Monday, January 28, 2008

The Monday Evening Wire. Just a Step Behind.
Episode 54, "Transitions"

by Cuyler Ballenger

No, he is not Joe
alma knows

The M.O. within city hall, which in turn trickles down to the schools and the police station and the Sun papers, is quite clear at this point: everyone needs to do "more with less." In The Wire's final, 10-episode season (one considerably shorter than the past four), the show itself has been forced to do this as well. The street though -- well, obviously -- doesn't work like those other institutions no matter how many parallels are drawn between them. I didn't pick up on this the first three episodes; in fact, I sort of saw the show creating this mantra for all aspects of Baltimore (including the streets). "More with less" really isn't the case always, as last night's episode revealed. Marlo and Joe are filthy rich, they have huge crews and, in a sense, run their shares of the city. Marlo is even trying to make his money get smaller. I don't mean to say the street is working in an opposite fashion as city hall, though, as that would be an equal parallel, just in the other direction. They are, simply, different. And I have to say that I'm feeling really rattled writing this (whether for purely personal reasons or, in fact, because of the show, I don't quite know). Snoop, leaning back on her car tapping a gun on her chin, as she stands over an elder co-op member shitting himself, tied up and crying, is such a horrible image, but it goes almost forgotten in the shadow of Marlo's close-up as he watches Joe's blown-out head fall to the table: wouch!

On the street, the popular phrase has been something like "Joe ain't Marlo" or "Marlo ain't like Joe." Last night, one of the few lines the resurrected Greek delivered said as much. The phrase is true, sure, but what sort of morality does it set up for the the show? Why did I feel so sad when Prop Joe closed his eyes, slightly trembling? Why do I get so excited to watch Omar catch a shotgun and say, "Sweet Jesus, I'ma work them!"? The questions are mainly rhetorical, but they do have answers. Suffice it to say, just raising these questions is a victory for the show itself. Prop Joe supplies drugs to the whole fucking city: Michael's mom (who shared in another devastating scene last night) and Bubbles suffer because of him; Joe is responsible for the corners, the killings, Dukie's family! There are no good guys on the street, Bodie included. As despicable as he is, Colicchio opens the show with a statement that rings true (at least after re-looking at this episode, more numbly), "fuck it, they're all dirty anyway."

In an effort to not take on that sort of boring, narrator voice, which I so quickly and easily acquire when I start to summarize, I won't summarize, as it wouldn't do last night's (and hopefully the rest of the) episode(s) justice. The final scene saw Joe offer his final proposition, one that was not accepted -- not even acknowledged actually -- and that "means something," as he says himself. Marlo is sick of hearing people talk, Omar is sick of Marlo doing that, and Jimmy and Freamon are sick of all of it. "Transitions" was about doing, not planning. It was an episode about taking action, from the bottom up. Templeton is a hack, yes, but he's ready to work for the Sun, now that he knows he has to. Burrell was finally fired, Daniels promoted. Jimmy and Freamon got the body they needed, and they did what they had to with it, hoping (always hoping) to re-open their case on Marlo. Carver earned his title as sergeant, and had to make the sacrifices that that step up required.

And Kima set up a day with her ex, which allowed her to see her "nephew." (This is one aspect of the episode I do want kind of summarize though, as it was truly important). As Kima watched the young boy, who's family was slaughtered in front of him, stare lifelessly into a block of Legos, last season was somehow revisited. In that young boy we saw everything that The Wire tells us can be lost. In the classrooms last season, amongst all these kids, so many of them cute and bright, the touching scenes were the ones that portrayed them as purely children. Times when they had either been alleviated from the pressures of their socio-economic situation, or had simply forgotten, and they would smile and clown on each other. (Something like the Six Flags scenes last week, but even more effective because they were in a classroom when they were "supposed" to be). I thought, "Shit, this kid is gonna be another Omar," which is what I'm sure most people were thinking then, and throughout most of last season about various other students. But re-inserting that type of scene, which surely elicits those same types of emotions, in an episode where such an ugly killing (I thought last week's was tough) ended the episode, was especially affective. It made me want to call my little brother (of 12) and smile just as Kima did. The stripping away of all things fun, all things youthful, is the corners' most effective killing mechanism. The kids aren't kids, and haven't been for a long time. Shit, Marlo is young himself, but when Joe tells him Cheese was a fuck-up and that, "I always treated you as a son," Marlo effectively made clear what his childhood was like and the role the streets gave him: "I wasn't made to play the son."


While "Transitions" was a most fitting title for last night, I find it mostly scary that it wasn't (rather won't be) the title for the last episode of the season. This was a week, like most weeks I guess, where evil trumps good. What made this week different, though, is that there was a lot of good. Daniels and Carver (and, while dirty-ish, Freamon, too) are the policemen B-More needs. Alma, while entirely inexperienced, is an honest and ambitious writer, one that understands how a newspaper should work. And, as I just said above, Kima may re-unite with the family she never should have neglected. Most of the transitions, though, were ones that terrify people, changes that further kill an already dying Baltimore. Hopefully the last episode won't treat B-More like Marlo handled Joe. But it probably will. After all, its a good show.


"Buyer's market out there" --Templeton

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