The Shield's first season was an Emmy award winning masterpiece, but it was little more than the beginning of a long journey that would span seven seasons.
The show established its characters quickly and after the initial shock of the pilot and its implications, The Shield hit a groove that worked well. The key was a transition in which the story of Terry Crowley's murder became a marathon rather than a sprint to the finish. The Shield had to simmer down that charged incident and move on for a while, otherwise the story just couldn't have sustained itself for the length of time that it did and retain the quality it brought to the screen.
The second season needed new villains, big bad credible threats that would provide contrast against our already very dark grey protagonists and also place the lives and livelihoods of the characters of the show into danger. The early part of the second season brings in Armadillo, a tough and intelligent Mexican drug dealer intent on moving in all over Vic's turf. As Vic wears two hats, one as a drug landlord and the second as a police officer, he is left treading lightly for much of the time, something Armadillo is able to take advantage of.
The next threat placed into the show represents the ever present issue of bureaucracy with the civilian auditor Lanie Kellis, a thorough and somewhat nasty piece of work Lanie doesn't just cause issues for Vic and Aceveda, she is assigned to Dutch and despite his generally good intentions his attempts to self serve do not go down well with her. Lanie's influence is felt throughout the season and causes more hurt for the law abiding officers like Dutch and of course Danny Sofer. Now The Wire has a great deal more to say about bureaucracy and says it with greater depth and impact, but Lanie is a fantastic characterisation of bureaucracy and portrays it well. You can't help but dislike her, especially when she is hounding Danny after Danny's shooting of Zayed Al-Thani - an unfortunate incident made worse by the (false) implications of racial motivation behind Danny's decision. It's similarly charged situation to the one Roland "Prez" Pryzbylewski (The Wire) finds himself in after he mistakenly shoots a black plain clothes officer, but with a different outcome.
The Second Season also introduces one of the wonderful phrases that surfaces in the show, in this case it's the title of the fifth episode 'Greenlit', being greenlit/green-light is the a project is given the green light to go ahead, it's used in film and television but it has been adopted to mean when someone is authorised to perform a hit on a target. This has (allegedly) been adopted by the criminal world and has appeared in the movie 'Felon', but The Shield's use of it here represents my earliest encounter with the phrase and I have seen little evidence of it before hand. It could be a chicken and the egg situation, or it could just be that I've not looked deep enough into the history at this time. Either way it's a phrase that would reoccur in the later seasons and it holds very sinister connotations.
Season two also has a standalone episode that is quite a fantastic piece to watch, it's titled "Co-Pilot" and it presents our one and only look into the world of The Barn before the events of the pilot episode, Reed Diamond returns to play the role of Terry Crowley and the show is given an extra sense of history and weight. Sometimes "flashback to before the show began" episodes can feel a little forced, but Co-Pilot is not one of these, it's a beautiful and enjoyable piece that isn't too heavy on the normal 'in-joke' foreshadowing that many flashback episodes have employed (I'm looking at you Bones...) and it reveals what the show could have been like if we had the Terry Crowley Investigates season (Terry Crowley Investigates... sounds like a kooky paranormal show about a sceptic who looks into the truth behind the supernatural, or something). Gilroy also makes a re-appearance towards the end of the season, having skipped bail and the old issues from the back end of the first season rear their head. At least until Gilroy is shipped off to Mexico that is.
One of the biggest introductions to the show was the character of Tavon Garris, brought in under a Politically Correct move to introduce a minority to the Strike Team, Tavon is revealed to be exactly the kind of guy who would have worked well with the rest of the team (Apart from Shane and is irredeemable racism). Tavon remains one of my favourite characters in the show and I'm often a little saddened that he was introduced too late to be rolled into the big Strike Team storyline of 'The Money Train'. The team's need to conceal Tavon from their illegal activities is a little ironic, because it becomes apparent that Tavon shares a very similar 'set of loose morals' as the rest of the Strike Team (Vic in particular grows very fond of Tavon, who is similar to Lem). But he is left as the outsider throughout this season.
Of course, this nicely brings us onto the big story of the season; I refer to the Armenian Money Train. A story arc that gathers momentum throughout the episodes of the show after the existence of the Train is discovered by the Strike Team. They realise that this is their chance for one last big payout, enough money to place them all comfortably for life and mean that their retirement funds won't need additional boosting from other risky activities. One last big blow out then they can all go straight for the rest of their careers.
It's a storyline that highlights the strengths of every member of the Strike Team and is one of the first times where Ronnie gets to really shine (in fact the Second Season is the start of Ronnie's development from a supporting character into a main one, although at this time it is still baby steps for him). Ronnie's quiet introversion conceals a keen intellect with a flair for planning and it is Ronnie who ultimately comes up with the plan that works when dealing with the Money Train. Ronnie is also the victim of Armadillo's revenge where Ronnie is left scarred in retaliation for Vic's burning of Armadillo's face on an electric cooker hob. It is this assault that makes Ronnie start stepping up and becoming more active in the Strike Team.
The second season closes out with some powerful moments and images and it is on the whole a satisfying season to watch, but you have to remember that this is the second part of an ongoing storyline, Vic's star is still rising and at this time, apart from his family problems, things could not look better. All that can only mean one thing, rough times are ahead...