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The Wire: The Wire

"This is the worst case of suicide I've ever seen."

The tension and risk are building by this point in the season. A lot has been done and seems to be building up to consequential action, but first a thought on the show in a broader sense.

The epigraph, that all the pieces matter, is as much directed to us as to any of the characters. It points out that David Simon, the show’s creator, expects nearly as much effort from the viewer as the police or the drug dealers about whom he is writing. We have to pay attention as if we are seeing this as participants and without all the crutches of traditional TV in the forms of flashbacks and long expository summations of past action (although they have no problem with lengthy pedantic exposition of the central themes). This is not uncommon now, but it was an innovative and challenging format a decade ago. This episode, named as it is, is Simon making that point to the viewer.

Speaking of listening closely, D'Angelo’s continuing discussion of “the Game” is a great example. If some shows display heteroglossia (where multiple voices taken together provide the meaning beneath the narrative) among characters (Josie makes the point writing about Game of Thrones), it’s amazing the degree to which this one character does so all on his own. He wants the game to be played without violence, he quickly justifies violence as part of it, he bends the rules, he defends the rules, and provides a one-man discussion of whether it is a game at all. One could watch any one episode and think you know this character but if you watch more than one you will find yourself at a loss to nail him down.

Similarly, Bubbles and Johnny’s heist of copper pipe is remarkably harmless and light-hearted for a show about the serious consequences of the game. It is downright fun in fact, and I felt guilty for feeling so as I watched these characters making enough money to once again get high. Even Johnny’s arrest is more amusing than one would expect. What we are to take away from this is not at all clear.

We continue to have layers revealed in the detail as well. Prez, as it turns out, is not as utterly stupid and useless as everyone believed. He had already revealed a talent for decoding in the pager traffic and we see him quickly learning, under Freamon’s direction, how to use those skills to maximize the results of the phone taps. Two “useless humps” when given the opportunity performing beyond expectations. Of course it would be a lot lower quality show if we just took this as a theme, as Polk demonstrates when he would rather quit than take advantage of his chance for redemption. We are being shown characters who each are uniquely drawn and who feel entirely real.

It’s in this episode that the police finally begin to understand exactly what is going on with the Barksdale organization. Unfortunately, it is also in this episode that all of the drag created by the bureaucracy in the police department begins to seriously impede the hope of a successful conclusion. Everyone in this episode is after someone else and everyone is moving toward a finish. Rawls is now determined to get McNulty for his failure to respect the chain of command. Avon and his enforcers continue to pursue Omar. The detail is following the Barksdale men. D’Angelo is pursuing the snitch in his crew. And as the episode ends, one senses that Omar may be after someone as well.

Bits and Pieces

This week in poor parenting:

The opening scene with Wallace getting a whole house full of kids out the door to school seemed like it was designed to particularly incense the sort of folk who are likely to subscribe to HBO. I particularly was struck by the lunch of a juice box and bag of chips, which ran short before everyone got one.

And speaking of bad parenting, McNulty taking the kids to the morgue with Omar. Not cool, man, not cool at all. I begin to suspect McNulty may not be a great parent.


[opening title card]: "... and all the pieces matter." – Freamon

Freamon: "We are building something here, detective, building it from scratch, all the pieces matter, got it."
(Did you all get that, we are building a setting, a show and a narrative (and a case) one piece at a time)

McNulty: "What the fuck can I tell him?"
Landsman: "Whatever the man wants to hear Jimmy, whatever he wants to hear."

Daniels: "The murder warrant's on hold. The deputy gave us another month. Also, whoever that was you brought in here today gave himself up as an eyewitness in the Gant murder."
McNulty: "Who, Omar?"
Daniels: "And Greggs said to tell you she'd write it up in the morning."
McNulty: "Lieutenant – thanks."
[McNulty leaves]
Freamon: "It cost you?"

(These last couple of quotes give you a sense how much trouble McNulty is getting himself and others into with Major Rawls)

Officer Brown: "This is the worst case of suicide I've ever seen."

(this quote, along with the lack of a forensics team, captures just how little anyone cares about Brandon’s death)

McNulty: "Jesus, they must have killed that kid four or five times."

Kima: "… and you ain't afraid to go into court downtown and testify against one of Barksdale's people?"

Omar: "Omar don't scare."

D’Angelo: "All that shit is in the game."

2 out of 4 thematic 2x4’s to the forehead.


  1. You focused on this week's epigraph, Ben, but this whole episode, I kept thinking back on last week's "a little slow, a little late." The Detail was just a little too slow to get the murder with the wire, and Santangelo was a little too slow to catch Avon's pit visit.

    The thing in this episode that really stood out for me were the parallels drawn between D'Angelo and Wallace. In addition to having the two characters interact more, and the sequences we see with them starting off their days, I was particularly affected by how Wallace's reaction to seeing Brandon's body mirrored D's reaction to seeing Gant's. They way they were completely horrified to recognize what their actions and choices had wrought, and then just walked away alone in shock. And then Wallace immediately grabbed onto D's new "why can't we just sell the shit without dropping the bodies" attitude. He's clearly having a lot more trouble shaking things off though. I really loved the various talks between them this week, especially when D leveled with Wallace about Cass and her partner. "What you think they gonna do, I tell them?" It was interesting to see that both D and Wallace are protectors in their own way.

    Other notables: It was great to see Daniels stepping up, despite McNulty's concerns about him. Sadly, McNulty only focuses on his own interests and doesn't even bother to think about what it cost Daniels to step up. Good old, self-centered Jimmy McNulty. (Definitely not a candidate for "father of the year," as you say.) At least Freamon recognized the cost.

    Avon's boys did lay out Brandon like a deer on the hood of a car, just like he said he wanted them to do to Omar a few episodes ago.

    This was the first appearance of Det. Ed Norris, played by actual Baltimore Police Commissioner Edward Norris. (He was the white guy in the pair that caught Brandon's case.)

    (Side note: I saw the new Walking Dead trailer coming out of Comic Con this weekend, and was sort of blown away by how Lawrence Gilliard Jr. seems to have changed hardly at all in the last 10 years. I expected him to look older.)

  2. McNulty is a bad father for taking his kids to the morgue, yes. I'll always remember Omar's heart-wrenching breakdown over Brandon's body at the morgue. Others might not care that Brandon died..but he does. And revenge will be sought.

  3. What struck me this time through was the juxtaposition of Wallace getting all those kids ready for school with D'Angelo. Wallace and all the kids he cares for are living in a squat with stolen electricity, so few clothes Wallace sleeps in what he will wear for the day, not enough food. Contrast this with D'Angelo choosing among all his new outfits, beautiful apartment and a beautiful woman he can insult without fear of consequence (at least, not yet).

    As Jess points out, however, there are similarities between the two. They each have more compassion and they probably care too much about the people around them. Wallace's being so upset over the dead body affected me a lot this time through.

    McNulty is an interesting character. Professionally, he is passionate about his job and he wants to do the right thing. His fatal flaw, however, is his mouth. He can't play the game and he can't allow himself to see any other point of view. Personally, he is a disaster. His wife has left him because he sleeps around; he doesn't really know how to care for his kids. I do like the fact that he thanks Daniels. His is aware on some level what the man has done for the group.


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