The Wire: Time After Time

“You don't look at what you did before, you do the same shit all over.” – McNulty

And so here we are back from the docks and on the streets of West Baltimore, things have changed but have they improved? Urban renewal is going forward and the crime plagued battlegrounds that were high-rise housing projects have come down. The police are bringing data and information technology into play to fight crime. There is a new major crimes unit that is all over the Barksdales. So things are better, right?

Hmmm, maybe not, we start with a title that does not suggest that season 3 is going to be about the sudden transformation of the city for the better.

So let’s find out what everyone has been up to since last we saw them. Hmmmm again, it appears life just goes on, at least at first glance. The Major Crimes Unit is still chasing the Barksdales, this time through Stringer Bell’s connection to Proposition Joe and his crew. McNulty continues to be both a smart and dedicated detective and an enormous pain-in-the-ass for his colleague and especially Daniels. Daniels is running a tight ship, but his insistence on being a decent guy continues to limit his future prospects. The rest of the team Prez, Greggs, (the returned from season 1) Sydnor, and Freamon all continue the slow and frustrating work of waiting for someone to do something dumb over a tapped line. Along with our returning characters, we also meet Caroline Massey, the Unit’s administrative officer, who one senses we will hear more from before long. Even the off-duty scenes suggest the “more of the same” theme, as McNulty continues to pine after his ex-wife and Bunk can’t seem to get a day off as he is called in to investigate yet another Baltimore murder. McNulty’s late night re-reading of files reflects his search for a way not to just repeat history.

Meanwhile, out on the street, the Barksdale organization is struggling with its own ennui around the destruction of the Towers, the housing projects where they ran things so brutally, and the constant scramble to get ahead in the drug game. Bodie continues to express the desire to pursue that game through traditional gangster methods, seizing territory and always ready to fight. Stringer continues to present a different side, trying again and again to deal smarter but understanding the economics and politics of the situation. His audience does not seem to fully appreciate the points, but then again he may not be altogether right. So we are still in the same spot here as well.

I was struck by the parallel meetings on both sides of the criminal/cop line. I am not sure who I would rather have presiding over a “come to Jesus” meeting I was attending: Stringer Bell, Major Rawls or Tommy Carcetti. In both instances god help you if you are not moving things forward the way you should. As I suggested before, it’s also not entirely clear that Bell’s approach is really going to get the Barksdales where they want to be. However, it seems pretty clear the ComStat is a fundamentally misguided effort as Bunny Colvin manages to point out.

And while we are on the subject of Major Colvin, he may be the least satisfied with the repetition of themes. Even his talk to the new officers in his district is tired and so well worn that his officers know it by heart.

The intersection of all these things is out in the Western District with Carver and Herc fighting crime and Bubbles and Johnny trying to score. The pointlessness and repetition of business as usual really comes home as both pairs are hustling hard but getting nowhere fast.

Bits and Pieces

ComStat, the crime statistics meeting where we see Burrell establish his crime-fighting targets, is based on the CityStat system used for not just crime but all manner of city services in Baltimore for more than a decade. When the Mayor of Baltimore became Governor of Maryland, this system then became StateStat for Maryland. In another life, I have had the opportunity to be in some of those meetings and allow me to say that they are even less fun than the portrayal onscreen would lead you to believe, but the combination of putting you on the spot and seemingly arbitrary targets definitely gets the feel of the thing.

Quotes

Don't matter how many times you get burnt, you just keep doin' the same. - Bodie

(this is the epigraph for the episode and stands as well as anything for the episode and maybe a season where we make the same mistakes again and again, here is a little more of the conversation as Bodie drops some wisdom on Poot’s thick skull)

Bodie: Shit, no matter how many times you get burnt, man, you just keep on doin' the same. Nigger do not learn. Now, what do you say, huh? Are you ready for a new Baltimore? Shit gonna be off the hook, yo.
Poot: Man, my whole life been around them towers, you know. I mean I feel. Shit, I feel like I don't got no home now.

(a bit more from Bodie)

Bodie: Now these downtown, suit-wearin' ass bitches just snatched up the best territory in the city from y'all. You wanna cry over some shit, cry over that.

(and lets hear about those pesky meetings)

Slim Charles: Nigga, you ain't got the floor. The chair don't recognize your ass.

(and)

Stringer: Shut the fuck up, man! This nigga too ignorant to have the fuckin' floor. Y'all niggas need to start lookin' at the world in a new fucking light. Start thinkin' about this shit like some grown fucking men, not some niggas off the fuckin' corner. You heard me? Adjourn your asses.

(And)

Rawls: If you want to continue wearing those oak clusters, you will shut up and step up. Any of you who can't bring the numbers we need will be replaced by someone who can. That is all.

(you know, I honestly think I prefer Stinger’s style, although the whole “he will kill me if I screw-up” thing is tough to get over)

(finally, shaking our fists at an indifferent world)

Carver: I'm a tell you one thing, and one thing only about the Western boys you are playing with! We do not lose! And we do not forget! And we do not give up! Ever!

(and)

Bubbles: Look we had the 20, you know, we had to go buy some pants, so if you just take this short money, we get back at you tomorrow, man.

Jess Says

Interesting, Ben. You walked away from this one with a “things seem to be changing, but are they really?” take on things, whereas I kind of took it the opposite way. Things seem to be largely the same, but it is starting to chafe and some folks are ready for a change. Time for a new approach. The question is, can you change the system, or can you only change yourself?

Stringer’s continuing efforts to run the game like a business --- making it about product, not territory --- is the most obvious example of someone actively trying to change “the system.“ Instituting Robert’s Rules of Order at his crew meetings seems a bit of a stretch, but he’s certainly got a point that the bodies dropping in the war over territory just brings heat from the police. Is collaboration a better way to profit and avoid legal consequences? He seems to have made significant inroads with his new approach, despite some continued resistance from the younger crew, but is this lasting change? What happens when Avon gets out of Jessup soon?

Colvin and Carcetti also seem fairly fed up with the system and what the endless cycle of violence has done to Baltimore. It remains to be seen if Colvin will try to do something about it, or just keep riding things out until his approaching retirement. Will his “what are they gonna do to me” attitude embolden him to work for change? As for Councilman Carcetti, is he really motivated by a desire for a better Baltimore, or is this just a political play to make himself look good at Mayor Royce’s expense? Does he truly want to change the system, or is this all about playing politics (i.e., business as usual)?

Then there’s Bubbles and Dennis “Cutty” Wise. Bubbs seems on the verge of rock bottom. He’s starting to truly question whether nearly getting killed for half a shot is really worth it. But does he have the will to break his addiction cycle? We know he’s tried before, and failed. Can he make the change this time?

And what about Cutty? We don’t really know him yet, but he doesn’t seem particularly eager to get back to being a soldier. Wee Bey thinks prison wouldn’t break a hard core guy like Cutty, but 14 years behind bars is a long time. He’s not a young buck like Poot and Bodie. Maybe the game just isn’t for him anymore. But what options does he have? He made the call because he needed money to get by. Can he leave the game and start fresh?

And more bits and pieces...

That guy with Poot and Bodie at the beginning looked a hell of a lot like Wallace. It made me do a double take. The familiar patterns really do repeat …

Seeing Carver and Herc working the Western District Way --- “You do not get to win, shitbird! We do!” --- has a troubling resonance given all that’s up in the world today.

There’s Jamie Hector as Marlo, crossing paths with Bubbs and Johnny! I didn’t remember meeting him this soon.

How out-of-date is that police database?! It’s been at least several months since D’Angelo died, given all the other chatter about how long they’d had the wire on Prop Joe’s crew, but the system listed his “current status” as incarcerated at Jessup. Is Jimmy planning to go meet with him? That’ll be an unpleasant surprise.

The Upshot

4 out of 4 Painful Meetings with Unpleasant People

3 comments:

Billie Doux said...

Woo hoo! The Wire is back!

Anonymous said...

Seconded! I love these Wire write-ups, and have missed them. Maybe in the New Year, I can do a re-watch to refresh my memories, and see if I have anything to add to Ben and Jess' excellent commentary.

-dac

ChrisB said...

Interesting take on the "the more things change" aspect of this episode. In fact, the first time through this series, I actually stopped watching for a while because I thought this season was going to be a retread of the first.

I don't envy you having to sit through a meeting like that, Ben. I've never understood the value of making people feel small, so I'm guessing I wouldn't last long in the Baltimore PD.

As always, I'm so glad you two are doing these reviews. They're the perfect excuse to re-watch and they always make me look at the story in a different way. Fantastic start.