Pure ferocity 

“The Shield”
Tuesdays, 10 p.m.

“Sons of Anarchy”
Wednesdays, 10 p.m.

Talking about the end of FX’s powerful cop drama “The Shield,” actress CCH Pounder, who plays smart, suffering Capt. Claudette Wyms, told TV critics this summer that the show’s finale “is what Vic Mackey deserves.”

Thirteen weeks from Tuesday, we’ll know whether she meant “deserves” as in grand sendoff or as final retribution. But I can tell you, based on watching the first four episodes of this seventh and final season, “The Shield” is going out with what its viewers deserve: pure ferocity.

The final season begins with Vic (Michael Chiklis), Shane (Walton Goggins) and Ronnie (David Rees Snell) trying to extricate themselves from trouble with both the Mexican and Armenian mobs. The Mexican mob’s boss, a well-connected civic leader named Cruz Pezuela, controls Vic’s tenuous future on the police force. The Armenian mob owes Vic payback for robbing them of millions of laundered dollars.

Vic and his cohorts are trapped in a downward spiral that shows no signs of abating, even though they do an expert job of playing both sides against each other.

In the meantime, Vic’s family life continues to unravel, so much so that you start to think: Will police work or his family be his undoing? We shall see.

“The Shield” premiered in March 2002, before we knew much, if anything, about things like Abu Ghraib and waterboarding and nonexistent weapons of mass destruction. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect.

From episode one, when Chiklis’ character kills a fellow cop he believes is an informant, “The Shield” has mirrored our national backdrop of moral relativism. Mackey and his Strike Team, who patrol the unforgiving, poor, racially diverse and divided Los Angeles neighborhood of Farmington, are the best connected and the brightest when it comes to solving crimes. But they’re also every bit as corrupt as the criminals they take down.

So just as you wonder whether it should be permissible to torture a terrorist who may have the information we need, you watch “The Shield” and ask yourself: Do I mind if the police beat a child molester to obtain a confession? If they kill mobsters and frame gang-bangers to keep the streets a little safer, is that so wrong?

Of course the answer is yes. And yet … there’s almost always a little part of you that remembers the old saying about sausages and the law: It’s better not to see them being made. As long as you get the outcome you want, that is.

While “The Shield” centered around corrupt cops, it also offered some balance by showing officers and detectives who play by the rules. Vic and his gang are the guts, but Detective Dutch Wagenbach (Jay Karnes) and Claudette are the soul. They don’t take shortcuts and, therefore, they don’t always get their man.

“The Shield” is notable on many levels, the least noticed of which may be what it requires its stars to do. Karnes is a hugely bright actor whose character is meek, thereby relegating him to a career of playing similar characters. Benito Martinez, as captain-turned-politician David Acadeva, showed his fearlessness in the third season when he was taken hostage and forced at gunpoint to perform oral sex on an ex-prisoner. And killing off Lem (Kenneth Johnson), the fourth member of the Strike Team, at the end of season five, was one of the more shocking moments in a series filled with them.

When it’s over, “The Shield” will rank with “Hill Street Blues,” “Homicide: Life on the Street” and “The Wire” as one of the greatest cop series of all time. Dark, gritty and uncompromising, creator Shawn Ryan has never been afraid to look at the ugliest parts of society and show the damage done by drugs, poverty and indiscriminate violence.

Television historians have long debated whether TV leads or reflects society. I’m fairly sure the answer is both. But in this case, whether it ends with a bullet to the brain, a prison cell slamming shut on Mackey or some other way, “The Shield” will have served as a mirror for our times. As Elvis Costello would say, a deep, dark, truthful mirror.

While we’re down to our final 13 episodes of “The Shield,” FX’s newest series, “Sons of Anarchy,” is just getting started. It’s early, but so far I have my doubts.

'Sons of Anarchy'

“Sons of Anarchy” comes from Kurt Sutter, a writer and executive producer on “The Shield.” Sutter knows grit. What he doesn’t seem to have here, though — at least not yet — is a compelling reason to watch this outlaw motorcycle gang in action.

The central character is Jackson “Jax” Teller (Charlie Hunnam), whose late father founded the Sons of Anarchy. Now Jax is second in command to his stepfather, Clay Morrow (Ron Perlman). Katey Sagal is Jax’s tough, protective mother; Drea De Matteo is his junkie ex-wife who’s just given birth to a baby with a host of medical problems; and Maggie Siff, another ex, is the doctor who saves the baby.

If the romantic entanglements and baby’s health are supposed to be the hooks to make us want to keep up with this group of racist, gun-running, murderous sociopaths, well, that’s not nearly enough. The central characters in “The Shield” share similar characteristics with Anarchy's bikers, but at least Vic Mackey and pals do something to benefit humanity. The Sons of Anarchy are, as one of the police deputies on the show says, “white-trash thugs holding on to a dying dream.”

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