by Ben P. Duck
Things start to turn bad for the Barksdale organization in this episode and although Avon knows that he has to be careful (and is excruciatingly so, to the point that his men think he is losing his mind), the seeds of his downfall are all sown by this episode. The game is really on, the Barksdale organization working carefully and smart versus the police who are finally applying their powers and skills to going after them.
The Pager in the title is the first of several turns against them. It doesn’t seem like much, “celebrities are always so much smaller in person” as Judge Phelan opines, but for the first time the activities in the Pit are no longer entirely opaque. Prez’s solution to the coding of the messages is another critical success, and one that no one would or could have anticipated. The Barksdales weren’t a step behind and the Detail certainly had no reason to expect competence from Pryzbylewski, and yet there it is. Then there is the news that the ballistics in the Deirdre Kresson case which ends up linking the killing to both the Barksdales despite the fact that only the thinnest of connections drew the police to even look at the case. Finally, the Barksdales encounter a new problem in Omar. The Barksdales begin moving against him and his crew (particularly Brandon) but one senses that he is not a man to be trifled with and the result may not be entirely in their favor. We see this in Omar’s “non-snitching” on the shooter in the Gant killing and in his deep knowledge of the street when he knows immediately who the detail’s C.I. is.
Even as the story begins to really move forward, we continue to get more of the context and about the location. Particularly about the presence of “the Bug,” or HIV, in inner-city Baltimore beset with high levels of prostitution and IV drug use. Bubbles discovers that his friend Johnny is HIV positive, and presumably doesn’t have much life still ahead of him. The younger members of the crew in the Pit also have an extensive discussion of the risks of various sex acts. It again brings up how scary and miserable much of the life surrounding the drug “game” is, even when no one is actively trying to hurt or kill you.
Finally, D’Angelo's education continues as his Uncle takes him to see another uncle (Avon’s brother). This is one of those scenes that actors must love, where a character gets to deliver a lengthy speech that reveals what we are to regard as a central truth of the narrative. I am torn myself about this method of exposition. In many ways they are very satisfying (especially when you are reviewing episodes) but in other ways they are a bit of a cheat spelling out things that have already been shown. I have already felt a bit like the writers feel they cannot trust us to get the point. Regardless, it is a key feature of the series, and in this case it is about the tenuousness of Avon’s position and a justification of his seemingly endless precautions. We are meant to understand how formative the crippling of his brother was for Avon and about how it colors everything he is doing.
At the same time, the moral lessons being taught by his Uncle are supplemented by practical ones taught to him by Stringer Bell. Particularly, in the case of how to smoke out whoever is leaking information in the Pit to Omar and maybe others.
Bits and Pieces
The cemetery where McNulty and Greggs meet with Omar is Most Holy Redeemer Cemetery which is enormous and impossible to miss when you drive through that part of northeast Baltimore. Extending into the distance it is part of a whole complex of cemeteries in the immediate area and extends off downhill from a road lined with pleasant middle class homes. I have often thought it’s a rather macabre scene to have in your front yard. The setting was also used in David Simon’s earlier series Homicide: Life on the Street, which is very much the prelude to his work on The Wire and has been unfairly overshadowed by it.
It also points up a case where T.V. even when tightly grounded in “reality” will play fast and loose with the geography (if distance and commutes were always real, 24 would have been a program about sitting on L.A. freeways). This is a good long slow drive from the neighborhoods where Omar would likely be spending his time.
“ ...a little slow, a little late” - Avon Barksdale
(This episode’s epigraph and it summarizes the reality that Avon simply cannot stay ahead forever, not with the police and the other crews and organizations always looking for him. He is excruciatingly careful, but the way the Epigraph is cut one is left to understand that he is a little slow and catching on a little late)
Avon Barksdale: He scare you, don't he?... he scares me. Yeah. See, if he dead, you know, I could carry it better after what he did you kind of expect it, waitin’ on it. See the thing is you only got to fuck up once, be a little slow, a little late, just once. And how you ain’t gonna never be slow, never be late, you can’t plan for no shit like this, yeah it scares me
Wee-Bey: We going past careful with all this shit man, we bugging out like we paranoid and shit
(Omar get’s some of the best “non-speechifying” moments of dialogue in the first season)
Omar: Snitchin’ just rubs me wrong, personally I don’t think the game is played like that…
Omar: The cheese stands alone.
(but as always there is no shortage of memorable lines)
Freamon: I don't wanna go to no dance unless I can rub some tit.
D'Angelo: Yeah, but, Stringer, if you don't pay a nigga, he ain't gonna work for you.
Stringer: What, you think a nigga's gonna get a job? You think...you think it's gonna be like, 'Fuck it, let me quit this game here and go to college'? No, they're gonna buck a little, but they ain't gonna walk. And in the end, you gonna get respect.
How y'all do what y'all do every day and not wanna get high? – Bubbles
3 out of 4 legally cloned pagers (they are still setting up a bit, but Omar comin’)