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The Wire: Storm Warnings

"You need to think for just a moment and ask yourself, 'What do I have to do before this man raise up his gun again?' Good day to you, sir." –Brother Mouzone

Many warnings of serious trouble off shore, things are all unstable and the seas are choppy and a storm is already starting… okay, enough with the ocean-going references, let’s talk violence. This is an episode dominated by it.

Gun-play and the threats of more to come are everywhere. You would never guess it was coming from the opening, the mundane yet fascinating montage of Prez and the boards of connections. Who would have guessed putting photos on a board could be so entertaining? Turns out, though, that it is simply the calm before the storm breaks (darn it, and we are back to the weather references). Oh well, let’s go through the various fronts.

Ah, Ziggy. Just when he finally manages to commit a really clever crime (and his Mercedes export business was pretty darn clever plan and it could have paid off for everyone), he finds himself on the receiving end of one more insult than he can take. What did Ziggy want all season? I think some small measure of respect was all he was after, and really, he was willing to accept it from anyone. His shooting Double G brings him a little bit of that, I guess, certainly Jay Landsman seems impressed by his edit in his confession (perhaps he was a bit too impressed, I was yelling at him to pick up the phone and call Daniels). The flashing "TIME EXPIRED" flag on the parking meter was an unusually obvious touch for this series but it still worked. So that’s the biggest storm of the episode, but there are plenty of smaller ones.

The Detail was rocked by the arrival of the feds, but much more so by Prez punching his father-in-law, Major Valchek. It’s easy to forget that Prez may have grown but only a season ago he blinded a kid and was assigned to the Detail because he shot up his own car, in short, he is a lot hotter head and prone to foolish behavior than his behavior this season would suggest. His blow-up makes sense for the character, again pointing out the depth of the character development. For just a minute there, he was the old Prez. How he can make it back from this one is anybody’s guess, but I hope he does.

The signs of impending trouble are read and understood by plenty of people although perhaps not those who most need to see them. Nick doesn’t seem to have any idea what a mess he has gotten himself into, but when Aimee confronts him about the drug money that he has hidden he does get a glimpse of how his behavior is going to play with his family and friends. This is definitely just a light squall as yet, but still a warning.

The Greek's informant in the FBI, Agent Koutris, knows immediately that the game is up. He doesn’t waste time and the Greek’s organization gets back out ahead of the police very quickly. The destruction of huge piles of drugs (literally money down the drain) points out what it takes to stay one step ahead of the police. The criminal’s ability to act quickly as the cops slowly type their way through the paperwork was incredibly telling.

And then there are signs of real trouble to come in West Baltimore as well. Brother Mouzone demonstrates that he is as entertaining a tough guy as anyone when he both shoots Cheese and then chastises him with flair (you would thinking shooting him would be sufficient). The only man on the streets as quick and clever with a quip is, of course, Omar. So we have a really wonderful set-up for both violence and dialogue as we watch Stringer and Proposition Joe set him up for a showdown with Brother Mouzone. And what could possibly go wrong with this plan?

Bits and Pieces

They mention Frank ”Pee Wee” Johnson in this episode. Unlike what has been written in some places, Pee Wee is not the basis for Denzel Washington’s American Gangster character, but he was one of the few drug kingpins who has achieved a level of fame beyond simply law enforcement and other criminals. Interestingly, The Wire has made one such criminal celebrity, the so-called “real Avon Barksdale.” Nathan ‘Bodie’ Barksdale is a leader of the Black Guerrilla Family here in Maryland, which recently managed to completely corrupt the staff and operation of the Baltimore City jail. David Simon has stated that Barksdale isn’t actually Barksdale, but every time he gets arrested, the same stories make the rounds.

On a lighter note, Bunk on a boat was as much fun as you could want. I love his rapid evolution from complete fear to complete leisure (he may be re-considering McNulty’s career choices at this point).

One last thought; let’s take a moment to appreciate Prez and his boards. This isn’t what crime dramas had been about until The Wire, but now the idea of “evidence boards” and such displays is found in virtually all crime shows (if you don’t believe me about how innovative this was, check out some old episodes of Law and Order, nary an ‘evidence wall’ to be seen).


"It pays to go with the union card every time." —Ziggy

(I didn’t much care for this week’s epigraph and looking back through this season, I feel like they haven’t been as good as the season has progressed. It’s a small thing but I think they, along with the episode title, set the tone for the episode. Here, it just kind of hangs.)

(apropos of the "evidence board" comment I make above, Herc and Carver are increasingly on the outside looking in)

Herc: "I've got that feeling again. Like they don't think we're potty-trained."

(here is Butchie’s comment on Frank Matthews and just as we have Simon’s theories of why average folks get involved in crime, here we have his ideas about how criminal organizations are successful over time)

Butchie: "For me, leastways, the difference between East and West goes back to one man: Frank Matthews… the brother went up New York and got in bed with them Italians, the only one from this town got a piece of that French Connection. Cause Frank was Westside. How do you like that? The dope flowed west. And when you got a steady supply, you run shit like a business. Somebody gets hurt, there's a reason. Not like this foolishness we got today."

(some introduction to Brother Mouzone)

Brother Mouzone: "I'm here to represent the interests of a Mr. Barksdale."

Brother Mouzone: "Let me be emphatic. You need to take your black ass across Charles Street to where it belong."

Brother Mouzone: "You know what the most dangerous thing in America is, right?... Nigga with a library card."

(and wisdom about the feds)

Fitz : "We may be assholes, but on the upside, there's an awful lot of us."

(and finally, some quotes by and about the unfortunate Ziggy)

Ziggy: "You don't play me like that! You don't!"

Landsman: "This is the official record, right, chief? It's what's gonna play in court."
Ziggy: "Can I change something?"
Lansdman: "Yeah. Just put your initials next to your changes. It's no problem."
Ziggy: "Yeah, it's only one. You know, you typed 'said' here, see? He wasn't saying, 'Please don't shoot me.' It was more begging. You know? Double G, he's begging me. But that's not gonna mess you up, though, right?"
Landsman: "No, it's more descriptive like that."

Nick: "Fucking Ziggy, when didn't he do dumb shit?"

Jess Says

After letting this one roll around in my brain for a week, the sequences that stayed with me the longest were Ziggy killing Double G, Nick telling Frank what had happened, and Nick and Prissy drinking and remembering Ziggy at the playground. The first sequence is just incredibly powerful, from Double G cheating Ziggy, to Ziggy reacting in the car, to the murder, to Ziggy again reacting in the car. It’s one of the moments that has long defined the season in my memories. It feels like such a different kind of murder to what we’ve seen before on this show. A crime of rage and passion; a desperate cry for respect masquerading as a show of force. Most of the other murders we’ve seen have been devoid of that kind of emotion. They’ve mostly just been a matter of business, the way life works in this world. Even the murder of Wallace was part of the game, and though it pained them to do it, Bodie and Poot took care of business.

But that’s not how things work in the "Locust Point IBS Local 47 white" world. The Sobotkas have been playing at being part of this criminal universe, but they are so clearly out of their depth. Ziggy is not a smart businessman. He’s a wounded kid, a goof trying to gain respect, at his breaking point. After the fact, he’s so torn up by what he’s done that he’s openly weeping in the interrogation room --- which is what I think Landsman finds the most unsettling; he’s used to guys that play it hard --- and insisting that his written confession reflect that he killed a man who was begging for his life. Ironically, after all his attempts to gain respect and reputation, this moment in no way comes across to me as an attempt to make himself seem badass. Instead, it seems as though he needs the record to show the awfulness of the crime. He didn’t just murder a man; he murdered a man who was begging for his life, which makes it even worse. He needs everyone to know that he’s done a terrible, terrible thing so that he can properly do penance for the crime.

And it’s not just Ziggy who’s devastated by how far things went. Frank and Nick are absolutely destroyed by what’s happened. They can’t even quite believe it. You might steal some goods for a quick buck in the stevedore world, but you don’t commit murder. And when someone you care about does commit this kind of heinous crime, you go through a grieving process, you don’t just quickly move on. Such a stark contrast to what we’ve seen in other parts of Baltimore, where the most grieving we’ve seen was for D’Angelo, who everyone believes committed suicide. And even that came across as going through the motions for most folks. Two very different worlds, indeed.

And more bits and pieces...

James Ransone was utterly compelling in this episode.

Valchek screwing the investigation by bringing the Feds into it and inadvertently tipping off the bad guys was pretty frustrating, but what upset me the most was him pushing Prez into committing his own crime of passion, and getting himself kicked off the investigation. Right on the heels of that wonderful opening, which so clearly demonstrated what a great analyst Prez is. So sad.

The Upshot

3 of 4 in-laws that you really want to punch


  1. I liked the way this episode began and ended. The beginning montage was fantastic and led me to believe that the cops were finally getting a step ahead of the men they have been chasing.

    But, an hour later, we realize no. The board may be great, but when there are people involved, you can't count on much except the unexpected.

    Great point, Ben, about how quickly the criminals can clean up the mess while the cops are stuck doing the paperwork.

    Nick's grief for Ziggy was tough to watch. It was as though the realization of just how awful things are had finally hit him and he couldn't process it at all. I truly felt for him.

  2. Ziggy. Wow. It felt like something terrible would happen to him, but I didn't expect him to go postal. Or to simply confess to the crime that way. The Nick and Frank scenes were all so good. OAlthough I can't help looking at Nick and thinking "Pornstache.")

    And Prez. Wow. What you all already said about the evidence board at the beginning, which was just beautiful, and him losing it with his father-in-law in the end, so sad. He had come so far, found that he was really good at a specific aspect of police work, so of course he couldn't simply have that. Oh, no.


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