Sunday, June 1, 2008

Episode 2 - The Detail

"You cannot lose if you do not play"

This episode focuses on members of the narcotics-homocide task force assembled to take down the Barksdale operation. If we're talking about action- well, on the surface not a whole lot happens this episode. McNulty and the Bunk bring in D'Angelo for questioning and he writes a letter to "the children" of William Gant (he has no children) saying that he is sorry for the murder and wishes he could have stopped it. Several members of the detail also show up at the tower late at night to "conduct field interviews." These go pretty poorly and the final result is Herc and Carver end up hurt, Prez half-blinds a kid.

But the most important part of this episode is how it drives character. I'll discuss three events that have a resonance far beyond their relevance to the season's plot arc. These include the couch discussion about chicken nuggets, Bubbles hat trick, and the Barksdale church barbecue.

The Chicken nugget story is a favorite for many Wire fans. In this scene, Dee, Wallace, and Bodie are sitting on the orange couch, as is their normal position. Wallace thinks Chicken nuggets are the bees knees and that their inventor must be raking it in. Dee doubts this and opines that the inventor is just another contract worker for McDonalds. He's in the basement of some building working hard to make the fries taste better. Like the three of them, he's working so that the owners of the company can make a ton of money. Marx might call them the "proletariat," but I don't need to outline this well known capitalist critique as it relates to the American myth. The little story also shows that Dee is no fool, he knows his place but tries to rise above it. He's also schooling Wallace and Bodie in a strange way. The orange couch is a weird classroom, but iconic and effective nonetheless.

Bubbles also shows that dope fiends can be clever and compassionate. He impresses McNulty with his "hat trick." While Kima snaps pictures, Bubs tries to sell hats to the dealers. He puts a red hat on the players, regular hats on people of little or no importance. This provides names and faces for several of the players who go on the large corkboard. Besides using the clever trick and impressing McNulty, Bubbs disproves some of the myths about addicts. The media represents addicts as unfeeling beings who only care about their drug of choice and do anything to score for it. While they often will go to great lengths for the drug, this does not make them any less human. Bubbs cares about his friend Johnny and his "police" work is personal, not for the money (or the drugs it will buy).

The third bit of interesting characterization happens at barbecue sponsored by the Barksdales. On first glance, this could be any barbecue held on Sunday in a church basement. But this one was organized by the Barksdale crime organization, who had killed a man the day before just to send a message that snitching would be answered with murder. Avon Barksdale, who'd ordered the hit, was all class, helping prepare the food himself, asking about Dee's kid, and telling Donnette, Dee's wife, that she needed to get some ribs because she was too skinny. Avon and Stringer, two very evil men, also had a softer side in which they "put family first."

These three events mark the show as radically different from other cop shows. This is a show from the dealers and users perspectives, not just the cops. Not all drug dealers are the same, Dee is a somewhat reluctant gangster even if he's willing to kill. Bubbs is an addict who will pull any scam to get his fix, but he definitely has a sense of right and wrong which goes beyond his sickness (addiction). Even Avon and Stringer (ostensibly) have motivations beyond money.

On the flip side, several of the cops are characterized in a different way. Herc, Carver, and Prezbo are seen as the bad guys- beating on citizens who had done nothing to them, yet having no remorse for it. McNulty and Daniels don't trust each other. Finally, Freamon, Foerster, and Polk are basically worthless as police. Definitely an interesting characterization against the grain of traditional cop shows. The cops are not all good, and the bad guys not all bad.

Visually, Clark Johnson continued using the hand held camera in the projects to great effect. The instability of the 2am terrace fight makes it much more exciting. In including The Guess Who's "American Woman" leading up to this fight, Simon is sending an interesting message as the song was originally written as an anti-war tune.


In one of the final scenes, Daniels eats dinner with his wife Marla (could she be a female version of Marlo?? All ambition, little regard for relationships besides what they can bring her. Probably not... but we'll see). She tells him not to take the case seriously because the bosses don't take it seriously. If Daniels wants to advance, he should follow what the bosses want and not worry about solving the case. If you don't play the game, which is rigged, you can't lose. This could apply to the drug game as well. If Gant hadn't testified (played the game), he wouldn't have lost his life. But this has another side, in West Baltimore, the drug game is so pervasive that even someone who does nothing with drugs eventually witnesses something and has to speak up. Bodie and Wallace have to join because they've got no other path to take coming from the low rises.

Although this episode does not advance the plot significantly, it does build upon the multitude of characters introduced in the Pilot. The two institutions are being sketched out, character by character. Simon is building a house and all the pieces matter. More tomorrow!

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