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The Wire: Lessons

"I mean, I don't know nothing about this crazy nonsense." – Omar Little

This was Omar’s episode. Although not the source of all the hard-won wisdom in the episode, he certainly taught a variety of people the eponymous lessons. That said, there were plenty of others getting schooled or schooling others. It includes as its epigraph one of his lines that is probably the most overquoted in the whole series (naturally I quote it below).

Omar demonstrates to the police how much (and how little) they can expect anyone on the street to help them. He demonstrates to the street that no matter how powerful you think you are that a man with a gun in this circumstance can change the calculations. He shows both sides that the deals you make and your decisions lead to certain places. But even beyond Omar, this is an episode in which the narrative and thematic elements line up as perfectly as in any episode in the series as character after character is taught or teaches hard lessons.

Wallace tries to teach one of the kids a lesson in math creating a practical problem using drug dealing, and is once again taught about the brutality of the trade when his student replies that he gets the math right to avoid a beating. Speaking of beatings, Orlando takes a little roughing up just to remind him who he can trust and where he stands in the Barksdale organization. Stringer Bell starts off teaching his men (with a lot less smacking around) how to run a business, but we discover quickly that he is also learning the same lessons at the local community college. We see not just the individual lessons here but instead get a whole tour of the schoolhouse where those on the street are learning their trade and about the broader world.

McNulty is doing some teaching as well. He has taught his kids to carry out potentially dangerous surveillance (again, not great parenting, but still pretty impressive). Unfortunately, he seems to have also taught Bunk something about being his friend, and Bunk’s poor behavior seems to be a direct reaction to McNulty’s actions. McNulty, fun to watch but not fun to know.

Those who apparently have some power get a few lessons as well. Daniels finds out just how far his investigation can go with the detaining of Day-Day (the legislative aide, chauffeur and bag-man). It turns out that being obviously guilty of something is not sufficient when you are well-connected, we also begin to see that maybe things aren’t as simple as drugs and murder in Baltimore City. But then Deputy Burrell finds that he has limits to what he can do when he tries to close things down courtesy of Phelan. Of course, it remains to be seen if Phelan has the juice to get away with his actions with Burrell. A whole world of shadowy interests seem to be at play.

Bits and Pieces

Two things are becoming apparent as the season progresses. The makers of the show knew Baltimore and spend a lot of their time hungry. No better evidence need be presented than the trip by D’Angelo and his Barksdale compatriots to Chaps Pit Beef, which is located off of Pulaski Highway if you feel like dropping by. This place is a legend in Baltimore and seemingly always wins the “Best of” contests. It has also become a fixture on Food networks and shows. So it may seem like a strange place to find our west-side gangsters (and geographically it is a bit out of the way). This restaurant started out as a shack back in the 1980’s and didn’t even have electricity for the first few years (not unusual for a country road BBQ joint in East Texas, but something else here).

Here is what it looked like one hot summer afternoon:

Baltimore remains a very tough town and Chaps is across the street from a huge adult book store and shares a parking lot with a gentleman’s club. It’s still a dive but one of those dives where when you go for lunch you stand in line (out the door) with a bunch of lawyers and accountants in addition to bus drivers and people who could have easily been extras on the show.

Here is what I ate, medium-rare beef on a bun with tons of horseradish and onions, plus a half and half (iced tea and lemonade). And yes this whole bits and pieces was just an excuse to go to lunch (and it was sooo good).


Omar: “Come at the king, you best not miss.”

(over quoted sure, best epigraph of the season, probably. Here is the full quote, as Omar teaches a lesson to Wee Bey and Stinkum)

Omar: "Lesson here, Bey. Come at the king, you best not miss."

(and a few more lessons either provided by Omar or from his actions)

McNulty: "Lester, are we still cops?"
Freamon: "Technically, I suppose so."
McNulty: "Okay, I was just checking."

Avon: "So what you think, homes?"
Stringer: "I’m thinking this is the worst part of the game here, man. Best we do is break out even, right?"
Avon: "What?"
Stringer: "I’m saying, this shit got personal. Ain’t nothing else to it."
Avon: "So you talking about letting it slide."
Stringer: "For a time, maybe."

Omar: "Everybody want to believe the worst about Omar. But live and let live, you know?"
Greggs: "I don't see you letting them slide on Brandon."
Omar: "If I was going to come after certain people, I definitely wouldn't want to give y'all fine people any cause for concern. I mean, there are some rules here, right? No mistakes, no bystanders. No taxpayers getting caught up in the mix. I mean, you just get in close and you hit the right nigger."
Freamon: "And lose the gun afterward, that'd be a rule, too, I think."

Omar: "Look, man, I do what I can do to help y'all, but the game is out there, and it's either play or get played."

(And let’s not forget that there are others out there as well, some of them without pants)

McNulty: "Hey Bunk, I’ll give you that burning trace evidence makes sense, but what the fuck did you plan to wear home?"
Bunk: "Aw, shit, Hey Jimmy, you know something? You’re no good for people, man. I mean, damn. Everybody around you, Christ."

Carver: "You ain't going to study?"
Herc: "Sure I am."
Carver: (referring to the porn magazine he is holding) "Dude, it's a cop exam; your study aid would probably be more useful if you were trying to be a gynecologist."

Phelan: "Who’s your daddy now?"

4 out of 4 inappropriate parenting techniques (This is one of the best episodes of the season).


  1. One of the very first things I made note of in this episode was yet another fine example of McNulty's bad parenting (even if his kids do have some skills). It's unfortunate that the thing he'll probably take away from this experience is not that he almost lost his kids, but that his son managed to get the plate number for Stringer. In his mind, he probably didn't do anything wrong.

    Lots of good stuff in this one, as you note, Ben. I particularly love that "overused" quote from Omar.

    But again, the things that stood out most to me were related to D'Angelo. I can't believe he didn't realize that Orlando's New Orleans connect was something he should keep on the down low. I was shocked that he brought it up with Wee Bey and Stinkum. I didn't think he was that dim, but I guess we aren't lacking for evidence that this world isn't really for him. In this episode, we got his reaction to what happened to Chardene's coworker at the party. I loved the shot of him looking into the room in horror at the dead girl, and Wee Bey just looking tired and irritated on the couch. Such profoundly different reactions. And D's subsequent breakdown about all the dirt done in this game, and how sometimes he feels like he can't breathe, was telling. It's an interesting parallel to Bubbles, in that D clearly has a growing desire to get out of his current life, but he can't quite acknowledge it or act on it. He's too attached to the money and "the high," and he's probably not sure what else he would do. It's a life that's hard to escape.

    Looking forward to your next show-inspired lunch, Ben! :)

  2. I love the fact that you made the pilgrimage to Chaps. I am often struck by how Baltimore this show is. More than once, I have known exactly where they are shooting and smiled.

    I find this episode difficult to watch. Everyone is so unsettled, so unsure and so scared. I understand that life lessons can be hard, but I always get to the end of this hour feeling tense and shaky.

    The Bunk/McNulty friendship is a good example. McNulty is so wrapped up in himself -- oblivious to everything and everyone else, including his kids. Being his BFF would be nigh on impossible and I find it sad that Bunk tries to hide his pain in too much booze and a one night stand.


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