Monday, January 21, 2008

The Monday Evening Wire. Just a Step Behind.
Episode 53, "Not For Attribution"

by Cuyler Ballenger

A crown unto himself
Ignoble like a muhafuckah

I'm not sure if I mind or not, but I don't have the privilege of On Demand, nor did I receive the first seven episodes of this season in advance of their air dates: I watch each Wire episode every Sunday night when it airs here in Berkeley, sometimes after having already read a few reviews of it. By the time I finish my weekly recap, it's usually mid-morning on Monday and I've even read comments about those reviews. So, with that said, and knowing that other people have said what I'm about to say, I'll still say: funniest episode around! The kind of giggles popping throughout my living room of friends were reminiscent of the early part of the final Sopranos season. The first two episodes (I hear from every season) afford the remaining episodes a certain element of time. Time for us to see McNulty as a complex, and therefore more complete character, although he still acts like a drunk slut, dicking around with a badge and a bit of ambition, saying things like, "We have to kill again!" Two Omar-less episodes, and a third one with 55 Omar-less minutes provided the necessary tension to turn genuine anticipation of where he is living and what he is doing into real fear once the tears drip down his cheek and the final credits fade in. The re-contextualizing of Marlo into the business world after, as I said last week, being cool under the crown for the opening two episodes made for a meaningful re-examination of what he and his crew are all about. In the previous two weeks everything was fast -- quick emotions coming from abstracted characters in ambiguous parts of B-more -- quick cuts and fast talk. Slowing this episode's pace gave us viewers the time for this week's happenings, and the events of the last three as a whole unit of storytelling, to seep in. Maybe this is why "Not For Attribution" was so affective.

Burrell cooked the books and essentially fired himself. Clay Davis is probably going to jail. Scott Templeton conjured up another piece of bullshit, this time a quote from Narese, a source too close to his office for him not to get caught. Crimes in high places, dishonesty on all fronts in upper class Baltimore, again David Simon proves this city is shitting all over itself. Unlike the previous weeks (and the previous season), though, bad news was followed by hope. Daniels, the best cop the show has produced, very well may take over as commissioner. Alma Gutierrez, with Templeton's (hopefully) inevitable fall, will emerge as the new face of the now depleted Sun journalist staff. And, as far as my personal satisfaction goes, I got to hear someone yell "Focus, mothafucka, focus!" at Clay Davis. The plot foundation provided in the last two weeks (no matter how seemingly unsteady) gave this week the ability to be two things, to go two ways: good and bad, happy and sad, unbearably serious and laugh-out-loud funny.

I have to say, McNulty (or rather Dominick West) was so good this week. Drunk throughout, he managed to materialize a case (with red ribbon), persuade the morgue, leak the story to Alma, and forge his dead friend Ray Cole's signature. Unfortunately, for him, he was drunk, and sloppy, and his homeless serial killer case went nowhere. That is until Freamon said he should give the killer a name and some twisted trademark to give the case new life -- and, probably, limit the amount of time Bunk can stay out of it (after all Bunk and Jimmy are two peas in a sick and withered pod; how can one go without the other?). Of course, Jimmy and Freamon are doing all this in the hope of re-opening the Stanfield detail under the impression they are just "weeks away" from sealing the case. But, as Chris said to Snoop, after arguably the most ruthless scene to date, "We got to switch it up." The tail McNulty and Freamon have on Marlo may be interrupted. Mr. Stanfield entered some new terrain this week himself -- not just in the Caribbean, but also with the Russians. Branching out like this, his posture took on something like a tough, but ignorant, boy. Dirty bills wrapped and placed in a sharp suitcase don't make them clean, as he learns from Vondas. And, as Marlo's dependence on Prop Joe increases, his attempt at cutting him out becomes less realistic. Vondas makes this clear to Marlo: "Everything is clean with Joe." Something tells me (and my expert detective skills), that Omar's presence might just disrupt things for Marlo a tiny bit as well.

As Marlo conducted his business this week, so, too, did his muscle. The torture and eventual killing of Butchie was terrifying. Not just Chris's demonic stare into the side of the blind man's head he was about to blow out, but also Snoop's slight cock of her own head, and inquisitive look into Butchie eyes after the shooting, did what last week's killings did not: both gestures took the time to show us what these two psychos are really up to. The willingness to kill, and now to live on the run -- for Marlo and only for Marlo -- separate these two from Michael, who kills for Bug's (and Dukie's) future. The pain of seeing Michael, alone, in the dark with his head down was gone as quick as Dukie said, "We should do somethin Mike," and he turned a smile. This was followed by the cute family of three boys running and laughing with lollypops at Six Flags. Their interaction with two Sidekick-holding girls from Virginia only enriched an already priceless sequence. "You guys live on your own?" asks the young white girl. Dukie: "Yea, and Bug." "That's tight!" Of course, though, when the three return to Baltimore it's night, Michael's corner is dark, and he's instantly interrogated by Monk. Michael is always hard so the harangue doesn't really phase him until he learns Chris knows, too, that he was gone all day without a word. Knowing that, he puts his head back down and walks off alone. There's no fun to be had on the corner, whether you're a kid or not. "Nice dolphin, nigga," and Dukie's head drops too.

That's tight!

Although this week proved to be a multi-layered and complex episode, the Sun's parts were strikingly clear. If it wasn't enough that they are downsizing in all the wrong areas, for all the wrong reasons, we were also given two scenes of two predominant characters (Jimmy and Rawls) actually throwing away papers in a fit of frustration. David Simon doesn't like the Baltimore Sun, and this bit of didactic TV doesn't rub me the wrong way at all. Newspapers generally suck! If there's anything more to be taken from the Sun, it's that they are going to have to do "more with less" (as we had pounded into our heads). Hopefully "less" will mean "more" with Alma and Gus, as they are single-handedly keeping the Sun interesting and integrated with the rest of the show. I'm pleased that I didn't get so down on the first two episodes, no matter how "bad" they were, as they were clearly necessary progressions to what was possibly the best Wire I've seen. The affective intensity on both (on all!) sides of the dramatic spectrum proved that this show it at its best when it takes it time.

this man
will not
abide this

"They're dead where it doesn't count." -- Fletcher


  1. It's the first episode I've watched that I wanted to watch again immediately. I may have to eat my words against the "set-up" episodes.

    I don't know why it didn't dawn on me until last night but there's a great doubling technique Simon uses. Things get doubled in a really cool way. The most explicit this season being McNulty's fabricating double at the Sun. Makes you think about who needs the make believe -- and for what? It's only okay for out and out fiction to be make believe. But what you make real can become real, as long as you keep up the facade. I'll keep thinking about it as the season progresses. One thing: at least Jimmy is charming in his insanity. Templeton is obnoxiously ignoble and prickish.

    Best dialogue of the series: In the dark of the early morning, Alma asks, "When does the Sun get here?" The cashier thinks, says, "Around now, usually."

    And Dukie is a man! He's grown up a lot, looking good in his new threads. I sure hope we get to see him and Prezbo meet up next episode.

    Finally: that murder of Butchie hurt. That look of Snoop's was so chilling because the show took its time to show her thinking, all calm facade, in the silent aftermath. As I've said before, I root for Omar, always. That final hug he and Butchie shared in the season four finale was one of the best, most tender moments Simon and company created. His look of hurt ire is the best kind of sad, like you said about Bubbles.

    There's plenty more to say but I'm distracted right now by my tummy and my burning desire to see a monster eat up yuppies in Manhattan.

  2. first, that's a hilarious way to describe _Cloverfield_.

    2. in sticking with the time element, I get the sense Jimmy and Templeton share a certain impulsiveness that separate them from their respective offices. In a homicide dept and newspaper room, shit moves fast yea, but details matter more than pride, and their altered sense of time may be their downfall (or success!?).

    three- you think Prezbo will be included. this was the first episode where the schools werent mentioned, oh, wait... just to say that there wasnt going to be school tomorrow. which is cool bc there really was no school today! I would love to see them together again

    and fourth. the street's gonna be bloody soon right? though the relationship between east and west seemed oddly, well, good. Chris and Method, Chris and Slim Chuck, Marlo and Joe. Omar's appearance may alter those relations, or could unify them?

  3. For sure an outburst worthy episode. My thoughts exactly, Ry, about Snoop's only slightly affected countenance as she watches Butchie take the shots.

    About the Sun coming up. In this do-more-with-less season, instead of another scheme to get a wire on Marlo, we get The B-Sun itself: a political wiretap to goes both ways. Besides "recording" (et tu, Templeton?) telling speech, The Sun also means to incite it. Wilson's leak to Hayes, McNulty's "leak" to Gutierrez... this newspaper gets used to try to make things real, or take 'em on a test drive. Ryland, your point here about the reifying of fictions and Simon working in doubles, point to money laundering as a parallel for what many hope The Sun can do for their not-for-attribution words: clean the dirt and cover tracks.

    Despite two failed attempts this episode, I'm sure Gutierrez will get a story on the front page. And it may include the size of McNulty's fictions are ("I have a boyfriend, detective." "Is he as big as me?")

    Marlo's been the untouchable Machiavellian prince, but his dirty money game faux-pas (Joe: "ain't easy civilizing this motherfucker") comes right after Carcetti tells Wilson: "It's Baltimore. No one lives forever." Who the fuck isn't president of a major financial institution, after all.

    Goddam, what will Omar do.

  4. I agree with you Mr. Viagra, "Breaking Bad" is an sensational show, it is about time that a good series came out.