“Unto Others” is the literal halfway point of season four (show 7 out of 13), and it represents a kind of turning point. After six episodes of Murphy’s Law reigning supreme -- of Marlo killing with impunity, Prez bumbling around the classroom, Burrell and Rawls marching to Royce’s CYA beat – things are getting better. At least, better by the grim standards of “The Wire.”
The subpoenas that Rhonda thought would spell her professional doom have instead catapulted her into a top position under the new State’s Attorney. Daniels’ competence and vision have caught the eye of mayor-in-waiting Carcetti. Omar has The Bunk on his side. Prez is mastering ways to teach his kids (and finding lots of great new supplies gathering dust in the book room). Cutty has started to learn the error of his player ways, even if he hasn’t totally won Michael’s respect. Kima earns her Homicide stripes with an unexpected solution to the Braddock case. Hell, even Royce himself seems like a changed man without the weight of the election and the office. (Some of that, no doubt, was an act to protect his pride, but not all of it.)
This being “The Wire,” I don’t think any of us expects these halcyon days to last – especially since it’s still not all flowers and puppies. Bubbs has lost Sherrod to the corners and is being routinely menaced by that hulking dope fiend. Bunny and company are having a hard time getting through to Namond and the others. Carcetti may not be able to get rid of Burrell right away. And the only people going after Marlo are the members of the gutted MCU, led by Herc, who personifies the kind of functionally illiterate street cop Daniels was describing at ComSTAT.
Especially troubling is the fact that Randy’s future is now in Herc’s clumsy hands, through a chain of bizarre events beyond anyone’s control. Forget what Randy himself did to get in this mess (and if he had kept to the code and avoided snitching, he’d be home-free since the girl recanted). Just consider how things might be different if Prez had taken the case to Lester instead of Daniels, if Carver hadn’t felt so guilty about having outgrown Herc, if Prop Joe hadn’t told Marlo to steal the camera, if Omar hadn’t called in his chit with Bunk, if Crutchfield wasn’t so pissed off at Bunk for interfering in his case, etc., etc., etc.
While Herc is still struggling to differentiate between his own bodily orifices and various holes in the ground, Bunk and Omar have resumed their duet from season three's "Homecoming." Bunk tries to act above it all, like the job is just a job, the murders don't affect him, and all he's about is the wardrobe and the booze and the ladies. But Omar, who grew up on the same streets and even went to the same schools, gets to him, forces him to confront his own choices in life and views on crime. And Omar knows the man well enough to know the right card to play -- not the literal one from Ilene Nathan, but the one that points out that Bunk is letting the killer of a citizen walk to punish Omar for killing dope slingers. Very strong scene between the two of them.
When I interviewed Simon and Ed Burns before the season, one of the things I was really hung up on was Prez finding the new books and computer untouched in the book room. I wasn't naive enough to think that couldn't have happened during Ed's teaching days; I just assumed that there was a reason they kept the stuff down there, that they didn't trust the kids with nicer books, an expensive computer, etc. No, he told me: the administration just forgot they were there. (The middle school he taught out also had a locked-up, abandoned room full of tens of thousands of dollars worth of computer equipment. It was designed to use a specific type of software to communicate with schools around the world, but the system also had a firewall that prevented it from connecting with any computers outside the state, and only one other school in Maryland had compatible software. Whoops.)
The smile on DuQuan's face when he got the computer up and running was almost heartbreaking, in comparison to the usually guarded, downcast expression he usually sports. And Prez is learning how to reach out to the entire class, and not just Dukie. It was only a matter of time, I think. Prez's gift has always been problem-solving (see his breaking the Barksdale pager code), and while his students aren't just an abstract concept, there are certain universal methods of dealing with them. Tricking kids into learning is a method I've seen work just as well in a rich suburban white school as it did for Michael and Randy and the rest.
Things are moving at a much slower pace in Bunny's special class, but then, it took half a season to get Hamsterdam up and running, and he got an earlier start on that than he's had here. Beyond the segregation, we're seeing Bunny and his team changing another fundamental element of these corner kids' school lives: one-on-one guidance counselor talk instead of suspensions. And the kids seem just as baffled by that as the hoppers were by the idea of Hamsterdam.
But for now, at least, progress is being made, in City Hall, at Tilghman Middle, in the Homicide unit, etc. Optimism is such a rare emotion on this show that I'm a little afraid of it. But for every bit of hope, Simon and company were sure to throw in an equal dose of realism. Tommy may have grand plans for this city, but how much time is he going to have to pull it all off if, as the former mayor explains, he's going to spend all day, every day, eating shit?
Some other random thoughts:
- I forgot to note last time the journey of Old-Face Andre’s gawdy ring, which Marlo took as punishment for being robbed, which Omar then took during the poker game heist, and which Officer Walker now proudly wears after taking it off Omar during his arrest. The last segment of this season's credits features one circular image after another -- the pass-through at Andre's store, a kids' merry-go-round, a spare tire, etc. -- as a way to illustrate the endless loop of these people's lives, that the same events, the same mistakes, will happen again and again, no matter how much people like Tommy or Prez or Bunny try to change things. Keep an eye on this particular circle; its travels aren't over yet.
- Dammit, I actually feel some affection for Clarence Royce after he invited Tommy to sit in his chair. Any thoughts on how much of his behavior in that scene was saving face, how much was relief at not having the job anymore, and how much was simply a realization that this was just business, not personal?
- Was I the only one who didn't realize the angry kid in the camo jacket was Sherrod until Bubbs went to talk to him? Between the absence of his familiar white t-shirt, the hat obscuring his features a little and the fact that he rarely talks, I had no idea it was him and wondered why we were spending this much time with a random unaffiliated corner crew.
- Sherrod is seemingly out of Bubbs' life, but he left behind a nightmarish legacy in that giant dope fiend who keeps treating Bubbs as his personal ATM. Definitely a no good deed goes unpunished situation: if Bubbs hadn't tried to help Sherrod against this goon (and if he wasn't trying to better himself with the shopping cart business), none of this would be happening to him.
- I love it when this show just steps back and shows people doing their work, whether it's Bunk and McNulty in the famous "fuck" scene from season one, or McNulty studying navigation charts so he can stick Rawls with the dead hookers case, or, here, Kima using "soft eyes" to figure out who really killed Braddock and why. Two and a half minutes of screen time may not seem like a lot, but I can't imagine any other show on television devoting that much time to a silent sequence of someone just looking and thinking.
- While Bodie's crew is still selling Pandemic, Namond's junior bunch (including Donut and that little kid, Kennard, who looks to be about nine) are slinging around the Big Yellow Bird. I'm not sure I can watch "Sesame Street" with my daughter anymore without cringing. If someone introduces a Snuffleupagus brand-name, I'm out.
- After all her career-threatened whining about Lester's subpoenas, it was nice to see Rhonda acknowledge, even under her breath, that the man in the reading glasses is responsible for her fancy new job.
- If Cutty was still holding out any hope of getting back with Ms. Sampson -- and, given his fondness for the neighborhood ladies, I don't think he was -- that awkward encounter at Tilghman Middle should have put the end to that dream. "Be well" is just a polite way of saying "Smell ya later!," isn't it? But I'm glad he seems to have learned some lessons from what happened with Spider, even if Michael still doesn't seem that impressed by him. Also, interesting to see Cutty's soldier instincts come out as they did when he saved Namond from Sherrod; Chad L. Coleman can pull the crazy eyes when he wants.
- Omar to Big Man #2: "They got Honey Nut Cheerios in here?"
- Big Man #2 to Omar: "Sheeeeit!"
- Landsman contemplating Freamon’s lucrative dollhouse business: "Fuck me. I need a hobby."
- Namond trying to be polite: “Mr. Colvin, sir? Fuck. You.”
- Herc, re: Carver calling them an enabling relationship: "Enable me, Carv. Enable me to find my camera."
- Herc on the sum of his intelligence on Marlo: “I know he’s a drug dealer. I can’t prove it or nothing.”
- Crutchfield: "Fuck The Bunk!"