Monday, January 14, 2008

The Monday Evening Wire. Just a Step Behind.
Episode 52, "Unconfirmed Reports"

by Cuyler Ballenger

Marlo knows
McNulty veering

As I sit here staring at my screen, I'm trying to consider what it was about this episode that rubbed me the wrong way. What is it that separated this episode (and possibly the previous one) from the past seasons, and from last season in particular? The scenes that stuck out, that somehow made me squirm, even tucked away in the corner of my cozy couch, were the ones that acted as a sort of literal translation of what I have always imagined The Wire to be saying without having to actually say: shit is really bad in Baltimore and each character we have come to know is being dealt a trick deck. Or, as McNulty says, "the fuckin' game's rigged." I can't recall something as overt as Sydnor saying, "I wonder what Marlo is up to right fuckin' now?" And then a jump cut to Marlo himself. Or seeing Bubbles, still plagued by his incident with Sherrod, helplessly watching the ex-junkie we were introduced to in the opening moments abusing her baby. Or Michael not being able to pull the trigger on the kid running out of his back door into the alley after Chris and Snoop massacred the poor child's parents because Michael was thinking of the reasons why he entered into Marlo's crew in the first place: to save Bug. Whew. As viewer, regardless of whether we sit in the cheap seats or not, we don't need fed up Orioles fans to tell us Baltimore is a failing city and that urban life for the underprivileged in this country is difficult -- so difficult, in fact, that even America's past-time suffers.

Well, that's what I was thinking at least. But I think I just might and maybe know a little bit about The Wire. I trust David Simon. Shit, there were bad Sopranos episodes, too (not necessarily meaning this was a bad episode). And as I stated above, the show is always saying something without needing to state it aloud. What then, I ask myself, was last night telling me (us) when it was actually telling us something? But first a (truly) brief rundown.

The Major Crimes Unit's re-integration into the rest of the police department has been anything but easy. McNulty can't even find a car to drive to a potential homicide scene. Similarly, Bubbles (so far my personal favorite performance of this season) is finding his sober life an equal, if not greater, challenge than when he used to sport the "dope fiend lean." Starting with the lighter -- lighting -- his -- cigarette, moving up to his mouth, then further up to his troubled eyes, the care and attention paid to and put into Bubble's character has been the best kind of sad. On the other end of the dip stick, Carcetti's focus has explicitly shifted from "A new day for Baltimore" towards a new day for him in Annapolis, which sickens viewers I imagine (especially those who really loved him throughout the back half of season four, like, uh, Me, at least). Chris and Snoop move quickly, but not so quietly through the West-side, now that they are (officially) unwatched, checking two of the three items off of their to-do list, leaving "the dick sucker" for next week (as my editor pointed out, a traceable pattern in The Wire). Their speed comes as no surprise, as Chris says to Marlo of Snoop, "she aint had no work in a few months; she somewhat eager." However, the ease with which Michael entered the Stanfield crew stuttered this week, as he (thankfully) did not go through with capping that 6 year old boy fleeing down the back alley. Michael's ability to kill, though, coupled with his moral code, does bring to mind Omar, and leads me to think he may be involved in that conflict to come somehow. The Marlo and Avon, and later the Marlo and "Boris", meetings went as planned (as promised by the ads for this week), and the differences between the former king of the West-side and the current king became clear. Marlo doesn't speak much, and when he does it's usually through Chris' and Snoop's guns, but his calmness is chilling. There is something really fucking frightening about someone who cares nothing for longevity in their career of killing (duh!). Or better stated, "you know the crown aint worth muccchhhh, if the nigga wearin it always gettin' his shit took." As far as business goes, Marlo paid Avon's sister a hundred large to get a word with Sergei. Avon, in turn, will make sure Sergei makes good on his connections with "the Greek" allowing Marlo to bypass Prop Joe and the rest of the East-side for a direct link to the package. Simple enough, right? I mean is the East-side really going to go war with Marlo?

The Sun's part of the final season is, so far, and for good reason, not on par with the rest of the show. But I hold true to my feeling from last week that Gus Haynes, alone, will keep my interest. The major conflict forming is between Haynes and his boss Whitting, who wants the top stories, wants the cheap news, the simple formulas, the heart-strings yanked and the black people felt sorry for unconditionally by the rich white readers. Let's "limit the scope, not get bogged down on details ... if you leave everything in, soon, you've got nothing." Using Tempelton as his muse, Whitting wants to focus on schools. Schools as the reason for the troubled youth, instead of, as Haynes suggests, a larger problem, a city-wide (nation-wide) problem that schools are just another participant in. Templeton, too has a major problem. His stories are fabricated. His assignment to get a fan piece on opening day at Camden Yards turned out to be boring, tired, uncontroversial. Amazingly, he shows up back at the Sun with a touching piece on a young, black, handicapped, parentless, "E.J.", some kid clearly created by the simple white perspective of Templeton, yet playing ever so neatly into Whitting's ideal of his paper: "I think you really captured the disparity of the two words in this city in a highly readable narrative." This, of course, is what David Simon has successfully done with The Wire.

Oh and yes, McNulty and Bunk, Bunk and McNulty, back hittin the booze and bitches. With no hope to get the Stanfield investigation back, McNulty plays dirty, learning a couple tricks at the morgue from an old friend and now county homicide detective. With a flask of Seagrams in his pocket, Jimmy turns a potential homicide scene into a definite homicide performed by possible serial killer and his oldest partner calls him a "sick fuck." He needs the Stanfield detail back up, if not for the city, then for his own sanity. And with the FBI of no assistance, Freamon spending his off time following Marlo, and Sydnor's aforementioned desire to get back on the case, sometimes you just get sick of "being dicked around."

Freamon's watching, waiting to chase

As I said last Monday, this season -- this show in general, being the excellent cop drama it is -- tells us to look closely. So last night, when I felt like I didn't have to look closely for the first time, I grew suspicious. As my friend, Willie, pointed out (paraphrase, sorry dude), "it is a cop show, there may be results, and we may just end up seeing them simultaneously with the characters' development." The introduction of Omar next week is something I excitedly await and as Bubbles develops more and more, I grow sadder for the show's end. From the beginning of season 1, there's been a hopelessness on the street, except for Bubbles (and Namond, I guess), who breathe fresh life into dirty Baltimore. But exceptions are just that. Corruption is endless. We know the schools are still in shambles without even having to see them. And Marlo stacked up four more bodies. As my roommate so eloquently puts it, "shit is so fucked." That is, naturally, the most lucid (profane) way to translate the Marlo/ Avon exchange, "ah, the game is the game" / "always."

Michael looks skeptical

"This ain't Aruba, bitch." -- Bunk


  1. Well, as you know from last night, I'm not sold on this season yet. Maybe it just confirms my suspicions about what I didn't care for in the first two seasons (and the worse half of the third; the half w/o Bunny): that there's little to live for in this dying city. Shit is so fucked, indeed. I think it's more a matter of my taste than anything, though. I've gotten to the point where I just don't want to watch depressing movies or shows when I could be spending my time watching something that will lift me. If I'm to cry, I want to cry because my soul has been brightened, not darkened. I also want to laugh more. Jimmy was funnier before, now he's just a sad sack of a loser who can't sit still. Bunk can still get me to chuckle, though. I, too, eagerly await Omar's return, but that "next time" really scared me: Snoop shooting up Butchie's joint? Fuck! What else are they going to kill in this bitch?

    More Gus Haynes will be good, too. Clark Johnson is perfect. But everything around him seems flimsy as fuck -- especially the self-reflexive pats on the back. It wasn't enuf to acknowledge the show's argument but Simon had to go and trumpet himself for giving us all the context that makes the good parts of his show work. Yes, thank you. Say something else, please, perhaps about the fear of exploitation through drama. Cuz, fiction or no, there's bound to be some real bad shit still happening in B-More. Ask Carmello Anthony. He got out for a reason.

  2. Why does Steve Earle wiggle and shake so much? Was he really an addict? I don't know much about him.

    Bubbles destroys me. I hope he sticks with it. But I think I have to say that I think he won't. The way this season is set up sure does make it look like no single character will stick with it. Er, nobody will rise to the challenge? Yea... except the valiant Gus. I like him a lot. I mean, a lot. Even if the stuff around him is flimsy like Ryland said.

    Still need to see where it goes tho from here. That McNulty scene at the end was a shocker fa sho. He won't pull it off, will he? Nuh-unh. Not in David Simon's city. Or he will and even more shit will fly from fans. (thekinds with blades and the kinds withblogs. one and the same?)

  3. "A cop drama." And yet everyone's waiting for Omar (no hold outs for Pryzbylewski?). C'mon guys, this ain't no Law and Order. Or at least, maybe one reason for some of the suspended judgment, is reading cues from this show as if it were just a cop show (and hence not seeing much else). So far the wiretap is silent this season, which is where Bunk began us: "You see now? I'm here to tell you, this remaining silent shit ain't nothing like they make it out to be." And the rest of E01 echoed the felt standstill and same-o (Kima watching Marlo's courier: "Every day, same shit." Or McNulty, drunk, waiving his unpaid OT around the bar: "Shit never changes"!). Bunk's line was a lure, a hook, baiting his mope to talk. Ain't no one else taking no such bait, even when they should. Like Bubbles.

    Who is talking? Hayes and his crew, on a smoke break outside, about the kinds their profession creates.
    "Y'ever notice how mother-of-four is always catching hell?"
    "Innocent Bystander is worse. He's always getting the short end."
    "Not a lot of them around anymore. Not a lot of innocents, neither."
    "You know who there's less of? Statuesque Blondes. Buxom ones, neither. They're like a lost race."

    A scene which, by the way, followed directly from (ugh, yes Cuyler, I'm with you) Carcetti's meeting, at the end of which Steintorf tells Watkins: "The whole world shines shit and calls it gold."

    This isn't a cop show, it's a talk show. A show about this city's talk. This city, this Leviathan's limbs (police, city hall, schools, docks, streets, and drugs and guns and money arteries), are all gettin' dues, I guess because David Simon thinks this is what it takes - this many seasons, this many characters - to show why things aren't changing, what life remains, and what's still possible. Freamon to Sydnor: "A case like this here, where you show who gets paid behind all the tragedy and the fraud, where you show how the money routes itself, how we're all - all of us - vested, complicit? Baby I could die happy." But Sydnor thinks he's in a copy show: "Still man, I wonder what Marlo is doing right fucking now." Fuck Omar, Freamon's enough for me.

    Snoop: "In B-more, we aim to hit a nigga." This city's talk.

    One last thing: my word verification to post was "feytyo." This city's fate, yo.