Sunday, September 28, 2008

The McCain campaign enters Sweeps Week

Television Sweeps (definition):
Sweeps are periods used by the television networks to determine advertising rates for the quarter, based on ratings. Regular programming also tends to include more frequent guest stars and plot twists in an attempt to drive up ratings. News programs often save sensational stories for sweeps. For this reason, the "sweeps" system of national ratings has been criticized as not representative of typical programming, and encouraging an increase in content of concern such as violence and explicit sexuality. It is long the haven of stunt programming designed to breathe momentary life into an established series.

With John McCain trailing in national polls, and seemingly losing ground by the day as the totality of the economic crisis becomes apparent, his advisors are apparently cooking up an event (see here and here) that would make any television network executive proud. According to several news reports, the McCain campaign is hoping for an October "shotgun wedding" between Bristol Palin, 17, and her beau, Levi Johnston, 17. Now, I'm all in favor of wedded bliss. If these two genuinely love each other and want to spend the rest of their lives together--on their terms and their timetable--God bless them. I mean that.

But these articles seem to insinuate that the potential wedding will be one thing, and one thing only: a ploy by the McCain-Palin ticket to tug on the heartstrings of average Americans (aka undecided voters), blinding their fears about the economy and the war on terror with lovely staged photographs of two young political pawns. Yes, pawns. Because if this wedding does take place for any reason other than these two wanting to share their lives in wedded bliss when they are ready to do so, then I sincerely hope every undecided voter sees for themselves just what a sham the McCain campaign has become. With Sarah "I’ll try to find you some and I’ll bring 'em to ya" Palin and a campaign suspension that was shorter-lived than a Jerry O'Connell sitcom, it is becoming increasingly obvious that with their polls numbers tanking the GOP ticket is looking to do anything--literally, anything--to increase goodwill among voters. Even if it's a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing.

If the McCain campaign pushes this wedding for the reasons that are currently being cited, they would be turning what should be a private and joyful ceremony into a shameless and shameful political ploy. Notice how the reports say "the expectation is growing" that the two will get hitched. They're not hoping for a wedding for the happiness of the children. They're hoping the wedding will give the campaign "a fresh round of publicity" for the sake of their political futures.

I give Meghan McCain credit. She is unashamedly campaigning for her father, trying to encourage the youth vote by relating to those voters in a way neither her father (nor Barack Obama) can. She is honest about her motives, and is not being used by the system. She is aware of her place and wants to use whatever status and celebrity she has to help her father. Her efforts are completely transparent, and she does what she wants on her terms.
If Bristol Palin and Levi Johnston want to marry in October because their hearts are set on it, I wish them nothing but happiness and a healthy child. But when a McCain insider asks, "What's the downside?" to a wedding, if that wedding is anything but 100% sincere I hope the downside is every American realizing that the Republican ticket is not entering the home stretch of the campaign, but rather artificially padding their anemic lineup for sweeps week.


Friday, September 26, 2008

Atonement, eat your heart out

This scene was filmed in one long take. (thanks, Ed)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

I've got about 4 years before I'm co-writing a vampire trilogy with the eighth wardrobe assistant from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." (the movie, not the tv show)

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Shield
Season 7--The Final Act
Episode 4: Genocide

The episode begins with the discovery of a burned-down warehouse containing the crispy bodies of two of Rezian's lieutenants. Vic correctly assumes that since Pezuela failed to kill Rezian in prison, he's not going to stop now that the Armenian head honcho is outside. At first Vic is concerned that Rezian may have been killed in the blaze--which means his family would have been greenlit--but when he finds Rezian the mob boss is alive yet rattled. Knowing the Armenians don't have the money or manpower to fight a war against Pezuela's Cartel, he asks Vic to set up a sit down with Pezuela to air out their differences. This throws Vic, since if Pezuela and Rezian meet he'll be exposed as playing both sides against each other.

Vic goes to Pezuela and proposes the meet-and-greet, but Pezuela demands that for a meeting to take place Rezian must bring the blackmail box. Since Vic knows the Armenians don't really have the box, and those demands throw a wrench in any meeting, he agrees to propose the terms to Rezian. Vic also tells Shane about Pezuela's plan to buy up Farmington with Cartel money, which means the gangs would eventually run the city. When Shane replies, "I don't see why that's our problem," Vic sees just how wrong Shane has gone. Whereas Vic has always had an inner moral code, a desire to see evil brought to justice, Shane has none of that, as evidenced by when he was willing to let the stolen guns fall into Rezian's hands. As long as Shane has a badge and a paycheck, he doesn't care who gets hurt.

Meanwhile Vic goes home to apologize to Cassidey for losing his temper, but his daughter could care less. She walks out the door, Vic realizing just how alienated from his daughter he's becoming. Then, instead of going to school, Cassidey knocks on Danny's door, asking to see Danny and Vic's son. Danny is confused, even more so when Cassidey asks her if she thinks Vic killed Terry Crowley. When Danny says no, Cassidey tells her that Jon Kavanaugh did. Apparently Cassidey's been reading up on her dear old dad. Corrine finds Cassidey and takes her away, leading Danny to question just how involved she wants Vic in her son's life.

Vic goes to Rezian, who shockingly says he'll sit down with Pezuela because he has the blackmail box. Of course this is b.s. since Vic and Aceveda have the box, but Vic can't call Rezian's bluff without arousing suspicion. Instead he agrees to set up the meeting, knowing the team could be walking into a set-up. Since Pezuela doesn't want to expose himself, he sends a middleman, Armando Rios (not this Armando Rios), to negotiate in his stead. Vic asks Olivia Murray, the federal agent helping out, to look up Rios from the federal side, while Julien does the same from the barn. 

Dutch and Billings investigate the death of a high school student, killed by a classmate whose home he broke into. Everything looks squeaky clean--the shooter acted in self-defense, the victim a known bully who terrorized the school--but Dutch recognizes behavior in the kid that frightens him. Dutch suspects that the shooter, a loner from a broken home, may have lured the bully to his home in order to kill him and make it look like a robbery. Suffice it to say Dutch's assessment of the kid--detached, narcissistic, intelligent--fits the profile of a young serial killer. And while Dutch can't prove the kid did it, he has a feeling that this victim won't be the last.

At the sit down, Rezian admits to Rios that he doesn't have the box, but tells him that he wants no war with the Cartel and that he'll even deploy some of his own manpower to help find the box. Rios agrees, to Vic's chagrin, since if the Cartel and the Armenians are working to find the box eventually the trail will lead to him. So he has to drive another wedge between the Cartel and the Armenians, and in order to get Pezuela's blood boiling again he convinces Aceveda to release one piece of the blackmail intel--info about city controller Robert Martin (last seen when Vic helped clear his daughter of prostitution and drug charges). Martin has been the lone voice of dissent in erecting a monument to the victims of the Armenian genocide (one of the few times the show has used a real incident to further a storyline), so Vic and Ronnie threaten to blow the whistle on Martin's insider trading. Martin agrees to announce plans for the monument at the Armenian parade, enraging Pezuela who assumes that it was Rezianwho  blackmailed Martin. Pezuela knows Rezian will likely be at the parade, and in order to start the street war (and avoid civilian casualties) Vic tells Pezuela that only Armenian foot soliders are to be targeted. Instead chaos erupts when a Cartel assassin ignores the Armenian presence...and guns down city controller Martin. Vic and Aceveda are devastated, since they unwillingly lured an innocent man to his death. 

Making Vic's bad day worse, when he shows up at the barn Danny asks him to sign a waiver forgoing all of his parental rights to their son. Vic never seemed to have any desire to help raise Danny's baby, but since she wants to make it official he feels hurt and betrayed. Between Cassidey and Danny, Vic realizes that everyone he cares about is isolating themselves from him.

After Martin's murder, Vic gives fresh info to Olivia Murray to track down Rios, hoping still to bring down Pezuela. But Aceveda shows up and informs Vic that Murray--whom Vic has been trusting with precious intel all season--has a file in the blackmail box as well. She's on the hook to Pezuela, and anything she knows, he knows as well...


Monday, September 22, 2008

King of Spackle

Apologies for anyone who's emailed, questioned or berated me and is waiting for a reply. We're in the midst of moving and I've had sporadic email access for the last week (the other side of working from home: once you sell your desk--hooray for Craigslist!--and cancel your cable service, you don't have much of a workstation. In fact, I'm literally typing this while sitting on a nightstand). Regular communications should resume late tomorrow or early Wednesday.

Good night, er morning, and good luck.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Random Book Thoughts

R.I.P. James Crumley. I feel like it was just yesterday that I first read THE LAST GOOD KISS. He was one of the writers who blurred the line between crime fiction and literature, and when you read his books it didn't matter. I remember hearing that Dave White got a blurb from Crumley for WHEN ONE MAN DIES and being so thrilled for him because it was like the pope had personally blessed it.

R.I.P. David Foster Wallace. I'll be honest and admit that I never read a book by Wallace (though I have read many of his magazine pieces and have copies of CONSIDER THE LOBSTER and INFINITE JEST on my shelf that I was hoping to get around to shortly), but there's no doubt the impact he had on American letters.

Could I BE any more excited for Dennis Lehane's THE GIVEN DAY? Not only is he my favorite contemporary author, and not only does it feel like SHUTTER ISLAND came out a millennium ago, but after Janet Maslin's love-fest in the New York Times if my local bookseller isn't open on Tuesday at 9:00 am on the dot I'm pulling a William Hurt in "Body Heat" and throwing a chair through the window.

I could have gotten a galley of THE GIVEN DAY, but I have a rule in which I refuse to take free copies of books written by authors I would buy on my own. I would want people to support my work, and it's only fair to do the same in return. (You have no idea how hard it was not to grab a galley of Charlie Huston's THE SHOTGUN RULE at ThrillerFest last year. I think I actually cried.)

THE STORY OF EDGAR SAWTELLE is the new Oprah pick, again another book from my TBR pile. This book has gotten wonderful reviews, and is an interesting pick following Eckhart Tolle. I do wonder, though, if the fact that the book is available only as a $25.95 hardcover(or a large print for the same price) might limit its potential audience (most, if not all previous Oprah picks, I believe, were available as cheaper paperbacks). Especially with the economy the way it is, and disposable income that much harder to come by, $26 will almost certainly deter some potential buyers. I hope I'm wrong, because EDGAR SAWTELLE sounds like a book that deserves a wide readership.

The third part in Christopher Paolini's "Inheritance" trilogy (scratch that, quadrilogy) drops tonight at midnight. I walked by my local b&n the last time they held a midnight release for one of these YA juggernauts (Stephenie Meyer's BREAKING DOWN) and it was just bedlam--to the point where they wouldn't let me in because the store was too crowded. I read ERAGON, have not yet gotten to ELDEST. Hope to at some point soon. I'm tempted to stop by the Union Square b&n (where the wizard himself will be signing) just to check it out. Especially because as of this afternoon our apartment will literally have no chairs, tables or television in it.

Regarding Boris Kachka's NyMag article on the death of book publishing, what Ed said.

For the book I'm working on right now, my bibliography for research sounds like something out of "Seven." (Brad Pitt: "What kind of psycho would buy ten different books on this?")

Oh yeah, I'm also working on a non-fiction proposal in which, over the course of one year, I will read all the books written by people who undertook some silly/dangerous/stupid stunt over the course of one year. I will then beat myself into unconsciousness with those books and burn my proposal into tiny, tiny ashes.


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Shield
Season 7: The Final Act
Episodes 2 and 3

I'm condensing the last two episodes into one piece, since last week went by in a blur and I didn't have time to do a recap of episode 2. We're in the process of moving, while also trying to sell off a bunch of furniture (including the very desk I'm writing on at this moment). Anyway...

Episode 2: "Snitch"
Episode two begins with Vic's gang war plan going straight to hell, as Pezuela forgoes a foot soldier war (which Vic had hoped for) and decides to go right after Rezian in prison. If Pezuela succeeds then Vic's family is greenlit, so he needs to find a way to keep Rezian alive. Vic, who's still in close with the One-Niners, arranges with their head dog to have some of their imprisoned foot soldiers keep Rezian alive. Is it just me or, aside from Antwan Mitchell, have the One-Niner bosses been more interchangeable than the Mets bullpen? Note: this is the fastest one of Vic's plans has ever collapsed, and it shows how off his game Vic is. That he didn't realize Pezuela, who's not a dummy, wouldn't just lop the head off the snake proves that Vic is slipping.

The mayor, meanwhile, institutes just about the dumbest policy ever, publishing a "Top Ten" list of the most dangerous gangs in Farmington. While this is ostensibly to keep citizens informed, Vic correctly ascertains that this will simply be motivation for gangs lower on the list to climb the ladder, and for gangs higher up to do more to retain the top spot. And when an innocent man is killed, Vic knows better than anyone else that someone is making a move for a higher ranking.

Dutch and Billings investigate the death-by-concrete-block of a band singer, and when nobody in her building complex claims to be a witness Dutch drags the entire tenant roster down to the barn to stew. Billings, meanwhile, is milking his "bare minimum" to the max, infuriating Dutch. Yet right as Dutch is about to lose his cool and send everyone home Billings cracks the case, which does not sit well with Dutch since Billings is as motivated as a hermit crab. Cassidey Mackey, meanwhile, tries to turn Vic in for assaulting Mara. Fortunately for Vic she talks to Billings, who dismisses her claim. But Vic sees that something is definitely wrong with his daughter.

After Rezian escapes an assassination attempt (thanks to One-Niner protection), he begins to trust Shane even more. Vic solves the "Top Ten" murder, which was committed by a Spook Street soldier peeved that his squad didn't make the Top Ten list. The shooter, a young black man, is viciously unrepentant, and when Claudette grills him she loses her cool and jeopardizes the case. This isn't the first time we've seen Claudette struggle with the realities of being an African American policewomen in a district in which crime is overwhelmingly committed by minorities. As she told Julien earlier in the series, "Don't lecture me about the struggle, son. I am the struggle." This also throws a wrench in her attempts to shove Vic out the door, since he proved his value by solving the crime when nobody else believed it was related to the Top Ten list.

Vic then goes to Pezuela and demands a $10,000 a week payoff to keep feeding him information about the Armenians. Vic, meanwhile, also teams up with Aceveda to hide the blackmail box. They each take a key, and agree to place trust in the other. Let's just say I have a feeling this won't quite work.

Episode 3: "Money Shot"
Rezian is starting to trust Shane more, but demands that Shane steal a massive quantity of stolen guns from police custody as part of Shane's restitution. Vic, seeing a way out, surprises Rezian at the next meeting, saying that stealing the guns is Rezian's first wish (after 3 wishes, all debts are paid). Vic secretly needs to know just how many of Rezian's lieutenants are aware of the greenlight on his family, and he figures getting closer to Rezian might accomplish this.

Ronnie and Julien get a tip about a small time porn producer who's dealing drugs, so they recruit Tina to play an aspiring "actress" to take him down. They nail the guy (after he feels up Tina and nearly gets his nads yanked off), but find out he's just a small fish buying from a whale named Harmes. The Strike Team goes after Harmes, and Ronnie assumes Vic will have his back.

Vic and Shane devise a plan to steal the guns, with Shane sneaking into the warehouse inside an impounded car while Vic keeps an eye on things outside. But Vic is pulled away when the P.I. spots his son Matthew wandering the streets. Vic arrives home to learn that Cassidey was drinking and lost track of Matthew, and the cops are arresting Corrine for child neglect. Because Vic is occupied, Shane is forced to steal the guns on his own, and Ronnie, preparing to take down Harmes, is forced to go in without backup. 

It turns out that Cassidey (who previously tried to turn in Vic for assaulting Mara) was drinking and let Matthew, who's autistic, out of her sight. When Vic and Corrine confront her she pushes Corrine, and Vic loses his temper. Cassidey flees, and Vic begins to see that his daughter is rebelling against him, and he is losing the only thing left that he truly cares about: his family.

Shane manages to steal the confiscated guns, but Ronnie walks into Harmes's apartment and gets mauled by a pitbull (dude's got the scars to show from being friends with Vic). When Shane and Vic arrive to deliver the guns to the Armenians, Vic smells a setup and jets with Shane and Rezian. Seconds later the Feds arrive to bust the gun swap. Vic and Shane convince Rezian that he was set up by his #2 (no, not this #2) and that he needs them more than ever. Yet when they leave Vic admits to setting the whole thing up, including the bust, and purposefully keeping Shane out of the loop. Shane is pissed since he wasn't clued in, but Vic makes it clear that while he'll work with Shane to save his family, he trusts Shane about as far as he can throw him. Shane reminds Vic that he still has leverage (the Strike Team Manifesto) and that he'd better start communicating more.

Vic goes to the blackmail box to get a file to help keep his badge, but realizes to his horror that Aceveda has moved it. When Vic confronts Aceveda the councilman tells him he knew Vic would try to steal from it, and the fact that he's here just proves it. Vic can't argue this, so he just threatens to tell IAD that Aceveda has it. Aceveda informs Vic that he would be implicating himself as well, and Vic reminds Aceveda that the councilman has a hell of a lot more to lose than he does.

Meanwhile Dutch, Danny and Billings investigate the kidnapping of a young girl, who it turns out was a lesbian whom her brother had kidnapped in order to be "retrained" sexually. Danny gets the girl to break down and confess to her assault by telling her how she almost died recently, a story she later tells Dutch she made up (but we know is true). Because of this, and the onset of Claudette's Lupus, Dutch tries to orchestrate to have Danny assigned to desk duty to help Claudette. Yeah, like that's not going to backfire. 

Back at the barn, Ronnie is PISSED at Vic, both for leaving him undermanned (causing him to get mauled) and for having anything to do with Shane. Vic tries to quell his anger by reminding Ronnie that he's only working with Shane to save his family. Shane then arrives, and turns over the Manifesto to Vic as an olive branch. Vic doesn't know that Shane still has a copy, and Shane doesn't know that Vic still hates his guts. And Ronnie, who has previously always stood by Vic, is now a powder keg. "I won't go down for Shane. Or for you."


Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Race for the Cure

Today is my 2nd anniversary with my wonderful wife. And to honor her, and all wives, daughters, mothers and friends, I'd like to take a moment to promote the Susan G. Komen foundation, the world's largest grassroots network of breast cancer survivors and activists fighting to save lives, empower people, ensure quality care for all and energize science to find the cures for breast cancer.

My mother has been an ardent supporter of the Komen foundation for years, after my grandmother died from breast cancer when my mom was just thirteen years old. Then, a little over a year ago, she went in for a routine mammogram and was diagnosed with the disease as well. Now, fifteen months later, after surgery and treatment, she is officially a cancer survivor, healthy as ever, a living example of just how important it is to support the advancement of research to combat this disease that affects thousands of lives every year. 

On Sunday, September 14th, I will be participating in the annual Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. Over 30,000 people will be walking to raise money for research to hopefully eradicate breast cancer once and for all. I encourage anyone and everyone to donate to this worthy cause.

On that note, anybody who makes a donation of $25 or more to the Komen foundation between now and September 14th will receive a signed Henry Parker novel. Just forward the email confirmation of your contribution and your mailing address to (and if you prefer THE MARK, THE GUILTY or THE STOLEN let me know)

To donate to the Susan G. Komen Foundation, click here. The life you help save might be someone you know.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

You've Been Barack Rolled

Friday, September 05, 2008

Max Payne

Ok, this movie looks better than it has any right to. Not that the source material isn't there, but let's just say that the track record of adapting video games into movies isn't exactly stellar (Super Mario Bros., Doom, Double Dragon, anything directed by Uwe Boll). But this looks like it could be different. 

If you were going to adapt a game into a movie, there isn't a better one than Max Payne. The game itself is brilliant, but the story is what made the game work. It's literally video game noir, dark, intense and disturbed. What set it apart was the use of graphic novel panels and the lead character's voice over to further the story line. You'll need help counting all the references to film and pulp noir. And the story line itself? A broken cop, whose wife and daughter were brutally murdered, turns vigilante to seek vengeance on those responsible. Fairly cut and dry, but in the game Max is an incredibly sympathetic character whose rage has his psychosis at a pitch that rivals his victims. 

The visuals have two levels: bleak and bleaker. So what this trailer does, aside from provide action that looks pretty cool, is give you a hint of the despair Max feels. He has more in common with the original Batman/Bruce Wayne than your typical detective or cop. And between Max Payne, Metal Gear and Resident Evil, video gaming went from something children did to pass the time to a wholly interactive experience with storylines as gripping as many films (and some novels).

Mark Wahlberg is great when he has roles that are a mixture of internal sadness and external rage or pure id (Boogie Nights, The Departed) and Mila Kunis seems perfectly cast as Mona, the mysterious woman who helps (or does she?) Max track down and eliminate his enemies. The supporting cast is solid too: Ludacris (who was robbed of an oscar nom for "Crash"), Beau Bridges, Donal Logue, Chris (does Christopher Nolan have my phone number?) O'Donnell and Jamie Hector (Marlo from "The Wire). Plus that Marilyn Manson song ("If I was Your Vampire") fits perfectly. Anyway, here we go:

The film trailer

And one of the game's terrific cut scenes:

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Thursday, September 04, 2008

McCain: Leave children out of it (unless they belong to my opponents)

So the right wing media and Republican politicians are up in arms about the treatment given to Sarah Palin in the days following the announcement of her daughter, Bristol's, pregnancy. Now, I agree with most of what they are saying, and believe that the media has been totally irresponsible in covering this story. Most people, our presidential candidates included, believe that children should be left out of politics. So if that's the case, and they (rightfully) hammer organizations like the Daily Kos for printing abominable lies about Bristol, shouldn't they react the same way when a politician steps completely out of line when discussing a fellow politician's children? After all, whose judgment and compassion is more important: the people who analyze those who run a country or the people who actually run it?

Well, you might recall this hi-larious joke, made at a Republican senate fundraiser in 1998:

"Why is Chelsea Clinton so ugly?
Because her father is Janet Reno."

Who was the man who spoke these utterly reprehensible words? Why, none other than the Republican nominee for President of the United States, John S. McCain.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

The Shield
Season 7: The Final Act
Episode 1: Coefficient of Drag

The episode begins as Shane Vendrell walks up the stairs to his apartment (has anything good ever happened to Shane when he's about to enter an apartment?), only to find his pregnant wife, Mara, tied up on the couch. Considering what a whiny wet blanket she's been over the years (not to mention her forgiving Shane after he confessed to killing Lem), this might be a good thing. Vic and Ronnie appear from the shadows and beat the holy hell out of Shane, confronting him about kidnapping Corrinne and the kids and grilling him about the pool of blood in Vic's home. Seriously, between this and the beating he took last season, Shane should just wear riot gear 24/7. 

Shane admits that Diro Kezakian found out about the Strike Team's heist of the money train, but in typical weaselly Shane style he tells Vic that she simply "found out." Vic is quick to point out that only four people knew about the heist. Three of them are in the room, and Shane killed the fourth. Shane tells Vic that once he learned Vic's family had been greenlit, Shane kidnapped them for their own safety. Says Vic later on, "his heart was in the right place, but his head as usual was a few steps behind." 

See Shane, realizing Diro Kazakian will stop at nothing to get payback in blood for the money train, has teamed with Diro's competitor, Rezian, to consolidate the Armenian mob which would end the hit on Vic's family. Rezian has forced Shane into indentured servitude to pay off his portion of the money train. This is the second time Shane has ended up in the pocket of a crime boss against his will (Antwan Mitchell). If I were a mob boss, I would move to Farmington and just wait for Shane to knock on my door.

Vic, realizing he needs Shane alive to keep his family safe, lets him live. But Vic wants payback for the attack on his family, and when Shane tells him that the Armenian hit man, Zadofian, is still at large, Vic and Ronnie set out to find the hit man with vengeance in mind. Sometimes I feel like Vic could use a quiet night at home with a cup of Earl Grey and a Nicholas Sparks novel.

We then see Vic talking to an ex-cop who he's hired to protect his family. Between Joe Clark, the P.I. from season 2, and this guy, Vic sure gets a lot of help from shady ex-cops. Right after calming Corrine down by telling her the cop is nothing to worry about (ha!), Vic finds the guy struggling with the limo driver from whom Vic stole that trunkload of files in the finale of season 6. Of course Cassidey happens to walk by, and Vic shoves the driver to the ground so she won't see. (side note: Corrine Mackey has officially been nominated for "Worst Mother in the World" for staying within 1,000 miles of Vic. I mean, they've been harassed by Gilroy and Kavanaugh and just discovered a massive pool of blood in their hallway. Seriously, get the hell away from this man)

Vic takes the limo driver to a shack and chains him to the ceiling, eerily reminiscent of Vic's brutal murder of Guardo. Nice touch. The driver confesses that Pezuela doesn't know the files have been stolen yet, giving Vic an idea. He leaves the driver chained to the ceiling, the gears definitely spinning. Driver: "You're just going to leave me here?" Vic: "Trust me. I could do worse." Dang.

While tracking down the hit man, Zadofian, Ronnie learns that the Armenian mob uses a veterinarian to patch up wounded gang members. Vic and Ronnie brace the doggie doc, (I definitely thought they were going to do something horrible to that dog, phew) and learn that the wounded man is recuperating at a hotel. Shane meanwhile visits Rezian, who tells Shane to find Zadofian and interrogate him on Diro's whereabouts. Shane finds Zadofian's location through a hooker, but arrives at the hotel to find Vic and Ronnie's car already there. Vic braces Zadofian, literally sticking a gun almost right through him (squirm alert), but leaves before losing his cool. After all, if Zadofian is killed while Vic is out of contact with Claudette, people will peg Vic as the culprit (since the dude's blood was found in Vic's home, after all). So when Vic arrives back at the barn, Ronnie gets Diro's cell phone number (to trace her location) and then shockingly puts two bullets in Zadofian, the first time Ronnie has ever killed anyone. Seriously, this made my jaw drop. After six years of milquetoastness, Ronnie shows a totally different side and suddenly becomes a wild card. And I'm riveted.

Shane waits until Ronnie leaves, and naturally freaks out when he finds Zadofian dead since Rezian will realize he's tipped off Vic. Shane cuts off Zadofian's feet to make his murder look like retribution from Diro. (I thought severed feet was a Margos thing, but I guess all Armenian gangsters like to do it)

Back at the barn, the department is being gutted to pay for the settlement for Billings's "injury." Danny ignores Dutch's attempt to talk about their awkward smooch and directs him to a man who claims to have killed his wife. But because the guy was already tried and acquitted he cannot be tried again. Dutch realizes that the man is trying to place blame on a hit man--who now runs a Vinyl siding company (ha!) and is dating a woman the widower wants. It turns out that Billings was the detective on the case, and his shoddy police work led to the acquittal. I know, Billings and shoddy detective work? Shocking! Dutch and Claudette bring Billings back to the barn under the pretense of paperwork (love the granny glasses on Billings), but in reality to get to the bottom of the case. After Claudette and Dutch insult and belittle Billings, the detective snaps back to normal and gets a confession from the hit man's fiancee. Between his injuries being proven false and the illegal use of the Quik Mealer, Claudette is able to dismiss Billings's lawsuit and force him to rejoin the department. 

On a side note--HURRAY FOR THE QUIK MEALER!!! That hunk of junk was the longest running gag on the show, and it's complete poetic justice that it finally bites Billings in the ass. They should totally make the Quik Mealer the newest member of the Strike Team.

Corrine, realizing something ain't right, takes the kids and goes to Shane's home to find out the truth. Just like Corrine to try to get answers from the same guy who kidnapped her 24 hours ago. Shane isn't home but Mara is, and we have a wet blanket-off as both women agree that their men (Vic and Shane) are up to no good. They form an alliance to find out the truth. (About damn time. These two were pretty much the only characters on the show who haven't formed some sort of alliance yet) It turns out Cassidey heard the whole thing, and it reinforces her growing suspicion that her dear old dad is actually a piece of sh%t.

Vic and Aceveda take the stolen files and lock them away, then try to figure out how best to use them. Vic naturally wants to use them to keep his job, while Aceveda wants to bury them to keep the peace and help him politically. Vic astutely points out that Aceveda was happy to use them to bury the truth about his rape, but won't actually use them for good.

Meanwhile, Vic comes up with a plan. Duh. With little recourse to bring down Pezeula legally, and without the firepower to deal with the Armenian threat and the usual gang violence, Vic decides to play both sides against each other. He convinces Pezuela that the limo driver stole the priceless files and sold them to Rezian, who will use them to prevent Pezuela from taking over. Shane then visits Rezian in prison and convinces him that the Mexicans (i.e. Pezuela, the El Salvadorans, etc...) are a massive threat. So basically Vic and Shane have pitted the two most dangerous gangs in the state against each other, setting the stage for a massive bloodbath that they hope will wipe out both gangs in the process. Man, this city is gonna burn...

A terrific first episode from top to bottom. Since it starts right after the final episode of season 6, we don't miss a moment. The violence has been ratcheted up to the point where we know things are going to get pretty bad, and between Rezian and Pezuela we have two bad ass mob bosses who aren't afraid to shed a lot of blood to get what they want. I do hope more time is given to the supporting characters--Danny, Dutch--who didn't have much to do this episode. I'm guessing Tina was the one who forgot to clear the room, which led to Danny's attack, and those natural enemies (Tina, effortlessly beautiful but a terrible cop, is the polar opposite of Danny who has worked her ass off only to see Tina become the 'face' of the department) will come to a head. The best moment in the episode was when Claudette talks to Vic about his appeals board being pushed back, telling him he doesn't have a whole lot of friends left. Vic gives his ususal charming smile, but when Claudette leaves his face says everything. In the past six years, Vic has lost every one of his friends, his family, and his reputation. He is a broken man who just doesn't know it yet. But I'm most intrigued by the developments with Ronnie. For a long time it seemed Ronnie was almost too bland, like they were waiting for the right time to pull the trigger (literally) with him. Ronnie killing the unarmed, wounded Zadofian was one of the series' most shocking moments, and Ronnie's behavior afterwards shows it definitely affected him. But whether he is overcome with guilt (like Lem would be) or develops a taste for mayhem (like Shane) has yet to be seen.

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Farewell Ride

We're about 12 hours away from the beginning of the end, as the final season of "The Shield" starts tonight. I was planning to do a series episode guide, but that kind of dedication (50+ hours of tv, plus hours and hours of recap) are much easier when you're not on deadline. 

Instead, I'll do an episode recap the day after each episode of the final season airs. Check back tomorrow for the first part. 

In the meantime, here are the questions that remain as we enter the twilight of Vic Mackey:

--How will Vic coexist with Shane now that he knows Shane killed Lem? And how can he exact revenge on Shane without the damning 'Strike Team manifesto' coming to light?

--How will Ronnie react to the fact that Shane is still alive? He seemed mighty pissed last year, the first time we've ever seen any real emotion from the mustachioed one, and Ronnie's always been the smartest of the team when it comes to keeping his nose clean. It's the quiet ones ya gotta watch...

--How will Shane keep the Armenian mob off of Vic's family now that they've been greenlit? And how will Shane extricate himself from this self-made mess?

--Vic and Aceveda have made shaky arrangements that Vic knows about Aceveda's rape, will they be able to band together once and for all to stop Cruz Pezuela from taking over the city? Or will their individual agendas (Vic's stop-at-nothing desire to stay on the force, Aceveda's ruthless political aspirations) bring them both down?

--How will Julien fare as a full-time member of the Strike Team? And will his sham of a marriage finally be put to the test?

--Dutch and Danny finally kissed after years of awkward flirtations (Danny doesn't quite know how to be a girl, Dutch doesn't quite know how to relate to human beings). Is this a one-time fling, or have they both finally found a companion? (Lord knows Dutch needs one before he turns into a serial killer) And if this is something substantial, how will Vic react considering he's the father of Danny's child?

--With Billings seemingly coming back, will Dutch be able to forgive Billings for setting him up to get burned by Tina? And will Billings's headaches ever stop? AND WHAT WILL BECOME OF THE QUIK MEALER????

--Will Tina ever bring anything to the table as a cop? And after Hiatt's affair with Tina and his screwup of the gang initiation case, have we seen the last of Vic's one-time replacement? (and could a former member of the Strike Team, nearly killed by Shane's recklessness and racism, make a return to the squad?)

--Claudette seems to be keeping the barn open...barely. Now that Vic seems to have finally found his ace in the hole (the elusive cell phone pics of Aceveda) that will allow him a stay of execution, will she be able to keep crime down while keeping Vic in check? And I'm guessing we haven't seen the last of her Lupus flareups...

--Will Kavanaugh's words come true? Will the universe take out its trash in Vic? Or will Mackey ride off into the sunset after bringing down Pezuela and Shane?

--Will the murders of Curtis Lemansky and Terry Crowley ever truly be avenged?

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