What haven't I already said?
Just to emphasize a couple of those already-written notes, most shows pass their sell-by date long before they're actually taken off of the air. That never happened with The Shield. In fact, it got better. I always thought it was an A- kind of series, extremely good but not quite in the pantheon. The final season pushed it well past that barrier. It was one of the finest concluding seasons I can think of, as Vic Mackey finally started paying the price for his deeds, with the screws getting tighter with each episode. The finale itself was superb, with most of the characters reaching a point where we could say that their stories were realistically closed, even though in most cases we could also see where those lives were headed, post-finale. Most ... no, make that all, of the tragic endings were directly tied to the actions of Vic Mackey. There are many characters that are bad-but-we-love-them. Vic, like Tony Soprano, was one of those for most viewers. But now that the final episodes are behind us, it is hard to imagine a single viewer of The Shield who feels anything positive towards Mackey, who in the end was probably even more despicable than we realized. The arc of that character can be explained by the fact that when the series began, Vic Mackey was compared to Andy Sipowicz, the flawed but ultimately decent cop from NYPD Blue. By the end of the series, the only possible comparison to Mackey was Tony Soprano, a ruthless gangster.
Why am I avoiding spoilers? I don't know. Let's just say I have always argued that there were only two possible ways for the series to end, both tied to Vic getting his comeuppance at least. I was only partly right ... turned out there was a third way to achieve that goal. Vic is finally the true existential man.
So much great acting throughout this series, but everyone was at the top of their game in the finale. Michael Chiklis has gotten the lion's share of the credit over the years, understandably so ... but the supporting cast never faltered, and Walton Goggins and CCH Pounder in particular had wrenching moments throughout these last episodes.
A couple of minor notes ... good to see that, even as the clock ran out on the series, they still had time for one last, new interrogation method for Vic ... never expected poisonous snakes, I must admit. One plot thread that seemed to disappear, not in a good way, was the way Julien dealt with being gay. He was treated like shit by his fellow cops, and then he fell in with one of those "cure the homos" groups and ended up getting married. After which, we barely heard anything for the next 4 or 5 seasons about his sexuality. Made you wonder why they bothered. But in the finale, there was a brief, very brief, moment that harkened back to that storyline. And Shawn Ryan said in a post-series interview that he had planned it that way, that he knew about the criticisms, but that his research suggested that men who follow that path usually take a very long time to realize what has happened ... since the time frame for The Shield was only about three years, Ryan felt it was far too soon for Julien to reach the point so many viewers wanted. OK, I'll buy it, even though I still think there were some missed opportunities there.
Not every great show starts a new paradigm, to use André 3000's phrase from last night. You can be excellent while walking in the steps of those who came before, or you can be excellent in such a new fashion that no one will ever be able to follow what you've done. The Shield took the cop show to places that had only been hinted at in the past. In so doing, it changed the rules of the cop show forever. That isn't to say that we will never again see a traditional cop show ... I'm sure there will be hundreds. But if you want to go the gritty route, you'll have to take The Shield into account.
Grade for final season: A
Grade for final episode: A+
Grade for series: A