The Wire: The Pager

“Omar Comin’”

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.

Quotes:

“ ...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’)

4 comments:

Jess Lynde said...

So, as noted last week, I do love the iconic Omar comin' moment. (Sorry I jumped the gun on that one.) He's such an interesting outlier, Omar. He's smart and he's got a code. He's got that Robin Hood vibe about him. I love that we get to see so many shades with the various players in the game. Avon, Stringer, D'Angelo, Omar, the Pit boys, Wee Bey, etc. I thought both the restaurant scene (was that this week or last?) and the rehab center scene were yet more fascinating looks at D, and how he isn't quite as comfortable with this game as he pretends to be.

Bubbs's visit to Johnny was so sad. It was interesting to see that Bubbles was initially supportive of Johnny doing the program and getting clean. We know that Bubbs is helping the cops to get justice for his friend, but now we see that he also cares enough about him to actually want to see him get out of the life --- even if he does sadly start talking about new scams to get the money for their next high.

Yea, Homicide! The reason I gave The Wire a chance at all is because I passionately loved Homicide. I used to get unreasonably giddy whenever I'd pass the "police station" in Fells Point. The show wasn't that great in its later seasons, but those first several were outstanding. Such indelible characters. Pembleton, Bayliss, Munch, Bolander, Giardello, Lewis, Crosetti, Howard, and on and on. I love that Clark Johnson directed the first episode of The Wire and had such a hand in creating the visual tone of the series. And I get a kick out of all the little cameos from Homicide actors. Peter Gerety as Judge Phelan particularly amuses me, because he's such a far cry from Det. Gharty. Erik Dellums as the coroner is a hoot, too.

Anonymous said...

Agreed about Omar-he's a great character with his own moral code. And he's complex as well.
Also share the Homicide love-the first few seasons are so good. Even the later ones have their moments. All the characters were so great..the later additions-Ballard, Falsone and Sheppard I'm looking at you-were just not as well-developed. It took me some time to get used to Dellums as someone so different from Luther Mahoney. Who also was great.
Anna

Anonymous said...

Also David Simon wrote the book they based Homicide on-and was important to the series-but Tom Fontana should get plenty of credit for it as well. He did write some of the best episodes-"Three men and Adena" for one.
Anna

ChrisB said...

I love the scene in the restaurant with D'Angelo asking his girlfriend about whether "they know." Her response, "You got money, you get to be whatever you say you are" is fairly profound coming from a young girl with a working class background. Of course, money is not enough. It is the little things that reveal the truth, like taking the dessert from the tray.

Another great review, Ben.