The Wire 1.9-1.11

1.9 Game Day

Can people change? The show has sprinkled hints so far: Bubbles at the NA meeting and Wallace dropping work now lead to a new turn in both of the characters this episode. Bubbles seems to start realizing how bad his life is, I’m not sure he’s seen that bottom yet, but after a close call and a bad swipe, he realizes he wants to get clean. Meanwhile, D and Wallace talk and Wallace says he’s thinking about going back to school. But Wallace is also starting to snort coke. Does he really want to change? Can any of them change?

I’m not crazy about the basketball game in this episode. I get that it’s supposed to show another dimension of this world, but I feel like we already get to see these kinds of things in other ways and the basketball game feels a bit out of place. I get that it shows how the East and West sides can come together, but how it doesn’t actually do much beyond spurn competition. It feels a bit too on the nose for the show.

Once again, the devil is in the details. There’s a great scene where Lester walks through how they have to go about tracing the properties Avon owns. It’s interesting seeing how they piece it together and demonstrates the real-world grunt work that has to happen for this kind of case. I’ve heard people talk about this show as educational as well as entertaining and I think scenes like this do a good job at demonstrating how the show informs audiences about the American criminal justice system.

This show hasn’t been one for cliffhanger endings. Unlike other shows, The Wire never feels like it has to hold its audience hostage and usually ends in a way that’s open, but not abrupt. In this episode, that changes a bit. Omar’s been gunning for Avon and the two get into a close scrape. Instead of being a big shootout, it seems to blow over fast and we’re left hanging. The showmakers even know this as the final image of the episode is a dangling phone. It’s a great ending, but I hope this tupe of ending doesn’t become a habit because I’m digging the laid back endings more.

1.10 The Cost

This episode got me thinking about narrative structure. Part of what separates The Wire as a show is not only the detail and complexity of the narrative, but the way the show structures and presents that narrative. For instance, in this episode. Wallace is brought in for questioning. Instead of showing the the moment where the cops get him, The Wire shows us the scene where McNulty stations two cops outside the house and then the next bit of information we get is a scene where McNulty is asleep outside the interrogation room where Wallace is in.

There’s a lot of information the show doesn’t give us, but it assumes the audience can fill in the blanks, infer everything that happens inbetween the two moments. Doing this requires trust in the audience and the faith that they’ll be able to piece it together. It might seem like a little thing to most people, but the reason I often find crime dramas so tedious is they’re peppered with scenes that fill out information the audience can figure out on their own.

Continuing with the idea of what the show leaves offscreen, the last sequence of this show basically keeps the audience in suspense by leaving Kima undercover offscreen after a shooting goes down. Instead, we’re in the perspective of all the cops trying to figure out where she is. The result is a much more intense sequence where the powerlessness of the moment is felt. In another show, this would be an intense action scene, but The Wire once again goes for an artful approach.

Once again, I’m not crazy about how this episode leaves us hanging. It doesn’t feel right for this show. I realized that the main reason is the ending of other episodes feel like they’re ending on notes that are more about characters and themes while endings like these are almost purely plot hooks for the next episode. They’re still fantastic, but they feel a bit too consumeristic. Tune in next week and see the fate of Kima!

1.11 The Hunt

I love the opening chapter of this episode. You’ve got the lingering disorientation of the last episode and you start seeing how everyone reacts, who can keep their cool and who breaks under the overwhelming surge of emotions. McNulty is shell shocked, the young guys are pissed. Lester is quick to see the opportunity of the situation. Bunk (Wendell Pierce) and Jay (Delaney Williams) go hunting like hound-dogs. As they pick up clues, we get to see them piece together what happened bit by bit and to see the meticulous search at work is a great bit of detective work.

With emotions high, thinking begins to get skewed, even among the weathered cops. They want an immediate response, they want to get even, they want to send a message, let those criminals know that you don’t mess with cops. It sounds vaguely familiar to the street logic of Avon whenever he gets crossed. When the cops finally take a hit from the game, they’re ready to get down and respond in kind. The result is a raid ordered out of anger that threatens to sink the case and is extremely short-sighted.

We also get a bit more about the Judge. He’s been able to help in moments of crisis, but in the process he’s crossed some people and has to lay off in order to get himself back on the ballot. In the end, the bigger game of politics begins to rear its ugly head more and more as the case seems to be building to the point of breaking wide open.

This episode and the last one have been a bit heavy on the cop side of the story. I get that as they crack down, the criminals begin to clam up and there’s less of a story to tell there, but I’d have liked to see a bit more of that world. We do get the criminals reacting to realizing they’ve hit a cop, which leads to some crazy stuff going down, but I think it was a bit underdeveloped.

© 2013 James Blake Ewing