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The Wire: Backwash

"I'm also white. Not 'hang-on-the-corner, don't-give-a-fuck white,' but 'Locust Point I.B.S. Local 47 white.' I don't work without no fuckin' contract..." –Nick

As a kid growing up quite a long way from the ocean, backwash had one meaning. It was that nasty mixture of spit at the bottom of a Coke. It was viewed as essentially the unavoidable result of drinking from a can. At the ocean, it’s the outward flow of the water from the coast revealing the flotsam and jetsam left behind. I have also found that it is sometimes used as a synonym for an aftermath generally. I think all three definitions have relevance here, as we see the results of so many of the actions that have gone before and the inevitable consequences of the actions the characters are currently taking.

First, the bitter dregs (and aftermath, I suppose) following the murder of D’Angelo. The funeral, Brianna’s reaction, Stringer’s warning to his D.C. connection and of course the opening scene in the florist's are all part of it, as we see the impact on both the Barksdale organization and the Barksdale family. It’s really striking that this reaction is as strong as it is considering how many members of the organization have died without further mention. The contrast with Wallace’s death is important. He may have been weak but he was still family, and it clearly does mean something here. I was also left wondering about just how hard Avon is pondering the "suicide," he is so shrewd in most situations and despite being exasperated with Dee, couldn’t order his death. Did Stringer take care of something Avon wanted, but could never ask for, and will the implicit knowledge of this start to drive a wedge between the two of them? Add to that Proposition Joe and Stringer talking deals, and it just adds to the things that Avon might need to do but desperately does not want to do.

Then there are the things which are revealed. Let’s start with the quote I use to lead this article. It embodies Nick’s pride in being something other than the drug dealing black man that he sees on the corners. Only, he has become the drug dealing white man. He is still trying to set himself apart through his "Locust Point I.B.S. Local 47" white-ness.

Daniels is revealed (again) as an idealist, not ruthless enough by half for Baltimore P.D. He plays it smart for much of the episode, even impressing Landsman and Rawls, but he just cannot keep himself from doing the right thing. It's quite an evolution for the character we met a season and a half ago, a bureaucrat and quite probably a dirty cop.

The water rolls out and the shape of what’s been going on down at the docks also starts to get clear. In fact the whole scam is dissected by the unit with really pretty remarkable ease given its sophistication. Freamon and Beadie figure out the cargo container scam and how to watch it remotely. Prez and Greggs have the human trafficking and prostitution pretty much figured out as well. Enough has been revealed to let the Detail start listening to phone calls again, but if we learned anything in season one its that there is a long way to go from knowing what is happening to actually being able to stop it.

In the pitch of the future of cargo handling, Frank can see the handwriting on the wall (am I mixing metaphors now?) in the continuing and accelerating marginalization of his union and their work. If things continue, it will just be him and a lot of automation left. Of course given what happens to New Charles is that truly the worst result.

And lastly, it doesn’t look like McNulty’s marriage is going to make a quick comeback. The apparent reconciliation is revealed to be something a lot less when Elena is not ready to just take McNulty back.

A lot is revealed to us and to our characters in this episode and we are clearly preparing to have people act on that information.

Bits and Pieces

On Frank’s dartboard is a photo of the late loathed Robert Irsay, the owner of the Baltimore Colts, who in 1984, stole the team (in the dead of night) from Baltimore and spirited it off to somewhere in flyover country. But nobody here is still bitter about it.

The strip club that Kima and Prez are staking out is the Gentleman’s Gold Club on Pulaski Highway, my knowledge of which derives strictly from the fact that it shares a parking lot with Chaps Pit Beef (a story that I plan to stick to incidentally). This is a locale frequented by the Barksdale crew back in season one's "Lessons" and which figured as a plot point in Wee Bey’s confessions in "Sentencing." Clearly it’s a location that the producers and location scouts were fond of.


"Don't worry, kid. You're still on the clock." –Horseface

(this week’s epigraph did not work as well for me as some. I had a lot of trouble placing it in the broader context I got from the story, except to note that the work – both for the stevedores and the Barksdales – just keeps going regardless of who falls doing it)

(and speaking of which the lesson vis-a-vis Dee: We are sad, but he was weak)

Bodie: "Hung hisself. Over at the cut, man, strung himself up. Judge ran wild on his ass, gave him 20. I guess he couldn't handle all them years, you know? It's a weak-ass nigger when you think about it. But, ain't no reason to drag his name down no further, you know?"

Avon: "Man, fuck him. He knew when he hung himself how we was gonna carry it. He knew when he did that that we was gonna be in a moment, like this, right now. He knew that. That nigga did that shit to hurt me, man. But, you know, man, Dee was just fuckin' weak."

Wee Bey: "Yo, man, it's sad what happened. That shit is sad, it is. But the boy almost rolled on you that one time. And you know, he get to thinkin' he can't do the years in here, he might've could've rolled again, who knows? I'm just sayin', it might've been for the best, you know?"

(And regarding Daniels and doing the work, the lesson here: only a fool can actually do this work)

Landsman: "If Daniels has a detail set up already, maybe he takes the murders, too."
Bunk: "He ain't no fool, Jay."

Daniels: "I'm trying to dig myself out of the basement with something simple and clean here. Drug arrests, maybe a prostitution bust if I get lucky and I'm out from under with Burrell. Sorry, Colonel. You keep the murders and my ass stays covered."
Rawls: "Smarter than he looks."

Daniels: "It isn't about casework, I know that. Just today, Rawls calls me up to C.I.D. Asks me to take his homicides from the dead girls in that shipping container. I told him, no shot. That case is a loser. And if I'm looking out for number one, I'm gonna bring Burrell exactly what he asked for, and exactly what he needs to make Stan Valchek go away. No more, no less. I'm playing their game this time."

Daniels: "I got your murders. But what I need from you, I get. No bullshit, no arguments."
Rawls: "No arguments."

(and a couple of good ones)

Bunk: "We need to bring in the lieutenant, his detail, and all the manpower and toys that go with it. And Daniels listens when you talk. You got the smell of wisdom on you, brother. Now look, we all got roles to play."
Freamon: "What's your role?"
Bunk: "I'm just a humble motherfucker with a big-ass dick."
Freamon: "You give yourself too much credit."
Bunk: "Okay, then. I ain't all that humble."

(uh oh, this doesn’t bode well for Ziggy’s future)

Ziggy: "I swear to God. If he plays that goddamn song one more time, I'ma clock his ass good."
Shaved Head Docker: "You can take him, Zig."
Docker: "He just looks big."
Shaved Head Docker: "Who the fuck is he, huh? All pussy."
Docker: "You're a legend of the docks, Zig. A fuckin' legend."
Ziggy: "You think I can take him?"
Shaved Head Docker: "You can take him."

(finally, the full quote I led this review with, Nick is revealed to himself but he is to the viewers)

Nick: "Hey, Frog. Come here. No, seriously. Come here. First of all, and I don't know how to tell you this without hurting you deeply, first of all, you happen to be white. I'm talkin' 'raised on Rapolla Street white,' where your mama used to drag you down to St. Casimir's just like all the other little pisspants on the block. Second, I'm also white. Not 'hang-on-the-corner, don't-give-a-fuck white,' but 'Locust Point I.B.S. Local 47 white.' I don't work without no fuckin' contract, and I don't stand around listenin' to horseshit excuses like my cousin Ziggy, who, by the way, is still owed money by you and all your down, street-wise whiggers."

Jess Says

Aftermath, indeed. In the wake of last week's closing of old business, it's now time for next steps. Interestingly, many of these "next steps" seem to involve some of our players striking out on their own. Nick is making moves to kick off his drug dealing operation, without the assistance of his incompetent cousin (at least he's mixing in some smart choices with his increasingly stupid ones). Herc and Carver are taking on the “modern urban crime environment” with their own toys and their trumped up confidential informant, Fuzzy Dunlap. "Isn't technology the fucking bomb?" (Frank Sobotka might disagree.) And Daniels finally decides to risk being left out on his own (professionally and personally), by agreeing to take on the fourteen murders.

All of which feels like foreshadowing for Stringer Bell potentially stepping out on his own. Stringer seems to have completely succeeded with his D'Angelo play. He took out a perceived threat, and has everyone blaming themselves or someone else. Ben suggested that maybe Avon did want Dee taken out, but just couldn’t bring himself to ask for it. That Stringer’s actions aren’t necessarily him acting out of turn. I lean more towards the other interpretation --- that Avon didn’t want this, didn’t even subconsciously see the need for it, and will be none too pleased if he learns Stringer went behind his back (forcing him to carry the anger, guilt, and pain of Dee’s perceived suicide).

Similarly, I don’t think he remotely recognizes the deal with Prop Joe as a viable, if distasteful, option, or that he subconsciously wants Stringer to do the dirty work for him. It’s all about territory and reputation for Avon. Giving Joe a piece of his hard-fought territory would be a show of weakness, and he’d rather take the hit on crappy product for awhile, than give up the territory and the “appearance” of strength. Stringer clearly sees things differently, and now that he’s gained some confidence in following his own muse, it's probably just a matter of time before he tries it again.

The Upshot

2 of 4 beautiful gun-shaped flower arrangements


  1. Great and insightful review, as always.

    I tend to agree with Jess regarding Dee's murder. I think Stringer acted on his own and, with this one success under his belt, will now begin to step out on his own. His conversations with Avon have begun to feel much more perfunctory to me, more as though he is playing a role than actually consulting the man.

    I love the opening scene in the flower shop. The juxtaposition of the street kid and the working guy is brilliantly done. The flower shop owner is not naive; he knows who is customer is and he knows how to talk to him. Yet, his body language keeps him as removed as possible. Fantastic.

  2. Not much to add to an excellent review, but I kept thinking about the subtlety of Idris Elba's performance, probably because I'm such a fan of his. All through the funeral and grief scenes, as he is comforting the Barksdales and trying to act as if he is also feeling grief, I swear I can see Stringer Bell constantly aware of his own guilt while being careful not to let that guilt be seen. Maybe I'm projecting, but maybe Idris Elba really is that good.


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