A drastic, disturbing revenge plot reveals just how far Wozniak will go to maintain his power

By Ariel Kay
February 05, 2016 at 03:05 AM EST
Peter Kramer/NBC
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Between reporting to the Feds and continually committing misdeeds that could land her in jail, sometimes you forget that Harlee Santos does actual police work on occasion. Shades of Blue’s fifth episode rectifies that in its opening seconds, which feature Harlee and Tess full-on sprinting after some bad guys. Harlee tackles her man directly into a pile of dog crap — one of the few slapstick moments in what will turn out to be a very dark hour of television.

Once Tess and Harlee have their suspects in handcuffs, they search their car and find half-a-million dollars’ worth of heroin stashed in the trunk. One of the dealers gives up the name of his boss: Raul Mendez (Otto Sanchez), Wozniak’s gang-leader friend from the pilot. Tess points out that this much dope is probably Mendez’s entire stash, and he won’t be happy they’ve nabbed it. She suggests “throwing him a brick or two” as a sign of good faith so they can keep their mutually beneficial relationship intact. Harlee is skeptical of this plan, but Woz agrees. Once Tess is out of earshot, he explains that her proposal sounds an awful lot like entrapment, and she’s just landed herself on the top of his list of mole suspects.

Tufo is across town, waiting outside a newsstand to serve a warrant. Saperstein is supposed to be with him, but he’s off getting Portuguese lessons from a Brazilian escort (yes, really). Before Tufo’s suspect emerges, the detective spots a shady car, which has been tailing him all afternoon. He rushes to collect Saperstein, and together they deliver this news to Woz. His paranoia ratchets up yet another notch.

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Harlee goes home to change out of her poopy clothes and receives a call from Stahl on her cell. He wants to apologize for how he acted the day before. Harlee instantly forgives him (which doesn’t quite jibe with the trapped desperation she felt the last time he had his hands on her). Now that they’re friends again, she tells him Tufo spotted his guys and that they need to be more careful. But Stahl is confused: Those weren’t FBI agents tailing members of her crew. He tells her to hurry back to the precinct  — meaning he knows she’s not there now. After she hangs up, Harlee freaks that he must have installed cameras in her apartment. She sets up a meeting with his supervisor, Baker, to report her concerns. They’re old friends, but Baker doesn’t believe any of Harlee’s fears merit a change of handler.

Woz and Tess arrange a detente with Mendez to give him back a percentage of his seized stash. But just before they pull up, Woz reveals he hasn’t brought any heroin — just a message for Mendez. He tells the gang leader that the police are the ones who set the terms of their agreement, not the drugs dealers. Mendez needs to cut back on business, and Woz isn’t going to return anything. Predictably, Mendez is less-than-thrilled with this turn of events. Later in the day, his gang vandalizes a storefront — the only one on the block that pays Woz’s unit for protection. Tess suggests they shake Mendez down to cover the storeowner’s expenses. This only pings Woz’s informant-meter more. The lieutenant has another idea: It’s time to stop playing nice. He and the rest of the crew round up a few of Mendez’s lackeys, and have them deliver a message to their boss.

NEXT: Spy vs. Spy

Harlee, not at all reassured after her meeting with Baker, decides to take matters into her own hands. She heads to a local jail and springs her old friend Caddie (Michael Laurence) from his month-long stint a week early. Caddie was her training officer way back when, but after spending eight years undercover in Vice, he’s developed a nasty smack habit. Harlee still has a lot of love for him, though, and a favor to ask. She takes him to Stahl’s apartment (it’s unclear how she’d know where he lives) and has him install hidden cameras in each room. Quid pro quo: If he’s spying on her, she’ll spy right back on him.

At the moment, though, it’s not Harlee that Stahl is monitoring. Instead, he pays a surprise visit to Donnie. The IA agent is immediately wary: He’s a corrupt officer, after all, and here’s a Fed at his door. But Stahl is only there to inquire about Tufo’s tail: Turns out, it’s Donnie’s own Internal Affairs team that’s surveilling Woz’s crew. Stahl is the more powerful man in the room, and he tells Donnie to call off his guys. In the process, he reveals the FBI does indeed have an inside man in Woz’s unit (though he doesn’t say that it’s Harlee). Things just got seriously dangerous for our girl.

Time to check the Guilt-O-Meter:

Stahl: 8 out of 10, Real Guilty

At this point, his boundary crossing and lack of professionalism are well documented. Secretly monitoring Harlee and making her feel uneasy in her own home are just his latest crimes.

Unaware of how precarious her situation has just become, Harlee has less life-threatening concerns occupying her mind. Cristina’s car was stopped for a broken tail-light, but the arresting officer reports that Cristina was nowhere to be seen. Harlee rushes to the station to question the driver, who is just a teenager. He insists he didn’t steal the car: He borrowed it from his girlfriend. Harlee doesn’t buy it, but as she’s interrogating her young suspect, his phone rings. A picture of Cristina pops up on the screen. Turns out kid was telling the truth. Harlee is devastated: Cristina has never kept secrets from her before.

Thus far in his power struggle with Mendez, Woz has been coming out on top. He does have a badge and the backing of the State of New York, after all. But things take a turn when a member of Mendez’s crew steals Woz’s car. It turns up in front of the precinct, spraypainted bright pink, a stash of gay porn magazines splayed across the backseat. It’s a dirty move, and Woz gets dirty in return. He seeks out a rival gang leader, and makes a bargain: He’ll hand over all of Mendez’s territory to this new crew, and in exchange the new gang will take out the old one.

NEXT: Shades of Blue enters its Tarantino phase

That’s not all Woz has planned. It’s not enough to just railroad Mendez’s entire business operation. Woz wants him to personally suffer as well. Those magazines really hit a nerve. He calls another meeting, and when Mendez arrives, Woz surprises him and knocks him unconscious. Mendez wakes in handcuffs. Woz starts berating him, but Mendez fires back with his ace: He knows Woz sleeps with men. Turns out the car prank wasn’t just a lucky guess.

But Woz is ready with his countermove. Sure, Mendez could spread it around that Woz enjoys “a full menu” of sexual options (the lieutenant makes it clear that he likes sex with women, too). But that would just be idle chatter from a gangbanger. Woz could say the same thing about Mendez…and when he says it, he’ll have video proof. On cue, two members of the new gang enter and proceed to orally rape Mendez. They cackle gleefully while filming the vicious assault. It’s grotesque and unsettling, especially for a show that’s been quite tame thus far when it comes to both sex and violence. The whole unnecessary scene feels grafted from a Tarantino film.

And it doesn’t stop there. We’re not just treated to the sight of the brutal attack. Later, we also get to watch Tufo drive a shocked, mute Mendez to Philadelphia, after Woz has run him out of town. Tufo cracks sick jokes at the victim’s expense while Mendez stares blankly, defeatedly ahead. I don’t typically have much sympathy for heroin-slinging gang leaders, but this short scene is gut-wrenching. 

Back to Shades of Blue‘s more light-hearted, who-will-Woz-suspect-this-week carousel. Earlier, Donnie came clean to his boyfriend about tailing his crew. He tells Woz he was just trying to suss out their rat. The pair look over the surveillance photos, and Woz realizes that Saperstein and Tufo weren’t together that morning, like they said. Saperstein was ditching work to flirt with his Portuguese teacher, but Woz doesn’t know that. And just that quickly, Saperstein bumps Tess from the top spot on their boss’s Might Be a Federal Informant list.

It’s been a long day for the whole crew. At home, Harlee finds a jailhouse letter from Zepeda, addressed lovingly to Cristina. She chucks it aside, then relaxes (not by watching American Idol — wouldn’t that be meta) with a live broadcast of The Stahl Show. Through the hidden cameras Caddie installed that afternoon, she watches her handler putter about his apartment, getting ready for a date. He practices his opening line in the mirror, all variations on “Let’s get some dinner.” Satisfied for the time being, Harlee shuts off her monitor. If she’d watched for just a minute more, she might have caught something that definitely would have interested her — and Baker. When Stahl’s date arrives, we find she isn’t a date at all: She’s a Latina escort, who purrs that, while Stahl’s paying, he can call her anything he wants. He goes with…Harlee. Yuck. There really are no lines these characters, on both sides of the law, won’t cross.

Final Guilt-O-Meter:

Woz: 10 out of 10, The Guiltiest

Orchestrating the attack on Mendez was his most unforgivable sin yet. The vindictive pleasure Woz took in the suffering of his enemy was hard to stomach.

Harlee: 3 out of 10, Mostly Innocent

“Equal and Opposite” was the least Harlee-heavy episode of the season so far. Other than installing the secret cameras at Stahl’s place (which, in hindsight, now seems like a smart safety measure) the detective kept to the straight and narrow this week.

Episode Recaps

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  • TV Show
seasons
  • 1
Genre
Premiere
  • 01/07/16
Status
  • In Season
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