|Created by Shawn Ryan|
Nickname(s) Lemonhead, Lem
Occupation Former police officer
Creator Shawn Ryan
TV show The Shield
|Portrayed by Kenny Johnson|
Played by Kenny Johnson
First appearance "Pilot" (episode 1.01)
|Title Former detective; Strike Team member|
Last appearance "Postpartum" (Death, episode 5.11), "Wins and Losses" (flashback, funeral)
Similar Shane Vendrell, Ronnie Gardocki, Dutch Wagenbach, David Aceveda, Claudette Wyms
Curtis Lemansky, more commonly known as "Lem" or "Lemonhead", is a fictional police detective on the FX original drama The Shield, played by actor Kenny Johnson.
- Background and Personal life
- Role in Strike Team
- Name contention
- The case of the dead rapper
- The money train
- Return to the barn
- Theft of heroin
- Internal affairs
- The plea
- Fallout from death
Background and Personal life
Little is known about Lemansky outside of his job as a Strike Team member, although his surname is of Polish origin. In one of the series DVD commentaries, Michael Chiklis mentioned that all the characters are from the same areas the actors are from, implying that Lemansky was originally from New Haven, Connecticut. His tombstone, shown in season six, indicates he was born in 1963.
In season one, he had a relationship with Tigre Orozco, sister of a reformed gangbanger and in Season Five, Ronnie Gardocki implied that Lem's parents were "trailer trash" and so poor that the Strike Team didn't even bother asking them to help post bail for Lem after his arrest by Internal Affairs. Lemansky is also the go-to member of the Strike Team for providing first aid.
Role in Strike Team
As the ‘point man’ for the Strike Team, Lem is the vanguard during an assault scenario. He leads the team in and ‘clears’ the room of possible assailants. Due to his role as the lead person during an assault scenario, he is equipped with a compact shotgun as his primary firearm.
Lem was the moral compass of the Strike Team. A good-natured detective, he was recruited after being vouched for by his good friend, Detective Shane Vendrell. His main mode of transport when off-duty is a low-rider motorcycle or 'chopper' and he is active in arm wrestling tournaments. Well liked by many for his loyal and selfless personality, his role was to be the 'muscle' of the Strike Team. Lem and teammate, Detective Ronnie Gardocki were not included in the plot by the team leader Vic Mackey and Shane Vendrell to kill Detective Terry Crowley, due to Lem's conscientious nature. Upon hearing of Terry's death, a visibly distraught Lem shouts, "No!" and punches through a van window, severely lacerating his right fist and surprising a visibly stunned Vic.
Lem further shows his strong convictions later in the first season in the episode "Throwaway", which showcased Lem's strong sense of morality, his willingness to help others and his need to do the right thing, often getting under Vic and Shane's skin.
In his time in the Strike Team, Lem found himself increasingly troubled by the illegal activities the Strike Team engaged in and he was constantly getting dragged into them. He was the first to object to the plan to rob the Armenian mob's money laundering operation, nicknamed 'Money Train.' The rest of the team originally planned a 3-man assault, excluding Lem, but he reluctantly went along with the decision for the sake of team unity.
Lem was also highly empathetic and spurred into action whenever he saw human or animal suffering. He has often been seen performing CPR on blood and vomit covered victims while the rest of his team members look on disgustedly. Highly fond of animals, he's often seen playing with them, whether cockerels saved from a cockfight or a suspect's pet pit bull. Once when raiding a suspect's house, he was visibly distraught and upset with fellow team member, Shane, for shooting and killing a pit bull terrier. Despite being a 'dirty cop', Lem was a genuinely caring person and even joined the Youth Authority to help wayward juveniles after the Strike Team was disbanded at the end of season three. Even when on the run, the events that led him to eventually being killed stemmed from him trying to comfort an injured child, which resulted in his cover being blown and his hiding place discovered.
Lem had stated on many occasions that he considered the Strike Team to be his 'family' and it was the sole reason why he put aside his moral objections and joined in on the team's various illegal schemes. In the season 3 finale, he tells Vic, Ronnie, and Shane that they are the closest thing to a family he has ever known, and each man is visibly touched by the revelation.
One example of the above was when Lt. Kavanaugh of Internal Affairs tried to coerce Lem to rat on the Strike Team. Lem replied "You're asking me to betray my family" and steadfastly refused to budge from his decision. Kavanaugh himself expressed admiration for Lem’s loyalty and steadfastness. A day before Lem was to be imprisoned, Kavanaugh showed up at his doorstep to have a final chat with him. Saying, “...you weren’t supposed to get the worst of this thing here”, Kavanaugh voiced his regret that Lem was the one who ended up being the most affected by his inquiry into the Strike Team. He merely planned to scare Lem with the threat of jail so he could use it as a ‘wedge’ to get him to rat on the Strike Team.
Regaining his composure, Kavanaugh extends his hand to Lem and says, “...any man’d be lucky to have you in his corner.” After a pregnant pause, Lem reaches out and grasps Kav’s hand in a conciliatory manner, but also tells Kav to stop pursuing matters further. It ends with him. They shake and Kav leaves after wishing Lem good luck and telling him to take care of himself.
Though his character is morally conflicted, there are numerous examples of his willingness, even eagerness to bend or break the law in the best interests of the team. His agreement with the decision to kill Margos Dezerian, his involvement in the murder of Armadillo Quintero, and the set-up of Hector Estanza are but a few.
Much like fellow character Danielle "Danny" Sofer, there has been debate over the character's name among viewers. While the character's given name is 'Curtis Lemansky', the character is generally referred to as 'Lem' or 'Lemonhead'. This is a play both on the character's last name and the fact that actor Kenny Johnson has blonde hair.
The early episodes heavily use the 'Lemonhead' nickname (also used by the writing staff, who still refer to the character by that name in the shooting scripts). However, in later Season One episodes, the character is referred to by the shorter 'Lem'. Eventually, 'Lem' became the de facto name for the character from Season Two onwards. However, the 'promosode' between seasons 5 and 6 (albeit set some time before the events of season 5) have his fellow officers chanting 'Lemonhead' when he won the arm wrestling championship.
The case of the dead rapper
Lem was first given the spotlight in the fourth episode of the first season, "Dawg Days". The episode saw Lem and patrol Officer Danielle Sofer moonlighting as security at a local night club where two rappers and their gang-related entourages engage in a brawl. When Sofer is ambushed on the street by one of the entourage members, Lem and Detective Vic Mackey step in to try and defuse the war between the two rappers, culminating in Vic locking the two musicians in a freight container together for the night and telling them to either resolve their differences peacefully or kill each other off. The next morning Vic and Lem arrive to find that one of the rappers has murdered the other. It was at this point that Lem offers to dispose of the body of the slain rapper for Vic.
The money train
Lem was involved in the money train robbery and was the member of the Strike Team most fearful for their safety after the robbery was completed. He began to behave in an extremely paranoid way, particularly after it was discovered that some of the money was not only marked, but had been released back into circulation. Though he did mellow a bit when the money was purged of marked notes and a known criminal named Neil O'Brien given some of the tagged money, Lem's terror reached new heights when O'Brien was found murdered and the team was forced to dispose of his body.
Lem began voicing his concerns to his fellow Strike Team members, which led to a dramatic moment where Lem, without any warning, leaned over and began vomiting blood out of his mouth. Shocked, Lem confessed that the stress of hiding the money train loot and the group's various morally questionable actions had resulted in his developing potentially fatal ulcer problems. While Ronnie and Vic realized the severity of Lem's health problems and wisely backed off from attacking him for his critical comments, Shane refused to show concern for Lem and angrily attacked him for being scared.
However, when it was discovered that the Armenian mob had their identities and photos, Lem stole the remaining cash from the money train and burned most of it, believing that he was protecting the team. Lem, as it turned out, believed that so long as the Strike Team possessed the money, the group would forever be hounded by those parties looking for the stolen loot. Lem's decision ultimately was the breaking point for his friendship with Shane Vendrell.
Shane refused Vic's attempt at a reconciliation with the team and accused Vic and Ronnie of hating Lem as much as he did. Lem quit the group as a direct result and this triggered a confrontation between Shane and Vic that led to the Strike Team dissolving.
Return to the barn
After the team was broken up, Lem transferred to a different agency and began to work with juvenile offenders. However, he soon found himself missing his friends Vic and Ronnie. It was heavily implied that the two had come to a sort of understanding with Lem regarding his departure from the Strike Team after Shane's antics. As a result, Vic and Ronnie contacted Lem and revealed to him that Shane seemed to have developed a relationship with drug and gang lord Antwon Mitchell and that the entire team was at risk if Shane used the team to bargain a deal should he get caught by IAD. Afterwards, Lem began to pass relevant information to Vic that he obtained via his contacts with various juvenile offenders to ensure that Vic could stay informed to Shane's actions. Ultimately Vic convinced Lem to work with him in the newly reformed Strike Team in order to keep closer tabs on Shane, which created conflict with Lem since this meant that he would be unable to transfer back to the Barn due to the animosity still between him and Shane.
Things came to a head when Lem came up with information that led to a massive drug bust, severely crippling Mitchell's business. When his 14-year-old informant Angie suddenly went missing after having provided information that led to the bust, Lem became immediately suspicious of Shane. He openly accused both Shane and Vic of working for Mitchell and being responsible for Angie's death. In order to prove himself, Vic let Lem back into his inner circle and arranged for his transfer back to the Barn. Vic also revealed some incriminating footage from a bug planted in Shane's car; this showed how he knew of an earlier confrontation between Shane and Lem that ended with Shane, once Lem had left camera range, openly lamenting the fact that the two former best friends had turned into mortal enemies.
Theft of heroin
During the search for Angie, who they learn was murdered by Antwon Mitchell, Lem raided a criminal informant's house in search of information. One of the residents of the home had a package of heroin and Lem stole it in order to provide leverage for information concerning Angie's disappearance. However, Lem's theft was seen by Emolia Melendez, a police informant, who subsequently reported it to Internal Affairs. The heroin was confiscated from Lem's car during the night and replaced with a fake bundle. Though this initially caused some trouble, the affair was put behind them and eventually the Strike Team came back together. Shane and Lem both reconciled after Lem was attacked by the hands of a trio of criminals who had intel on the location of a Salvadoran drug kingpin.
In Season 5, the theft of the heroin would come back to haunt Lem. Using the brick as evidence, IAD Lieutenant Kavanaugh used this evidence as leverage to make Lem wear a listening device, primarily to gather evidence about the Strike Team's role in the death of a police officer, Terry Crowley. Kavanaugh stated he would imprison Lem for not only the drug theft but also for intent to sell the drugs, which would potentially land Lem in jail for 10 years. Kavanaugh also interrogated Lem about the murder of Detective Crowley. To Kavanaugh's amusement, Lem revealed that he was not involved in the plot. Kavanaugh decided to use this knowledge as a way to drive a wedge between Lem and Vic. Lem pretended to go along with Kavanaugh's plan, but managed to secretly tip off his friend Vic by staging a fight between the two that temporarily disabled the listening device and allowed him to inform Vic of what had happened. He also confronted Vic about Terry's death and when Vic hesitated before responding, Lem refused to let Vic answer the question, knowing that the answer would mean that Vic was responsible.
Despite this, Vic worked diligently to save Lem from Kavanaugh's clutches and ultimately convinced Lem that Terry's death was only indirectly Vic's fault due to him accidentally dropping his guard during the raid. With Lem's help, the team tried to outmaneuver Kavanaugh, which successfully resulted in Kavanaugh's humiliation during a botched sting operation. During a raid on a Salvadoran grenade factory, Lem heroically saved Kavanaugh from an active grenade tossed in his direction by rushing to grab the grenade and throwing it away from Kavanaugh seconds before it exploded. Kavanaugh responded to this act of selfless bravery by continuing to pressure Lem into turning against the Strike Team. Lem sharply refused to turn his back on his friends as Vic confronted Kavanaugh's cold treatment towards Lem, who could have easily let Kavanaugh be killed by the grenade but had risked his life to save him.
Things came to a head when Vic and Lem entered the security monitor room to have a private conversation only to see via the monitors, a rather private conversation between Kavanaugh and Kavanaugh's distraught, mentally ill ex-wife. Viewing their disturbingly private moment on the closed-circuit television, Vic remarked that they had found Kavanaugh's weakness. Kavanaugh eventually noticed the security camera in the room and the possibility that his conversation with his wife was being observed by his enemies led him to rush out of the interrogation room. While Vic and Lem fled the room before Kavanaugh could catch the two red-handed, the now enraged Kavanaugh ordered that Lem be arrested for possession of heroin with intent to distribute. Lem was handcuffed in front of his shocked fellow officers, placed in lockup with other criminals, processed, and sent to a detention center. Unknown to Lem at the time, Kavanaugh had seemingly arranged for him to serve time at the same prison as gang leader Antwon Mitchell, who wanted to have him murdered while in custody. Lem's bail was set at one-hundred thousand dollars while most of the Strike Team's assets were frozen under suspicion of lawlessness. This led the remaining three Strike Team members to turn to their friend Smitty to bail Lem out, using money they stole from a small-time pot dealer as bail money.
Lem soon became weary of just not knowing what would happen to the others, and the fears started aggravating his ulcer problem. In a move to seal the rest of the team off from prosecution, he pleaded guilty to theft under color of authority to serve 18 months before parole of a 5-year sentence. Although he and the team came to realize that being sent to the same prison as Antwon Mitchell was an idle threat, they still had to deal with Mitchell's One-Niner gang being spread across almost all California prisons; Lem's life would be at risk either way. Further, even if Lem did manage to survive 18 months, he would have to be dealing with constant conflict with One-Niners, making it unlikely he would qualify for early release. As Vic struck a deal with Mitchell to keep Lem safe, Lem entered the official plea, much to Kavanaugh's dismay. As the investigation came to a close, Kavanaugh paid Lem a final visit to apologize and explained that he had always thought Lem would finally give up Vic; he never wanted Lem to go to prison. He told Lem that, "...any man would be lucky to have you in his corner".
Soon after the plea was entered, however, Vic found that Kavanaugh had played his last card, starting an investigation of Lompoc Federal Penitentiary, which was causing Antwon to lose all the creature comforts he'd enjoyed. Additionally, Kavanaugh told Mitchell that Vic had been bragging about getting the better of Antwon, and a furious Mitchell told Vic that Lem was dead as soon as he came into the system. Desperate to save his friend from certain death, Vic convinced Lem to skip town on the eve of his court date, where he would plead guilty and be sent to prison. Vic prepared to transport the fugitive Lem to Mexico to hide after the group were told that Lem's original deal was now null and void and that the only way for him to receive any break in terms of sentencing would be if he gave up the Strike Team. Meanwhile, Kavanaugh convinced Councilman Aceveda to go to Vic and to lie about Lem agreeing to turn against the Strike Team in exchange for a new plea bargain in order to try and track the Strike Team to Lemansky. Vic refused to accept Aceveda's lie and continued to believe that Lem had not betrayed the Strike Team. Meanwhile, Lem was forced to abandon Vic's original plans for hiding him after he risked his freedom to help out a young child who had been left alone by his parents and had seriously hurt himself in his home's kitchen. Lem ultimately contacted Vic and arranged for a meeting with his friends, with Vic preparing the final details to get Lem across the border and into hiding.
However, Kavanaugh used Aceveda to imply to Vic that Lem had revealed information about the "Money Train." Upon learning this, Shane Vendrell secretly decided to kill his friend using a stolen grenade in order to prevent Lem from implicating the team in any illegal activities. While Vic and Ronnie were occupied with losing the IAD officers tailing their vehicles, Shane, who was not being tailed, was able to meet up with Lem and whisk him away to an abandoned garage.
Shane made one last-ditch effort to convince Lem to go along with Vic's plan to relocate him to Mexico but Lem flat out refused to go into hiding. Lem argued that fleeing to Mexico, cut off from his friends and isolated from the rest of the world would be worse than prison. Shane brought Lem a sandwich to his car and quietly dropped a grenade in the front seat, killing Lemansky. When the smoke cleared from the explosion, Lemansky survived long enough to see Shane break down emotionally and cry for him. After Shane's emotional break a few seconds later, Lem died. He was unmarried without children.
Fallout from death
Upon arriving at the abandoned garage where Lem's body was found, a distraught Vic attempted to touch the dead body of Lem only to be stopped by Dutch, who reminded Vic that touching Lem's body would contaminate the crime scene. Kavanaugh, in a bitter tone, repeatedly asked Vic if he was happy that Lem was dead (since Lem's death effectively closed the IAD investigation of the Strike Team). Vic responded by charging at Kavanaugh and the two men fought for a few seconds before being torn apart by the various patrol officers who had arrived at the crime scene in respect for Lem.
Claudette assigned Dutch, her "best detective", to investigate the murder with it implied that Claudette suspects that Lem was murdered by the Salvadoran mob. Salvadorans had recently begun to use grenades to kill their enemies and the Strike Team had successfully shut down several of the syndicate's operations.
As Vic was led away by Ronnie and Shane, Vic vowed to find and kill those responsible. As Vic walks off camera, the shot focuses on a clearly distraught Shane following him.
In the 15 minute "promosode" for Bud.TV it was revealed that Lem did not receive a motorcade or police funeral. Claudette informed Vic that she was told that Lem's lack of a department funeral and motorcade would prevent news headlines about Lem's "dirty dealings". However, the sixth season premiere showed in fact that the heroin fiasco was featured prominently both in the newspapers and in a televised statement by Councilman David Aceveda, where he assured the public that the department wouldn't tolerate corruption. He eventually got his 21 gun salute from Vic, Ronnie, and Shane.
After finding out Vendrell was the real killer, Mackey and Gardocki sought to avenge Lemansky by setting up Vendrell's murder. Shane survived the attempt, however, and set up both of them to be murdered for revenge. Mackey and Gardocki both survived, and this enmity fueled the rest of the series. Earlier in the season, Mackey appeared willing to let Vendrell walk away from the repercussions, but Gardocki pressed him to end the Shane problem once and for all, saying "I'm sick of walking around half the day smiling at a guy who put a grenade in Lem's lap". When Mackey seeks to call off Shane's assassination, Gardocki uses his position as Strike Team leader to prevent it.
In the series finale, Vic is seen placing a picture of himself and Lem on his new desk at ICE headquarters. Though originally, the picture was of all four members of the Strike Team, Vic seems to have cropped Shane and Ronnie out of the frame, unable to reconcile himself with Shane's betrayal of Lem and subsequent suicide and his own betrayal of Ronnie, leaving his friendship with Lem as the only one "untarnished" in his mind.