The Wire: Homecoming

“And now all we got is bodies, and predatory motherfuckers like you.” -Bunk

This is an episode about what it means to home in several senses. It can be coming home to the Game, coming home to a purpose, or literally about home in the form of a row-house in Hamsterdam. It’s also about the disruption created when someone comes home and it upsets the balance that those left behind have established. Avon certainly manages this with Stringer and the Hamsterdam homeowner isn’t making Bunny Colvin’s life any easier.

Let’s start with the street, Avon has come home to the Game and he does not like what he finds. Marlo has grown up in the Game and never left. Cutty, who was a highly competent soldier, still has all the skills and knowledge but he just can’t come home again. As things unravel for Stringer’s “no bodies” approach to the drug trade, one has to stop and ask what it is that he failed to account for. Why is it that Marlo won’t play along, more critically why won’t Avon? What I think Stringer has missed is that the game was never really about money, or at least not money alone. It’s a public enactment of masculinity, the money is just proof of success, but winning the game is itself the point. Much has been written about the police on The Wire, particularly McNulty, being motivated by a desire to “win” and prove their intellectual capability. Less has been written about the criminal side, where those who are really successful criminal businessmen are the people no one can identify. The criminals gain respect from being known and running up a body count, but it does not help them run their criminal enterprise. Stringer is seeking position and respect outside that world, but Avon clearly still values the life in the game ahead of everything else.

It’s also worth a moment more to consider Cutty. Each season we have a tragic character (season 1 had Wallace, Season 2 had Ziggy), someone we can see is likely doomed from the first episode to an unhappy fate because they simply aren’t hard enough for the game. We will see where this episode’s actions take Cutty but history doesn’t suggest that his choice to leave the thug life behind will be rewarded. The game just isn’t played that way, but there is always hope.

And speaking of games and hope, Daniels is back “home” with his wife but only for political purposes, although clearly there is more going on than anyone wants to admit. Daniels needs to return to his role as the supportive husband, at least in public. This is likely to upset the new relationship he has with Pearlman (who incidentally can really pick the men).

Then there are the best laid plans of Bunny Colvin, one old lady and her Hamsterdam home continue to be a fly in the proverbial ointment. She is not as out of it by half as she initially appears to be as she forcefully makes the point that her home shouldn’t be the sacrifice for the Western District’s decision that the “drug war” is unwinnable. Bunny may be doing a lot of good, but the scene in her living room makes the point that the police have essentially turned over a chunk of Baltimore to the drug trade. From a crime and risk reduction perspective this is great, unless it’s your home at 1 Hamsterdam Circle.

The only person who really seems to be enjoying himself in all this is McNulty. The bastard loves to be right and shove it in everyone’s face, and everyone can now see he was about Stringer. He is ready to get back to what makes sense and that is pursuing the Barksdales (and really pissing off his boss in the process).

Finally, Bunk is bringing home to Omar what he really represents, not a robin hood of the streets but a predator who preys on other predators while making the streets less safe for everyone. His confrontation of Omar is an important scene because it had become very easy for us, the audience, to forget what it is Omar represents and how terrifying a figure he would be to ordinary citizens.

Bits and Pieces

Let’s talk murder, the bad news for Burrell is he is not going to make 275 murders in 2004. The year actually ended with 276 in the real world, which actually means the real mean streets of Baltimore were never quite as dangerous as those portrayed in The Wire. Like most American cities, murders peaked in the first years of the new century, going to 282 in 2007 but never to the routine 300 plus level that the Commissioner and Mayor have discussed. They have fallen since to the low 200’s, but lets be clear its still a tough and dangerous city.

Let’s talk politics, I can’t speak to how well they know the drug trade or police work, but Simon and company really know how Maryland (and especially Baltimore) politics lay out. Everyone knows everyone, and the wheeling and dealing is visible even to those who aren’t really in the know (like me). Lots more to come on the politics side of the season.


Just a gangster, I suppose. - Avon Barksdale

(This week’s epigraph, embodies the problem facing Stringer with Avon and Avon’s problem with finding a new way to be. He is just a gangster at a very basic level. It remains to be seen if Stringer will get to be just a businessman. Here are a couple more excerpts from the same conversation, starting with the statement in context)

Avon: Yeah, I ain't no suitman, businessman, like you. You know, I'm just a gangster, I suppose. And I want my corners.


Avon: I'm sayin' what the fuck?
Stringer: Take a deep breath, man. I mean take a long deep breath and know that if you call the shot, we at war we at war. I'm there like I always been. Thing about turf, man, it ain't like it was. I mean you ain't got to pay no price of buying no corners.
Avon: Since when do we buy corners? We take corners.
Stringer: Man, you gonna buy one way or another.

(As I said before, Colvin is also hearing about how people don’t want to play along with his new world either)

Hamsterdam resident: Officer, this is the only home I know. It's all I got. Now you say you have a program that can place me somewhere else. But you ain't got no program for what's outside my door?

(I said McNulty was the only one happy with the current turn of events, but Marlo is pretty pleased as well)

Vinson: He gonna have to come back at you. You know it ain't gonna stop at this.
Marlo: I don't want it to stop. Barksdale weak today. They ain't working with the ammunition I got.
Vinson: No doubt, you carryin' a full clip. But what you gonna do when you sittin' at the head of the table? Once you there, you got to hold it down.
Marlo: Sound like one of them good problems.
Vinson: Prisons and graveyards full of boys who wore the crown.
Marlo: Point is, they wore it. It's my turn to wear it now.

(Finally, there is Bunk’s confrontation of Omar, which I have quoted at full length as its one of those pivotal speechs we get on The Wire from time to time)

Omar: An' past that, you gonna have to call this one of them cost-of-doin'- business things you all police be talkin' about all the time. Ya feel me? No taxpayers. Shit, way y'all lookin' at things ain't no victim to even speak of.
Bunk: Bullshit, boy. No victim?! I just came from Tosha's people, remember? All this death, you don't think that ripples out? You don't even know what the fuck I'm talkin' about. I was a few years ahead of you at Emondson. But I know you remember the neighborhood, how it was. We had some bad boys for real. Wasn't about guns so much as knowin' what to do with your hands. Those boys could real rack it. My father had me on the straight. But like any young man I wanted to be hard, too. So I'd turn up at all the house parties where the tough boys hung. Shit, they knew I wasn't one of them. Them hardcases would come up to me and say: "go home, schoolboy, you don't belong here." Didn't realize at the time what they were doin' for me. As rough as that neighborhood could be we had us a community. Nobody, no victim, who didn't matter. And now all we got is bodies, and predatory motherfuckers like you. And out where that girl fell, I saw kids actin' like Omar callin' you by name. Glorifyin' your ass. Makes me sick, motherfucker, how far we done fell.

Jess Says

I’ve been thinking on this episode for several days now, and the moment I keep coming back to is the one in which Cutty finally bows out of the game. In an episode full of machinations and people talking past, around, or in subtly coded ways to each other, it was astonishingly refreshing to watch two people speak directly and honestly to each other about something deeply important. The maturity both men displayed --- Cutty, in his willingness to own his choice not to kill Fruit and to accept his limits; and Avon, in his willingness to let Cutty walk away obligation-free and to recognize the strength of Cutty’s decision --- just floored me.

Cutty: “The game ain’t in me no more. None of it.”
Avon: “You ain’t done shit else. What you gonna do?”
Cutty: “I don’t know. But it can’t be this.”
Slim Charles (sadly): “B, he was a man in his time, you know?”
Avon (thoughtfully): “He a man today. [pause] He a man.”

It was a quiet, nakedly honest, and incredibly powerful sequence --- especially in light of Ben’s point about the notion of masculinity on the streets being tied up in winning the game --- which left me feeling far more hopeful than all of Major Colvin’s and Stringer’s attempts to change the system. Perhaps because those efforts seem doomed to fail --- particularly with so many resistant parties in the mix. The community and the systems designed to protect them have become so fucked up --- “Makes me sick, motherfucker, how far we done fell” --- that it can be easy to see all the efforts to promote systemic change as shuffling around deck chairs on the Titanic. “The hardest part about being police is trying to make the job actually matter.” It’s damn depressing.

And yet, as I noted last week, the show isn’t an entirely depressing slog. Sometimes it can be quite funny. And sometimes it can be incredibly hopeful. Not necessarily about our institutions or society at large, but about the potential of individuals. The Wire believes individuals are capable of change. Individuals can make a difference on a small scale. One person willing to change themselves and reach out to another person for help can lead to great things. Not always, of course. Maybe not even most of the time. But amidst all the disheartening and gut-wrenching developments on this series, we do get these few fragile beacons of hope, which seem to shine all the more brightly because of their relative scarcity.

Yes, Cutty’s future is incredibly uncertain. Maybe he, too, is doomed to failure, like Wallace and Ziggy and even Bubbs the last time he tried to get clean. But, as Ben says, there is always hope. And in the context of this episode, watching Cutty realize and find the courage to say “I’m done with this,” and seeing Avon not only respect that choice but recognize the strength and dignity in it, I couldn’t help feeling like one of those small glimmers of light was sparking into existence.

The Upshot

3 out of 4 potential mayoral candidates (told you we’d get back to politics)

No comments: