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The Shield: Season 3

It's difficult to believe that in our current society's return to "moral values," a show like The Shield could continue to press the boundaries of what's acceptable on basic cable. Indeed, if being produced under the Fox umbrella does show ill effects during the upcoming fourth season, Season Three very well could be seen as the apex of what was possible before Janet Jackson flashed a nipple ring on national television. Fox's flagship station is already feeling the effects, with five-year-old reruns of "The Family Guy" modified to censor the appearance of a cartoon character's posterior, it's easy to imagine that a show that appears on basic cable could continue producing episodes that would have a difficult time making it past the MPAA without an NC-17. Det. Dutch Wagonbach (Jay Karnes), during an interrogation, tells a suspect about his "moral compass" — everyone has one, and it determines a person's ability to tell right from wrong. Once it's broken, it can't be fixed. The writers behind The Shield have consistently seized upon this theme throughout the show's three-year run, and what makes the series brilliant is that each character is defined by their own "moral compass," allowing each to act in a consistently realistic manner as dictated by their definition of right and wrong. It's not for everyone — featuring some of the most violent fistfights and personal assaults to air on a channel that's not HBO to date (The Shield runs on Fox's F/X), Shawn Ryan and his team consistently challenge the viewer with a story that's compelling, while allowing the dark side of their characters to come out during the natural flow of the narrative. Instead of being shocked at what the characters do, it's obvious what they must do, and the viewer is left not wondering what will happen, but whether the show has the courage to deliver what must happen. What makes The Shield so compelling is its ability to deliver, due mainly to the strength of the cast. Michael Chiklis continues to bring the violent intensity to the role of Mackey, the corrupt cop with a conscience and a family. Jay Karnes' delivery of the goofy, brilliant, and ultimately troubled Dutch is perhaps the heart of this season — as one of the few "good guys" on the show, he's the one to root for. And Benito Martinez has perhaps the most difficult job, as the forceful Capt. Aceveda transforms from Mackey's foil into a character with his own serious issues to deal with.

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Season Three picks up shortly after Season Two — Vic Mackey and his Strike Team have just hijacked the Armenian mob's "Money Train," taking several million dollars for their retirement fund. In order to keep a low profile, they've gladly taken a lower priority role within the Farmington Police division, sticking with minor busts and stakeouts while waiting for any potential Internal Affairs smoke to clear. Capt. David Aceveda, recently the winner of a City Council primary, and running uncontested in the upcoming election, decides to stay at the Barn for the next six months, stealing Det. Wymms' (the presumptive new Captain) ideas for turning the force around. One of those ideas was the incorporation of the Decoy Squad, a unit similar to the Strike Team, but who specialize in undercover work. As Vic and his team try to keep a low profile, they are forced to take steps to keep from being replaced by the new team, while they continuing to dodge increasing heat over the mission money. The Armenian mob is slowly tearing through south L.A., indiscriminately killing anyone who might have been involved in stealing their loot. But what both the mob and the Strike Team don't know is that the Treasury Department was already on the trail of the money and had planted marked bills in the shipment. Once the dead bodies start piling up, agents being working with Aceveda to track down the killers. Aceveda, of course, has his own problems — an unfortunate run in with the Biz Lats gang has him unknowingly close to Vic's trail, but the traumatic event gives him his own set of problems to deal with. Keeping the best detectives in the Barn off their trail is the "Cuddler Rapist," a cunning villain who leaves no trail behind as he stalks and rapes elderly women, forcing Wagonbach and Wymms to do some stalking of their own in an effort to track him down. While keeping their low profile, the Strike Team have lost their edge on the streets, leaving them with the task of reestablishing their authority with the gangs while trying to cover their own trail. Meanwhile, the burden of staying clear of the feds, while holding on to their stolen cash, begins to take its toll on the team, as distrust and dissent begins to fester within the once-tight unit. And to top it off, Mackey continues to struggle with his estranged wife and autistic child.

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Fox presents The Shield: Season Three in a four-disc set that is a serious upgrade over the Season Two offering. Half of the episodes come with optional commentary, each one offering some insight into the process. Each episode has two deleted scenes (also with optional commentary by creator Shawn Ryan), and the fourth disc contains eight additional scenes as well as the "making-of" documentary "Breaking Episode #315." Clocking in at 15 episodes, it's long by any standards used to judge the duration of a single season of any show — and with each one packed with violence and disturbing content, it could take most viewers a long time to work through all of the available content here. But for fans, it's a welcome sight given the long wait for the next season's start. Four-DVD digipak.
—Scott Anderson

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