The Wire: Stray Rounds

This here game is more than the rep you carry, the corner you hold. You gotta be fierce, I know that, but more than that, you gotta show some flex, give and take on both sides. – Stringer

Sorry Stringer, not many people seem to be listening to your advice in this episode. The title of this episode was a little like the episode “Collateral Damage,” the arrests and crimes seem to fit no pattern but all sorts of people seem to be taking random hits. The most obvious meaning refers to the stray bullet that kills the boy in his house in West Baltimore, but its “rounds” with an “s” and there are a number of additional hits seemingly coming out of nowhere.

Let’s start in back in West Baltimore, where the episode starts. It opens with a kid dying in senseless violence and ultimately violence that’s ineffectual for accomplishing what those involved wanted to do. It is stupid violence and deeply not part of the Barksdale organizations usual approach. Once you add the botched disposal of the guns involved, I have to say that Bodie is a very lucky guy. He’s lucky that Stringer is so short staffed because people got shot for a whole lot less in season 1. He’s also lucky that Cole and Norris are such incompetent interrogators, because when you have the guy and the guns and witnesses you really should be able to make the case. It was striking though that we are back into the West Baltimore streets in such a big way with this episode, foreshadowing that our time on the docks may be winding down.

Ziggy is himself a bit of a stray round, hitting the docks with crime and his poor duck with equal skill. He has a new plan to steal expensive cars and sell them to Double G. I have to think the pawn shop scene with a whole case full of Chekov's guns cannot bode well. But hey, it’s the Wire, sometimes a case full of guns and an angry stupid character are just a case full of guns and an angry stupid character, right? I do have to say though that by this point it’s hard not to feel a certain amount of affection for Ziggy because he is just a mess.

Speaking of stray rounds, the scenes of the brothel raid may be the funniest in the series to date. McNulty is particularly in his element, and you can really see why Kima’s girlfriend would object to her going undercover. The whole thing further develops the idea that there are people you turn loose (Bodie, Ziggy, McNulty) at something of your own risk, they get themselves into all manner of mischief in very short order. I do love Bunk’s conclusion that this particular misadventure is destined to make McNulty a legend in the police department.

A stray round of a different sort hits the Columbians,the big drug bust which, of course , is entirely the result of the corruption in the FBI and yet another aspect of “the game.” It points up two critical things. First, that the normal police activity is really just scratching the surface with even the biggest busts adding up to tremendously less than what the real criminals can just give away. Secondly, that the symbiotic connection between the police (at all levels) and criminals (at all levels) is a constant factor in the maintenance of the “normal” level of crime in society (at least according to the Wire). Even the opening scene with Bodie and the shooting relate to the ongoing disruption in the crime/policing equilibrium as the Barksdales continue to sort through the results of season 1.

Finally, the episode ends with the arrival of Brother Mouzone, a character whose reputation suggests he will be a problem for everyone he runs up against.

Bits and Pieces

Beyond Brother Mouzone, there were all sorts of coming and goings in this episode that are worth mentioning in this episode.

Let’s start with Dominic West’s British accent that came and went throughout the episode, a fact made far more fun when you realize that he is British and had to purposefully do a bad accent that came and went (which has to be quite a challenge for an actor or accent coach).

This was Robert Colesberry final appearance as Detective Ray Cole. He, like many of the character actors in the Wire, brought real skill to what have been throw away roles in other hands. He had apparently become ill and passed away not too long after leaving the show.

This is also the first appearance of the real Jay Landsman as Lieutenant Dennis Mello. The real Landsman was apparently either a source or a friend (and probably a bit of both) of David Simon who was an actual Baltimore City detective. He later retired and did a bit of acting. So Landsman is both a character and a namesake of a character on the Wire, and he is also the inspiration for Detective John Munch. Munch, played by Richard Belzer, is a detective character most recently on Law and Order: SVU with at least as many lives on different shows (Homicide, The X-Files, Luther) as would be expected in this sort of meta-textual situation.

Finally, and not surprisingly, the dead duck really hit me hard, Steven L. Miles, R.I.P.


The world is a smaller place now. —The Greek

(this week’s epigraph points up the global connections of the Greek’s business , but when you look at the whole quote you see that its still a bare knuckles sort of business and that the FBI is a part of those business relationships)

The Greek: They're trash. The world is a smaller place now. And the FBI cares very much about such things.

(Some comments on the death of a nine year old, unsurprisingly, the child hardly comes up in a meaningful way)

Rawls: Used to be when a nine-year-old kid hit the pavement, a district commander would be there within minutes. I guess we're living in a brave new world

Landsman: You accidentally shoot one nine-year-old in his bedroom and the whole city gets its undies in a bunch.

Proposition Joe: Now you got the police crawling all the way up your ass. It's a good day to be an Eastside nigga, I gotta say.

(and now a salute to McNulty, back on top …well metaphorically anyway)

McNulty: After that meeting on the Barksdale case, I kind of made a point of pissing him off, remember?
Lester: So what, you do that to everybody.

Freamon: You do any accents? English, British, Scottish, something like that?
McNulty: (in an awful British accent) Crikey! I was looking to get a little hanky-panky and his one bloke gave me this number to call when I got across the pond.
Det. Lester Freamon: Work on it, son.

(during the raid)

Bunk: "Is it soup yet?"

(and finally writing it all up)

Bunk: (reading from McNulty’s statement) “At which point, the officer was unable to resist the ministrations of the aforementioned suspect, and found himself brought to the point of a sexual act” … You're famous behind this, you know that? As a pervert, this report is gonna make you a BPD legend.

(And to Rhonda)

McNulty: There were two of them. I was outnumbered.

(Ziggy meanwhile may be headed in the other direction)

Ziggy: Fuck Nicky.
Johnny Fifty: He said you was his other half.
Ziggy: I don't want his fucking money, I mean, that's drug money. And fucking drugs are bad, right? I mean, you gotta consider what that shit does to the community.
Johnny Fifty: You spent all last year with White Mike.
Ziggy: A man can grow.

(and a couple that needed including)

Proposition Joe: You don't think I'm gonna send any of my people up against Brother? Shit, That nigga got more bodies on him than a Chinese cemetery.

New Charles: Fuck if I wouldn't give my right leg for a shot and a beer.

Jess Says

For me, this week was all about “smart business.” What constitutes smart business in the criminal realm, and which of our various players in the game would be considered smart businessmen? As hinted at in Ben’s lead quote, it all seems to come down to what’s more important: the money or the reputation. Prop Joe tells Stringer a tale about a heroin-dealing Baltimore legend, Charlie Sollers, that again lays out the essential differences between the way Stringer (the “smart businessman”) sees the game and the way Avon (the “soldier”) sees the game. Stringer is a tough and imposing presence, but at the end of the day, it’s about the money for him. He doesn’t “live by the gun” the way Avon does. If it requires some “flex” to keep buying for a dollar and selling for two, then so be it. But for Avon, there is no compromise. It’s about reputation and not appearing weak. If he has to pay a fearsome enforcer from New York to maintain his territory while he tries to line up a better product, then that’s the course he’ll choose. It remains to be seen which one is making the smartest calls. Brother Mouzone, though appearing in stark contrast to the terrifying reputation he’s built up, is far more efficient than Stringer and Prop Joe gave him credit for, and is almost certainly going to wrench up the best laid plans of the “smart businessmen.”

At present, the Greek seems to be our best example of the smart businessman, keeping his extremely low profile and focusing on what will ultimately keep the money train on the tracks. “The Greek will be angry.” “This is business, Eton. The Greek --- he will be smart.” Interestingly, though he’s generally been presented to us as a simple, modest man who tries to go unnoticed --- “no profile, no street rep” --- he and his people are possibly about to get tripped up by a “reputation” issue: the disposition of the ill-fated shepherd from the Atlantic Light. “Did he have hands? Did he have a face? Yes? Then it wasn’t us.” Cool Lester Smooth is on the hunt now, so best watch your back.

And, on the opposite end of the spectrum, we’ve got Ziggy. Poor, hapless Ziggy, who’s more about the reputation and the notion of “respect” than he is about the money. He’s interested in the money, of course. But , if that’s all there was to it, he’d just take Nicky’s drug money, instead of cooking up his own scheme with the “smart businessman” Glekas. Things seem relatively promising in the early going here, but this is Ziggy, and it’s hard to argue with Ben’s “case full of guns and an angry stupid character” observation. He’s not a total idiot, but he’s nowhere near as smart as he likes to think he is.

And more bits and pieces...

Just seeing the title of this episode triggers a wave of sadness for me. That opening is utterly heartbreaking.

Major Colvin!!! (Ben, how could you single out the arrival of the real Jay Landsman as Lt. Mello and not mention the arrival of Robert Wisdom as Maj. Howard “Bunny” Colvin?!) It’s always fun when characters who become more prominent down the line put in their first appearances, and I was especially delighted to see Maj. Colvin and Lt. Mello.

When Ziggy still had the duck with him early in the episode, I wrote down “Damn! That duck can hang better than I thought!” And then shortly thereafter he turned up dead. “Or not.” Poor Steven L. Miles.

The bit with McNulty doing that godawful English accent made me laugh and laugh.

So where exactly is Agent Koutris? I thought Agent Fitzhugh called him in the San Diego field office, but then it seemed like he was actually in Washington. The Greek referred to him as “our friend in Washington,” and he certainly seemed to be in the neighborhood. Weird.

The Upshot

Three of four perverted BPD legends

1 comment:

ChrisB said...

The opening of this episode is heartbreaking. Kids shooting guns at other kids, managing to kill an innocent kid just trying to get ready for school. There simply must be an answer to this craziness.

While the death of the duck is sad as well, it is fascinating to me is how the men in the bar turn so quickly on Ziggy. While the duck is alive and drinking, they are laughing and buying drinks. As soon as the duck inevitably dies, they start talking about what an idiot Ziggy is. No wonder the kid goes so far to try to earn some respect.