Monday, February 18, 2008

The Monday Evening Wire. Just a Step Behind.
Episode 57, "Took"

by Ryland Walker Knight

[A note: With
Wire expert Cuyler Ballenger out of town this weekend (he’s gettin big in the Big Apple), I agreed to substitute on this episode’s weekly recap. I’ll do my best. But, without the aid of DVR, my recap will be from memory, and less precise. Wish me luck, and thanks for reading.]

clock time
doing time

As the episode started, my friends and I tried to remember: “Is this really the seventh episode of the season?” With this week’s lead segment (McNulty calling Templeton at The Sun masked as the serial killer behind a voice modulator), the snowball/redball case seems to be gaining speed in each successive episode. Of course, each episode is a step closer to the clink (or the grave?) for McNulty. Like Bunny Colvin before him, Jimmy “Bushy Top” McNulty will no longer be police at the end of this charade. And, like Bunny (again), McNulty knows his exit is near: somewhere in the middle of “Took” he pleads with Lester to get him “out of this shit.” Pick your metaphor — the pile grows higher; the ball keeps gaining speed — either way, you know there’s a big mess waiting in store in the end, at the finish line, when the clock stops.

But, as indicated by the lead quote of the episode, the real focus of “Took” happens to be the ongoing trial of Clay Davis: how Clay Davis continues to take from the city, how State’s Attorney Bond and ASA Pearlman got took in court. Employing Baltimore defense attorney Billy Murphy (a real B’more figure playing himself, renowned for his cunning courtroom smarts, and “a member of the city’s black aristocracy” according to Andrew Johnston), Davis has positioned himself (at least in the public eye of the show’s world of spectator-citizens, if not to us viewers) to play “not just the race card, but the whole deck,” as Gus Haynes says late in the episode: Murphy’s defense strategy appeals to the jury’s (and the courtroom’s) pathos by disregarding the logical facts offered in testimony by Freamon and Davis’ former limo driver. It’s all about the best argument. And Clay Davis uses his “silver tongue” to great effect on the stand, just as Murphy uses his wits to sidestep cross examining Freamon’s facts while tar-and-feather the limo driver’s honor in the following cross. They may not teach it in law school, but I’d hope all lawyers (especially all the “good” lawyers) understand this maxim from Billy Murphy’s website: “A trial lawyer who isn’t able to use the full spectrum of techniques has arbitrarily limited himself.”

This code of conduct seems to apply to everybody, though, not just (male) lawyers. Otherwise you’re going to eat the big lie and get took. The black humor joke here is that B’more is getting took by McNulty and Freamon as much (if not more so) than by Senator Davis. For all the fiscal good the redball they’ve concocted has done for their fellow officers, this rampant spending on a covert, illegal serial-killer-cum-wire-tap case may wind up costing teachers their jobs. Which, of course, would wind up costing more students the benefits of an education, of the means to be the next Billy Murphy or Daniels or Gus Haynes instead settling for the lot of becoming the next Michael or Avon or Omar or Marlo. (Remember that, despite his self-foreclosed end, Stringer went to school, too, and, even in the arena of the streets, his education helped him get bigger than he ever imagined.) So I hold out hope that Dukie will return to his best mentor ever, Prezbo, and get from the here of the streets to the there of the outside world (college? a job? a family?) instead of searching the help wanted ads on the corner. He’s got the brain to do it, even some motivation and support, but he doesn’t know who to ask for help. Or, he’s forgotten.

The big worry I had going into last week’s episode was McNulty had forgotten the widespread ramifications of his “project.” The dire final five minutes of “The Dickensian Aspect” helped assuage this fear, but McNulty’s OT glee confirmed he is of a one track mind. That is, until he realizes that “the problem with creating a redball is they start to treat it like a redball.” How fitting that Marlo communicates with Vondas using pictures of clocks: time is winding down. Not only that, time is jumbled. And not just in the coded messages between drug lords but also in the episode. “Took” could have taken place over the course of a week or the course of two days given the varied plot lines. For instance: Omar attacking during the daytime? Sure, I read that it was a scheduling foul up during the episode's production, but that’s a pretty risky move, a move inconsistent with Omar's (so-far) strictly nighttime raids (such as the arbitrary “you know what?” clipping of Savino). Or: did the Davis trial really only last that one day? Am I that lost? I guess the answer lies in the publication process of The Sun — specifically, the movement from McNulty’s harassment of Templeton to the publication of Templeton’s “To Walk Among Them,” with some time for Mike Fletcher to meet (and spend time with) Bubbles in between. First: it’s great to see Bubbles this positive, this joyful, even. Next: “That was him,” Templeton says, pausing before remembering to say, “again.” It’s great to see him twist and turn and Tom McCarthy is doing a great job with this weasel role. Will he fall next week? Or will his demise coincide with McNulty's in the finale? The cracks are evident to anybody looking (like, ahem, us), but who will shine that light? And: is Omar's apparent recklessness a sign of his downfall? Where was Marlo this week? Chris and Snoop? Always questions.

I guess all we have to do is wait to see how it plays. Which is why an episode like “Took” seems so hard to write a weekly recap about: a lot of the plot lines are get-me-by character moments. It’s almost a place-holder episode. But it’s a really good, almost delightful episode, too — especially as the tender “Goodnight Moon” closing shot, of Kima and Elijah saying good night to all of Baltimore, pulls back into the sepia summer night, all those bricks surrounding that family in miniature. There may be fiends and hoppers and hustlers but there’s a moon and a mom and a big wide world out that window, too. She’s saying, "Look, son, get the picture — the whole picture with every angle on where we are, where we live, in time and in tune — cuz we don’t want to get took. We want to live."


"They don't teach it in law school." -- Pearlman


  1. A few stray thoughts I couldn't squeeze in:

    -- Big ups, Dominic West. Your directorial debut worked well as an installment in this show and as a stand alone piece of work. The final shot is lovely, not saccharine, although you got quite the helping hands from Sonja Sohn and Richard Price and "Goodnight Moon."

    -- Clark Johnson is too good. Even he's throwing away the paper, now! Man, D Simon doesn't hide his hero worship/wish fulfillment. I dig it, though, in its unabashedness: by now I've come to accept that about _The Wire_: everything is worn on the sleeve.

    -- Dukie's dance was hilarious, adorable.

    -- Kenard needs to get beat up again. Thuliso Dingwall has such an adorable face but Kenard is such a toxic personality that I only ever think of Mike bashing his face in when he does/says something stupid.

    -- Love Mike telling Spider to step off, nigga.

    -- I hold firm my opinion that the show is secretly all about the maturation of Carver.

    -- The cross cutting between Homicide's briefing by Daniels and the city desk's briefing by Gus was fun and quick, if obvious.

    -- Lance Reddick looks like an alien. Rachel said, "He should definitely be fucking somebody else." Cam replied, "Yeah, she's, uh, too doughy." HA! We're good.

  2. Excellent recap, Ryland.

    Having forged ahead with epidsode eight, on demand, I can see now why HBO did not send critics more than the first seven episodes.

    Brace yourself.

  3. hey hey thanks for the fill-in. youre one of those cool, young subs that kids wish would be the perma-replacement algebra 1X teacher, ha. beautifully written, and well captured with limited resources.

    Michael: "youre the murder cop, you fuckin tell me!"