Michael Chiklis always knew the end of FX's "The Shield," which revolves around his portrayal of a corrupt renegade cop, would come. But how it would end constantly weighed on him.
Would his Vic Mackey get his comeuppance? Would he pay a price for his evil deeds, including murdering a fellow detective in cold blood, or would he get away? Would he live? Die?
With Tuesday's airing of the series finale of "The Shield," in which Mackey, his ruptured strike team and their campaign of brutality and murder finally hit the end of the line, Chiklis and devotees of the drama finally have their answer. And the actor who played Mackey with a pit bull's ferocity couldn't be more pleased with the final act.
"I had many thoughts about where Mackey might end up," Chiklis said as he enjoyed a bacon-and-eggs breakfast a few days before the conclusion of "The Shield" aired. "None of them matched up perfectly with what finally happened. But Shawn [Ryan, the show's creator] and I have been on the same page through all of this. Specifics aside, my general notion of what would happen is what happened."
Now that the series has run its course, Chiklis, who scored an Emmy for outstanding lead actor in a drama after the show's first season, is dealing with life post-"Shield."
He is currently filming a "stoner" comedy back east. His character, the dean of a high school, "is about as far from Mackey as I can get," he said, fingering the rust-colored mustache he's grown for the part. "It's just silly and fun."
But while Chiklis has said his formal goodbyes to "The Shield," it's clear that he hasn't yet loosened his grip on the series, its significance both personal and professional, and the joy and pain of playing the antihero role that redefined his career.
"How many times in an actor's career does a role like Vic Mackey come along where you have to live with it for years?" said Chiklis, who went from playing a sitcom dad in "Daddio"Chiklis and a puffy official in "The Commish" to the muscular, tightly wound Mackey. He continually marveled at the complexity of the character and his twisted sense of right and wrong: "It was almost symphonic. Vic has this tremendous conscience at the same time he has these sociopathic tendencies."
At the end, Chiklis is most proud that he, Ryan and the other creative forces behind "The Shield" were able to fulfill the mission that they mapped out when it launched in 2002. "From the very beginning, it was never about creating a great pilot or a great series," he said. "It was about putting on a series that never fell below the bar, from the beginning to the end. And I believe we've done that."
Even critics and longtime fans of "The Shield" who have praised Chiklis' performance throughout the show's seven seasons say the actor surpassed himself in the last two episodes, when Mackey finally confronted the dark abyss of his soul and faced the tragic consequences of his brutality on himself and his beloved family.
Many point to last week's dynamic, poignant scene in which Mackey, sitting in a stark room, confessed all of his sins to a federal law enforcement officer in an effort to gain full immunity and save his estranged wife (Cathy Cahlin Ryan), who had been caught up in a police sting operation. Chiklis' Vic was silent for nearly a minute, his face a multilayered mask of darkness as he struggled to finally give voice to his inner demons.
Filming that scene, he recalled, was tense. "The air was very thick in the room that day," he said.
About Chiklis' performance through the years, and how it led to that confessional scene, Shawn Ryan said: "Michael has been the Clydesdale that has pulled this show's wagon. The amazing thing is his range. The fact that he would be in all these 86 episodes, and show all these different sides of Mackey, and then show a new side of the character -- three or four different things we haven't seen before -- is astounding. And he did so much just with his eyes."
The last two episodes, Chiklis said, rank as his favorites of the series: "They are the quintessential 'Shield' episodes."
Chiklis became more animated as he reflected on the experience of "The Shield." He heaped affectionate praise on the work of all the cast and crew members: "We all became this incredible family, and their work was just extraordinary."
He credited Scott Brazil, one of the show's executive producers and directors, who died in 2006 of complications due to ALS, for hiring personnel who put ego aside in the interest of creating the best possible show.
In some ways, Chiklis is relieved to be done with Mackey. "By nature, that character is so relentless and so unflinching. I'm a happy guy, and I always had to go to these consistently dark, dark places. Sometimes I just didn't want to go."
But leaving Mackey behind doesn't mean he has closed the door on the detective. Chiklis smiled when asked about a possible "Shield" movie.
" 'The Shield' is over, it's done," he said. "As for Vic Mackey . . ." The actor threw his head back and chuckled. "I'll just leave it at that."