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The Wire: Dead Soldiers

"...all of us in Baltimore, working, sharing a dark corner of the American experiment." –Jay Landsman

Back and forth we go from the theme of change to that of stasis, from business as usual to something new. We also get the sense more than in perhaps any episode that time passes and the characters are mortal, and that the time to do something is now.

The firing of Major Taylor in the Comstat meeting begins the sense that the clock is running. One gets that again with Bunny Colvin’s dressing down as well. The discussion in the Mayor’s office suggests that Commissioner Burrell is on a short clock. Stringer’s great speech about 40 degree days makes the same point to his lieutenants. But that’s all bureaucracy (even with the Barksdales), and wouldn’t mean much if the point wasn’t driven home by the (off-screen) death of Detective Ray Cole. "On a fucking stairmaster," as McNulty repeats to himself and to others is an image reminiscent of a hamster wheel and suggests fruitless motion taking you nowhere.

And there are plenty of examples of activities that look like motion but are really getting the characters nowhere. Bunk’s hunt for Dozerman’s stolen pistol is both fruitless and seemingly hopeless. Greggs and McNulty spend their time bemoaning the fact that their wives just don’t get them and their poor behavior. Daniels wants to focus the MCU on some new (and apparently irrelevant) dealer. Herc and Carver don’t appear to have learned anything about policing during their conversation with Greggs. Cutty’s life is not getting any better, but he continues to push ahead and try to build something although the prospects appear dim. But the exclamation point at the end of this thread is the gunfight that Omar’s crew engages in at the Barksdale stash house. Tosha is killed by friendly fire from her own crew, and the investigation features the first appearance by a kid, Kenard, who wants to grow up to be Omar. We are all apparently of that fucking stairmaster.

But lest the whole episode seem hopeless, there are also suggestions of real change (or at least a realization of the need for change). The realizations come first with Omar taking responsibility for the disastrous shootout (not that Kimmy much cares). Greggs and McNulty may be complaining that no one gets them, but the end of the discussion makes clear that they know they are screw-ups. Finally, though, someone acts, Bunny Colvin really is moving to "legalize" drugs by finding a compromise reminiscent of Stringer Bell’s desire to reduce violence and normalize the drug trade. Real action, but can it possibly work?

Finally, there is Detective’s wake for Ray Cole. This stands outside the episode in many ways and is clearly as much a wake for Robert Colesberry, the actor who played Cole and the co-creator of The Wire and who died unexpectedly between seasons two and three. It is affecting and effective as it breaks the fourth wall (as they say), and connects characters and cast to the evolving city and mortality of people depicted throughout the episode.

Bits and Pieces

The Detective's wake is great, but apparently not a police tradition (or at least it wasn’t when the episode aired). The producers have indicated that they created the scene and a wake that should be what a Baltimore detective would receive, not necessarily a tradition that was. The scene is worth watching a couple of times because there is a lot going on, almost all of it unspoken and there is no scene where the unity of the fraternity in blue is more apparent in a series where loyalty and brotherhood get short shrift much of the time.

Regarding that broken fourth wall, Jay Landsman's eulogy is laced with references to Robert Colesberry’s career including reference to his role as producer on Mississippi Burning and After Hours.

The song played and sung in the scene was “The Body of an American" by The Pogues. The wake scene including the song and Landsman’s eulogy, can be found here.


"The gods will not save you." –Burrell

(this week’s epigraph. Burrell says this to make the point, very simply, that he does not care why they might fail, no reason is acceptable, and there are no excuses. Here’s the full quote which is even better than the excerpt)

Burrell: "The gods are fucking you, you find a way to fuck them back. It's Baltimore, Gentlemen, the gods will not save you."

(lest you think that the writers and producers would let sentimentality for Colesberry get in their way in terms of the show’s themes and narrative, McNulty does a great job in putting Ray Cole’s death into a context that’s very much the flipside of Landsman's eulogy)

McNulty: "You fucking wake up, like any other day. You fucking eat and think about bills and dry cleaning and shit and fucking vacation and your fucking retirement plan and what? Like that."
Bunk: "Like that. He checked out of here with you still owing him a clearance on that Omar thing."
McNulty: "Oh, I know, I know. I fucking know. Like that."
Bunk: "On a fucking stairmaster."
McNulty: "On a fucking stairmaster."

(I personally love Stringer’s 40-degree day speech)

Stringer: "That's like a 40-degree day? Ain't nobody got nothing to say about a 40-degree day to your face. Shit, niggers is down there barbecuing on that motherfucker. Go down to 20, niggers get their bitch on. Get their blood complainin'. But 40? Nobody give a fuck about 40. Nobody remember 40 and y'all niggers is giving me way too many 40-degree days!? What the fuck!?"

(and McNulty’s ability to kill the self-righteousness of his and Kima’s whine-fest)

Greggs: "How come they know you're police when they hook up with you. And they know you're police when they move in. And they know you're police when they decide to start a family with you. And all that shit is just fine until one day it ain't. One day, it's: 'you should have a regular job'."
McNulty: "'You need to be home at 5:00.'"
Greggs: "'You need to call more.' I'm sayin'."
McNulty: "'You need to stop fucking waitresses.'"

(Omar takes responsibility but to what end?)

Omar: "Yo, I need y'all to hear this, man. It was my fault. Ya hear me? I'm sorry, yo."
Kimmy: "That don't do nothin' for me."

(and we meet Kenard, and realize this is unlikely to turn out well)

Kenard: "Yo, my turn to be Omar."

(Landsman’s eulogy for Cole)

Landsman: "Did he piss off a wife or three? No fucking doubt. I think the last one actually kinda got used to him, thank God. Did he say the wrong shit now and then? Did he bust balls and cheat on his taxes and forget to call his mother and fuck the wrong broad for the wrong fucking reason every now and then? Who fucking doesn't, Christ? Was he as full of shit as every other sadsack motherfucker wearing a badge of Baltimore City Police? Abso-fucking-lutely. His shit was as weak as ours, no question. But Ray Cole stood with us, all of us in Baltimore working sharing a dark corner of the American experiment. He was called. He served. He is counted. Old King Cole!"

(and finally, an apparent toss-off line to his fellow commanders)

Bunny: "I dunno. I thought I might legalize drugs."

Jess Says

Ben got a "time is running short, act now" vibe from this week’s proceedings, but for me things took on more of a "failure to heed warnings" tone, with numerous threads highlighting the potential pitfalls of not listening to your lieutenants or advisors and "changing up" your approach, whether you are working for or against the status quo. Tosha dying because Omar refused to listen to his crew and stop going after the Barksdales serves as the primary example of the tragedy that can result from single-mindedly holding to a particular course of action. But we also got hints of trouble potentially waiting in the wings for several other "focused" leaders. After failing to listen to Bodie about Marlo being a problem, Stringer got a bit of a wake-up call when some of his slingers suffered a beat down for not yielding territory. Mayor Royce may be headed for a similar awakening, as he stands by his "loyal" allies against the advice of his political advisors, not realizing that Burrell’s loyalty has already been compromised by Carcetti (who appears to have aspirations beyond "councilman"). Likewise, the Comstat Powers-That-Be may soon be in for an unpleasant surprise, as some under their command choose to adopt rather unorthodox methods to reduce crime, in the face of the bosses’ absolute refusal to recognize the futility of the "reaming subordinates," "juking the stats," and "chasing needles in a haystack" approach to the modern urban crime environment.

Even Cutty falls victim to the perils of not heeding advice. Grace’s sister clearly warns him that Grace has changed and is trying to distance herself from her inner city past, but he forges ahead with his plans to contact her and maybe recapture something from his past. Only to have it awkwardly blow up in his face. The world changed while Cutty was on the inside, and he’s struggling to figure out how or whether to change with it.

And more bits and pieces …

Soon-to-be-fired Major Taylor (to Colvin): "I don’t even wanna think about the worst these motherfuckers can do. You don’t either."

It remains to be seen what all this "trouble awaits those who hear but fail to listen" messaging might mean for Colvin, who not only ignores Major Taylor’s warning above, but spends the episode consistently setting aside the clear reservations of Lt. Mello regarding the "paper bag" plan. Still, the look on Colvin’s face when he says he’s planning to legalize drugs is glorious!

Detective: "You got to narrow that shit down. Find some way to work with all those Peanuts."
Bunk: "Motherfucker, do I look like George Washington Carver?"

Carcetti is a real piece of work. The asshole not only cheats on his wife, he apparently enjoys watching himself in the mirror while doing it. He’s in a whole different league than Kima and McNulty.

Ben covered this pretty well, but I wanted to note again that the tribute to Robert F. Colesberry was really lovely. I particularly loved the resonance of the final words of Landsman’s eulogy: "But Ray Cole stood with us. All of us. In Baltimore. Working. Sharing a dark corner of the American experiment. [long pause] He was called. He served. He is counted. Old King Cole!"

The Upshot

4 out of 4 glasses raised to fallen friends


  1. That's criminal, yo, misquoting Stringer's legendary 40 degree day speech. You left out an entire section!

  2. Then there's the kid at the end, having completely missed what Stringer meant, triumphantly responding "Like a 40 degree day!" Then the look on Stringer's face.

  3. Hell, this episode depressed and saddened me. Yes, warnings not heard, but e.g. for Cutty, these were a long time ago .. imagine such a boy-or girlfriend turning up at your workplace like that, reminds me of Michael Corleone coming to Kay‘s. Aaargh!!

    And in the show‘s present, it is Stringer not taking Donette‘s calls. Also, Marlo‘s troops are starting to roll, and I‘m not sure Bell‘s pseudo-business blah did much to instigate respect in his cornerboys. Some of the new ones do not even remember Avon, who could bring out love and respect in his people, what with his boyish smile, the crazy head stockings, and his beautiful hand gestures. But he‘ll be out soon, and I cannot imagine what he has to say about fake-professor Bell at his fake-college desk!! You feelin‘ me?

    And troubled Omar. It was very sad to read about Kenneth Little‘s drug-related death last year. So, for me, Cole‘s wake doubled for that as well😳.

  4. I meant Michael K. Williams!


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