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The Wire: Hard Cases

"Homicide? Who got killed?" –Frank Sobotka

I love the episodes with titles like this one, which refer to the people, the city and the cases all in one clever phrase. We are indeed dealing with hard cases here. The murders for which there are no witnesses, no evidence, no apparent connections and a wall of silence from the only place that might shed even a little light on the whole thing. We have the Sobotka investigation, a trumped up nothing to satisfy a feud assigned to a Lieutenant with no future. Then we have the people, stubborn and determined to do what they want like Rawls and Valchek and Frank Sobotka and Avon Barksdale, and desperate or completely lost like Nick and McNulty (I will leave out terminally stupid like Ziggy), or simply unable to overcome their own natures like Daniels, Greggs and D’Angelo. Even the City itself seems to be a hard case, without solutions but just too damn tough to stop and give up.

Let’s start with Daniels. We begin to see how the series may achieve some kind of ongoing structure in the possibility of the creation of a devoted major crimes unit. I did find the situation was a little contrived, a little more "TV" than we typically see on The Wire, but honestly sometimes you have to do these things to keep a plot going and it’s only a small contrivance. Rawls makes it really clear to Daniels though (and demonstrates what a hard case he is) that this isn’t an ordinary TV show when he keeps McNulty out on the boat, things aren’t just going to drop into place to create some kind of super-unit.

And Rawls isn’t done. He makes it really clear that the actual hard case, the dead Jane Does, will be solved or he will let Bunk and Lester take the fall for it. They were forced to take it from Cole, have no hope of solving it and still appear doomed to take the hit for the whole thing. Unfortunately the efforts to shake the stevedores run into a brick wall with "Horseface" Pakusa (another hard case), who understands exactly what they can and cannot do to him. The only crack in the tough guys at the dock comes at the end, when Bunk confronts Frank with the fact that the girls were murdered. You can see in Frank’s face that it’s not a fear of the police that is sickening him but a realization that he is in part responsible for those deaths. This is an important moment because the characters who are insufficiently ruthless have not fared very well on The Wire, where the harder the case the better you are likely to do (at least so far).

A couple of other folks worth mentioning, both less hard cases than the rest and perhaps doomed to suffer for that. Beadie Russell, not on first glance much of a hard case, has some potential to become one, is a single mom interested in a regular paycheck (again Simon showing that people will do what they have to do). And Bubbles is back, and looking worse than ever. Between him and Johnny, they are our reminder that all the drug talk has actual victims.

Finally, there is Avon. We see his strategy to get out of prison begin to come into focus. The fact that he only got seven years to begin with was a terrible compromise as it was, but he quite correctly realizes that he can further nibble away at the edges of this sentence and dispose of an irritant in the form of Tilghman. It seems a revelation to Dee that he would arrange to kill a number of addicts to buy himself a couple of years off his sentence, but it certainly does not surprise viewers by this point.

Bits and Pieces

There is a fascinating bit of sociology in the warnings the dock workers sent out when the police arrived. Loud whistles (audible throughout the detectives’ visit) marked their presence. This is obviously paralleled by the cries of "5-0!" that we heard in west Baltimore last season. Close communities using signals to alert each other to the presence of police is apparently a pretty common thing, but I was fascinated that I was utterly unable to turn up anything like a list of the specific practices (in an age of Google this is an increasingly uncommon thing). I did find lots of complaints by police that it went on, and this is a great example of the kind of knowledge that series creator Simon brings from his background as a crime reporter.

A special award to Cheryl and Marla for the best silent anger in a dinner scene ever. I actually squirmed in sympathy.


"If I hear the music, I'm gonna dance." –Greggs

(this episode’s epigraph was fun because of the context, which is basically Daniels and Greggs expressing more fear of their wives than they do of anyone on the street. Here is the longer conversation)

Greggs: "Shit, Lieutenant, I promised."
Daniels: "You think my little woman's gonna give a great big cheer when she hears about it? I was out the damn door."
Greggs: "You don't know Cheryl."
Daniels: "You don't know Marla. Look, if you want, I could use you inside like we did Prez last year."
Greggs: "If I hear the music, I'm gonna dance. I'll tell your wife if you tell mine."

(and now a series of tough guy quotes)

Daniels: "I choose my own people. Fuck me once, shame on you. Fuck me twice."

(Rawls' love for McNulty shines through)

Rawls: "I got no problem with anyone on your list. Except McNulty. No McNulty. Nothing that even resembles the sonofabitch."
Daniels: "That bad, huh?"
Rawls: "He quits or he drowns. That's the only two things get him off the fucking boat. So help me God."

(describing the Valchek/Sobotka feud)

Rawls: "Two fucking Polacks pissing on each other's leg."

(and the conversation that shakes Frank up)

Sobotka: "Homicide? Who got killed?"
Bunk: "Those dead girls in the can."
Sobotka: "That was an accident. That was a fucking accident. That's what I heard, anyway. Excuse me."

(and some slightly less tough guy quotes)

Landsman (to McNulty): "Hey, Gilligan, little buddy."

Stringer: "Yo, Rock. Yo. Be subtle with it, man. You know what subtle means?"
Rock: "Laid back 'n shit."

Maui: "Goddamnit, Ziggy, you sick fuck. Get your dick outta my computer!"

Good to know that even on an episode full of hard cases there is still time for a dick pic (and that has to be the first time that phrase has ever been used on Doux Reviews).

Jess Says

I ended up watching this episode about a week before I got to formulate some commentary, and even though the main thrust of the episode was the Detail coming back together and Avon continuing to work the angles with Officer Tilghman, the moments that remained most prominent in my mind were Beadie revealing why she became a police officer, the different trajectories of the Sobotka boys’ mental states, and D'Angelo outright rejecting his uncle and the business.

It was fascinating to see that the economic imperatives that drive many of our characters into criminal pursuits, can also drive someone into police work. Given that Beadie has been presented as one of the few people to actually care about the deceased victims, it was particularly interesting to learn that she didn’t "wanna be a police" and only got into the field to make ends meet. Perhaps that's why she cares. If she hadn't had the skills and the opportunity to find legitimate, higher paying work, she could have ended up in similar terrible circumstances. There but for the grace of God...

On the flip side, Nick and Ziggy are enjoying their ill-gotten gains, with flashy new coats and dreams of maybe getting a place to settle down, and contemplating getting in even deeper. As they embrace the criminal life and the perks it can afford, Frank is suffering an even ruder awakening about the cost of that life than he got in the premiere. His intentions for getting into the dirt may have been somewhat noble --- "It ain’t about me!" --- but now he's complicit in activities that led to the murder of 14 young women. And it's clearly having a profound effect on him. But can he do anything about it at this point? Or are his hands tied?

I could ask a similar question about D'Angelo. It was so wonderful to see him take that stand against his uncle. To refuse to be a party to the murders and the machinations anymore. "I don’t want no part of what you do no more. You hear me? So you can just leave me the fuck outta that. Whatever it is." It felt like maybe now he'll finally be able to breathe again. To be free, even on the inside. But is it too late? Will the Barksdale organization just let him just walk away?

And more bits and pieces …

I love the titles with dual meanings, too! I had a bit about 'Hard Cases' in my notes, so I had to laugh when Ben led off with the very same thought.

Did you notice that McNulty gave his estranged wife the stolen headphones he took off Bubbles? Hilarious!

Almost as hilarious as the "silent anger" dinner. I loved that Daniels seemed mildly amused or pleased after Marla stormed off. Putting his papers in largely seemed to be about what she wanted. It probably felt good to be able to give her a reason for sticking with the job.

The Upshot

3 of 4 plates of Tuna Surprise (if you can eat it you’re definitely a hard case)

1 comment:

  1. What a great review. Although I had thought about the title in terms of the people, I had not thought about it terms of Baltimore itself. What a wonderful thought.

    Like Jess, I enjoy the small moments in this episode. D'Angelo standing up to his uncle, the silent dinners (which always make me smile) and the juxtaposition of Ziggy spending money on a coat while all Nick wants to do is take care of his family are all standouts.

    I must be a hard case; I love Tuna Surprise. It is comfort food.



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