Thursday, November 11, 2010

Compliment Case 2: The Shield

We all love a good bad-ass, don’t we? Sure we do. Someone capable, always on top of things, unflappable, supremely confident. Dexter fits this mold in a very uncomfortable way—we like him for his bad-assness, but we shouldn’t. He’s part of an anti-hero wave that Tony Soprano began. Vic Mackey of The Shield is another.

The thrill of watching Dexter and Vic, however, is a very specific sort of bad-ass, and a very tense one. They’re bad-asses who overcome adversity, but their adversities are entirely of their own making, a direct result of their morally compromised natures. Looking at their universes right next to each other, it can be hard to notice—Dexter is very much a wacky sort of day-glo Miami fantasy world (and man, are there a lot of serial killers in it), very filtered through its protagonist’s POV, while The Shield is closer to the real-world and gritty model. As a result, it feels like The Shield is often saying something, or posing questions—even though it’s undeniably pulpy, actual matters of crime, justice, security, and the lengths we’re willing to let people go in their name pop up, while Dexter feels happy just being cool, fun, and exciting, likely because the answer to its central question is a pretty emphatic “No”. Are we ok with Vic Mackey making deals with drug lords in exchange for neighborhood peace? Tough call. Serial killer of serial killers? Hard to make the case that’s a good idea. That said, I like Dexter a hell of a lot more than Vic. Dex has a purity and self-awareness—a knowing monster with no pretense. He’s giving into his impulses and making no bones about what he’s doing. Vic maintains a veneer of self-deception, clinging to things he thinks make him good he ends up systematically selling out. By the end of The Shield, I rightly hated Vic Mackey as both a monster, a liar, a traitor, and a fool, but all Dexter has to sell out is his sense of sick glee, and I don’t see him losing that.
            Both remain sharks chomping their way towards nets they themselves have cast. Will this one catch them? No such luck this week! Maybe next time…


  1. Besides, how can you respect a corrupt Ben Grimm?

  2. It'd be worse than you think: