3.8 Moral Midgetry
The free zone is now called Hamsterdam by many of the locals. The place is getting uglier by the day. The latest antic is a number of people getting robbed. In a twist of irony, the boys selling drugs on the street complain about the police not being around and say they want to file a complaint. Some of the criminals are beginning to realize how messed up this place is. Hamsterdam has become a sort of focal point for the worst of the worst in America and how the world turns a blind eye to them.
Deacon and Bunny begin to realize that there’s an opportunity here and try to get social workers involved in concentrating their efforts on the free zones. These areas are filled with people that are normally dispersed which gives them an opportunity to reach a lot of people in a small space.
The free zone are practically cultural concentration camps. There aren’t any walls or guards forcing these people in, but their dependency on a drug culture being crammed into this space brings them all to reside in this terrible space. Bunny has essentially rounded up all the undesirables into specific spaces in order to have cleaner streets elsewhere. As one cop puts it, the whole thing is moral midgetry.
Meanwhile, Tommy is once again doing something out of conviction instead of playing the political game. For Tommy, doing the right thing could mean blowing a tool he could use later down the line with the campaign. He’s too eager, has too much conviction, to play the political game right. He also wants to win too much. His campaign manager, Theresa D’Agostino (Brandy Burre), offers the most insightful thought into politics: It’s not about winning every argument, it’s about making people feel comfortable.
Ramifications of season 2 are still echoing throughout this season. Brianna hears about McNulty thinking D’s death was actually a murder and there’s a gut-wrenching scene where McNulty talks about how indifferent Brianna must be to make her son not take the deal that could have saved his life. Meanwhile, the escalating tensions between Bell and Avon finally force Bell to admit he offed D. There’s a fight, but in true The Wire fashion, it dissipates before the episode ends.
This is my favorite episode of The Wire so far. In an hour, it encompasses so much of what makes the show compelling: The game, the political process, the lives of the characters and the complex morality of the urban crime world. Also, the way it builds drama in this episode is astounding, with some magnificent sequences that demonstrate the show’s dedication to artful craft over sensational entertainment.
Bell and Avon are still battling over how to deal with Marlo. Avon wants to play the game, the one they’ve always played, and he wants to play by the rules. Bell wants to find another way, but it isn’t working out. For instance, he breaks the rules when he tells the boys to hit Omar on a Sunday when he’s taking his grandma to church. Even among gangsters, there are things sacred, rules that must be followed.
Meanwhile, Denis is trying to open up a gym but finds himself encountering the bureaucracy of permits and is completely lost. There’s a delightfully disorienting scene where he goes from various offices trying to figure out what he needs. The wire is also getting held up by the system. This time, it’s the wireless company that says they can’t turn around fast enough to get the taps the team needs. They try going federal to get more leverage, but it doesn’t seem to be working. Both are trying to do good, but the red tape in place makes the process a constant uphill battle.
Despite these setbacks, Jimmy begins to brag about how great they are, how few people could do what they do. Lester is quick to lecture Jimmy about how the job isn’t enough, how the job won’t save or fulfill him. And then you get one of the best lines of the show: “A life, Jimmy, you know what that is? It’s the shit that happens while you’re waiting for moments that never come.”
Jimmy never learns. He’s constantly bucking authority, looking down at a lot of the rest of the team, and thinking he knows better, but he begins realizing how empty his existence is. He’s been sleeping with Theresa for a while, but once he tries to get to know her a as person, he realizes how little they have in common and how empty their relationship is. She makes him realize how vain he sounds and that he needs something more than his quick romps.
Prez catches another bad streak of luck. He and McNulty end up near a shooting and when they go to track it down, Prez accidentally shoots a cop. Once again, the presentation is superb. We follow McNulty, hear the shots from a distance, and then cut to Prez checking the man he’s just downed. The way the shots are presented mean that we’re not quite sure what happened for a moment, the disorientation and confusion sets up the ensuing ambiguity of a situation gone bad with now clear moral weight it. Just a terrible accident where blame isn’t easy to lay.
The last two shots of the episode bring McNulty and Prez to a new moment. McNulty sits against a car as he looks at the capital after rejecting Theresa. The woman won’t save you. The next scene is Prez sitting in the wiretap room, gazing off at nothing, realizing that the only thing he’s ever felt good doing might be slipping through his fingers. The job won’t save you.
This episode is all about setting up for the season’s end because it’s a lot of little things that don’t quite resolve in this episode. For instance, Brother Mouzone is back and he’s looking for Omar. If those two ever get together, they could be a terrible, terrible duo. Also, a reporter gets a tip about the free zone and he starts sniffing it out. Bunny realizes he has to come clean and unloads the information to the Deputy Ops and Commissioner.
The war between Marlo and Avon is still escalating, Prop Joe says they’re cutting them out if Avon and Marlo don’t straighten it out, but Marlo wastes a defenseless woman, which escalates the conflict. Tommy begins getting wet feet about setting up a campaign behind Tony’s back. Denis starts trying to train some kids, but finds them wild and unruly, and Bunny lectures Carver about how the younger generation can’t do proper police work. There’s a lot here, but it all feels like setup.
However, there is one great subplot that runs this episode. The team has been trying to figure out how to get the wire up as fast as they can and they end up finding an ingenious way to do it: sell the phones to the dealers themselves so they already have the phones pretapped. Lester ends up being the guy to make the sell, and it’s a mint scene. The old-time pipe sells his disguise. It’s all about the props.
© 2014 James Blake Ewing