by Ben P. Duck
The tension and risk are building by this point in the season. A lot has been done and seems to be building up to consequential action, but first a thought on the show in a broader sense. The epigraph, that all the pieces matter, is as much directed to us as to any of the characters. It points out that David Simon, the show’s creator, expects nearly as much effort from the viewer as the police or the drug dealers about whom he is writing. We have to pay attention as if we are seeing this as participants and without all the crutches of traditional T.V. in the forms of flashbacks and long expository summations of past action (although they have no problem with lengthy pedantic exposition of the central themes). This is not uncommon now, but it was an innovative and challenging format a decade ago. This episode, named as it is, is Simon making that point to the viewer.
Speaking of listening closely, D'Angelo’s continuing discussion of “the Game” is a great example. If some shows display heteroglossia (where multiple voices taken together provide the meaning beneath the narrative) among characters (Josie makes the point writing about Game of Thrones), it’s amazing the degree to which this one character does so all on his own. He wants the game to be played without violence, he quickly justifies violence as part of it, he bends the rules, he defends the rules, and provides a one-man discussion of whether it is a game at all. One could watch any one episode and think you know this character but if you watch more than one you will find yourself at a loss to nail him down.
Similarly, Bubbles and Johnny’s heist of copper pipe is remarkably harmless and light-hearted for a show about the serious consequences of the game. It is downright fun in fact, and I felt guilty for feeling so as I watched these characters making enough money to once again get high. Even Johnny’s arrest is more amusing than one would expect. What we are to take away from this is not at all clear.
We continue to have layers revealed in the detail as well. Prez, as it turns out, is not as utterly stupid and useless as everyone believed. He had already revealed a talent for decoding in the pager traffic and we see him quickly learning, under Freamon’s direction, how to use those skills to maximize the results of the phone taps. Two “useless humps” when given the opportunity performing beyond expectations. Of course it would be a lot lower quality show if we just took this as a theme, as Polk demonstrates when he would rather quit than take advantage of his chance for redemption. We are being shown characters who each are uniquely drawn and who feel entirely real.
It’s in this episode that the police finally begin to understand exactly what is going on with the Barksdale organization. Unfortunately, it is also in this episode that all of the drag created by the bureaucracy in the police department begins to seriously impede the hope of a successful conclusion. Everyone in this episode is after someone else and everyone is moving toward a finish. Rawls is now determined to get McNulty for his failure to respect the chain of command. Avon and his enforcers continue to pursue Omar. The detail is following the Barksdale men. D’Angelo is pursuing the snitch in his crew. And as the episode ends, one senses that Omar may be after someone as well.
Bits and Pieces
This week in poor parenting:
The opening scene with Wallace getting a whole house full of kids out the door to school seemed like it was designed to particularly incense the sort of folk who are likely to subscribe to HBO. I particularly was struck by the lunch of a juice box and bag of chips, which ran short before everyone got one.
And speaking of bad parenting, McNulty taking the kids to the morgue with Omar. Not cool, man, not cool at all. I begin to suspect McNulty may not be a great parent.
[opening title card]: "... and all the pieces matter." – Freamon
Det. Freamon: We are building something here, detective, building it from scratch, all the pieces matter, got it.
(Did you all get that, we are building a setting, a show and a narrative (and a case) one piece at a time)
Det. James 'Jimmy' McNulty: What the fuck can I tell him?
Sgt. Jay Landsman: Whatever the man wants to hear Jimmy, whatever he wants to hear.
Daniels: The murder warrant's on hold. The deputy gave us another month. Also, whoever that was you brought in here today gave himself up as an eyewitness in the Gant murder.
McNulty: Who, Omar?
Daniels: And Greggs said to tell you she'd write it up in the morning.
McNulty: Lieutenant - thanks.
Det. Lester Freamon: It cost you?
(These last couple of quotes give you a sense how much trouble McNulty is getting himself and others into with Major Rawls)
Officer Brown: This is the worst case of suicide I've ever seen.
(this quote, along with the lack of a forensics team, captures just how little anyone cares about Brandon’s death)
McNulty: Jesus, they must have killed that kid four or five times
Kima: … and you ain't afraid to go into court downtown and testify against one of Barksdale's people?
Omar: Omar don't scare.
D’Angelo: All that shit is in the game
2 out of 4 thematic 2x4’s to the forehead