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The Wire: The Buys

D'Angelo: “The game ain’t gotta be played like that...”

The metaphor of “the game” runs deep through this whole episode and the season, indeed one wonders if that might not have been a more appropriate title. Specifically, we are led to think about the difference between the way the game (whether that is crime, police work, or chess) could be played and the way it actually is played. “The Buys” are reference to how it actually is played. The pawns are the pawns and the king does, in fact, stay the king, whether buying loyalty, favors or drugs. Most of the episode is about that reality and how it plays out for each of the characters.

Stringer and Omar give us various sides of how business is actually conducted on the street and why it’s done that way. Stringer instructs D’Angelo in the realities of bad drugs, which sell just as well and maybe better than good drugs. A quality product is not an issue when it is an incredibly addictive drug that people will sell their children to acquire. Omar adds to D’Angelo’s lessons by stealing what he has worked so hard to earn. The ease with which he and his crew are able to do this is contrasted with the raid by the police that even the hapless low rise crew is organized and smart enough to easily beat. Both serve as lessons to us on why it’s done this way, because you are preying on people in the most exploitative way and thus make yourself vulnerable to those who would prey on you. The police come in to take their share of the pie (in this case by claiming credit to stopping crime with no outlay of effort or resources) but D’Angelo’s efforts to tighten the operations in “the Pit” mean they net little or nothing. I sense that this disruption of the system will have consequences in the episodes to come.

Bubbles is a key figure in this episode. He provides the view from the bottom for the police and the viewers. The scene where he gives Sydnor a lesson not just in how to buy drugs but in what the experience of doing so will make you look like is particularly telling and a great example of the detail that this series brings to its subject. Far too much of the genre of cop and drug dealer drama ignores the reality of the addict, it’s too depressing and generally boring. Bubbles gives us a view into this world without engaging in pedantry or hand-wringing. We just see how it is.

Another pair worth considering are “the idealists,” although this overstates their good intentions by a considerable distance. McNulty actually wants to accomplish something in the police work. He wants to beat the big drug organization and prove it doesn’t have to be business as usual. D’Angelo, echoing McNulty from “The Detail,” wants to have the dealing without the violence and abuse. He doesn’t see why it can’t just be business. Neither is pure in their motivation but even as flawed, greedy (for money and success), and egocentric as they are, it puts them several layers of purity above those at the bottom.

And finally (but well worth mentioning), there is the inscrutable Freamon. Sent over from the pawn shop unit as another example of dead wood, he seems to wake up in this episode and demonstrate a deep understanding of the streets, maybe deeper than anyone else on the detail. He returns and immediately goes back to his work on the dollhouse furniture . Worth keeping an eye on that one.

Bits and Pieces

When Shardene tells D’Angelo that she’s from Turner Station down past Dundalk and he replies “County is the country” this is a quick Baltimore geography lesson, both real and perceived. Baltimore is divided into Baltimore City and the surrounding rings of suburbs in Baltimore County. To people living in Maryland these things might just as well be on two different planets in terms of quality of life, crime and outlook. The irony here is that Turner Station and Dundalk are in the very first ring of suburbs and are as much a part of the city as any Baltimore City neighborhood. This is part of D’Angelo’s showing off as much as is his talk about being Avon’s lieutenant.


"The king stay the king."
(This episode’s epigraph is the best so far, the whole episode is about exactly why it is that the king stay the king)

(Some select quotes from the long discussion about chess which really captures the episode’s best qualities)

D'Angelo: "This the kingpin, a'ight? And he the man... he move one space any direction he damn choose, 'cause he's the king. Like this, this, this, a'ight? But he ain't got no hustle. But the rest of these motherfuckers on the team, they got his back. And they run so deep, he really ain't gotta do shit."

D'Angelo: "This the queen. She smart, she fast. She move any way she want, as far as she want. And she is the go-get-shit-done piece."
Wallace: "Remind me of Stringer."

D'Angelo: "Nah, yo, it ain't like that. Look, the pawns, man, in the game, they get capped quick. They be out the game early."
Bodie: "Unless they some smart-ass pawns."

(And continuing the game metaphor but about the drug business)

D'Angelo: "The game ain’t gotta be played like that yo, you can’t tell me that this shit can’t get done without people beatin’ on each other, killing each other, doing each other like dogs. Without all that you get 5-0 down here on our backs every 5 minutes. You think 5-0 care about niggers getting high, man, 5-0 be down here about the bodies."

A good episode which sticks to the formula of big explanatory discussions interspersed with terse and often lightly explained activity.

3 out of 4 exquisitely crafted doll house vanities.


  1. Ah, the episode with the chess metaphors..really well done. Omar merits an essay or two on his own as well. This was when the show really hooked me. Great review.

  2. I love that chess scene. And the scene where Bubbs assesses Sydnor's undercover duds.

    D'Angelo is evolving (or revealing himself) in interesting ways. His distress at what happened to Mr. Gant, his reaction to the beating the Pit crew put on Johnny, and the way he really took McNulty's line about the way they do business to heart seems in stark contrast to the young man who beat a murder rap. He likes the perks of the game, but his heart and his head certainly aren't in it the way Bodie's are. Bodie seems to understand the way the game works a good bit better than D, even if he doesn't know how to play chess.

  3. A recurrent theme we see with D and McNulty is that they seem to think to much about what they are doing. It is not something that generally helps them either personally or professionally but it makes things a lot more interesting for us.

    Bodie does not have this problem (at least at this point), he never gets out of himself and ponders the big picture. This lets him play his role without reservation, which can take one far in any organization.

  4. In lesser hands, the chess metaphor would have been far too much on the nose. Here, it works. And, it is another wonderful insight into D'Angelo's character. He is a good teacher. He takes something that is relatively complex (the game of chess) and puts it in terms that the people who are learning will understand. There are so many levels at play in that scene -- one of the great ones in the first season. Indeed, in all five.


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