And Then I Did This...

That was indeed an incredible scene on The Shield where Vic confesses most of his previous crimes in exchange for immunity. It was like a serious, harrowing, gut-wrenching version of a type of scene that’s usually played for laughs: the scene where a character dredges up all the horrible things he’s done or gone through in the course of the series. Remember George on Seinfeld reciting his tragic history in order to beat out a shipwreck survivor for an apartment, or Cartman on South Park:

Then there was the time I convinced a woman to have an abortion so I could build my own Shakey’s Pizza. I pretended to be retarded and joined the Special Olympics. I tried to have all the Jews exterminated last spring. Oh yeah, and there’s this one kid whose parents I had killed and then made into chili which I fed to the kid.

The reason this kind of scene is usually funny rather than serious is that it exposes the unrealistic conceit at the heart of any long-running show: the idea that one person could do so many things. (Even the most “realistic” show will, if it runs long enough, put the characters through more extreme situations in seven years than a single person would ever encounter in a lifetime.) You don’t generally hear a character recount all his adventures, good or bad, because it would break the illusion of realism. The Shield took a risk in having Mackey talk about seven years’ worth of dastardly deeds in one speech, since it could have wound up being ridiculous, a moment when the show abandons all pretense to realism and turns Vic into a cartoon supervillain. It didn’t, though, because Michael Chiklis and the writers played this so well.

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