The Wire 1.4-1.5

1.4 Old Cases

So this is Omar (Michael K. Williams)? We met him last episode, but I didn’t make the connection until now. I know he’s a fan favorite; it’s the one character people almost always mention when they talk about the show. Right now he seems rather low-key, but there’s certainly something a little unsettling about him. I think this is another example of how The Wire is playing the long game. It’s building slowly instead of trying to be cool and attention grabbing at every possible moment.

I like the contrast of the suburbs and the streets in this episode. It’s not that subtle, but seeing McNulty go from this world of the streets to where his kids are playing soccer in the suburbs shows that he’s a man torn between two worlds. Unlike most of the cops, McNulty seems genuinely interested in understanding the criminal world, but his past it tied to the suburbs. Bubbles’ (Andre Royo) bit about the thin line between the streets and heaven can be undercut with the understanding that for McNulty, the suburbs are his hell.

“The” scene of this episode, the one my friends referenced when I told them about this episode, is the kitchen crime scene. McNulty and Bunk (Wendell Pierce) work an old case and as they put the case together, they drop a number of variations on the f-word. The scene simply shows how put the circumstances of the killing together without communicating a word about the case between them, but I could see how playing the scene silently might not have worked. While the use of the f-word goes beyond gratuitous, it adds a bit of levity to the scene and certainly makes it memorable.

Lester Freamon (Clarke Peters) finally steps up in this episode. He’s been the quiet one in the corner, but you can see that there’s something more to him. We get a bit of his past as a cop and see that he can do some strong detective work. I could see Lester becoming a favorite of mine. He’s not as brash, loud or abrasive as some of the other characters. He does his job with a stoic face and without a word while everyone else squabbles about the next move.

1.5 The Pager

“Omar Comin’!” In another show, this would probably be how Omar is introduced: as a creepy, mythical figure of the streets. Instead, we get the setup of what his plan is and the scene is mostly an exercise in the craftsmanship of the show makers. But what makes it work is Omar whistling “The Farmer in the Dell.” He’s casual about it all, not a worry in the world. He’s planned it so well he knows how it will go down.

There’s another great moment with Omar later when he gets into the van. It’s a brief shot, maybe 5-6 seconds, but it’s made alarming by a baby crying. The sound design around the Omar character tells us more about the character than anything else, so kudos to the show makers for taking into account the audio component of the audio/visual experience.

I haven’t always been a huge fan of McNulty’s constant drinking problem, but here I buy it. It’s a great outgrowth of his struggle in the last episode. He wants to see his kids, he spends all this time setting up the perfect place for the weekend, but it ends up not happening. I think McNulty can be too abrasive of a character to be likable at certain times, but moments like this go a long way to making him more sympathetic as a character even though he did badmouth the mother of his children.

The show exercise great restraint by not showing violence in this episode. Not only do we leave the Omar scene before everything plays out, but the last sequence of the episode is a series of phone calls surrounding a showdown we don’t witness. So far, The Wire is smart about not slipping into the spectacle that would overtake a lesser crime drama. This is a show that knows what it wants to be and so far it’s refrained from making violence a spectacle and I think that’s one of the aspects that separates this show as a lot more artful and intelligent than the average crime drama.

© 2013 James Blake Ewing