David Simon is fond of parallels on this show, whether it's Bunny Colvin and Stringer Bell reciting the same last words at their respective firing/execution or the sequence last week where the cops and teachers both had to suffer through completely pointless motivational speeches. But I've rarely seen an episode (written by David Mills and directed by Christine Moore) where so many incidents echoed each other, including:
- Herc and Carcetti both catch Royce with his pants down (Herc both figuratively and, unfortunately for us at home, literally), and get some guidance from the ol' Prince of Darkness himself, Stan Valchek, on how best to exploit this;
- Cutty's landscaping boss and Bubbles both express a desire to branch out and cover more territory, if only their respective associates were willing (in Cutty's case) or able (in Sherrod's case);
- Marlo and Cutty both take an interest in Michael after seeing something unexpected in him (for Marlo, the fearless stare; for Cutty, the fast hands); and, my favorite
- Namond and Clay Davis express the exact same opinion about taking anybody's money if they're giving it away.
It's not just a cute storytelling device, but a means of illustrating how everyone in this city is connected. No matter what their socio-political status -- a blue-collar worker or a dope fiend, a state senator or a corner kid -- everyone is dealing with the same problems and concerns, just on different scales, and actions taken on all levels have a way of reaching out and affecting all other levels. Over the course of this season, decisions will be made in City Hall and police headquarters that will trickle all the way down to people like Bubbs or Namond, while random street events in turn alter the fate of the entire city.
What interests me most is something that the episode purposely glosses over. As Carcetti is making mincemeat of Royce in the debate, poor Tony Gray is off to the side, not even a factor anymore. In the final scene, Namond flips on the debate just long enough to hear Tony talk about how Carcetti's anti-crime approach is nice, but if they don't do something about the schools and keeping kids off corners, that won't matter. Namond, of course, quickly switches this off to play a first-person shooter game that feeds into the same glorification of violence that he gets from his father and the entire corner culture. The sad thing is that -- at least in the show's worldview, which we'll get more of once the school year starts in episode three -- Tony Gray is 100% right. The best, maybe only way to turn the tide on the inner-city drug problem is to keep future generations from getting involved with it at all and wait for the Marlos and Prop Joes to die off.
But that's not happening. Instead, you have Marlo taking a triumphant circuit through his kingdom, handing out cash to all the young'uns, which makes him a more popular figure with them than the cops and furthers the legend he cares so much about creating. As one of his sidekicks says, "Your name gonna ring out, man."
We learned more about the kids this week, especially Namond, Michael and Dukie. (And that's the correct spelling of Dukie, per HBO; I had assumed it was Dookie because kids made fun of the way he smelled.) Namond may have Wee-Bey's genes but not an ounce of his toughness or drive, judging by how happily he turned his corner job over to Michael and how his role at Cutty's gym is simply to spot Michael on the bag. But with a mom and dad both pushing him into the family business, what's a young'un to do? Michael, meanwhile, impresses Marlo and Cutty. There's a lot he's holding in, a glimpse of which you get when he stares down Marlo. And while Dukie's junkie family was mentioned last week, it's one thing to hear about his living situation and another altogether to see it, even one awful glimpse; that scene where Crystal dropped off the clothes from school was a heart-breaker.
In addition to Wee-Bey, episode two brought back several other notable supporting characters. Clay Davis is once again stretching out "Sheeeeit" with style; he's one of the most despicable figures this show has ever featured, and yet the way Isiah Whitlock Jr. plays him makes me glad to see the corrupt bastard again. Cutty's still running his gym (complete with benefactor Avon's Gold Gloves photo on the wall) and discovering that he can get more out of it than the warm fuzzies of helping kids. As a strapping, law-abiding adult male in this neighborhood, is it any wonder all the single moms are lining up to seduce him with their bodies and their cooking (not necessarily in that order)?
And it did my heart good to see Bubbs again, serving, like Prez and Cutty and Marlo and even Lester, as a youth mentor. Andre Royo just fills Bubbs with so much enthusiasm and good cheer, then slays you with the way he plays the getting high scene in Bubbs' ratty little squat-hole. And the looks Bubbs and Prez trade at the middle school office were priceless.
We also got expanded looks at two other notable new characters: Donut, the junior car thief who's sort of like the fifth Beatle to Randy, Michael, Namond and Dukie's fabulous foursome; and Officer Walker, the nasty uniform cop who lifts Randy's $200.
In my magnum opus about the genius of the show from August, I referred to Lester as the only character in the show's history who remains completely pure. Having rewatched his scene with Rhonda Pearlman, I may have to reassess. Lester can couch what he's doing all he likes in his "I'm just a po-lice" line, but he's absolutely pulling a McNulty here, fucking with people as much because he knows he can get away with it as because he thinks it needs to be done. And he's potentially setting up Ronnie to be sent to the State Attorney's office equivalent of the pawn shop detail. Definitely not the nicest thing he's ever done, even if it was right to do it.
(And in describing Lester that way in the column, I feel I may have short-changed Sydnor. I can't remember him ever doing anything especially shady or even self-interested. Then again, that could just be because he generally gets the least screen time of the MCU members, save coupon-clipping Caroline. Still, I liked his willingness to deliver the subpoenas with Lester and Kima, and the bit about the Sphinx Club in Clay Davis' office.)
Other random thoughts:
- Nice bit in the debate prep where Tommy, having just blown off Norman and Theresa to take a call from his wife, gets off the phone and recites every detail of their debate strategy. If race weren't a factor, Tommy would be wiping the floor with Royce.
- Prez's Johnny Cash collection gets another workout. In season two, we got a montage of the MCU advancing the port case as Prez listened to "Walk the Line," while he cleans gums off the desks here to "Ring of Fire." That sequence also reminded me of the bits from early in seasons one and two where Daniels, Prez and the rest had to turn the MCU's makeshift lodgings into useful workspaces.
- Is that bedroom scene with Rhonda the most light-hearted we've ever seen Daniels? He tells jokes, he does impressions, he laughs, pillow-fights, etc. Amazing. I barely knew Lance Reddick had teeth before this.
- Speaking of people enjoying themselves, I have to wonder how much of Carver's reaction to Herc's story was scripted and directed that way and how much was Seth Gilliam's inability to keep a straight face. Either way, it worked; I know that I wouldn't have been able to avoid a massive cackling fit at hearing the story, especially after Herc's suggestion of what he should have said. Just a hilarious scene all around.
- Also another strong episode for establishing the grown-up Carver, who's about to recreate that awful "Shaft" chase scene from the season three premiere until he remembers that he knows all the kids.
- Of course Snoop owns a Tony Montana t-shirt. Of course she does. For those of you who know anything about pistol marksmanship, whose form impressed you the most: Snoop, Chris or Marlo himself?
- The scene with Detectives Norris and Holley arguing over who should answer the phone was, if not word-for-word from the first Beau Felton/Kay Howard scene in the "Homicide" pilot, then a damn close approximation, and I'm pretty sure the uniform cop's crime scene retort -- "Yeah, I asked who shot him. He said it was the guy with the gun." -- also appeared in some form on that show. The guy who wrote the "Homicide" book oughta sue... Oh, wait...
- Have we ever not seen Landsman reading a skin mag when he's in his office? And if the fictional Landsman (the chubby Homicide sergeant) ever met the real Landsman (the skinny guy with the mustache who's the Western's second-in-command, as well as the inspiration for John Munch), would the space-time continuum fold in on itself?
- Did you catch that one of Prez's new colleagues is Cutty's girlfriend from his pre-prison days? I guess she decided the suburbs weren't enough of a challenge for her.
- In the interests of full disclosure, this episode was written by David Mills, who's been a friend of mine going back to his days on "NYPD Blue," not to mention Simon's partner on their first "Homicide" script (the great "Bop Gun") and in writing and producing the HBO version of "The Corner." Doesn't make the script any less great.
- Herc to Carver: "I said, 'Mr. Mayor, that's a good strong dick you got there, and I see you know how to use it!'"
- Bubbs apologizing to a customer for Sherrod's math skills: "Thank you very much. Intern, I'm workin' with him."
- Clay Davis, multiple times: "Sheeeeit!"
- Clay Davis: "I take any motherfucker's money if he giving it away!"
As of now, I think I'm going to stick with the current publishing schedule: full reviews posted immediately after the episode airs on HBO, followed by an open thread for comments on the On Demand episode the next day for the folks who can't wait to talk. But I don't want that to turn these longer posts into a ghost town, comments-wise. Keep the chatter coming; much like the return of Bubbs, seeing so much enthusiastic discussion of the show does my heart good.