"Maybe it's changing. The city, the way things work, or don't. Maybe we're turning a corner here, and it's not going to be so unbelievably fucked up anymore." -Cedric DanielsOh, Colonel. Have you watched this show before? Haven't you realized by now that "unbelievably fucked up" is your universe's default operating mode, and that small changes like a new mayor or a new CID commander can't really change that?
For all the progress that's happened in last episodes, we can see how hopeless the situation remains. We can see it in Herc screwing over both Bubbs and Randy and being too dumb and self-interested to care. We can see it in Prez having to abandon all the progress he's made with his class in favor of "teaching the test." And most of all, we can see it in Michael deciding that the only person who can help him save his brother is Marlo, the devil his own self.
From our universal point of view, where we know how bad Marlo is and how relatively good people like Prez and Cutty are, we know that Michael's about to sell his soul without having to. But when you're Michael Lee and you live an existence where your mom's boyfriend molested you with impugnity, where your close friend Randy bears the scars of being "helped" by social services, where you see how dysfunctional and useless The System is, and where being molested has conditioned you to be afraid of any man who gets too friendly, where else are you going to turn?
As we've heard and seen all along, Michael's smart. He knows he's damning himself here. You can see it in those looks he keeps throwing Dukie as he walks away from him and towards Marlo. When Omar, taking the God's-eye view from a vacant apartment, sees Michael, he tells Renaldo, "He just a kid." Not anymore. Not anymore.
Really, the only way that Michael's situation could be worse was if he was in some way connected to bull in a china shop Herc, who gives up Randy's identity to Little Kevin in a pathetically futile interrogation, then goes back on his word to Bubbs, leading to his worst beating yet from the bullying fiend. (A pipe? Damn.) And poor Randy doesn't even realize how badly he's been screwed over, basking in his applied math homework at the dice game and getting Prez to buy him candy at dot.com cheap prices. Watching the episode again, knowing that the Little Kevin scene was coming up, Randy's oblivious smile at Prez just killed me.
Prez, meanwhile, is starting to understand the futility of the school system. I know some people have accused the scenes where the teachers gather to be too blatantly didactic, but I don't think they're any more obvious than, say, Bunk tearing into Omar last season for his influence on the kids or Bunny delivering Ed Burns' paper bag theory to the troops. I particularly liked Prez beginning to apply police and corner concepts (points on the package, juking the stats) to the situations confronting him in school. (Note also that the 10-point bump the school board wants is the same as the crime rate reduction the DNC people asked Tommy to get.) That teaching the test scene was just brutal, especially the moment when Dukie sums up the story correctly but Prez feels like he has to keep going until someone phrases it exactly as it's written in the answer key.
And while Prez tries to drill meaningless answers into his kids' heads, Bunny and Prop Joe both get some schooling in how limited life on the west side can be, Bunny with his disastrous field trip to the steak house, Joe in his dealings with Old-Face Andre.
I felt awful for Namond, Darnell and Zenobia; Bunny might as well have taken them to a place where no one spoke English, for all they could understand of what was happening in that place. (In hindsight, there's probably a stepping-stone between McDonald's and Ruth's Chris where the kids would have been impressed but not completely intimidated.) The kids began the night on their best behavior, down to Namond grooving to Billie Holliday, but by the time that dinner was finished, they were so worn down that they all retreated to their familiar troublemaking patterns. Of course, it's perfectly in keeping with corner culture in general and Namond's personality in particular that the next morning, their shell-shocked trip had been transformed into an amazing night to make the other kids jealous.
Prop Joe, meanwhile, tries to school Andre, both on the fungibility of mid-level drug operators and the need to get the hell out of town. But as we saw in the past with Wallace, if West Baltimore is the only place you've ever known, the outside world -- even another nearby city like Philly -- is, again, like a foreign country. Andre's not even a likable character and I felt terrible for him as he begged Chris and Snoop to kill him at home instead of the vacants.
Speaking of men who don't want to leave Baltimore (even though he did just that between seasons one and two), a few weeks ago, Omar showed how well he understood Bunk when he guilted him into looking into Andre's story. Tonight, Bunk returned the favor by forcing Omar -- the only character on this show whose belief in keeping his word is absolute -- to promise to stop killing. A non-lethal Omar is a very different fellow, though so long as only he, Bunk and Renaldo know about the promise, he can still put the fear into the corners.
And getting back to the futility of effecting change, Tommy starts to run into the realities of trying to reform an entrenched city government. In one corner, he has Burrell, who may be a bad cop but is one hell of a survivor. In another, he has the president of the city council and her jealousy over Tommy and Tony cutting in front of her to replace Royce. But the question, as it always seems to be for our resident politician, is how much he even cares about effecting reform versus effecting the advancement of Tommy Carcetti. The line about running for governor could have just been to mollify his new opponent, but that meeting with the DNC last week has given Tommy eyes bigger than his stomach. Exactly how much can Daniels' new hero accomplish if he intends to be out of office in two years?
Some other random thoughts:
- One of the most telling bits of throwaway dialogue: when Carcetti is meeting with the real-estate developer to find a project he can slap his name on, the guy mentions that the marine terminal "unfortunately is still a working enterprise." Of course he would say "unfortunately." In his worldview, places of blue-collar employment exist only to be converted into expensive homes and playgrounds for white-collar people.
- Some nice "everything's connected" edits this episode: the female teacher realizes her car was stolen, followed by an immediate shot of her parking sticker on the bumper, Donut getting out of the car and walking past Bodie and Namond; or Omar and Renaldo driving away from Old-Face Andre's, and as the van recedes into the background, Randy and Dukie walk past, brain-storming about how to raise the money for the on-line candy buy.
- Poor Kima. Tries to finally do right by Cheryl and the kid she never wanted, only to find out that she's been completely replaced and the kid reacts to her like she's a total stranger. A deal's a deal, but unlike Omar, Kima's been known to break her word a time or two; how long do you suspect she keeps paying?
- The return of Poot didn't come with a lot of fanfare, did it? It's amazing how he and Bodie seemed like kids themselves only four seasons ago and now look like grizzled veterans compared to the likes of Namond, Donut and, especially, little Kennard. ("He don't think I can jail? Sheeeeeit!") Of course, J.D. Williams (Bodie) is close to 30, so the more impressive feat was him seeming so young in the early days; don't know how old Tray Chaney is in real life.
- Anyone recognize that cover of "Don't Leave Me This Way" playing in Prop Joe's shop when he meets with Andre?
- It wasn't until Cutty mentioned it to Carver that I made the Wee-Bey to Namond to Cutty connection. D'oh! And here I had just been thinking that Cutty tolerated Namond's presence because he was friends with Michael. I'm really not that bright, sorry.
"I thought you was my escort out."What did everybody else think?
"In a manner of speaking, that be true."