3.5 Straight and True
The problem with taking on The Wire an episode at a time is that there are episodes like this one. There’s good material in this episode, but it’s a setting up a longer arc and this feels like the pivot point for the season. We’re about halfway through the season and moving from one phase of the story to the next.
For instance, Cutty decides to get back in the game. He tried the straight and narrow for long enough and now decided that it isn’t for him. And Tommy decides to make a move on the paltry status of the witness protection program purely on ethical grounds and without pulling in the press or involving favors. These are major transitions for the characters, but we don’t see what the ramifications and challenges are going to be just yet. It’s a wait and see episode.
Speaking of wait and seem Avon finally gets out of prison and we begin to see some building unspoken tensions between Bell and Avon. Bell has been making the drug operation more businesslike and professional, getting everyone in the city organized and unified. We haven’t seen Avon’s response yet, but we can feel it coming. Once again, The Wire is playing the game and this episode is taking its time to get us to where we need to be.
In contrast to the last episode, a lot happening in this one. Avon wants to run things the old, gangsta way. The free zone seems to be working but there’s an old lady living in the middle of one of the zones. Daniels says no to hunting Bell, but McNulty goes behind his back to Bunny to get them on the murders. Cutty gets screwed over by some of the young pups who won’t stick to the plan. Omar decides to meet Bunk about a murder.
Each of these stories brings out something intriguing in the characters. The tension between Avon and Bell contrasts how Bell wants to use the money to get what they need while Avon wants to use muscle. Bell is now a businessman while Avon is still a gangster and always going to be a gangster. He’s more worried about his rep than about running things businesslike.
Kima and McNulty are trying to get the team back on Bell and Kima is beginning to realize how she’s become more like McNulty. She’s pouring herself into the job and feels alienated at home to the point that she begins drifting and might possibly be cheating. It’s a story that has been building for a while and I like how it feeds into the large crime plot but also reinforces the character subplot we’ve followed for seasons now.
Cutty finally faces being back in the game and realizes that, once he gets down to it, he doesn’t have it in him to kill again. He comes clean with Avon and admits he’s done with the game. For now, that seems to be cool with the crew. Even if he’s not the man he was, the crew respects him for his past life, a life he says is in the past. It’s an interesting twist in the arc. It almost seems too abrupt, like he needed to be back in this world longer, but it also seems like his first real taste of action wakes him up to the new man he wants to be.
The Bunk and Omar scenes follow the nagging pangs of conscious in both of the characters. Omar feels bad for what he’s done, but isn’t sure how to pay for it. He’s told that trying to pay for it himself might not accomplish anything. Bunk shows a surprising amount of sympathy for the woman, he tells Omar off when the man seems distant, says that every body he finds matters. He also lectures in disgust of the glorification of Omar he discovered at the crime scene. I almost wonder if this is a self-aware jab at how Omar became a fan favorite. He’s a despicable character, yet people love how cool he is. Isn’t there something sick about that fascination?
3.7 Back Burners
Some things never change. McNulty once again bucks authority and goes behind Daniel’s back to get the unit on Marlo and Bell. All their previous casework over the killings has gone down the drain. But this time Daniels says this is McNulty’s last job with the unit. After this, he’s cutting McNulty loose because he can’t be trusted.
On the other hand, things have changed a lot. The drug-dealers moving to disposable phones pose a massive challenge for the team. They can figure out the network, get numbers based on certain landlines being called, but they’re not sure how to get a wire up on the phones. The rampant speed of technological change might make the wiretap unfeasible.
Cutty is also going through his own change. After giving up the game, he starts talking to Deacon (Melvin Williams) about how he feels like he’s watching someone else do all the terrible things he doesn’t want to do. Can he shake off this old self? He says his name is no longer Cutty, it’s Denis. Characters in The Wire have tried to change before, but so far none have made it last.
One of those characters who slipped back into his old ways is Bubbles. This episode he walks through the free zones in one of the season’s best sequences. The dark lighting, the pacing of the scene and the way it uses perspective to hem in Bubbles visually gives the sequence an ability to express the hellishness of this lawless area.
© 2014 James Blake Ewing