by Ben P. Duck
All due respect, when it's your ass its always personal. This phrase defines the episode and might itself be defined as “what one says immediately before disrespecting someone who it would be foolish to disrespect.”
And there are plenty of opportunities to cautiously question the common sense of those who react badly to being questioned. We actually first heard the phrase used in the previous episode when Burrell says it to the Mayor regarding the murder rate, and the sense of it as used in that conversation pervades this episode. Here we open the episode with Shamrock, one of the Barksdale lieutenants using it with Omar as he robs him. Those same lieutenants later try to explain the importance of doing something about Omar to Stringer. Finally, Burrell gets to repeat his objections to unreasonable expectations to another member of Baltimore City’s government.
Why all this questioning? I think we begin to see change emerging from many of those same folks, mentioned in the last review, who were feeling stuck in a loop that never changes. Carcetti may be absurdly ambitious but he also understands that changing the crime equation in Baltimore is critical. In Burrell’s hand this leads to the intensification of the ill-conceived ComStat approach to crime. Its not clear if he is forcing this change for change’s sake or to cover his own rear end, but his approach is new. Stringer’s guys are right (if ill-advisedly bold) to question Omar about why he would want to upset the applecart of the quiet and efficient running of their drug trade. They are right again to say to Stringer that this is still a game where violence matters and is a key to respect. The whole episode builds into an exploration of the forces that want change and those that oppose it, the reasons to make changes and the reason change does not happen.
Although he doesn’t say it to Avon, Stringer is giving all due respect to him as well when he insists on his business-like approach to taking over corners now that the Towers are down. McNulty doesn’t say it but the sentiment is there when he does not care if there are no bodies falling around Stringer as he knows the guy is still the one that got away. And, of course, Omar continues to play his own game. The single-mindedness of these players (among others) promises that change could happen, if perhaps not quite in the direction they are planning for.
A few new characters this season who I haven’t talked much about are worth considering around this theme of change or lack thereof. Cutty is a one-time enforcer for the Barksdales who did a lot of time and is now out of prison. He obviously would like to stay on the straight and narrow, but there is not much to recommend it. How long is he willing to be a day laborer? Marlo is a competitor for the corners that the Barksdales want, and unlike most he isn’t interested in playing ball (golf yes, ball no). He is not sure he can win a fight, but is not simply going to roll over either. How this plays out could also impact the ability of Stringer Bell to be all about business and not violence. Finally, Bunny Colvin seems to have reached a bit of a breaking point regarding where the “war on drugs” can lead. Simply put, police business as usual is not solving the problem of violence or drugs. What the “paper bag” will be isn’t clear at all as the episode draws to a close.
Bits and Pieces
The opening dialogue mention the Poe House, or Edgar Allan Poe House, which is located in West Baltimore. Poe is one of Baltimore’s most famous residents and the whole discussion is one that emphasizes both how the city has changed and what it still has in common with all those Baltimore’s of the past. It has rapidly evolved to be almost unrecognizable from generation to generation, but has retained the character of a place where stories of dark deeds and violent people are easily set and inspired. In fact the Poe House was subject to tales of murder only in the last few years as recounted here.
The bad news is that location matters and the Poe House had been closed to the public for a number of years. But luckily, if you want to come visit, it re-opened in 2013, although only on weekends and I would stick with your GPS instead of asking for directions.
“There's never been a paper bag...” —Colvin
(The episode’s epigraph focuses attention on the idea that permanent problems may not be solvable in their entirety but may need an accommodation that acknowledges the reality as it exists on the streets…we’ll see how that goes)
(not that it is all that clear what he was talking about)
Herc: And that shit with the bag? What the fuck is that?
(Stringer would get it)
Stringer: But it's them bodies that got you in here. If we can do this without the bodies, we should. You know what I mean? Especially now we light on muscle.
(The Poe house discussion is worth repeating)
Barksdale man: Yeah, so we out on Carrollton, this ol' white motherfucker and his wife roll up, he's like, "young man, you know where the Poe House is?" I'm like, "Unc, you kiddin' me? Look around, take your pick." So, the old man, he's like, "the Poe House. The Edward Allen Poe House … I'm like, "I don't know no Edward Allen Poe, the man look at me all sad and shit like I let him down.
(as is Valchek's grasp of Burrell's situation)
Valchek: Make nice or invest heavily in petroleum jelly?
Carcetti: Hey, his ass, his choice.
(not that any of these explanations would be likely to surprise Omar and his response to an “all due respect” is the best of the lot)
Omar: Do tell
So, more baby steps delving into this season’s “change” theme, with lots of characters beginning to explore their options, as they attempt to adapt to or influence potential changes.
Colvin is ready to try a new approach to policing drugs, inspired by an old approach to contraband substances. Burrell is slowly beginning to open up to an alliance with Carcetti, all the while wondering if it’s going to bite him in the ass down the line. Stringer keeps trying to spread his cooperative business approach, but now he’s bumping up against Marlo, who seems determined to hold fast to Avon’s territory-based approach to the game. After his misadventures in the game last week, Cutty tries out an honest day’s work and discovers that things in the legit world aren’t quite how he remembered them either. Rhonda pointedly steers clear of past mistakes (Jimmy), as she and Daniels explore new territory together. And Kima decides to run away from the changes forced on her by Cheryl by pulling a McNulty.
All of which brings up a host of interesting thematic questions for the season. Can you truly change the system when too many folks benefit from the existing system? How do you bring those invested in the old way of doing things around to your way of thinking? What happens when not everyone is ready for change? Can you force change on people and hope they adapt? Or are you dooming yourself to failure from the jump? Does change only work when all concerned parties are on board?
And more bits and pieces...
Despite Stringer’s best efforts, Omar is back doing what he does best. And McNulty senses foul play in D’Angelo’s “suicide.” You may have come around to the non-violent approach a little too late, Mr. Bell. Your former violent choices may catch up with you yet.
Marlo may represent a middle ground between the Stringer approach and the Avon approach. He wants to stake out and protect his territory, but he’s more thoughtful and reserved in how he accomplishes these ends. He didn’t let his people go after Bodie’s crew. Instead, he waited and kept things calm and measured. The threat of violence was implied, of course, but he doesn’t seem as quick to go that route as Avon. Perhaps because, as Ben notes, he’s not sure he can win. Or perhaps it’s that he recognizes the violence is what brings in the cops.
The cop-slinger accidental meet up at the movie theater had me in stitches. It perfectly channeled those old Looney Tunes sketches with Sam Sheepdog and Ralph E. Wolf. Enemies while on the clock, but punching out at the end of the day. See you boys tomorrow! Too funny.
On the other hand, the “take down” of Cheese and his crew was really painful to watch. Like witnessing a car crash in slow motion. Oy.
3 out of 4 Clever Schemes that might not work out