The Wire: Cleaning Up

“We either step up or we step the fuck off” – Bodie

The last couple of episodes have been punch and counterpunch between the police and the Barksdales, and this episode continues that as each side scrambles through the late rounds of this fight. After the police throw some shots it’s time for Avon, a former boxer himself, to do some hitting. And mostly against people who aren’t exactly prepared to fight back.

The central character action in the episode revolves around Wallace’s death, which takes on aspects of classical tragedy with the very nature of the characters making any other outcome nearly impossible. Beginning with Wallace and his attachment to his home, he simply does not make sense anywhere else so he must stay there. The inability of the police to do anything other than deal with the assault on their organization in the shooting of Kima Greggs contributes (a focus which frankly bordered on incompetence in this instance). Avon and Stringer’s natures as men who will kill whoever gets in their way seals his fate as their gratitude over his help becomes suspicion that he will inevitably talk with the police (a suspicion which is fully justified as it turns out). I mentioned in my review of the Cost that I didn’t see the finale coming, this was equally satisfying (if heartbreaking) in that Wallace seemed to be the only one unaware of his inevitable fate.

I like this episode because it gives us a bit starker picture of the difference between each side in moral terms. The police may be occasionally stupid, unfortunately corrupt and more interested in pursuing their own ends than those of the community, but (and it’s a big BUT) they are also not in the business of killing kids to protect their business. There is a tendency in television to do one of two things, either the police are the same as the criminals or (more commonly) they are just the good guys. Generally, we have some trouble having the police be both corrupt and the good guys simultaneously. Not surprisingly, The Wire successfully gives us that fine moral line in sharp relief.

Speaking of which, let’s talk about D’Angelo. He really is the weak link in the Barksdale organization because he is too soft and too moral. That is a terrible combination in a drug dealer. He is too weak to really do the right thing from a "don’t sell drugs to kids and help with murder" perspective, but cares too much to effectively do the right thing from the "do sell drugs to kids and help with murder" perspective. Frankly, probably like most people who would find themselves in the game.

Finally, there was the actual arrest of Avon Barksdale. What might be described as the anti-Scarface ending. It looks like we might have the big shoot-out when the "Delta Force-looking motherfuckers" (as Avon describes the SWAT them) show up. Instead, Avon and Stringer open their safe and McNulty and Daniels stroll in for the arrest. No histrionics, no fireworks, nothing. It further reinforces the feeling that the whole season has been the inevitable and fatalistic spooling out of the basic natures of the characters. The police were going to get to an arrest, and the Barksdales know that this is the way the game will go (think back on Avon’s statements about how no one can avoid every mistake). The climax had, as so many things in real life have, a slightly disappointing anti-climatic feel (which just makes it feel more real).

Bits and Pieces

In much lighter bits, there was the “Ivy-leaguer” chili dog debate, but I regret to tell all those who plan to pursue “The Wire’s Taste of Balitmore tour” that they all appear to be closed. However, you might consider G&A Restaurant over in Highlandtown neighborhood. Good dogs.

And Sterling’s Seafood (so distant to Wallace on 29th street) still has the Spicy fish cakes.

Geez I am making myself hungry again.


This is me, yo, right here. – Wallace

(not much more to say about this week’s epigraph, it reflects the sad nature of life in the Baltimore projects)

D'Angelo: If anybody asks you if in you in this game, you tell 'em you in it for life, a'ight?. You play it hard, you play it tight, and you make sure niggas know you gonna stand by your people. No loose talk, no second thoughts and no snitching. Play it like that.

(Dee himself cannot live up to his own advice, but Bodie seems to lack the same moral compass)

Bodie: Look, the man gave the word, so we either step up or we step the fuck off. That's the game, yo.

(Yeah McNulty this was not a well-kept secret)

McNulty: Fuck this case.

Daniels: Fuck this case? So now you think you’re gonna call off your little crusade?

McNulty: Is that what you think it was? A crusade? Avon Barksdale was just a way for me to show how smart I was and how fucked up the department is, that's all. It was never about Avon Barksdale, Lieutenant. It was all about me.
Daniels: You think I didn't know that? You think we all didn't know?

(Daniels gave us foreshadowing for years of things to come)

Daniels: Excuse me, sir, but it's pretty basic. If the senator isn't involved in anything illegal, then he doesn't need to worry. I can't be any clearer than that.

(we have a couple of key moments when the basic nature of our characters are revealed, first D’Angelo)

D'Angelo: Where's Wallace at? ... Where's the boy, String?

Stringer: D'Angelo, shut your mouth.

D'Angelo: Where's Wallace? That's all I wanna know.

Levy: Kid, you better think...

D'Angelo: Where's Wallace? Where the fuck is Wallace? Huh? Huh? String? String? Look at me! Where the fuck is Wallace? HUH!? I don't want this Payless-wearing motherfucker representing me. I'ma get my own man. So just get back in your car and get the fuck back down south.

Stringer: A'ight, you stupid motherfucker, you made your decision.

D'Angelo: Yeah, I made my decision. Where's Wallace at? Where the fuck is Wallace? Where's Wallace, String? String! Where the fuck is Wallace? Huh? Stringer?!

(and then Daniels)

Burrell: You came into a lot of money quick. You can go to jail just as quick if I start asking the right questions ... This case is done.

Daniels: You do what you feel. You wanna pull Avon in on half a case, you go ahead. You wanna put my shit in the street, feel free. But the Eastern had a lot of stories - mine ain't the only one. A lot of people came through that district. If you were gonna do me, I'd already be done. But there ain't nothing you fear more than a bad headline, is there? You'd rather live in shit than let the world see you work a shovel. You can order warrants, and I'll serve them. But as long as I have days left on those dead wires, this case goes on.

Three out of four suddenly quiet wiretaps.


Jess Lynde said...

Such a hard episode to watch. The death of Wallace is one of those moments that defines The Wire for me. It completely wrecked me the first time I saw the episode, and it stayed with me long after I'd watched the episode. Both his death and D's reaction. Just an unflinching gut punch. Where's Wallace?! Where's the boy at, String?!

While watching this time, my heart was racing and I felt like I was on the verge of tears every time D'Angelo, Bodie, Poot, and Wallace were on screen. What an utterly heartbreaking (if tragically inevitable) end to Wallace's story. It's not just that he was killed, but that he was killed by his own guys. The only person that tried to protect and do right by him was D. And yet he still got taken down by his best friends. Because that's the game. And D was always too weak for it, even if he knew you had to play it hard. It's such a shame it took so much death for him to finally take his stand.

Lance Reddick was simply outstanding in this episode. So many beautiful, subtle moments for Daniels. The small smile when he's allowed to keep Lester and Prez is glorious, and his opening speech to McNulty, his quiet stand against Clay Davis, and his later "go ahead and do what you're gonna do" throwdown with Burrell are so fantastic. Even the moment when he gets the call about Wallace. Reddick has such amazing presence and talent. I wish Fringe had more regularly made use of his amazing talent, and not just his imposing presence.

I really love the mirroring of the stairway shots right before Bodie and Poot take out Wallace, and then after Daniels and McNulty cuff Avon. It's not something I noticed at first (distraught as I was over Wallace's demise), but I saw it noted in another review once upon a time, and I can't not notice it now. It's this wonderful balancing grace note, that continues to highlight the terrible cost of the drug game and the similarities between the sides, even in a moment of victory for the "good guys."

I loved the Lester and Shardene bits again. It was nice to have some moments of lightness in an otherwise heavy episode. Protect and serve, lieutenant. Protect and serve.

Billie Doux said...

Yeah, what Jess said. Wallace's death just devastated me. It's one of the defining events in this series.

ChrisB said...

Knowing what was to happen, I was dreading the re-wtach of this episode. Wallace's death has a profound impact on me, no matter how many times I watch it. It is beautifully shot and it reveals more about the three involved than anything else in the entire first series, I would argue.

Wallace has declared to his friends and to himself that he is a man. And, in some ways, he is. He is a father to a group of kids and we see how good he is at it. He feeds them, talks to them and treats them with respect. We never learn who these kids are, but it does make me wonder what will happen to them now that their caregiver is dead. What makes Wallace’s parenting skills even more astonishing is that we meet his mother in this episode. A horrible woman, it is incredible that her son is as sweet and loving as he is.

Yet, as he is facing his inevitable death, Wallace become a child again. He wets his pants and he begs his friends for his life. I would argue that many of us would react in the same way if a friend pointed a gun at us with the intent of using it.

In contrast to Wallace, we see his murderers, Bodie and Poot. Although we don’t get as much of their life outside the low-rises as we do of Wallace’s, neither of them appears to be as responsible as their friend. What we have seen is their relative positions in the organization. Bodie is D’Angelo’s number two; Poot is just a soldier.

Up until the shooting, Bodie is shown to be the tougher of the two. His conversation with Stringer is chilling and he brooks no nonsense from the other boys in the game. Poot is a hanger on. He wants to be part of the in crowd, but he just misses.

The roles are reversed during the shooting, which lends the event even more gravitas. Bodie talks tough, but his hand is shaking and it takes Poot shouting at him to get him to pull the trigger. But what comes next is incredible. Poot calmly takes the gun from a striken Bodie, calmly shoots Wallace twice more, killing him, then calmly hands the gun back to Bodie. It is Poot who actually does the deed.

That scene so affects me that the rest of the episode tends to go by in a blur. Which, of course, is what works. This young kid is dead, but the world goes on and, finally, nothing will change. For me, that is the greatest tragedy of all.

Anonymous said...

Adding to Chris B's comments, Bodie's face is in shadow, but as he rushes out of the room, it looks like he swipes at his eyes.

Wallace's death was so devastating. I loved that kid.

According to the commentary, D'Angelo's explosion at Stringer was somewhat ad-libbed. I think maybe one "Where's Wallace" was written, then Larry Gilliard just ran with it, and it was perfect.


Anonymous said...

Poor little doomed. That was difficult viewing. D's speech to Stringer is amazing. He really has a heart. D I mean, not sure about Stringer.

Kelly said...

To add to ChrisB's comments about Wallace's death scene:

Yes, you can so clearly see Bodie's reluctance at the moment of truth, but I always got the sense that Poot taking the gun from him and finishing the job was in effect, him mercy killing Wallace, not letting him continue suffering. Wallace was already shot and bleeding, but still alive. Poot made sure it was quick.

Either way, completely chilling and heartbreaking. Gun downed by your best friends, and for what?