‘The Shield’ going out on top with surprising finale

It’s starting to feel like losing a friend. A friend who shot a fellow cop in the face, tortured and killed suspects, put seized drugs back on the streets he patrolled and started a bloody war between a Mexican cartel and the Armenian mob just to help cover his tracks, but a friend nonetheless.

And while I’ve already seen “The Shield’s” near-perfect 90-minute series finale (10 p.m. Tuesday, FX), I’m just not ready to say goodbye to Vic Mackey.

Leading up to its premiere, very little about “The Shield” made any sense. FX was the home of “Married … With Children” reruns and little else. Everybody knew that if a scripted series was any good, it wouldn’t be on cable. And what was the doughy dad from “The Commish” doing there?

But in the hands of Michael Chiklis, Mackey burst onto the scene on March 12, 2002, causing trouble for criminals — at least the ones he wasn’t partnered with — and his bosses alike.

“Good cop and bad cop left for the day. I’m a different kind of cop,” he told a pedophile, shortly before beating him with a telephone book. And by the end of the hour, he’d not only made the world a better place for roundish bald guys, but he’d lit the fuse for the explosion in critically acclaimed basic-cable dramas and their rogue’s gallery — from “Rescue Me’s” Tommie Gavin to “Saving Grace’s” Grace Hanadarko to “Mad Men’s” Don Draper — that followed.

That’s not bad for a character who was an afterthought on his own series. (Creator Shawn Ryan had all the other cops in place and only added Mackey and his Strike Team after hearing about the growing scandal involving dirty cops in LAPD’s Rampart division.)

But as good as Chiklis has been — he was the first lead actor from an ad-supported cable series to win an Emmy and Golden Globe — he has rarely been better than during the past few weeks.

Even though it almost had to happen, seeing Mackey turn in the badge he fought so hard to protect packed the kind of punch he’d doled out to countless gangbangers. And Chiklis deserves to be on the Emmy shortlist just for all the emotional layers in last week’s scene in which he described every crime he’d committed over seven seasons to a blanching federal agent in exchange for immunity and a new job.

It was the final crafty move in a career that saw Mackey keeping so many balls in the air, he could have a future with Cirque du Soleil. Assuming he has a future at all. (And, no, I’m not telling. I won’t even give my parents any hints, and one of them really wants to know.)

“I’ve paid a lot of attention in the last couple years to the finales of shows that I really admired,” Ryan said this summer during a Q&A with the cast. “I think the one thing I’ve learned is that the shows that stay true to themselves in their finale rather than to try to do something that was outside the umbrella of what they usually did, those were the finales that for me succeeded more. And I think if and when you watch the finale, it will feel like ‘The Shield’ universe. It will feel completely appropriate.”

Appropriate and satisfying. “The Shield” has the privilege of going out on top, as opposed to the hollow shell its sister series “Nip/Tuck” has become. Each of the core cast members gets at least one nice moment, and there’s a particular scene that I still haven’t been able to shake.

“I think it’s the greatest finale ever that you’ll ever see anywhere,” co-star CCH Pounder gushed. “Hands down. Blew my socks off.” Then, seeming to channel Claudette Wyms, her character who spent years trying to bring down her colleague, she added, “This finale is what Vic Mackey deserves.”

Maybe, maybe not. But perhaps the best thing about this finale — aside from the fact that unlike the end of a certain other beloved drama with a similarly violent, criminal leading man, Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” is nowhere to be found — is that of all the possible ways to end “The Shield,” I never thought of this one.

“The writers have continually been able to do something that I marvel at,” Chiklis said, “which is to come up with twists and turns that happen, and when you watch them, they’re so surprising and stunning. But then when you look back at it, you go, ‘Well, yeah, that makes perfect sense.’ And what thrills me about the finale is, you will not see this coming. … That when you look back at it, you’ll go, ‘Holy cow, yeah, that’s exactly right.’ “

Christopher Lawrence’s Life on the Couch column appears on Sundays. E-mail him at

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