HOLLAND “DUTCH” WAGENBACH
A real complex riddle of character that (i’m kind of glad) is never really solved as the credits rolled on the final episode of The Shield. Another thing i’m glad of is that i’ve never seen actor Jay Karnes in anything before or after the show, so for me he is Dutch.
If you broke him down he would fit the archetypical dorky weed mould and be someone who doesn’t fit his surroundings in the slightest. His tendency to also mimic sides of people that can be spotted in most workplaces is another factor of his greatness.
The LAPD headquarters used in The Shield (known as The Barn) has a very stereotypical school hierarchy and each spot is impeccably filled. Dutch acts as a much needed juxtaposition to all the wrongdoings shown by the majority of the cast and is the main moral core of the show. Although he sometimes contemplates breaking the rules or taking an easy shortcut he strives to do the right thing, even if its to the detriment to a case or adds a hefty strain to a friendship or allegiance.
Speaking of those, he goes through a whole ream of relationships and rivalries with each one having various ramifications for all aspects of his life. The chalk and cheese dynamic between him and Vick Mackie is an absolute perfect base for constant personal, physical and playful skirmishes. The moments of mutual admiration between the two come few and far between, but add real weight to current narrative when the case comes first. Elementary, but excellent storytelling.
Dutch really works best (in a ‘catching bad guys’ sense) with someone to spar with and the lazy dope Detective Steve Billings is his foil in the later seasons. These clashes are slightly more trivial when propped up against the life and death ramifications found when encountering Vick and The Strike Team, but are still excellent in displaying the type of person he is and what he stands for.
He and Claudette form a natural duo that are balanced perfectly and use each others strengths to help bolster their own frailties. They go through some tough experiences, but you always feel that nothing could really break their bond beyond repair. The more physical relationships he has with Tina, Danny and Corrine all differ – each with particular and peculiar tweaks and possible reasons for existence. A paternal weirdness, revengeful spite on Vick and something thankfully more standard.
The exceedingly combustible madman Lieutenant Jon Kavanaugh (played phenomenally by Forest Whitaker) nudges Dutch the closest to really toying with the rulebook and jeopardising his career. You could probably justify his actions at it would’ve lead to the demise of the heinous Strike Team, and as the series goes that’s a highly understandable incentive.
Most areas of the unsolved Wagenbach puzzle come from the glimpses into his personal life and his ability to comprehend and profile serial killers. Also a rather startling scene from series 3 sees him inexplicably kill a stray cat in a strange attempt to seemingly understand a serial killer to whom he’d recently dealt with. This action then perpetuated notions in fans that there was a hidden aspect to his character throughout the whole series and he was in-fact a closet serial killer himself. It’s a fun twist to think about in a fanfic kind of way, but I don’t think it holds up.
In the highly murky world of inner-city LA Dutch was always striving to do the good thing and be the best of a bad bunch and I guess I found him relatable on those grounds.