The Shield

IMDB: The Shield

Seasons Type Genre
7 Serial Crime/Drama/Thriller
Scene Count
Pilot Screenplay
83 78

Signature Element

A signature element is the part of the television show that differentiates it from other shows in the same genre. Most shows in the same genre have elements in common, but there is always something that makes it unique.

Signature Elements:

Protagonist is established as an Anti-Hero.
Protagonist isn’t directly involved in the main case.
Routine Calls.

The overarching story line is focused on Vic’s shady activity and Captain Aceveda’s determination to take him down. However this isn’t the central plot to the episode, as the main focus is instead on a case. Most shows have their main protagonist as the character working the case, but the Shield uses Vic’s screen time to display the various aspects of his life including his family,  and various drug related connections. Vic is effectively established as an anti-hero through his actions, and has the audience rooting for him until he shows how far he will go in the final scene as he kills Terry.

The bulk of the episode is focused on a case that Dutch and Claudette are working on, which always involves interrogations with interesting suspects. The interrogations allow the audience to understand how Dutch and Claudette approach a case.

The routine calls give Danny and Julien a small disturbance case that they need to resolve, and usually do so in 3-4 scenes.

Theses  signature elements stay consistent throughout the first season and establish The Shield as a police drama focusing on all aspects of policing. It also establishes the complex character Vic, who lives by his own rules, but still has lines he won’t cross.

The central question that is explored is: does the ends justify the means?

We know Vic is an effective cop, but that’s because he works in a morally grey area. We also know Captain David Aceveda is determined to take Vic down, but he also has an ulterior motive eyeing an eventual campaign as mayor. Both men do what they do because of some ulterior motive and its hard to side with either, because it is unclear whether or not they are doing it because they think it is right or because it benefits them.

Main Characters

Vic Mackey


36, white… He’s intimidating, yet personable. Gregarious, but with an occasional mean streak.

Captain David Aceveda


34, Hispanic, cerebral, ambitious, the boss of this squad house — at least in theory.

Detective Claudette Wyms


45, black, stately, wise.

Detective Holland “Dutch” Wagenbach


36, professionally cocky, socially awkward.

Officer Danielle “Danny” Sofer


28, white, a woman toiling in a man’s world.

Shane Vendrell


33, devoted to Vic, a mean streak without panache.

Curtis “Lemonhead” Lemansky


26, white, weight room warrior.

Julien Lowe


26, former jock, stoic, religious.

Other Characters:


mid-20’s, white.

Character Differences

There are no significant character differences.

It is interesting to point out that the character detective Claudette Wyms was originally written as a man. C. C. H. Pounder eventually took the role and told Shawn Ryan to keep the dialogue the same, giving her character a more masculine edge as opposed to being rewritten.

Act Breakdown

Excel Breakdown Pilot Screenplay
The Shield Screenplay Breakdown Screenplay-Shield-Pilot


An intercut scene of Danny and Julian driving is added.
An intercut scene of the holding cages is added.

Main Points:

Captain David Aceveda addresses the media about the drop in crime in his district.
Vic Mackey chases down a drug dealer and arrests him.


The opening scene shows the contrasting views of the two main characters Captain David Aceveda and Detective Vic Mackey.

Captain Aceveda tells the media how proud he is with crime being down since he has taken over as Captain of the district.

Vic is the cause of the decrease in crime because he has created a monopoly in the drug trade. With this monopoly, Vic makes extra money, keeps the crime down, and the drugs flowing, but most importantly, lets the average citizen go out and about without worrying about violence.

End of Teaser: 

David asks the media if there are any more questions.

Script Notes:

In the screenplay, Booty swallows the dime bag during the chase.
In the pilot, Booty swallows it right before Vic corners him in the alley.

In the screenplay, Vic pulls the dealers pants down,  puts on the gloves and then pulls his underwear and the drugs off the dealer’s balls.
In the pilot, Vic puts the gloves on before touching the dealer.


Act 1


A cut scene of a helicopter is added after the Dutch tells Claudette the daughter is missing.

Several shots of the park are used to establish the location before Terry meets with David at the park.

Flashbacks of Vic talking to the drug dealer Robinson earlier in the episode are used when Terry describes what he saw to David.

A scene of Vic walking up the crack houses stairs is added.

Main Points:

Dutch and Claudette must solve a missing child’s case after they find the body of the dead mother.
Vic is accused of assault on a drug dealer.
Terry agrees to help Captain Aceveda take down Vic Mackey.
Dutch and Claudette find out the child’s crack addict father sold her for drugs.


The Shield introduces us to the rest of the main characters using a homicide case to bring in Detectives Dutch and Claudette, as well as officers Danny and Julien.

Although Vic can be considered the central character, the main story line revolves around the case of the missing girl. Dutch and Claudette take center stage as we see how their characters handle a case.

It is made immediately apparent that Vic and Captain Aceveda do not get along. Vic is a rebel who answers to no one, and David is the captain trying to show everyone he is control.

Captain Aceveda has several plans to try and distract or knock Vic down a peg. First he assists when a drug dealer comes forward claiming Vic used excess physical force during his arrest. The show doesn’t leave any room for speculation as the audience knows Vic did it, but he’s only abiding by his code of treating criminals with no respect.

The second plan involves having the newest member of the Strike team, Terry, help Captain Aceveda take Vic down. Terry agrees to help with reward of a bigger job. Terry also correctly guesses and reveals that Captain Aceveda doesn’t just want a bad cop off the street, he also wants to be mayor one day.

End of Act 1: 

Lonnie admits to killing his wife and selling his daughter.

Script Notes:

In the screenplay, Shane enters the strike team room after they book the drug dealer.
In the pilot, Shane doesn’t enter the strike team room and just walks off screen.

In the screenplay, Vic walks through a maze of desks before seeing and complaining to Peterson about the broken bathroom.
In the pilot, the office space is one big open room and Vic sees Peterson right away.

In the screenplay, Vic gets in the back seat of the vehicle after meeting with Robinson.
In the pilot, Vic gets in the front seat.

In the screenplay, Moses gets out of the car after David signals for him.
In the pilot, Moses is already out of the car and waiting for the signal.

In the screenplay, only Claudette visits ponyboy.
In the pilot, Dutch joins her.

In the screenplay, Vic sees children running around the crack house when he walks in.
In the pilot, this is cut, and Vic only sees the children as he leaves.

In the screenplay, the interview of Lonnie is shown through a grainy video feed.
In the pilot, although the video feed is black and white, it is not grainy.

In the screenplay, Dutch and Claudette are stationary during their interview with Lonnie.
In the pilot, Dutch moves around the back and Claudette leans on the table close to Lonnie.

Act 2


A scene of Claudette and Dutch approaching Greg’s house on the porch is cut.

Main Points:

Claudette and Dutch interview the next suspect George.
Vic and Shane visit the drug dealer accusing Vic of assault.
Julien and Danny answer a call about slashed tires.


Vic deals with his drug dealer problem by paying the drug dealer a visit and effectively making sure he doesn’t talk. This solves one problem.

As the main case continues, we get to see Dutch’s ego boost as he tricks the suspect into talking by building rapport.

The C story involving Danny and Julien is resolved in three scenes. I’m not sure if it was totally relative, but it gives screen time to the officers. The only thing it tells us is that drug dealers never admit to selling drugs, which Julien finds dumbfounding.

End of Act 2: 

Claudette tells Captain Aceveda that Vic is untouchable and to not waste his time trying to take him down.

Script Notes:

There is a script error during the first interrogation scene with George. In the screenplay, Claudette is written as leaving, bu then has dialogue a few lines down. Not too often you see a screenplay error, but this is the first time I’ve seen one.

In the screenplay, Dutch searches his desk thoroughly for his ding dongs.
In the pilot, the scene starts with Dutch just closing one draw.

In the screenplay, Vic is carrying the sports section.
In the pilot, Vic is carrying nothing.

In the screenplay, there is no mention of Connie smoking.
In the pilot, Connie smokes when she interacts with Vic.

In the screenplay, Dutch remains sitting the entire time while interrogating George.
In the pilot, Dutch stares out the window and then walks around before sitting down with George.

In the screenplay, George just smiles to acknowledge that he is attracted to young girls.
In the pilot, there is a focus on George caressing the table to show Dutch has built enough rapport to get George to talk.


Act 3


A scene of Danny and Julien getting out of their car before approaching Lamar is added.

Main Points:

Danny and Julien arrest the tire slasher.
Dutch and Claudette arrest the next suspect, Dr. Grady.
Vic invites Terry on his first raid with the strike team.
David turns to Vic when Dutch and Claudette can’t break Dr. Grady.


We’ve seen both Claudette and Dutch break a suspect, leaving the third and final suspect as the next to crack. However the suspect, being a highly intelligent doctor, knows the rules of interrogation and doesn’t fall for the tricks. Both Claudette and Dutch have ways they would handle the case, and both make compelling arguments as to why the opposing idea would fail.

David has been after Vic throughout the pilot, but we finally see his internal struggle as he finally takes advantage of Vic’s alternative methods. David asks Vic to break the suspect and lets him do whatever he wants to achieve this.

David knows Vic is an effective cop, but doesn’t agree with his methods. However in the end, David turns to Vic to help solve the missing child case because he knows Vic will succeed.

End of Act 3: 

Vic interrogates Dr. Grady.

Script Notes:

In the screenplay, Lamar is throwing out trash when the cops approach.
In the pilot, Lamar is just walking back to his room.

In the screenplay, Corrine walks out of the house with a toddle at the barbecue.
In the pilot, Corrine walks out with a tray of jello, puts it down and then grabs the toddler from a friend.

In the the screenplay, there is a shot of the suspect on the monitor as Dutch and Claudette argue what to do.
In the pilot, the suspect is not shown during the argument.

In the screenplay, Vic enters the interrogation room and shuts the door behind him.
In the pilot, Vic also has a set of keys and locks the door.

Act 4


A scene of David, Claudette and Dutch breaking into the basement door and walking downstairs is added.

Flashbacks of Terry throughout the episode are added as Terry stares up after being shot.

Main Points:

David, Dutch and Claudette find the missing girl.
Vic kills Two-Time and Terry on the raid.


Vic takes care of his second problem by killing Terry and making it look like he was killed by Two-Time. So far the audience has seen Vic operate in the borderline grey area, but to finally see him kill an innocent cop shows that he will do what it takes to stay on top.

End of Act 4:

Vic kills Two-Time and then kills Terry, framing it on the deceased Two-Time.

Script Notes:

In the screenplay, when Vic hand’s David the information about the missing child, there is a nod between them indicating David owes Vic one.
In the pilot, there is no nod and no indication that David feels like he owes Vic anything.

In the screenplay, while David is feeding his baby, he is reading a report.
In the pilot, David is just feeding his baby.

In the screenplay, Two-Time’s girlfriend is trying to divert his attention from the video game.
In the pilot, Two-Time’s girlfriend is playing the video game.

In the screenplay, Ronnie uses a hammer to break the window.
In the pilot, Ronnie uses his gun.

In the screenplay, Shane and Vic have to kick in a door to get to Two Time.
In the pilot, Shane and Vic just round the corner and see Two Time flushing drugs in the bathroom.

Overall Breakdown

The Shield is another cop show similar to the Wire but with a more narrow focus. Instead of focusing on the various people and groups at play in the war on drugs and crime, we focus on one district police department. From top to bottom, we get a perspective from the captain, a few detectives, the strike team and patrol officers.

The show’s proposed dilemma is apparent as the pilot progresses: Vic Mackey is a cop that operates outside of the law, but doesn’t get caught or investigated because he has been effective in keeping the average citizen safe.

The pilot isn’t without flaws. The show wants us to question whether we side with Captain Aceveda or with Vic and it tries to stack the odds with Captain Aceveda when Vic kills Terry, but there is no emotional weight attached to the death. Death is best utilized when it means something, which in the case of the Shield, Terry was a red shirt at best. Sure he seemed like a morally good cop, but besides being a good driver and wanting to do the right thing, albeit with a little monetary incentive, Terry had little substance to his character. If Terry had been on Vic’s case and grown close with him and the team before being killed by Vic at the end of a season, there would be a lot more emotional conflict with the audience. Not to say his death didn’t mean anything, but if you watch the next episode, you can clearly see its more of a plot device than an emotional event.

Terry’s character is just another tool used to show the various sides of Vic making him a compelling complex anti-hero protagonist. From the pilot, we know Vic is a family man. We know Vic wants to protect the innocent including children and his hooker friend Connie. We know Vic doesn’t respect authority and only trusts his strike team. We know Vic is well connected up the chain of command. And finally we know Vic sees criminals as scum and treats them as so, using whatever it takes to solve a case. Contradictory to the last point, we also know Vic is in the drug business himself, making him a sort of hypocrite to how he treats criminals, but leaves it open enough that there may be a reason for his actions.

The missing child case highlights the problem Captain Aceveda has with Vic, as detective Dutch and Wyms fight over a solution. Captain Aceveda chooses to use Vic to find the missing kid, although he knows Vic will use violence to get the information. It poses an interesting conflict of interest, as Captain Aceveda shows the willingness to do what it takes to get the job done, something Vic figured out long ago and the very thing Captain Aceveda is after him for.

Overall the Shield offers another perspective of policing, using a dirty cop as the central protagonist. Although the main story involves a case, with a focus on Detectives Dutch and Wyms, the rest of the story focuses on the power struggle between Captain Aceveda and Vic Mackey.

Screenwriting Techniques


There are several examples of intercutting throughout the pilot. Intercutting is used in the teaser as Vic chases a drug dealer and Captain Aceveda takes to the media. A second example of intercutting is used when Captain Aceveda watches Dutch and Claudette interrogate suspects through a monitor.


Something I don’t usually point out is how cut down the pilot dialogue can be when compared to the screenplay. Anything more than three sentences, with the exception of monologues, tends to be shaved down for the pilot.

However in the Shield, the dialogue remains exactly the same, right down to the ums.
This draft is probably very close to the production draft, so if you want a good example of what dialogue works, The Shield’s screenplay is likely the best.

Action Sequence

The Shield has a great example of an action sequence as the entire raid on Two-Time is written without dialogue. It shows how to space out action lines without using dialogue to break it up and how to transition from scene to scene.

Case Structure

If you are writing a police or crime drama, The Shield has a great example of how to write a case from finding the suspect to closing the case. Interrogations are also a huge part and instead of being used as just exposition, the interrogations are used to show how the detectives handle suspects based on their interrogations style.

Thanks for reading and feedback is appreciated.

Next Pilot:

True Detective