind Shane to his employment) as punishment. Vic is eventually able to free Shane from his predicament, though he unknowingly sets into motion a series of events which ends with Lem being caught stealing drugs from a drug dealer by a police informant. As the informant's handler alerts IAD that they finally have one of the Strike Team members dead to rights for police corruption, Mitchell orders the murder of two patrol officers and ultimately sells out his new allies — the El Salvadorian drug cartel — to get immunity for ordering the killings. Rawlings is able to get Mitchell's immunity revoked and arrests him for the murders...but she does so at the cost of her job.

Season Five

Internal Affairs Lt. Jon Kavanaugh (Forest Whitaker) attempts to get Lem to turn against the Strike Team after Lem is caught red-handed for police corruption. Kavanaugh and Vic engage in a brutal game of psychological warfare over the course of the season; the games begin as Kavanaugh drives Vic's ex-wife Corrine to seek help from Dutch to deal with the possibility of Kavanaugh arresting her as her husband's accomplice. When Vic figures out Kavanaugh's weakness (his mentally ill ex-wife), Kavanaugh snaps and arrests Lem, who is eventually forced to go on the run. At the end of the season, Lem is killed by Shane; the catalyst for the murder is Aceveda, who after being jerked around by Kavanaugh all season, agrees to trick Vic into thinking Lem has cut a deal to testify against him. Vic vows brutal revenge against Lem's murderer, not knowing that the killer is his closest ally.

Slacker detective Steve Billings' disastrous tenure as Captain forces TPTB to finally promote Claudette (who is revealed to have lupus after taking a massive fall down a flight of stairs) to the job. Rookie Tina Hanlon joins the precinct and attracts the attention of Dutch, who while attracted to her, seeks to mold her into a proper police officer. The most important revelation of the season, however, is when Vic finds out that in two months — when he reaches his 15th year as a police officer — he will be forcibly retired from his job, as his sins have finally come home to roost within the LAPD.

Season Six

Vic captures, tortures, and ultimately murders El Salvadorian gangster Guardo Lima (who he believes killed Lem). When Vic finally learns the truth about Shane killing Lem, the Strike Team implodes, and Shane begins taking drastic action to ensure that Vic and Ronnie are unable to hurt him or his family. This includes informing the Armenians that Vic was involved in the Money Train Heist, which forces Shane deeper into trouble as he realizes that Vic's family will be killed as part of the Armenians mob's revenge against Vic. Shane saves Vic's family by kidnapping Corrine and Vic's oldest child, Cassidy, at gunpoint in order to move them to a safe place; in the process, he becomes bound to the Armenian mob as a virtual slave.

Julian is promoted to the Strike Team alongside squeaky-clean new leader Kevin Hyatt; the latter is ultimately fired from the team when Claudette realizes that she'd rather have a corrupt Vic Mackey bringing in the arrest numbers she needs to placate her bosses instead of a by-the-books officer who doesn't produce the instant results needed to keep the Barn from being shut down. Dutch's investigation of a house filled with dismembered body parts leads to the revelation that a major Mexican drug cartel has begun infiltrating Los Angeles, which ties into Vic's discovery that Aceveda's new ally in his mayoral ambitions is part of the stealth invasion. Aceveda's new benefactor offers Vic photographic proof of Aceveda being sexually assaulted, hoping that Vic will use it to bribe Aceveda to save his job in exchange for Vic keeping his mouth shut about what he knows about the cartel's plot. This gambit backfires when Vic and Aceveda decide to put aside their rivalry to stop the cartel; at the end of the season, the duo obtains a box that contain the cartel's blackmail files — files that implicate countless prominent businessmen and political figures in Southern California as part of the corruption that's allowing the cartel to run rampant — and begin to set their plan into motion.

Season Seven

Vic makes one last play to wipe the slate clean by arranging a gang war between the Mexican drug cartel and the Armenians; Shane's death is tossed into the mix as well. Shane survives the attempt on his life, which leading to him trying (and failing) to kill Ronnie and Vic. Shane becomes a wanted fugitive, and Vic gives up his badge to try and get revenge while trying to simultaneously bring down the Mexican cartel. Vic eventually switches gears and attempts to convince a naive federal agent to provide him a job within ICE as a "thank you" for his help bringing down the cartel, all while forcing Ronnie to stay by his side even as Ronnie attempts to salvage his own career and find a way to avoid jail time. Outside of Vic's story, Dutch befriends a woman whose teenage son pulls off a seemingly perfect murder; fearing that the teen is a sociopath who could one day become a serial killer, Dutch attempts to get the mother to help him arrest her child for the crime. The season's main storyline converges with Vic driving Shane to kill himself and his family while pulling off a Karma Houdini: unable to get a deal for immunity for both Ronnie and himself, he sacrifices Ronnie to save himself and confesses every single crime he and the Strike Team committed over the course of the show's events. Vic ends up making the arrests he needs to bring down the Cartel and ensure his immunity, but the victory is hollow — his crimes are now exposed to everyone, his ex-wife has filed for a restraining order against him (after taking Vic's children with her into Witness Protection), and the ICE agent Vic thought he bamboozled forces him to work desk duty for the duration of his three-year "probation" period to fully ensure his immunity from prosecution. At the end of the show, Vic ends up without a family, without a real career, without the power and influence he held while he worked the streets...and without a chance of ever getting any of those things back.

Tropes used in The Shield include:

  • Affably Evil / Faux Affably Evil: The Strike Team in general, with Vic and Shane under the Faux Affably Evil label and Lem and Ronnie under the Affably Evil label. Averted with Captain/Councilman Acaveda, whose arc begins with him becoming Affably Evil, but later turning Faux Affably Evil by the end of the series. And toss in Antwon Mitchell, who fits the Affably Evil archetype when he's pretending to be a nice guy.
  • All of the Other Reindeer: Dutch is largely treated as an outcast by the other cops at the precinct, with even his partner/best friend keeping him at arms' length most of the time. Strike Team member Ronnie Gardocki is also treated badly by his teammates: from making fun of his facial hair to his non-existent sex life, to being left out of the loop of many important decisions made by the Strike Team and largely treated as a gopher for Vic.
  • Anyone Can Die: Starting with Terry in S1, Connie the hooker/informant in S2, Tommy in S3, Lem in S5, and finally ending with Shane, Mara, and Jackson in the series finale.
    • Actually kind of subverted for most of the show, yes Terry's death does set that sort of tone but really with the main cast we only saw three characters who's names were in the main titles killed over the course of seven seasons which is arguably part of what made those few deaths pack the punch they did.
  • Anti-Villain: Lt. Jon Kavanaugh (Michael Chiklis even outright uses the term to describe him in interviews). The Strike Team qualify as well, if you take the stance that Claudette and Dutch are the true good guys in the story.
  • Ascended Extra: Quiet a few characters, but most notably: Ronnie, Lem, and Billings. Similarly, Margos (the Armenian hitman from season three who became that season's big bad) started off as a one-off villain; at the time of filming the season one episode that introduced him, the show had no plans for the character and even had staff writer Kurt Sutter play the character as a means of saving money on casting the part.
  • Auto Erotica: Danny and Vic in season four, which worked out as a perfect coincidence for the writers, as it let them use the scene to make Vic the father of Danny's baby, when the writers were forced to work Catherine Dent's pregnancy into the series.
  • Berserk Button: Steve Billings is a jaded police officer who, with five years left before he can retire with a full police pension, has committed himself to doing as little work as possible as he counts down his days to retirement. The only thing that can get him to pull himself out of his lazy rut is when he comes across crimes involving children, at which point Billings will move heaven and earth to see justice done. Coincidentally, this Berserk Button is shared by Vic.
  • Big Bad: Several.
    • Gilroy in Season One
    • Armadillo Quintero in Season Two
    • Margos Dezerian, the Armenian Mob, and the Granny Rapist in Season Three.
    • Antwon Mitchell in Season Four.
    • Lt. Kavanaugh and Guardo Lima in Season Five
    • Season Six carries over Guardo Lima as well as his organization, in the form of the El Salvadorian mob. The season also establishes the Mexican Mafia in the form of Corrupt Corporate Executive Cruz Pezuela
    • Season Seven has multiple Big Bads running around: the Mexican Mafia (led by Guillermo Beltran), the Armenians, Shane Vendrell and Lloyd, a sixteen year old sociopath.
  • Bizarchitecture: The Barn has an odd, open design which would generally be too chaotic and loud to be comfortable to work in. Justified both on camera (It's a converted former church that the LAPD was trying to save from being torn down) and off-camera (It's much easier to film in there.)
  • Big Good: Captain Monica Rawling in Season 4. Hell even Vic Mackey is at his most heroic in this season. Shane is a different matter...
  • Bluffing the Murderer: Subverted. In season four and five, Claudette deals with a serial killer that had moved to LA after being put on trial and acquitted of several murders. When he resumes his killing spree in Los Angeles (and murders a woman who looks like Claudette after a particularly tense encounter), Claudette successfully goads a confession out of the murderer by pretending that his sister (whom he hadn't killed and loved) had been murdered. The subversion is that it ultimately comes back to bite her in the ass: having found out that Claudette has lupus (and taking medication that is known in some instances to cause hallucinations), the killer threatens Claudette and the DA by way of exposing Claudette's lupus in court as a means to negate Claudette's testimony. In order to salvage her case, as well as to save Claudette's career (since her superiors have threatened to force her from her job if her lupus becomes an issue in her job performance as a cop), the DA is forced to accept a life sentence plea-bargain, rather than go for the death penalty.
  • Butt Monkey: Dutch and Ronnie. Also Shane, as far as him being Vic's go-to punching bag whenever things in Vic's life go bad.
  • Call Back: Just before Shane attempts to goad Antoine Mitchell into attacking him in Season 4 (in a desperate bid to clear his name and save his career), Shane tells Vic that "This one's on me," echoing what Vic said to Shane in the the Season 3 finale before he went to confront Margos (the Armenian hitman) by himself.
  • The Cameo: Rapper Andre 3000 of Outkast fame appears as a comic book store owner in one episode. He returns in the series finale, where this trope becomes Death by Cameo.
  • Career Resurrection: For Michael Chiklis whose career had fallen into a bit of a lull in the years after his first show The Commish had ended. Luckily, his wife convinced him that he should reinvent his image by working out and shaving his head to open up more opportunities which led directly to him being cast as Vic Mackey.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The cell phone pic of Aceveda's rape. Subverted with the MAD Document Shane produced, which Vic lied about using AGAINST Shane in the series finale. And a more literal example, the stolen grenade used by Shane to kill Lem.
  • Cop Show
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Cruz Pezuela.
  • Cowboy Cop: Pretty much everyone in the Strike Team, to varying degrees.
  • Crapsack World: It's shown repeatedly that the main characters, and the LAPD in general, work a thankless job protecting a section of the city that pretty much sees the police as the enemy and the problem rather than the solution to the various gang and drug problems within their community. It's also shown that the top ranking LAPD brass pretty much are petty, self-absorbed jerks who spend their days either committing abuse of power as far as misusing police resources for illegal schemes (Gilroy) or engaging intimidation/threats towards their subordinates (Claudette, Acaveda) because they pissed off the wrong superior officer at some point. Adding to the Crapsack World nature of the finale was Vic skating on jail time for everything while his subordinate, who wasn't even deemed worthy enough to be consulted about the bulk of Vic's crimes, was made into the fall guy and will be most likely executed (assuming he isn't killed in jail) for Terry Crowley's murder when he wasn't even part of the murder plot.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Shane Vendrell, Ronnie Gardocki, Dutch Wagenbach, Tina Hanlon, and Steve Billings
  • Da Chief: Largely averted, but Claudette fills the role when necessary.
  • Darker and Edgier: Subjective; season two featured darker villains (the evil arm-chopping off and murdering husband and wife pair, Armadillo Quintero) but kept the aura of hope for the main cast as far as overcoming these Complete Monsters. Season three on the other hand, featured several characters being driven to the brink of the Moral Event Horizon and barely escaping it intact, while one of the central aspects of seasons one and two (the bond of friendship between the Strike Team members) began coming apart, as far as the Strike Team collapsing into infighting and Shane Vendrell going from harmless syncophant to ticking time bomb waiting to go off and take the entire team down with him.
  • Dirty Cop: Aceveda says it all about Vic Mackey: "Mackey's not a cop. He's Al Capone with a badge."
  • Disc One Final Boss: Armadillo from season two, who gets killed off midway through the season.
  • Despair Event Horizon: The final fates of Ronnie and Shane.
  • Do Not Do This Cool Thing: Subverted somewhat. While glamorizing the Cowboy Cop antics of the Strike Team, the show goes about showing their criminal deeds as being utterly unglamorous as far as showing the dark, unattractive side to police corruption with the overall downward spiral of the group. Also, outright subverts the notion of the Strike Team living large on their ill-gotten loot. Outside of Shane purchasing a home for his family, the Strike Team is largely shown having to hide their ill-gotten money or at best, using it to pay for medical bills/specialized therapy for their autistic kids.
  • Downer Ending: Just about everyone gets one.
    • Vic: He gets full immunity from his crimes but quickly falls into his own personal hell: he's stuck working a desk job for three years with a supervisor who blatantly tells Vic that she'll do everything in her power to bait Vic into violating his immunity deal. Oh, and his ex-wife has fled town with their children, entered Witness Protection, and has an order of protection out against Vic.
    • Shane: After being on the run as a fugitive following his botched plot to murder Vic and Ronnie, Shane ends up killing himself, Mara, and their son after Vic beats him to an immunity deal.
    • Ronnie: He's arrested as the scapegoat for all of the crimes of the Strike Team and is sent to prison (a fate that Ronnie, earlier in the season, claimed was the far worse fate than being killed), where - assuming he doesn't get killed in jail awaiting trial - he's looking at going to prison for aiding and abetting a fugitive at best and being executed for the murder of Terry Crowley (even though he was utterly oblivious to the plot to kill Terry) at worst.
    • Claudette: Her lupus has reached the terminal stage and it's only a matter of time before she's forced to give up the job she loves more than life itself, let alone the implication that her utter failure to bring Vic to justice is eating her up inside and will haunt her to her dying day.
    • Corrine: Corrine and her kids are forced to go into Witness Protection program, with Corrine living in fear of the day in which Vic might eventually find her and what he will do to her to punish her for betraying him. On top of that, her two kids with autism will be forced into a sub-par school system (the WP officer evasively describes the schools in the area as "improving"), essentially ruining any chance the kids had to lead independent lives. Throughout the series, it's also strongly hinted that Cassidy, whatever she decides to do with her life, is going to end up just like her father.
    • Acaveda: He manages to avoid all of the fallout of his involvement with the Mexican drug cartel, Vic Mackey, and the Strike Team's crimes (a lot of which happened on his watch as the captain at the Barn), and is even expected to win the Mayoral election. But despite this, the character is now completely compromised morally: he is now knee-deep in corruption, having lost practically all of the morals he had at the beginning of the show. Assuming of course, the Mexican Mafia don't kill Acaveda for the way that he betrayed them and crippled their organization.
    • Julian: He's still in his own private, closeted hell as far as being stuck in a sham marriage as well as having his brief "hazard pay" pay raise (given to him to get him to work as the fifth guy on the Strike Team) revoked when Claudette dissolves the Strike Team once and for all.
    • Billings: He discovers that his big payday from his bogus lawsuit amounts to several days' worth of backpay.
    • Only Tina Hanlon (and, to a lesser extent, Dutch and Danny) seemed to have anything remotely resembling a happy ending and even that is a stretch:
      • Tina watches a beloved community activist die after being shot by criminals whose drug house he was trying to get shut down via organizing a blockade of its entrance. And while she gets Julian to hold a mini-celebration (complete with cake) for her to celebrate her first full year on the job, the celebration is cut short due to Tina and her fellow patrol officers being called out onto the street as back-up on a gang shooting.
      • Danny has Vic Mackey looming over her, as far as him suing to gain visitation rights to their son, a notion that will only intensify now that his other children are beyond his reach.
      • Dutch is manipulated into giving perjured testimony in order to get Billings' lawsuit settled and save his job, and he doesn't end up with any of the women he spent the series pining over (though Billings' lawyer, ironically played by Jay Karnes' real life wife, ends up asking Dutch out on a date.)
  • Escalating War: Season two had this with Vic and Armadillo and later with Vic versus Kavanaugh, which featured the escalating plot point of Vic fucking Kavanaugh's estranged ex-wife and Kavanaugh in turn confronting Corrine (Vic's ex) with a deranged offer for sex to get back at Vic. Not to mention Vic driving Kavanaugh to the breaking point of breaking the law and planting evidence on Vic in a desperately pathetic attempt to bring him to justice. The relationship between the two was once described as "a downward spiral of one-upsmanship."
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: However you see Vic, and even Shane, Complete Monster, Anti-Hero, Villain Protagonist, Vic really loves his kids and Shane loves his wife and children as well.
  • The Everyman: Ronnie Gardocki and Danny Sofer/Tina Hanlon
  • Executive Meddling: Episodes three and four were supposed to air in reverse order, but were ordered switched in order to continue the themed arc with Shane's coping with the aftermath of the murder of Terry Crowley. Also, the hiring of Glenn Close in season four was done after FX Network effectively gave notice to Shawn Ryan that they were seriously considering canceling the series after season four. Also, the haphazard splitting of season five and six (as it was filmed, the series was to have ended with Vic being notified that Claudette had found a replacement for him/Vic killing the man he thought responsible for Lem's death was done mainly due to FX constantly going back and forth on how many episodes season five and six would consist of and whether or not the show would have received a seventh season.
  • False Roulette: Tavon in season two.
  • Failure Is the Only Option: Everyone's attempts to bring Vic Mackey to justice fail miserably.
  • Family Annihilator: Shane kills his family, then himself
  • Faux Action Girl: Tina (Though she actually learns from her mistakes)
  • First Episode Spoiler: Vic murders Terry Crowley.
  • Five-Man Band: Subversion: attempts to add a fifth member to the crew never go well.
    • Still got a good four person five man bad with all the spaces filled.
    • The Hero: Vic Mackey * Cough cough YMMV* The main character, head of the Strike Team and knows the dirty stuff.
    • The Lancer: Shane stupidly heads for the jugular, lacks Vic's cool head.
    • The Big Guy/The Heart: Lem is the largest on the team and always wields a shotgun, yet is the conscience and liked helping teens with their problems.
    • The Smart Guy: Ronnie who was the team's tech expert.
  • Grand Finale
  • Groin Attack: The rat trap/glory hole plot is a very painful case of it.
  • Hannibal Lecture: Several of them:
    • Season One, Dutch faces off with a serial killer who psychoanalysis Dutch and his failures as a human being complete with using the interrogation room's white board to map out Dutch's psyche to pinpoint his failures. The subversion comes from the fact that Dutch willfully endures this to buy his partner the time needed to get a search warrant to search the killer's house, to get the evidence proving him to be the murderer. Though this strategy works and causes the rank and file officers (including Vic Mackey) to cheer Dutch for his smarts in catching the killer, viewers watch Dutch break down into tears in private following the conclusion of the interrogation.
    • Dutch delivers one to Danny, in full view of the rest of the Barn, when she picks the wrong moment to ask him if he'll help her cram for her sargent's exam. Made more awesome in that it's brought on in large part due to Dutch having recently learned that Danny is having an extra-marital affair with Dutch's rival, Vic Mackey (who is a married man) and that Danny (who was visited by Dutch before Vic came and was spotted by him making out with her) telling Vic that she had time for him after basically blowing off Dutch's offer to spend a couple of hours helping her learn the material for the test.
    • Gilroy gives Vic a lecture about how he will inevitably lose his family because of his corrupt antics at the end of season one.
    • Acaveda gives Vic one in season two, in which he points out how they are locked into a path of mutually assured destruction due to Acaveda's political ambitions and that Vic would be better served working with Acaveda for their own mutual survival, rather than continuing their pissing match against each other.
    • The "Granny Rapist" does this to Dutch in season three, calling out Dutch's failure to catch him before he had the chance to go from being just a rapist to a rapist and murderer.
    • Antwon Mitchell tries this on Captain Monica Rawlings at several points in season four, pointing out her affair with her married partner and the fact said partner, driven to desperation to bring him to justice, framed Antwon for the crime that sent him to jail for several years and that said act of criminal conduct sapped his will to live and caused him to go into an early grave. This leads to the subversion of this as Antwon receives Hannibal Lectures from Shane Vandrell and Monica Rawlings herself in the season four episode "Back to the Hole". Shane's attempt (done to provoke Antwon into attacking him so that he could kill him) fails but Rawlings is able to bring Antwon to tears by recounting his hellish childhood.
    • Kavanaugh does this to Lem and Councilman Acaveda in season five by way of stating that he purposely spent the entire season pissing Acaveda off/accusing him of being in league with Vic as far as Vic's corruption funding his political career, to drive the two together in alliance against Kavanaugh. At that point, Kavanaugh convinces Acaveda to turn against Vic and help him; the lecture given to Acaveda unfortunately has unintended consequences, as Acaveda manipulates Vic into thinking that Lem had agreed to turn against the Strike Team in exchange for immunity, leading to Lem's death.
    • Season Six has Shane unleashing one of these upon Vic Mackey, when he brings up Vic murdering Terry as a rebuttal for Vic's anger over Shane murdering Lem.
    • Finally Vic gives one to Shane in the finale which backfires when it leads to Shane's killing his family and then himself.
  • Hero Antagonist: Played straight with Aceveda till first 2 seasons and then becomes increasingly subverted as Aceveda puts his political ambition before bringing the strike team to justice. Double Subverted as Aceveda still goes after Vic and co. for personal reasons from season 5.
    • Jon Kavanaugh also counts as a very dark version of this trope.
    • Brutally averted with Terry Crowley in the Pilot itself!!!
  • Heroic BSOD: Subverted: every time Vic seems like he might have one, his sociopathic nature pulls him out of it right before he goes catatonic.
  • Heroic Sociopath: All four members of the Strike Team are arguably these, to varying degrees (Shane and Vic are on the extreme end of the spectrum, while Ronnie and Lem are on the more tame end of the spectrum)
  • Heterosexual Life Partners: Vic and Shane (which at times is portrayed as an abusive marriage with Shane as the battered spouse) and Ronnie and Vic (at least in Ronnie's mind).
  • Hollywood Hacking: In the series 2 episode "Homewreckers". Ronnie, upon being presented with a laptop (which wasn't connected to the internet), comments that the user "didn't firewall her backdoor", and that he can "route around her password by setting the operations post back to default" - although this whole section was Played for Laughs anyway, given the guy he was working with was from Police Information Systems (or PIS, as everyone constantly points out).
  • Hollywood Sex: Subverted: Sex is usually portrayed as unglamorously as possible.
  • Ho Yay: Where to begin? Vic/Shane, Lem/Shane, Vic/Ronnie (which comes out most notably when Ronnie's diatribe towards Vic betraying him all but confirms that Ronnie was in love with Vic, as far as his vision for his final fate involving him by Vic's side, either in prison or as wanted fugitives).
  • Humiliation Conga: The series finale: What should've been Vic's Crowning Moment of Awesome quickly downward spirals into a half-hour Karmic smackdown.
  • If You're So Evil, Eat This Kitten!: Off-screen, a Federal undercover agent is given one of these tests. he apparently "passed" because we later see the carved up remains of his victim. Tina constantly gets these offers just about every time she does undercover work: first being asked to let a bunch of sadistic pimps gangbang her and later, when a porn director/drug dealer orders her to perform oral sex on fellow undercover cop Julian. Luckily, she is able to wiggle out of having to do so each time she's been offered the proverbial kitten to eat.
  • Infant Immortality: Averted in every season, except the sixth one. The worst cases were in season four and season seven, with the final fate of Shane's son.
  • Inspector Javert: Jon Kavanaugh (though Vic is much more dirty than The Javert's usual quarry).
  • Internal Affairs: Jon Kavanaugh in Season Five.
  • Ironic Hell: Vic Mackey's final fate.
  • It Got Worse: The Money Train Heist in the season two finale: what should have been the Strike Team's crowning moment of awesomeness turning into the moment when things went off the rails and led to the destruction of the team and their friendships.
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: In the first episode, Vic beats up a paedophile who won't say where he's keeping a kidnapped little girl.
    • In Season 6, Vic beats Guardo Lima, a gang leader, with a length of chain to find out who killed Lem. But since Shane actually did it, Vic winds unknowingly up torturing (and killing with a bullet to the head afterwords when he got tired of hearing Guardo deny the charge) an innocent, though still evil, man.
  • Jerkass: Shane, so very much. Also Vic, when it comes to Dutch. Aceveda becomes one in the later seasons.
  • Jurisdiction Friction: Season four has this, as does season seven.
  • Karma Houdini: David Acaveda ends up escaping any punishment for the crimes and amoral things he does in the end. Vic does so as well, but his fate is more of a reconstruction (see The Punishment below).
  • Kick the Dog: In the finale; Vic's betrayal of Ronnie certainly qualifies as a moment designed to remind people what a monster Vic has become.
    • Also the shooting of Terry Crowley in the very first episode, which was done mainly to establish Vic as not just another corrupt cop but one that was a Captain Sensible-type villain.
    • Not to mention Dutch killing a stray cat for no real reason.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: Subverted: Tavon and Shane did not get off on the right foot, largely because of Shane's racism and the fact that Vic was taking a liking to Tavon, even though he was also keeping the Strike Team's criminal activities a secret from him. Needless to say, Tavon and Shane ultimately came to blows and an iron to the head thanks to Mara (Shane's girlfriend) and conclussion caused car crash later, put Tavon in the hospital with short term amnesia. Shane then begs Vic and Lem (who also became close to Tavon) to lie their asses off to Tavon, telling him that he initiated the fight and accidentally "hit" Mara, which made Tavon agree to not tell anyone about the "fight" and let everyone think that the car crash caused his injuries. Cue season seven, when Tavon shows back up and request that Shane work with him on capturing a bad guy Shane had arrested early in his career. After catching the criminal and the two men getting along well, Tavon drops the bomb on Shane, revealing that his amnesia had been faked and that he simply played along with Vic and Lem's lies about the fight, after quickly putting two and two together that they were covering Shane's ass.
  • MacGuffin: The plot of season seven partly revolves around a box filled with blackmail material that Vic and Acaveda steal from a major Mexican drug cartel, a theft Vic blames on the Armenians.
  • Meaningful Name: Vic MACKEY(Taken from Machiavellian).
  • Morality Pet: Vic has several (his family, Connie the crack-addicted prostitute/single-mother, Ronnie, Lem).
  • Morality Chain: Lem would have to qualify as Ronnie's morality chain. His death effectively triggered a massive change in Ronnie's personality, causing him become hostile towards Shane and actively calling for Shane's death in order to avenge his friend.
    • Subverted non-violently with Claudette/Dutch and Julian/Danny: despite the show basically setting up Dutch as a time bomb waiting to go off, it's Claudette who goes batshit crazy when the two are broken up as partners during season three. Likewise, without Danny serving as a nurturing mentor to Julian, he quickly falls in with the bad crowd and finds himself becoming violent and not a nice person to be around during the period in season three when they are separated.
      • They addressed the morality chain-nature of Julian and Danny's partnership in season one as well; when Danny was bitten by an HIV-infected prostitute, Julian agreed to help several other officers beat the crap out of the prostitute before he was shipped off to the county jail. Needless to say, the fury of the beating Julian inflicts upon the prostitute freaked out the other cops who organized the beating, to the point that they had to separate Julian from his victim.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: If you come between Vic and Shane, Shane WILL try to kill you.
    • Subverted with Vic/Ronnie/Shane as Ronnie kept pushing Vic to kill Shane to avenge Lem, even as Vic was willing to kiss and make up for real with Shane. When Vic tried to call off the hit on Shane, Ronnie cold-bloodedly exploited the fact that they were in the same car with Julian, meaning that Vic couldn't beat the crap out Ronnie and call Shane to warn him about the attempt on his life.
  • Nakama: The Strike Team members consider themselves family/brothers with Vic as the Papa Bear Protector of the group. Needless to say, this ends up being subverted in the end as the entire team ends up turning against each other and Vic selling the rest of the team down the river for immunity.
    • A straighter example would be Claudette and Dutch. They bicker constantly like a married couple, but they're always there for each other.
  • Never Accepted in His Hometown: In Season 2, a Mexican gangleader is released into Farmington after serving a long jail sentence, only to find that season two big bad Armadillo has taken over his crew and stocked it with loyalists who treat the former leader as a servant. Shane and Lem end up cutting a deal with him, arranging for his arrest so that he can kill Armadillo in the police holding cell via a shank they then give him. The murder sends him back to prison, where he is respected and gives him fresh street cred.
  • National Stereotypes: The Team has a high-risk warrant for a Korean perp, so naturally they almost catch him at a LAN Cafe playing Counter-Strike.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: In season 3, when the Cuddle-Rapist first appears, Dutch's top suspect is a rapist with a history but was good for 7 years. Dutch tells him that his morality compass was broken and the guy breaks down crying and asking if he can fix it, Dutch tells him it can't be fixed and eventually he admits he did it. Turns out he was lying, Dutch figures that out, and gets a call where he tells Dutch he shouldn't deny what he is. Cue Julien breaking into the apartment and finding the guy raping his neighbor. At least Dutch didn't have a break-down like the Marcy one.
  • Noble Bigot with a Badge: Shane, who evolved into this trope after actor Walt Goggins voiced his discomfort to the writers about playing an unashamedly racist and homophobic asshole.
  • No Communities Were Harmed: Farmington is not a real LA neighborhood. It's a pastiche of Downtown, South Central South Los Angeles, Koreatown, and Compton.
    • It might be based on Westlake, where the real-life Rampart precinct is based, and borders Downtown and Koreatown.
  • Not So Above It All: Despite being shown to be one of the few honest and moral people on the show, Danny is seen (along with Tina and Corrine Mackey) making a special trip to an illegal store selling knock-off designer bags the day before the shop is to be raided and shut down by the police.
    • Also, Captian David Acaveda. Despite being a moderately decent person stuck running a precinct with a corrupt anti-gang task force he inherited from the previous captain that he can't get rid of, to protect his political ambitions he will pretty much do anything, including freak Vic Mackey out with his brutal beatdown of a mob connected flunky who is blackmailing him, to cover his own ass. Not to mention the lengths he went to get revenge upon the men who sexually assaulted him.
  • Not So Different: The ending of the season six episode "Chasing Ghosts", which featured Shane playing this card when confronted by Vic over the issue of him murdering Lem, evokes this when Shane accuses Vic of hypocrisy over him condemning Shane for murdering a fellow cop when Vic himself did the exact same thing.
  • The Odd Couple: Vic and Captain/City Councilman Acaveda, once they start teaming up on a regular basis as well as Dutch/Clauette
  • Only Sane Man: Lem, and to a lesser extent Ronnie often fills this role within the Strike Team. Possibly Claudette, but her various moments of sanity ultimately are negated by a lot of the questionable decisions she makes (such as firing Kevin Hiatt for actually being a goody-goody and not a faux goody-goody who would get his hands dirty for Claudette so she could look good to her superiors).
  • Out of Focus: Alot of the non Strike Team characters, save for Dutch and Claudette, go through this eventually. Aceveda gets this for a while starting in season 4 but he comes back into play in seasons 6 and 7, albeit in a much less important way than at the shows start. Danny sort of Zig Zags this trope in most seasons after season 1. Julian probably got hit hardest with this trope and a bad case of Aborted Arc (his homosexuality) going from getting a lot of Character Focus in the first 3 seasons to having the least plot importance of any original character during the last 4 seasons.
  • Pater Familicide: Shane in the finale.
  • Peer Pressure Makes You Evil: The root cause for why Lem is a corrupt cop. Not to mention the catch-all excuse for Draco in Leather Pants Ronnie, as far as fans projecting motive for why Ronnie did evil.
  • Perp and Weapon: In season three.
  • Playing Against Type: Michael Chiklis when he was first cast as Vic Mackey, and later on Anthony Anderson as Antwon Mitchell.
  • Porn Stache: Ronnie in the first two seasons.
  • Precision F-Strike: Not quite, as the f-word was not allowed on FX, but when Dutch drives by Danny's house (after she had spurned his offer to help her study for her Detective's exam), only to see her let Vic in the house, for non-studying purposes, Dutch lets out a perfectly enunciated "You've gotta be shittin' me!".
    • Said line later became a running gag, as far as various characters saying it whenever something bad happens. As for the F-word, ironically Shawn Ryan DID get it cleared for a single usage in season three but the Janet Jackson Nipplegate scandal deepsixed it).
      • Although The F-word is used several times in the video game of the series.
  • Pyrrhic Villainy: Vic's final fate. While he ends up with a better job in federal law enforcement and full immunity for his sins, his victory is hollow. Vic has betrayed all of his friends, who are either dead or now rotting in jail. His ex-wife has taken extreme steps to ensure Vic can never come near her again, or their children and his mistress is moving heaven and earth to ensure Vic can never come near their son, who will inevitably learn all about what a monster his father is. Furthermore, Vic's biggest strength (his charisma and people skills) have been permenantly tarnished, due to the fact that his Karma Houdini required him to confess to all of his sins and as such, everyone knows now that he murdered a fellow law enforcement officer and betrayed one of his proteges in exchange for said immunity. And while he still has a job in law enforcement, the show portrays it as a three year prison sentence, Chained To A Desk. He's working for people who can't stand the sight of him and intend to make his life such hell - so he'll void his immunity deal.
  • The Profiler: Dutch, on occasion.
  • The Punishment: Vic, for all of his sins and magnificent bastardom and success at manipulating everyone around him, is rewarded by being given a job as a Federal Law Enforcement Agent, with his supervisor (the one who was bamboozled into giving Vic immunity for his laundry list of sins and said job as an Agent of the US Government) having to neutralize the monster she empowered by giving him a cushy, if not unimportant, desk job for at least three years to keep him off the streets. It's also stated that on top of her own duties, said supervisor will have to devote the next three years of her life, micromanaging Vic in order to make sure he stays neutered as well as bait him into quitting/committing an offense that would void his job contract/immunity deal, since if Vic manages to somehow last in his job for the agreed upon three years, his immunity becomes irrevocable and he can NEVER EVER be held accountable for his crimes.
  • Rape as Drama: Aceveda's rape is played deadly serious with all the emotional trauma it would produce. Aceveda starts beating a prostitute in an attempt to reclaim his masculinity, and then makes a deal with Antwon Mitchell to have the rapist murdered in prison.
    • Season three was the season of rape as drama, as Dutch's main storyline for the season was his pursuit of a serial rapist who targetting elderly women for rape.
  • Reality Ensues: When Wagenbach and Wyms discover that a city Public Defender was a drug addict. Revealing that she was on drugs would open up virtually her entire backlog of clients to appeal for Ineffective Assistance of Counsel relief. Dutch warns Claudette not to do it, but she does anyway, and the resulting fallout turns almost the entire LAPD against her.
  • Reality Subtext: On numerous DVD commentaries, Shawn Ryan has stated that the character of Detective Dutch Wagenbach is largely based off of the real life/personality of Jay Karnes, the actor who plays the character. This has led to much teasing between Ryan and Karnes (who are long-time friends) on the DVD commentaries, whenever Ryan points out that just about every failed relationship the character Dutch has over the run the series is based (loosely) off of a real life failed relationship Karnes had.
    • Also, the fact that Vic Mackey's daughter Cassidy is played by Michael Chiklis's real life daughter Autumn Chiklis.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Shane (Red Oni) and Ronnie (Blue Oni); Shane is impulsive and often seen wearing a red leather jacket, while Ronnie is quiet and interverted, and wore blue.
  • Red Shirt: Subverted with Ronnie, who kept surviving near-fatal incidents that would have killed most background characters over the course of the series.
  • Retcon: In Season 1, it's mentioned that Vic's daughter Cassidy is 7. A few seasons later (4 or 5), it's mentioned that she is now 11. But in Season 5, it's acknowledged that it's only been two years since Terry was killed in the first episode.
  • Retired Badass: Subverted with Vic's old mentor, played by Carl Weathers. Vic is initially eager to ride with him again, but it later turns out that he's using Vic because he was forced out of the LAPD years ago without a pension, and has become a down-on-his-luck loser.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: The ultimate fate of the Vendrell family was inspired by the real life murder-murder-suicide of Chris Benoit to his own family.
    • Additionally, Shawn Ryan has admitted to stealing plot ideas from when it comes to the crime of the week plotlines.
    • And of course, the Strike Team was inspired by the horrific Rampart scandal involving the LAPD's C.R.A.S.H. unit. Early previews/teasers for the series had even given it the title "Rampart".
  • The Rival: Dutch vs Vic. While the show technically switched horses in season two with Claudette replacing Dutch as Vic's main rival, the two remained heated rivals even after said dynamic retooling. And while he was denied the chance to have the last laugh against Vic himself, Dutch does score points for successfully turning Vic's ex-wife against him and pretty much setting into motion the events that renders Vic's Karma Houdini an empty, self-destructive victory by getting Corrine full-immunity before Vic could, as well as coming up with the plan to put her into witness protection to protect her from Vic.
  • Ruthless Foreign Gangsters: Armenians, Mexicans, El Salvadorians, even Koreans.
  • Sacrificial Lamb: Both Ronnie and Lem (a fact that is lampshaded in the "end of series" montage during the final credits)
    • Det. Terry Crowley, shot by Vic in the first episode as well
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Connections: During season one, Vic Mackey used his close relationship with Assistant Chief Gilroy to do whatever he wanted, including defy the authority of Captain Acaveda, who was Vic's superior officer. This was displayed most notably in the pilot: Vic engages in outright insubordination, in front of his fellow officers, towards Captain Acaveda when Acaveda attempts to give Vic an order. Furthermore, the pilot (and later episodes in season one) established that Vic's relationship with Gilroy made it impossible for Acaveda to fire Vic, let alone get Internal Affairs to investigate the Strike Team since Gilroy would squash any attempts to investigate Vic.
    • This is later lovingly subverted with in season five, when the new Assistant Chief (having replaced the corrupt Gilroy) basically tells Vic that the Detective pissed off so many people off within the department, that he was being officially designated for forced early retirement and that NO ONE will lift a finger to save Vic from being forced out.
      • This was repeated in the final season, in a moment when Vic fucks up and gets his thirty day reprieve reduced to seven days. When his lawyer tells him that the only option left was to have Claudette Wyms (Vic's nemesis) intervene by pleading the case to the review board as to why Vic should stay a cop, Vic made the following comparision to his lawyer about the likely hood that Claudette would do so: he asked the lawyer if he could take his wife out of town for the weekend so that he could fuck her brains out and seduce her into leaving her husband in order to shack up with him, as far as summing up how much Claudette hates Vic and how she wouldn't piss on him if he was on fire as far as saving his career.
  • Shut UP, Hannibal: Usually Ronnie's response to Shane in the later seasons, when Shane tries to convince Ronnie to betray Vic and join forces with him.
    • Vic does this to Shane in season six, when Shane throws Terry's murder in Vic's face.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: The rest of the cast compared to The Strike Team
    • Also fandom being split between Ronnie and Lem versus Shane and Vic as far as which members of the Strike Team were worthy of redemption/deserving to survive the series with their badges and lives intact and which ones were Complete Monsters who should fry in the electric chair for their crimes.
    • The show's ending also falls into this trope: some fans take the idealism approach that Vic's beaten and will spend the next three years in pure hell and ultimately end up with no job, no prospects, and pretty much forever rejected by family and friends. Others however take the cynical approach to the ending: Vic will somehow, by force of will and charisma, rise from his ashes and not only neutralize those inside ICE that will make his life hell, but make new allies who will ensure he not only returns to working in the field, but also gets to stay a Federal Agent once his three years are up.
      • Depends on whether or not you see Vic as a Complete Monster who's final fate was karma catching up with him. If you do, then the cynical side of the scale would be that Vic (whose luck, as noted by Acaveda, always seemed to manifest itself in his darkest hour) would somehow find SOME angle or piece of leverage that would allow him to destroy Olivia and gain Alpha-Male status within ICE, crimes be damned.
      • How is that cynical? Cynic, as in reality (Not Grimdark) demand reason and limit. Vick is a public political wasteland, had no friends, family, burned all his bridges, had barely capital and literally made nemesis with all his superiors who would obsessively watch him and will constatly sabotage him with all their might. Yes, he is smart and cunning but the Luck was with and incredible loyal efficient team, resources, pass blanque from his superiors and where balanced fights. Saying SOME leverage or ankle in the pit he is would need super genius level intellect, and act of God or that all his opponents drop dead simultaneously, karma o no Karma. That seems far, far in the side of Idealistic (If Diabolus Ex Machina kind) side of the spectrum.
      • In season five, in the above mentioned scene involving Acaveda discussing Vic's luck, he mentions that Vic's luck borders on super-power level, as far as him being able to pull out luck from out of no-where when things are at the wall. In this case (if you take the cynical side), you could assume that Olivia and her fellow supervisors are hit with a gag order keeping them from mentioning Vic's sins to their fellow co-workers and Vic's record is classified, because TPTB don't want Beltran's lawyers to have access to all of Vic's sins so as to completely invalidate Vic's credibility on the stand. Similarly, Ronnie is killed on his first night in prison/opts to take his own life, meaning Vic doesn't have to worry about being made to testify in court at Ronnie's trial and the LAPD can pretty much bury the truth about the crimes of the Strike Team under a rock. Especially since Claudette seems resigned to the fact that Vic got away with EVERYTHING, meaning that she has no real motive to spill the beans after the fact. Which means that Vic could resume weaseling his way back into a position of authority within a couple of weeks, especially if he can come up with a way to negate Olivia's vengefullness as petty jealousy of having to honor her deal with Vic to make him an ICE agent after he single handedly nailed Beltran after Olivia was ready to throw in the towel after the initial bust in the finale didn't net anything substantial.
      • No offense, but... thats just too much especulation and leaps to justificate too such heights that just... Woah. I get that as long as the author say so it would occur, it just that, well, it really doesn't has anything to do with Idealism/Cynism per se and more with the Discussion / Fan Wank page isn't? The thing is, that in a cynic (realist-not supernatural luck or Deus Ex Machina) setting it really would be immpossible to Vick to return to power. I mean, just think of a regular if inteligent cop happens the same and if you believe that he would "return from the ashes"... in a few weeks. It just that, if it occur, it would really had nothing to do with the sliding scale and more with story convention.
  • Smug Snake: Shane, Claudette, and Billings qualify as the biggest examples. Subverted with Acaveda and Vic, as both men generally have better track records than the other three.
  • Stepford Smiler: Claudette (tries her best to keep Dutch from finding out about her failed career as a professional dancer, the fact that her daughter abandoned her husband to run off with another man, and her lupus) and Corrine (who spends the series desperately trying to cling to the illusion of a normal, if not divorced family for her children, until her husband's crimes are exposed to her by Mara is graphic detail and she is forced, against her will, by Shane and Mara, to aide their escape from the police).
    • Shane as well, to the extent that the need to maintain the mask drives him to the brink of madness and ultimately to murder his family and himself, to ensure his children never find out what monsterous things he did.
  • Straight Gay: Julian.
  • Stunt Casting: Glenn Close and Anthony Anderson in season four, Forrest Whitaker in season five, and Franka Potente in season six.
  • Too Dumb to Live:
    • Shane
    • Tina's initial incompetence is balanced with an ability to improvise and survive countless close calls when the Strike Team use her as an undercover operative during several operations.
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: The El Salvadorian gang's usage of hand grenades
  • Throw the Book At Them: Vic has occasionally beaten up people using a Doorstopper.
  • Turn in Your Badge: Vic literally does this towards the end of season seven
  • Twofer Token Minority: Julian (gay, black, practicing Christian), Tina (female, Hispanic), Claudette (female, black).
    • In fact, twofers become a common plot point because of the racial politics in the LAPD.
  • Typecasting: Subverted; the series helped destroy the public image of Michael Chiklis as the stern but lovable father figure that had been hung around his neck since his early 90s series The Commish ended.
    • It also helped give Anthony Anderson's career new life by showing him being capable of playing dramatic roles. In particular, Anderson personally credits The Shield for landing his current job on Law and Order.
  • Unwitting Pawn:
    • Ronnie, is made to be the fall guy for Vic's crimes due to the immunity deal Vic struck behind his back. Had he not fled or been the least bit suspicious of Vic, he might have been able to escape his fate or at the very least found a way to drag Vic down into hell with him via exploiting the massive hole in Vic's confession that was Vic omitting pretty much everything that happened in seasons four and five.
    • ICE Agent Olivia Murray is a big time example too. Vic cons her into giving him full immunity from all of his crimes and a job as a federal agent.
    • A random parolee, who the Strike Team frames with some of the Money Train cash because he happens to have family in Indio, where Mara had sent some of the marked bills. He is ultimately tortured to death by the Armenian Mob for a crime he never even knew about.
  • Utopia Justifies the Means: To try and bring an end to crime in Farmington, Monica Rawlings revives the controversial concept of assest forfiture, meaning anything bought with the procedes derived from criminal activities will be seized by the police. Needless to say, this pretty much makes Rawlings horribly unpopular within community and within the LAPD.
  • Villainous Breakdown: See Shane and Ronnie in the final episode.
    • Vic Mackey at the end of season one when his family leaves him. Subverted in the series finale however, as Vic (upon realizing that Claudette has decided to settle for watching Vic Mackey break down under the guilt of the murder-murder-suicide of the Vendrell family, responds by breaking the closed circuit camera Claudette was using to watch said breakdown.
    • In truth, Shane starts on one the moment Vic shoots Terry in the first episode, and finishes it seven seasons later.
  • Villain Protagonist: The Strike Team.
  • Wham! Episode: Several qualify:
    • "Homewreckers", which features the death of the single-mother prostitute Connie
    • "Barnstormers", which featured the cliffhanger of Ronnie being disfigured and left brutally beaten in Vic's motel room home.
    • "Streak and Tips", which featured the brutal fight scene between Tavon and Shane
    • "Mum", which featured the imfamous rape of Police Captain David Acaveda
    • "Back In the Hole", which featured Antwon Mitchell being interrogated by the police
    • "Kavanaugh", which features the "Holy Shit" moment of Lem being arrested by Jon Kavanaugh, after he realizes that his achilles heel (his ex-wife) has been exposed
    • "Post Partum" Lem's death at the hands of Shane.
    • "Chasing Ghosts", which contains the mother of all confrontations between Vic and Shane
    • "Possible Kill Screen", Vic's confession as he gains immunity for all of his crimes (and his admitting to the murder of Terry for the very first time
    • "Family Meeting, the finale as the Strike Team is destroyed once and for all.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: It is never established whether or not Vic is the father of Connie's son, Brian.
  • Xanatos Roulette: Several of Vic's schemes basically amount to this, as far as Vic being able to manipulate events around him to such an extent that it seems like he's truly all-knowing, all-seeing.
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: Arguably Vic Mackey's biggest survival skill, as Vic is able to survive for seven seasons by large due to the fact that he is able to think on his feet and talk his enemies into fighting against each other rather than killing him.
  • You Have 48 Hours: Nearly all of Season 7 is Vic either giving or receiving these ultimatums.
  • Yoko Oh No: The character of Mara played this role over the course of the last five seasons of the series.
  • You Are Too Late: After seven seasons of turning a blind eye to Vic Mackey's corruption, Claudette Wyms finally goes after Vic after his ex-wife turns to Claudette with airtight evidence of his illegal activities as well as catching Ronnie Gardocki, Vic's partner on tape for aiding and abedding. Sadly, in typical Claudette fashion, she doesn't seize the timing as far as flipping Ronnie for his testimony against Vic or arresting Vic on the spot. By the time she finally gives the order to arrest Vic, it's too late: Vic has used the delays to secure a Federal immunity deal, resulting in Claudette arriving mid-confession as Vic has already signed the paperwork. She gets one hell of a consolation prize, though