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Series / The Shield

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"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 Shield is an American Cop Show which ran over seven seasons from March 12, 2002 to November 25, 2008 on FX.

A hyperactive Shakespearian counterpart to the Dickensian The Wire, The Shield follows a team of police officers working at The Barn, an experimental police precinct situated within the fictional Los Angeles district of Farmington. Although the show revolves around corrupt detective Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis), it gained a reputation as an ensemble show as the series explored the goings-on within the Farmington Precinct (including the various power struggles and interpersonal drama surrounding Mackey in the midst of the chaos and intrigue).

The focus of the show revolves around Mackey as he leads an elite anti-gang task force known as "The Strike Team". The LAPD tasked the Strike Team 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 group generally go about their task with violent efficiency and a little corruption on the side: the team will often enter into Faustian deals with Farmington's criminal elements—which give said criminals free rein to run the city's drug trade—in exchange for bribes, intel on other gang members, and a promise to keep their illegal antics at reasonable levels to ensure an illusion of peace.


Other aspects of the show deal with the rank-and-file members of the Farmington Precinct. The most notable of these cast members, detectives Holland "Dutch" Wagenbach and Claudette Wyms, deal with non-gang-related instances of rape and murder within the district. They serve as the moral opposite of Vic Mackey and the Strike Team, which leads to tension between the two sides when they work together on related cases (or when Dutch and Claudette have to clean up the inevitable fallout from the Strike Team's corrupt antics while trying to prove Vic's corruption). Several patrol officers—including Danielle "Danny" Sofer, her protégé Julien Lowe, and rookie cop Tina Hanlon—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 Aceveda, whose disdain for Vic Mackey and his corrupt antics clash with his political ambitions (and ends up driving him further and further into bed with Vic as the series progresses), and 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.

Much like The Sopranos, The Shield goes to great lengths portraying Vic and the strike team as nuanced characters with good and bad sides. In spite of his corruption and violent tendencies, many of Vic's criminal actions often result from the stress of his job (i.e. the unrealistic pressures placed on him to shut down crime in the district) and the desire to provide for his family (two of his three children have autism). Vic has some lines he refuses to cross, however, and he has absolutely zero tolerance for rape, pedophilia, and domestic violence. He also shows a great deal of loyalty towards his teammates and often preaches the message of team loyalty to bond the four men into a surrogate family.

But Vic's conscience mainly exists thanks to the influence of Strike Team member Curtis "Lem" Lemansky. Lem serves as the counterpart to Vic's much abused "yes-man" partner, Shane Vendrell. Ronnie Gardocki, a quiet and nerdy police detective whose silent loyalty to Vic balances Lem and Shane's polar opposite personalities, rounds out the Strike Team.

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The Shield contains examples of:

  • Aborted Arc: Julien's homosexuality was dropped as a major subplot after the first three seasons. He ended the series unhappy and unresolved with his sexuality.
    • According to the Sons Of Anarchy Season 1 DVD, Dutch was originally going to be revealed as a Serial Killer. This was dropped, but exactly at what point is unclear. There are many scenes throughout the series such as strangling the cat that could have been building to that conclusion.
  • The Ace: Vic Mackey especially in season 1. He's a big tough guy, makes fun of 'losers' like Dutch, ran circles around Aceveda and later Billings, and often gets laid. This changes in later seasons but it does pop up from time to time.
  • 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 Aceveda, 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 for Nothing: Vic winds up sacrificing Ronnie to the feds to make sure that his wife and family are protected from prosecution. He doesn't know that his wife has already cut a deal and fleeing from Vic into witness protection, making his betrayal of Ronnie completely pointless.
  • 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 gofer for Vic.
  • And That's Terrible: The final two episodes have several characters, especially Olivia Murray, remark on how awful and reprehensible Vic is (along with, to a lesser extent, the rest of the Strike Team), in order to cement the show's moral stance on his many transgressions.
  • And the Adventure Continues: Despite the Strike Team's downfall, the rest of the Barn (and Farmington in general) continue unabated. Claudette retains her position as captain, Dutch and Billings remain detectives and Danny, Tina, Julien and the rest of the officers are called away before they celebrate Tina's one year anniversary. Aceveda is looking to be the next mayor of L.A. Sirens, gangbangers, hookers and citizens move on with their lives.
  • 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: Quite 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.
  • As Long as It Sounds Foreign: Averted the characters' use of non-English languages, with the few accents being justified as them being non-native speakers.
    • Zig-Zagged in the names, at least of Latinos. A few of them do get perfectly regular names, but a lot either get names that do exist but are rare in modern times or are misspellings of regular names (eg. Diagur instead of Diego).
  • Asshole Victim / Kick the Son of a Bitch: Many of the criminals whom the Strike Team wrongs in some way are even worse (or at least no better) than they are. Special mention goes to Guardo Lima; he is brutally tortured and killed by Vic, who wrongly believes him responsible for Lem's murder, but it's hard to mourn him too much, given the horrific crimes he has committed, as well as his taunting Vic over Lem's death.
  • 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.
  • Background Music: Averted; the show features no musical score whatsoever. Instead it uses songs by other artists.
  • Batman Cold Open: The Strike Team chasing and arresting the drug dealer at the beginning of the pilot.
  • Beastly Bloodsports: In "Two Days of Blood", Detective Shane Vendrell and Detective Curt Lemansky go undercover in a cockfighting event to track down an illegal arms smuggler.
  • Being Evil Sucks: While glamorizing the maverick antics of the Strike Team, the show also emphasizes the downsides of their corruption, and how it eventually brings about the group's downfall. Ultimately, two end up dead, one faces a long jail sentence, and the other loses everything dear to him. The Strike Team do not even live large on their ill-gotten loot. Outside of Shane purchasing a home for his family, they mostly just hide the loot or at best, use it to pay for medical bills/specialized therapy for their autistic kids.
  • Berserk Button: Vic Mackey, Steve Billings, and Monica Rawling despise crimes against children.
  • Big Bad: Several.
  • Bizarrchitecture: 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...
  • Birth/Death Juxtaposition: In Season 5's finale, Danny gives birth to her and Vic's son. In that same episode Shane throws a grenade in Lem's lap.
  • Bittersweet Ending: For most of the Barn not affiliated with the Strike Team.
    • 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's devoted to. She's confident as well that her utter failure to bring Vic to justice will haunt her to her dying day. At the same time, she's determined to see every day possible by coming to work and allows Dutch to aid her by way of a maid he'll pay to clean her house and an assistant in Danny. She also gets a much more satisfying one on Vic by getting Olivia, his superior, to get Corrine and their kids in witness protection and then arresting Ronnie in front of him as a proof of his betrayal to his teammate.
    • Dutch: He gives perjured testimony in Billings' favor in exchange for releasing a framed sexual offender and he doesn't end up with any of the women he spent the series pining over. Additionally, his actions caused Lloyd to kill his mother, something which he bitterly lampshades, which prevents him from nailing his suspect the way he wanted. The icing on the cake is confronting the fact that his partner Claudette is dying from lupus. Andererseits, he's exonerated of Lloyd framing him for his mother Rita's murder thanks to his aforementioned partner and Billings' lawyer asks him out on a date. He's also grown into a dependable detective capable of teamwork that willingly helps his captain without asking much in exchange; in turn, she acknowledges him as her best friend which brings a smile to his face.
    • 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. Furthermore, 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. Despite this, the final note implies the family is finally free from Vic's influence.
    • Julien: Julien never comes to terms with his homosexuality and is still in his own private, closeted hell. He's still 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. His last major scene is spent looking with sad envy at a happy gay couple. On the other hand, he's successfully trained Tina as a resourceful cop, continuing the Master-Apprentice Chain started by Danny, and Claudette implies he could promoted to detective in the future.
    • Billings: The result of his bogus lawsuit amounts to several days' worth of backpay for his free days. That is toned down, as far as his lawyer is concerned, from the possibility of being sued himself due to institution fraud. His retirement is still on the horizon, though, and he's kept his job and his pension intact.
    • Tina: She 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. Despite this, she's finally a rookie no more and the officers hold a mini-celebration (complete with cake) for her to celebrate her first full year on the job, which is cut short due to Tina and her fellow patrol officers being called out onto the street as back-up on a gang shooting.
  • Bluff the Eavesdropper:
    • At one point, Vic realizes that a fellow officer is wearing a wire for IA. Vic then uses this to record himself "confessing" to the cop that he's not bad, he just actively cultivates a reputation as a corrupt and murderous cop to intimidate gangs and crooks into thinking he's a loose cannon.
    • At one point the Strike Team realizes that their clubhouse has been bugged. They all laugh along loudly as Shane tells a long drawn out joke for the benefit of whomever's listening, while at the same time using paper and pen to plan how to move forward.
  • 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.
  • Break Them by Talking: The detectives do this regularly against the suspects they interrogate.
  • Butt-Monkey:
    • Dutch and Ronnie, especially in the earlier seasons.
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • Confess to a Lesser Crime: After's Shane failed attempt to kill Vic and Ronnie, Weems goes to Ronnie to demand an explanation. Ronnie pulls a plausible explanation entirely out of his ass and pins everything on Shane, while confessing that he and Vic were doing an unauthorized investigation into Lem's murder (and leaving out all the murders they committed in the process) and that they arranged a secret meeting with Lem the night he was killed (but only to convince him to turn himself in, claims Ronnie).
  • Cop Killer: In the last few minutes of the pilot episode, Strike Team newcomer Terry Crowley gets shot in the head by none other than Vic Mackey.
  • Cop Show
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Cruz Pezuela.
  • 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 abusing their power as far as misusing police resources for illegal schemes (Gilroy) or engaging intimidation/threats towards their subordinates (Claudette, Aceveda) because they pissed off the wrong superior officer at some point. The Crapsack World finale had Vic skating on jail time for everything while leaving his subordinate to take the blame (and the resulting prison sentence, assuming he isn't killed while awaiting trial), when Ronnie was not even deemed important enough to be told of many of Vic's crimes. Meanwhile, several who tried to bring Vic to justice do not fare so well.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Shane Vendrell, Ronnie Gardocki, Dutch Wagenbach, Tina Hanlon, and Steve Billings.
  • Cure Your Gays:
    • Julien undergoes reorientation therapy in Season 2, and his homosexuality stops being a major story issue from Season 4 onward. However, by the end of the series, it's pretty clear that he hasn't been "cured"; he's just gotten better at repressing it.
    • The Season 7 episode "Money Shot" involves a homosexual teenage girl who was kidnapped and raped by men. It is revealed that the girl's brother hired them in order to "rape the lesbian out of her."
  • Da Chief: Largely averted, but Claudette fills the role when necessary.
  • Darker and Edgier: Subjective; season 2 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 them. Season 3 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 1 and 2 (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.
    • "The Shield Spotlight" mini-series IDW released in 2004; in particular Dutch and Claudette manage to find evidence linking a high ranking news network executive to the murder of a reporter, who was about to expose a good amount of corruption at the network she worked at. But the entire investigation is squashed and the network executive gets away with the crime, after the network executive cuts a backroom deal with Aceveda (who, generally speaking, did have SOME standards as far as just how far he'd go to further his ambitions in the tv series), to trade favorable news coverage for his political career in exchange for Aceveda ensuring that the murder investigation gets squashed. The mini-series even ends with Vic, oblivious to what happened, gloating to Claudette and Dutch that he's the better detective and that he gets stuff done, while they can't solve their murder
  • A Day in the Limelight: Jon Kavanaugh gets one in the aptly titled "Kavanaugh."
  • Development Gag: The episode "Petty Cash" features a throwaway line about Claudette "borrowing backup from Rampart," reflecting the show's basis on the real-life Rampart Division and its original working title.
  • Didn't Think This Through: While Vic pulls off the greatest trick of his career by getting immunity for all his crimes, it soon becomes apparent it's not all roses afterward. He didn't count on Olivia putting him on desk duty (which he isn't suited for) and being under such intense scrutiny (to catch him if he violates his deal). Also, thanks to him confessing his litany of crimes, there is no shot of him working in law enforcement ever again. He's basically a leper when (or if) he finishes out his deal with no violation and as an admitted Cop Killer who got away with it, he'll be a marked man for the rest of his life. Moreover, it leads to Dutch and Claudette making sure his wife and children are entered into the Witness Protection Program and taken far away from Vic.
  • 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 2, who gets killed off midway through the season.
  • Despair Event Horizon: The final fates of Ronnie and Shane.
  • Downer Ending: By the end, every Strike Team member has gotten one; courtesy of Laser-Guided Karma.
    • Vic: He gets full immunity for his crimes but he falls into his own personal hell. Now friendless and ostracised by his colleagues, he is stuck working a desk job for three years with a supervisor who is determined to goad him into violating his immunity deal. Oh, and Vic's ex-wife has fled town with their children, entered Witness Protection, and has an order of protection out against him.
    • Shane: He goes on the run with his family following his botched plot to murder Vic and Ronnie, but their plan to leave the country goes badly wrong. When Shane learns that Vic has beaten him to an immunity deal, ending his last chance to save himself and his family, Shane kills Mara and Jackson, and then himself.
    • Ronnie: He is betrayed by Vic and arrested as the scapegoat for all of the crimes of the Strike Team. Assuming he doesn't get killed in jail awaiting trial, he's looking at a long prison sentence (a fate that he previously opined would be worse than being killed) for aiding and abetting a fugitive at best and as an accessory to Terry Crowley's murder at worst. Not to mention having to answer for all their other misdemeanors.
    • Lem: His decision to steal a brick of heroin makes IAD target him as a possible informant, least he ends in jail along most of his (and the rest of the Team's) detainees. Struggling to maintain both his loyalty and his conscience, he agrees to a plea bargain only to be vivisected from the waist down with a grenade by his partner Shane after being disinformed of Lem's duplicity via Aceveda and Kavanaugh. Due to the nature of his crime, his reputation as the sole good member of the team and as a cop is destroyed post-mortem, with even the LAPD denying the possibility of his grave receiving the 21-shot salute meant for every cop.
  • Drama Bomb: Even though the show has a healthy number of Wham Episodes, "Parricide" and "Possible Kill Screen" in the final season mark not only points of no return, but the culmination of seasons past:
    • "Parricide" has Shane planning to kill Vic and Ronnie and failing, going fugitive when found out.
    • "Possible Kill Screen" has Vic confessing to all of his crimes over the years for an immunity deal, guaranteeing prison for Ronnie in doing so.
  • Dramatic Pause: Right before Vic confesses all his deeds to Olivia under the immunity deal, there is a 42 second pause as Vic gathers his thoughts.
  • Dropping the Bombshell: In the final episode, Ronnie asks what he is being arrested for:
    Dutch: The last three years.
  • 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 Shane, Anti-Hero, Villain Protagonist, Vic really loves his kids and Shane loves his wife and children as well.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: For all his unethical behavior, Vic is genuinely enraged by violence against women and children. He also sees it as his job to keep the streets (mostly) calm and peaceful, even if that means tolerating and even abetting less violent criminal behavior. He also uses this trope to leverage information out of various criminal elements - drug dealers and even violent gang members are often willing to help him catch the truly loathsome individuals.
  • The Everyman: Ronnie Gardocki and Danny Sofer/Tina Hanlon
  • Evil vs. Evil: Vic against Shane, in the seventh season. Both are corrupt killer cops desperately trying to escape justice for their crimes.
  • False Roulette: Tavon in season two.
  • Failure Is the Only Option: Everyone's attempts to bring Vic Mackey to justice fail miserably. But his bosses figure out a way to make it come at a cost.
  • Family Annihilator: Shane kills his family, then himself
  • Fate Worse than Death: Ronnie says that going to prison as an ex-cop would qualify as this. So naturally...
  • Faux Action Girl: Tina (Though she actually learns from her mistakes)
  • Felony Murder: What ultimately dooms Shane and Mara. When Shane's attempt to rob a group of drug dealers goes wrong, she ends up shooting an innocent bystander by mistake. Regardless of if it was intentional, this results in Mara facing a first degree murder charge, since it took place during a crime in progress.
  • First-Episode Twist: 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, leader 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.
  • Foreshadowing: El Salvadorian gangsters using grenades are heavily talked about during season 5. In the season finale Shane, out of fear, kills Lem with one of their grenades.
  • Framing the Guilty Party: Played with twice. In season 5, Kavanaugh attempts to frame Mackey for Lem's murder, but eventually confesses and goes to prison himself, but with a clear conscience. Dutch goes through an element of this as well, when he finds a strangled woman but cannot break the suspected killer. He plants some evidence in the man's house, but has a crisis of conscience before reaching the end of the block and goes back to remove it. He redoubles his resolve to do it the right way, and succeeds.
  • From Bad to Worse: The Money Train Heist in the season two finale: things went off the rails and led to the destruction of the team and their friendships.
  • Grand Finale: "Family Meeting." And Ironic Hell and Downer Ending.
  • Groin Attack: The rat trap/glory hole plot is a very painful case of it.
  • Hand Cannon: After Vic turns in his badge he starts carrying a .357 Desert Eagle.
  • Hannibal Lecture: Several of them:
    • Season One, Dutch faces off with a serial killer who psychoanalyses 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 sergeant'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.
    • Aceveda gives Vic one in season two, in which he points out how they are locked into a path of mutually assured destruction due to Aceveda's political ambitions and that Vic would be better served working with Aceveda 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 HannibalLectures 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 Aceveda in season five by way of stating that he purposely spent the entire season pissing Aceveda 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 Aceveda to turn against Vic and help him; the lecture given to Aceveda unfortunately has unintended consequences, as Aceveda 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.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Jon Kavanaugh falls victim to this during his quest to take the Strike Team down, as he eventually plants evidence and coerces false testimony against Vic.
  • 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.
    • 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.
  • 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).
  • Hidden Wire: Nicely subverted in one episode as a fellow cop's nervous talk clues Vic in to the fact the guy is wearing a wire for IA. Vic then uses this to record himself "confessing" to the cop that he just acts being this corrupt and murderous cop to intimidate gangs and crooks into thinking he's a loose cannon.
  • 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).
  • Humiliating Wager: (S03E04: Streaks and Tips), two LAPD teams (Strike Team and Decoy Squad) compete to solve a car-jacking case. They make a bet saying that the losing team has to streak naked through the police station. Decoy Squad loses.
  • Humiliation Conga: The series finale: What should've been Vic's achievement quickly spirals downward into the inverse: the last half of the episode is a Karmic smackdown of the highest order, in which he ultimately winds up alone and in a job that represents all of his worst fears, nightmares, and defects.
  • Gambit Roulette: Vic is able to manipulate events around him to such an extent that it seems like he's truly all-knowing, all-seeing.
  • I Just Shot Marvin in the Face: Happens to Halpern White in "Cut Throat," when Army's gun accidentally goes off. Fortunately for Halpern, the bullet just hits his shoulder.
  • Idealized Sex: Subverted: Sex is usually portrayed as unglamorously as possible.
  • 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 Julien. 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.
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: In the first episode, Vic beats up a pedophile 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.
  • Jitter Cam: The show is filmed with shaky handheld cameras in order to produce a gritty, realistic, almost documentary-like atmosphere.
  • Jurisdiction Friction: Season four has this, as does season seven.
  • Karma Houdini:
    • David Aceveda escapes any punishment for the crimes and amoral things he does and is on course to become mayor of Los Angeles, though he is now wholly corrupt, the very thing he vowed not to become, and may yet face retribution from the Mexican mafia.
    • Vic, who ends up with full immunity from prosecution for his laundry list of crimes and a well-paid government job. However, his fate is also 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.
  • Killer Cop: Vic, Shane and Ronnie. Vic and Shane are also Cop Killers.
  • Landslide Election: The show makes clear that the election going on in the background of Aceveda's storyline in the first two seasons is the Democratic primary, not the November general election. The primary is very close and Aceveda squeaks out a victory. But the Farmington district is so overwhelmingly Democratic that the general election is a given, to the extent that Aceveda runs unopposed in the general.
  • 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 concussion 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 he had long ago recovered his memory and put together that Vic and Lem were lying about the fight to cover Shane's ass.
  • MacGuffin: The plot of season seven partly revolves around a box filled with blackmail material that Vic and Aceveda steal from a major Mexican drug cartel, a theft Vic blames on the Armenians.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Vic. While he's rarely completely successful, he can manipulate most Farmington cops enough to keep his Batman Gambit and Indy Ploy maneuvers rolling.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane:
    • "Pay in Pain" never explicitly reveals how Phyllis knows about Sally. Is she a true psychic or did she just peek at Dutch's file?
    • Corinne's dream in "The New Guy." Message from beyond the grave, or just a random dream?
  • Meaningful Name: Vic MACKEY (taken from "Machiavellian").
    • YMMV— Though the Mackey/Machiavellian connection is very appropriate to Vic's character, it's more likely he was named after David Mack, the central figure in the Rampart CRASH Unit scandal on which the show is based.
  • 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 Julien/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 Julien, 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 Julien and Danny's partnership in season one as well; when Danny was bitten by an HIV-infected gay prostitute, Julien 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 Julien inflicts upon the prostitute freaked out the other cops who organized the beating, to the point that they had to separate Julien from his victim.
  • Motive Decay: Vic's desire to protect the Strike Team from the consequences of their crimes in the end turns into Vic protecting himself from the consequences of the Strike Team's crimes.
    • Also with Aceveda: his desire to do good for the community via entering the world of politics/purging the LAPD of corrupt elements like Vic go down the toilet once the real life backstabbery of politics hit him in the face with a two-by-four, and Aceveda begins to shed his morals and ethics to get elected.
  • 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.
  • 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 Walton 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.
  • No Sympathy: When Aceveda admits the details of his sexual assault to his wife, she's horrified and him. His cousin was only slightly more sympathetic, making clear that the only way for Aceveda to re-gain his honor is to kill the man who assaulted him. Cruz actually counts on No Sympathy when he gives Vic the photo of Aceveda's assault - he figures that voters will judge Aceveda and drum him out of office, even though Aceveda literally had a gun to his head.
  • Not Bad: An understated one when Shane temporarily poses for a gay prostitute and while not hostile, he's clearly not amused. Until one of the prostitutes turns out to be a fellow automobile geek and they spend the rest of the day talking about cars and tuning.
  • The Not Secret: Shane attempts to turn Ronnie away from Vic by revealing how Vic killed Terry. Ronnie is neither moved nor surprised.
  • 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 Aceveda. 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.
  • Oblivious Guilt Slinging:
    Vic: I made a deal to bring Beltran and the drugs for immunity. I'm (going to) hold my end of it up.
    ——>Ronnie: Well I'm part of that deal to. We started this together, lets finish it together. *arm pat of friendship*
    ** To clarify why, Vic has already signed his immunity deal and Ronnie believes his is already ironclad. It is not, and Vic's expression when Ronnie walks away shows this trope. If he's part of the deal, it's as a consolation collar for letting Vic get away with his crimes.
  • Odd Couple:
    • Dutch and Claudette.
    • Vic and Aceveda, once they start teaming up on a regular basis.
  • Oh, Crap!: Olivia's reaction when she hears Vic's confession and realizes just how filthy he really was. Up to that point, she was under the impression he was an effective cop who pushed the envelope from time to time.
  • 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: A lot 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 show's start. Danny sort of Zig Zags this trope in most seasons after season 1. Julien 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.
  • 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.
      • And according to the DVD commentary, CCH Pounder inadvertently blurted it out while filming the argument between Claudette and Dutch in the penultimate episode of the series. It apparently was so powerful (and worked so well in context) that Shawn Ryan briefly considered petitioning FX to leave it in.
  • 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 $60,000 a year 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 the full three years, his immunity becomes irrevocable and he can never ever be held accountable for his crimes. On the other hand, they can promptly throw him out. And with his laundry list public knowledge and his old nemesis slated to become the new mayor, his reputation as a Dirty, Dirty Cop is also permanent.
  • Pyrrhic Villainy: Vic's final fate. He certainly fares better than most of the others. He has a well-paying job in federal law enforcement and full immunity for his sins, but his victory is hollow. Vic has betrayed all of his friends, who are either dead or now rotting in jail. His ex-wife and their children have gone into the Witness Protection Progam far away from him, while his mistress is determined that Vic will have nothing to do with their son, who will inevitably learn all about what a monster their father was. Furthermore, Vic's biggest strengths (his charisma and people skills) have been permanently 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. He's working for people who can't stand the sight of him and intend to make his life such a hell he'll screw up, since the first and slightest violation of any term nullifies the deal. So not only is his new supervisor is going to have a lot of help and support to offset her new duties, none of them have to worry about being held accountable for any mistake he makes.
  • Rabid Cop: All four members of the Strike Team themselves, to varying degrees.
  • Rape as Drama: A theme of Season 3, which features Dutch's pursuit of a serial rapist targeting elderly women, as well as Aceveda's rape, which is played deadly serious with all the emotional trauma it would produce. In later seasons, 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 introverted, 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.
  • Rejected Apology: When Ronnie learns that Vic made him The Scapegoat for all of the Strike Team's dirty deeds, Vic pathetically tries to apologize. He's having none of it.
    Ronnie: You got immunity for yourself, and you're sending me to prison??!!
    Vic: Ronnie, I'm sorry. My family...
    Ronnie: You're GODDAMNED SORRY!!??
  • 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.
    • The flashback episode "Co-Pilot" is infamous for its continuity issues: the Strike Team being a new entity, Aceveda being the Barn's first Captain, Julien being present for the Barn's inception, etc.
  • Retired Bad Ass: 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.
  • Riddle for the Ages: The finale left many unresolved questions.
    • Ronnie's ultimate fate as far as which of his many sins he'll ultimately be charged with in court.
    • The shitstorm that Vic's confession/immunity deal and Ronnie's arrest will have upon not only the LAPD as far as overturned convictions, but also Acaveda's political ambitions, given that the finale ends with Acaveda on cloud nine as far as the predicted favorite to win the mayoral election, with Ronnie's arrest, Shane's murder-murder-suicide, and the subsequent shitstorm with Vic's scamming ICE for immunity for murdering a cop having yet to make the evening paper/news.
    • Danny's attempt to keep Vic out of her and her son's life.
    • Dutch's relationship with both Danny and Tina
      • Lem's relationship with a woman named Tigra, who's brother Lem shot after mistaking him for another gang member in season one is another dropped plotline.
  • 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 Aceveda, 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 Aceveda when Aceveda 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 Aceveda 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 in season five, when the new Assistant Chief (having replaced the corrupt Gilroy) basically tells Vic that the Detective pissed off so many people within the department, that he was being officially designated for forced early retirement and that NO ONE would 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 vs. 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 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.
  • Smash Cut: Occurs when going into and coming out of a commercial break.
  • Smug Snake: Shane, Claudette, and Billings qualify as the biggest examples. Subverted with Aceveda and Vic, as both men generally have better track records than the other three (though Vic's smugness eventually catches up to him).
  • Sociopathic Hero: 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).
  • Soul-Crushing Desk Job: Vic gets an office job, and it's implied he finds it extremely boring. Vic wants to be out on the streets in the thick of the action, busting people. Instead, he finds himself stuck in this soul-sucking position.
  • Status Quo Is God: The early seasons are hit hard with this, as every main character who seems to be leaving the Barn or being promoted ends up staying in/returning to their old positions (e.g. Aceveda, Danny, Dutch) and every broken partnership is eventually reestablished (e.g. The Strike Team, Dutch & Claudette). Eventually, the writers do begin averting the trope, such as with Aceveda becoming a Councilman, Claudette's promotion to Captain, and Lem's murder.
  • 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: Julien.
  • 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: In one episode, Vic brutally beats the crap out a suspect with an encyclopedia.
  • Tragedy: The series plays out in such a fashion, with the Strike Team collectively serving as the Tragic Heroes. Quite a few reviewers have compared the show to Shakespeare.
  • Turn in Your Badge: Vic literally does this towards the end of season seven.
  • True Companions: 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.
  • Twofer Token Minority: Julien (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.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: In Season 7, Episode 8 (Parricide), we as an audience see Shane plan with Mara for an alibi while he kills Vic and Ronnie. Of course the plan crashes and burns.
  • 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 fled, or been the least bit suspicious of Vic, he might have been able to escape his fate.
    • 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 asset forfeiture, 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 the 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.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Many times throughout the series. Notably graphic in Season 4's Grave.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: It is never established whether or not Vic is the father of Connie's son, Brian.
  • Whole Episode Flashback: Season 2's "Co-Pilot" takes place during the Barn's earliest days.
  • Wimp Fight: Shane and Tavon have a particularly brutal one in Shane's living room.
    • Dutch and Billings in season 4, after Billings joins in with the others mocking Dutch after Dutch has covered for him hiding during a shooting at a car wash instead of taking action as an officer, is probably a better example.
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: 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 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 abetting. 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, beginning with having Dutch drop the bomb on Ronnie before Vic can alert him to the truth.

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