by Ben P. Duck
And so is the drama in West Baltimore (and its annex up at the Prison)
The return of Omar is every bit as entertaining as one could have hoped for. He is back with the same dry sense of humor, questionable taste in boyfriends, and bravado that made the character so popular. His crew is also on the rebound as he adds Kimmy and her girlfriend, a lesbian stick-up team, who would otherwise have been his competition. The action shifts back into west Baltimore as we see them carry off a couple of cleverly executed crimes (and leaving me excited to see what they will do next).
That shift of focus is also seen as we watch Tilghman, the prison guard, connect with his source for the drugs he is selling in prison. We also see that Avon can still reach out and touch people from behind bars as he arranges for the next package to be spiked with poison. It’s not clear in this episode what his angle for doing this is, but it’s safe to assume that he isn’t doing it just out of spite. He also comes dangerously close to getting D’Angelo (who chooses a good moment to listen to his uncle regarding sobriety) with the poison.
Finally, Stringer is filling in for D’Angelo with Donette (please pardon the entirely unintentional double entendre). Again, whether this is strategic or opportunistic, or a bit of both remains to be seen, but I think we can begin to see that the Barksdale plot is going continue to be a major one this season.
All of this creates a nice pace this season, perhaps better than in season 1. That season was very slow-going early on as we established characters and setting. This year, by mixing the dock focused story and the ongoing Barksdale storyline we can move things along at a bit of faster pace (even if it occasionally makes the early episodes a bit disjointed)
Meanwhile back in Southeast, we are in the odd position of seeing Prez as the guy who knows what’s what. And he is not happy, at all, and his actions are clearly pointing to a way to bring the old band back together.
We also really learn a lot more about Nick, and see underpinning his story what might be David Simon’s underlying theory of crime. That is, that normal people, if given the opportunity, will make their living more or less honestly. Lacking that ability for whatever reason, and here we see industrial decline, economic change and maybe union rules as the underlying cause, they will make a living by whatever means that are available to them. As in season 1, he shows us this with a dispassionate eye. Aimee, Nick’s girlfriend, has work but doesn’t make enough and they both find themselves in the position of adolescents perpetually broke and owing their lives (such as they are) to their parents. No particular judgment but this situation is pushing Nick and Ziggy to strike out on their own, forging their own relationship with the Greek (who apparently runs quite a bit down in Southeast ). One senses that this is not going to end very well.
Bits and Pieces
It’s worth noting that the title song “Way Down in The Hole” is sung this year by the man who wrote it, Tom Waits. They use a different version each year, but I have always enjoyed Waits own version the most of those used.
Probably the most obvious symbolism of the episode (and maybe a candidate for the season) was the rat terrier scene with Butchie and Tilghman. Tilghman thinks the rat has the advantage and even has won the contest. But Butchie knows that if a dog knows his vermin, he will get it. One can hardly blame Tilghman for failing to appreciate that he was the rat in the example.
"What they need is a union." -Russell
(This is not my favorite of the season’s epigraphs although it does capture a real point about the reason unions came to be. Here are some excerpts from the longer conversation that fills us in a bit more about the economics of this particular bit of human trafficking)
Fed: One of these girls on the circuit, going club-to-club, up and down the East Coast, can bring in half a million over the next couple of years. And that's just for club work and prostitution.
Russell: The girls, they know what they're coming over for?
Fed: Some do. Some get told that they're just gonna dance, or be secretaries, or whatever. You gotta understand, they're coming from places that don't have much of anything. Romania, Moldava, Russia, Albania. 40 or 50,000 undocumented women working in the U.S. alone.
Bunk: 50,000, Jesus.
Freamon: They need a whole new agency just to police 'em.
Russell: What they need is a union.
(different conversation but it encapsulates the whole situation well)
Bunk: A can full of dead girls, sent to nowhere, from nowhere.
(a few somewhat lighter thoughts)
Omar: Now, that's something you don't see every day.
(quoting Omar never really captures his delivery which is always so dry. Jay Landsmann gets a few good ones as well)
Landsmann: Although there is some small charm to a woman in uniform, the fact remains we work plainclothes in Homicide. Which is not to say that the clothes need be plain. For you, I would suggest some pants suits, perhaps, muted in color. Something to offset Detective Moreland's pinstriped, lawyerly affectations and the brash, tweedy impertinence of Detective Freamon. Rawls is watching on this one. Let's at least pretend we got a fucking clue.
Freamon: Tweedy impertinence? I like that.
(Wow, its about time someone said this to McNulty)
McNulty: It's got me thinkin' is all.
Frazier: It's a little late for that, McNulty.
(and finally, Prez demonstrating he can be taught)
Prez: If you go in with the idea your gonna just eat around the edges, you never get a meal.
While I was watching this episode, "all the pieces matter" kept going through my mind over and over. The primary focus of the episode was the Barksdale crew's efforts to take down Officer Tilghman, but overall this very much felt like a transitional episode. One in which lots of new bits and pieces are coming into play, and old ones are coming together in interesting ways. I'm starting to see the shape of things to come in small moments and interactions.
For instance, this week, a brief, casual dinner conversation between Prez and Valchek collides with the fairly harmless "around the world" prank the stevedores pulled with the police surveillance van, leading to that glorious confrontation between Valchek and Burrell. Now we are going to get a real detail looking into Sobotka --- led by Daniels! --- just as Nicky, Johnny, and Ziggy decide to strike up their own dirty deal with Spiros and the Greek. All relatively small moments, leading to something more. "All the pieces matter."
Like Ben, I was also struck by the focus on what’s driving these port guys to criminal activities. Not just Nicky, who is simply trying to make ends meet when the system of seniority works against him being able to pick up more than a couple days of work a week. But also Frank. He needs his guys to stay part of the union, so that he has the resources to push for things that will bring more work for everyone. But he can’t keep the union guys, or even keep his lobbying efforts going, without doing dirt on the side. He’s needs the illicit gains from the Greek to pay off both the slimy, corrupt politicians like Clay Davis, and his union members who need the money to survive. Even the dead prostitutes are just poor, desperate girls doing what they think they have to, to maybe have a shot at a better life. Trapped by the system and by circumstances, and abused by the system and the power brokers. A truly sad state of affairs.
and a few more bits and pieces:
You know, I'm no fan of Stan Valchek, but I absolutely loved watching him stick it to Burrell right before the police commissioner vote. Well played, you old bastard. Well played.
Similarly, I adored Bunk and Freamon stealing Jimmy's thunder. "Fuck you, very much." Pretty much every scene with Bunk and Freamon was gold this week. "English, motherfucker!"
Is it just me, or did it seem hella stupid for Tilghman to be putting the dope in the lozenge packets right there in the prison parking lot? Dude! Do you want to get caught?
It’s definitely not clear why Avon would choose to go after Tilghman this way. He’s the kind of guy that will just have someone murder you in a drive by or put a bounty on your head, not set you up to take a bad, bad fall. Him coming at Tilghman sideways like this made me raise an inquisitive eyebrow.
Ziggy’s reaction during the shot-and-a-beer scene was fascinating. Very subdued and deeply pained. He certainly didn’t seem sold on the idea that his pop is a good man.
The Upshot (or Hot shot in this instance)
2 of 4 rats pulled out of the rubbish heap (not my favorite episode so far, but as always on a sliding scale)