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May 28, 2014

The Couch Potato: Is there a ‘Shield’ to protect us from selfishness?

NEW CASTLE — I don’t think that it’s possible to be unselfish.

Anything and everything we do is for one person and one person only — ourselves. Even if we live life like Mother Teresa, giving away all of our time, money and love, we’re still just doing what we need to do to try to fill our own void.

It’s been difficult for me, as I’ve gotten older, to come to grips with my own selfishness. Coming up on eight years of marriage and seven of parenthood, I still don’t think I’ve got it all quite figured out.

Mrs. Couch Potato is pretty good about letting me have my own things and I try to do the same for her, but both of us struggle with getting what we want, and even more so with getting our way.

With two French Fries running around for the last four years almost, it’s been even more difficult to ascertain what should be important to us as individuals, and what we owe our kids as parents. I’ve found that I am a little less concerned with my own stuff, and more focused on them, but I wonder and worry that I haven’t tilted the balance enough to their end.

In short, I can’t help but be selfish.

That notion hit me like a ton of bricks over the last few weeks as I neared the conclusion of one of the greatest television shows ever produced — “The Shield.”

Considering that the show ended in 2008, I’m not going to worry too much about spoilers, but if you ever plan to watch the show from beginning to end, and I strongly recommend that you do, STOP READING NOW!

The reason I say that is because like any great show, it sprinted through its seven seasons and the ending was gratifying, shocking and worthwhile.

But getting back to my point, “The Shield” had quite an effect on me as I watched it over the last two months. You may remember that I wrote a while back about starting my “Shield” journey as my buddy at worked lent me the DVDs. I wrote, and believed as much, that the show was about “a crooked cop with a heart of gold!” Well, the “crooked” part turned out to be correct, but the “heart of gold” line did not hold up.

Vic Mackey, the lead character and main crooked cop, played brilliantly by Michael Chiklis, is about the most selfish character you’ll ever find. But even still, the show is so remarkably written that the viewer looks past the crookedness and selfishness — I think because he produces on the job and at least pretends to love his kids. This feeling persists even after he literally murders his partner in the pilot episode, after learning that he was helping the feds investigate Mackey’s corrupt dealings.

Obviously, murder is the most selfish of acts, but for some reason you want him to get away with it, and that is difficult to come to grips with as a viewer. For a similar feeling, watch Showtime’s “Dexter” murder over 50 people and wonder why you keep rooting for that guy, too.

Pretty much the entire premise of “The Shield” revolves around Vic Mackey’s “Strike Team,” a group of four Los Angeles detectives assigned to the fictional Farmington district and tasked with cleaning up the streets of illicit drugs. It’s established early on that Mackey and his crew have been running the game so that they can skim off the top of the busts that they produce.

Mackey and his best friend Shane, played by Walton Goggins, plot to have fellow team member Terry killed in the first episode and they make it look like a bust gone bad. This sets the tone for the entire series, as well as for the friendship between Vic and Shane.

The series covers seven seasons, but only about three years in “The Shield’s” world. Shane and Vic continually get themselves deeper into the corruption, but always have a knack for working their way out of it. The other two team members, Lem and Ronnie, are complicit in the crimes but kind of serve as the moral compass at the same time. In the end, they both pay, Lem with his life and Ronnie with his freedom.

But Shane and Vic drive the series and the final season deals with their falling out as partners and friends. It’s here that the selfishness came home for me.

Shane and his young family eventually have to go on the run when his crimes come to light, and as Vic and the rest of the LAPD hunt him down over the course of the final episodes, Shane is forced to make probably the most heartbreaking decision I have ever seen on a television show.

As the net closes on him, we see Shane take his own life, and then eventually see his wife and young son dead on the bed in the next room, poisoned by Shane to "protect" them from jail and a life in foster care. Watching that scene and even typing that last sentence gave me more chills than I thought I had. Being a parent makes it the worst thing I have ever seen on TV.

Both Shane and Vic, who lost his kids to the witness protection program, sacrificed their entire families in pursuit of their wanton needs. In essence, they were completely and utterly selfish.

There are not many people, though there are some, who would head down the paths that Vic and Shane chose for themselves. And obviously the old Couch Potato lives a pretty boring life compared to the shenanigans of “The Shield” characters, but regardless, the show makes you ask yourself some interesting questions.

Mainly, can I become selfless enough to not necessarily ruin, but truly provide the kind of life that my kids deserve? I know after watching this show that I’m trying a lot harder.

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