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The Wire: Collateral Damage

"You’re not the run-of-the-mill kind of asshole, are you, Jimmy? You're a special kind of asshole." –Bunk

McNulty continues to screw with Baltimore homicide. This creates a very interesting dynamic with Lester and Bunk. They respect his efforts for the pure display of assholery it represents (ass-holedness, whatever, he’s being a huge jerk).

McNulty continues to indulge his ire and one sees something that David Simon has said about his police characters, that they are often engaged in intellectual exercise for their own reasons rather than to fight crime. McNulty is not trying to solve this case because he cares about the victims at all. He sees an opportunity for a nice big pile of payback for Rawls and Jay Landsman. It’s a bit reminiscent of when he decided to push for the Barksdale investigation in season one, sometimes he just cannot keep himself from doing the right thing for all the wrong reasons.

Speaking of the wrong reasons, by the end of the episode we have Valchek and his new unit to investigate what Sobotka and his union local are up to down on the docks. But again it is not the 14 dead women that get the union in trouble; it is a petty feud over a stained glass window at the church. This is an interesting change from the police role in season 1. In Southeast, the police are a part of the community in a way that they weren’t last season in west Baltimore, but so far that just translates to personal conflicts spinning out into police activity rather than any closer relationships between the people and police.

So pretty much the only thing not driving the investigation is the murder of 14 innocent women. This point is driven home in the first scene by Officer Russell’s dismay at how little anyone seems to care about the victims of the crime.

Meanwhile, Frank and the stevedores are making bad deals with bad people. (Incidentally, 'stevedore' is a great old fashioned word, for a profession little seen anymore. Baltimore is great for this sort of thing and happens to be where my haberdasher lives). The deals they are making are with people who might be much worse than Frank and his guys think they are. This impression, that they are not really fully cognizant of the seriousness of their activities, is reinforced by the goofiness of their sending the police van around the world. Payback for Valchek, sure, but Stringer Bell would suggest that making yourself a target for fun is unwise. This is especially true when the Greek appears to be a big time bad guy and is part of an honest-to-god international criminal conspiracy. They are certainly as ruthless as anyone we have ever seen.

And speaking of ruthless (and apparently unconnected to the action at the docks), the Barksdales continue to fight their long battle to maintain position and organization. This week’s problems include a disaffected D’Angelo and a prison guard who (apparently to everyone’s surprise) cannot let go of the murder of his family member by Wee Bey. It will be interesting to see if these stories simply run parallel all season or show any signs of intersecting.

Bits and Pieces

A couple of nice details in this episode:

Detective Polk reappears as part of Valchek’s special detail. That guy is the eternal hump, selected whenever you want an effort to fail.

And Freamon dubs the Jane Does the "Deer family," a clever/sad turn of phrase that I missed twice until I got it.

All that said, let's get serious and take a quick tour of our new geography, both physical and social. The Polish-American community and the settings we have seen so far this year are some distance from the West Baltimore neighborhoods we have seen to date. The Polish community is associated with the neighborhoods of Canton, Fell's Point, Locust Point, and Highlandtown all of which lie near Baltimore’s Northwest, or outer, harbor (further confusing the geography, this is the Southeast portion of the city). For those of you who have visited Charm City (maybe watched the Orioles play at Camden Yards and had dinner by the inner harbor) this is the other harbor where real work is done and which is mostly invisible to those of us who don’t make a living on the Bay or through the ship-borne commerce that founded Baltimore. Physically Canton and Locust Point are out of the way and not likely to be somewhere you’d accidentally wander into (unless you miss the turn off for the cruise ship).


"They can chew you up, but they gotta spit you out." –McNulty

(this epigraph encapsulates McNulty’s ongoing effort to ensure Rawls in fact chokes on him, and comes at the end of a very entertaining conversation, much of which I quote right here)

Freamon: "You gotta do all 14 of them bad boys, one for every member of the deer family you gave to Cole."
McNulty: "Here's to Ray Cole, a fine detective and a goodly man."
Bunk: "Jimmy, the look on Jay Landsman's face. He nearly fucking cried."
Freamon: "And Rawls?! Rawls, I swear to God, the man stayed in his office all day. All afternoon. He just stayed there with the door closed."
McNulty: "Careful, you're giving me an erection."
Freamon: "C'mon now."
Bunk: "Motherfucker, you have outdone yourself this time. You ain't never coming back from this, you know that."

(of course, it’s less funny to Bunk when he gets stuck with the case)

Officer Russell: "You must know Jimmy McNulty?"
Bunk: "Yeah, he's dead to us."

(and as I noted above, the motivations are not what one would term noble)

McNulty: "Case needs real murder police."
Frazier: "You don't give a shit, just wanna fuck Rawls, don't you?"
McNulty: "Absolutely. What can you give me?"

(but the results are impressive)

Rawls: "This is bullshit."
State Police Colonel: "Those computations were checked and confirmed by the medical examiner's office. They're accurate for time-of-death to within a three-hour window."
Rawls: "Yeah, so you say."
State Police Colonel: "Your own man in the city marine unit did the measurements on the container."
Rawls: "I happen to know my man in the marine unit intimately and he's, without a doubt, the most swollen asshole in American law enforcement."

(finally, Carver captures the general tenor of the whole episode in one response)

Frank Sobotka: "You work for a gaping asshole."
Sgt Carver: "More than one actually."

Jess says

This is going to sound weird, but I was actually glad when this episode came to a close in a very, very dark place. Because this was a strangely humorous hour, given that it started with 13 dead girls laid out in a port warehouse. It was rather amusing to watch all the shenanigans that went down regarding the dispensation of the murders. But at the same time, it was yet another sad commentary on how the victims don't really matter for themselves; they only matter in terms of statistics. Who has to eat the murders. Who can screw who over with having to work the murders. Beadie seems to be the only one that cares about finding out what happened to the girls and was dumbfounded when it turned out Jimmy was only helping her to screw with Rawls. "This is about fucking over your boss?"

It makes one wonder why Daniels would be so sad about deciding to turn in his papers. Why would he want to advance in this organization, when it seems like the only way to succeed is to be a self-interested jerk, and the only people who seem to be doing the right things are doing them “for the all wrong reasons,” as Ben says? The best thing for Daniels probably would be to quit. But the department would be so much better off with people like Daniels and Greggs on the front lines. I can't help but feel profoundly sad to see him throwing in the towel and Kima resigned to her desk. Or to see Prez on a new detail full of humps, and Carver writing parking tickets and conducting early morning sobriety checks. At least we got a slight silver lining, in that all the shucking and jiving with the dead girls ultimately led to two skilled detectives working the murders. (Bunk and Lester for the win!) Maybe some small measure of justice can be served here.

Speaking of justice, it was kind of nice to see the Barksdales struggling a bit to maintain their business, with Avon behind bars. It briefly felt like all that effort from last season wasn't completely for naught. Just briefly though. Because by the end of the hour, they had managed to line up a new connect for their product. They may be down, but not out. I don’t think I’d want to be Correctional Officer Tillman right now. Like Ben said, making yourself a target is unwise.

The Upshot

4 of 4 shipping containers full of police vans (good episode if a bit depressing in a bureaucratic sort of way)


  1. Just a couple more "Bits and Pieces"-style thoughts:

    Note that when Valchek visited the real estate developer’s office, the huge, swanky-looking model was for a development called ‘The Grainery.’ Last week, Sobotka’s union rival, Nat, was talking about how they should be pushing legislators to restore the Grain Pier for industrial use (versus Frank wanting to push for dredging the channel). A very subtle nod to the competing interests in what happens to the industrial areas.

    So D'Angelo is now doing drugs to cope with his sentence (or perhaps his complicity in the family business). Sigh. Another tragic parallel to Wallace. So, so sad.

    Ziggy seems like a fine illustration of Herc's view that white boys are seriously stupid drug dealers. I was sort of relieved when White Mike refused to give him another package. Of course, I'm sure Ziggy will find something else to screw up. That’s what Ziggy does best.

  2. I always find this episode fascinating. Watching the machinations and truly understanding how little anyone cares about these young, dead girls is sobering. The police are so often portrayed as tireless defenders of the innocent. Here, they are just the opposite.

    I love the scene where Jimmy and Bunk are picking crabs. There is an art to picking a crab, which both of them seem to possess. Just another note of realism that works.

  3. As you all have already said, the thing about this episode is that absolutely no one cares about fourteen murdered women, except when it comes to whose problem it turns out to be. It's just so terribly sad. And yet, this episode really is quite funny. And finally, ghastly.

    What ChrisB said about the crabs. :) My grandfather lived on a tiny island in Maryland when I was growing up, and I remember all of us sitting around his kitchen table eating crabs just like that. I'd forgotten. That scene brought it back to me.


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