Sunday, November 19, 2006

The Wire, "Misgivings": Revenge of the Bubbs

Spoilers for "The Wire" episode 10, "Misgivings," just as soon as I hide my open container...

Once upon a time, Bodie and Poot had to murder their best friend Wallace. Once upon a time, Jimmy McNulty was a great detective an a crap human being. Once upon a time, Ervin Burrell ruled the Baltimore PD with a time-tested formula of stat-juking. Once upon a time, someone did something very bad to Michael, and someone else did the same to Chris Partlow. Once upon a time, Michael still had all of his soul.

If life on "The Wire" travels a circular path, with the same events happening over and over, then "Misgivings" followed the backwards arc, with one character after another confronted by something they either did or had done to them in the distant past.

Bodie used to think he had no choice but to kill Wallace. Now, having inadvertently sent Little Kevin to his death, you can see him beginning to doubt that act, even as he tries to defend it to Poot. That shot of him alone on the corner after Slim Charles told him the news spoke volumes. Bodie once dreamed of advancing to the end of the chess board and becoming a king. Instead, he's a soldier with no army, little future and a past he's beginning to regret.

Also talking one way while his mind is going another is McNulty. In by far his biggest showcase of the season, he keeps extolling the virtues of being a simple beat cop, of having "the one true dictatorship in America," but man, did he look pleased to be doing detective work again, even on something as minor as a series of church burglaries. But as he told Daniels at the end of last season, the same thing that made him a good Homicide police also ruined him for any other kind of human interaction; if he gives in to the obvious temptation, will he stop being the responsible grown-up who inspired such lustful regret from Elena?

Much higher up the food chain, we have Burrell and Clay Davis trying to backdoor Carcetti. For two men who are such political survivors, these guys can't read the new mayor at all. How many times has Tommy said that he wants to move away from chasing stats and towards quality arrests? And what's Burrell's big idea of "some police shit" to impress the new boss? An initiative designed to do nothing but pad the stats through an ironically-titled series of "quality of life" arrests that don't improve the quality of anything. The sad thing is, with Clay, Council President Campbell and the ministers on his side, Burrell may have the juice to survive even though Tommy and Norman have him and Clay completely figured out.

The heart of the episode -- or lack thereof -- came in the advancement of Michael's story. You don't come back from arranging for a murder, even the murder of your own molester. That look he flashed his mother as he went to bed was the look of a man enjoying the power of death. That way leads to becoming another Chris Partlow, and as we saw, Chris and Michael have a whole lot in common. A long time ago, some man -- maybe a father figure, maybe a prison inmate, as the conversation with Bug's dad alluded to -- hurt Chris so deep down that he has turned himself into an ice-cold killing machine, just as Michael threw himself into the boxing to protect himself. Chris' gentle professionalism with his victims -- his desire to not cause any more pain than is absolutely necessary -- also makes far more sense in this context. Chris' savagery with Bug's dad was so out of character that it not only jarred Snoop, but made them both abandon the efficient, untraceable corpse disposal method they've been using all season.

And now Michael's bound to these two. Damn. Damn.

While Dukie has receded to the background lately, Randy, Namond and even Donut continue to find trouble. Poor Randy was a half-second away from escaping Herc's incompetence scott-free, but then Snoop had to remind Marlo of the evils of snitching. By the end of the hour, word of his alleged sins had already spread back to his own math class, and if the cold shoulder is the worst Randy suffers, he's going to be indescribably lucky.

Namond, meanwhile, finds an unlikely ally in Bunny, while his mom continues her bass-ackwards Mother of the Year campaign. She's angry that he didn't have to spend a night in jail! Given what we know about the both of them, it's not surprising, but still horrifying. Chris and Snoop are practically saints next to De'Londa. It's sweet, though, to see how far Namond and Bunny have come since the alluded-to days of "Mr. Colvin, sir? Fuck you!" I can almost -- almost -- see the school board's point about the merits of a program that would, at best, prepare less than half of its students to return to regular classes in a year's time, but just look at the progress being made by Namond (and, to a lesser degree, Darnell and Zenobia). And what good is it going to do to throw the unteachable part of the group back into GenPop? They won't learn any more and they'll just go back to disrupting everybody else. Sigh...

On roughly the same despicable level as De'Londa is Officer Walker. We already knew he was a thief and a bully, but breaking a little kid's fingers? Even a little kid who just stole a car and crashed it into a dozen parked cars?

(Side-note, and feel free to skip if you're in a hurry: I asked Simon whether Walker was deliberately written as African-American, and if so why, and he said, "Walker was conceived as black because tellingly, when Ed and I were on the Corner in West Baltimore, we noted that many of the more brutal, more shady patrolmen were actually black. Why is this so? Hard to say, but perhaps a mercenary or brutal patrolman is camouflaged in some sense if he is African-American. A white officer engaging in predatory practices in the ghetto would be subject to all kinda of racial, us-against-them stereotypes and stigmas. With a black officer behaving so, the racial politics are rendered moot. And from the perspective of some black cops, many of whom have working class roots and who have reached their newfound authority by having to eschew the temptations of the street and keep to a moral code, there is often, I have found, a contempt for the black underclass that some white cops would not dare exhibit. It's perhaps easier for a black cop, having reached his station in life, to heap contempt on those who have not done so, saying to himself, I did it, why the hell can't they. White cops, as outsiders, may not be subject to the same self-conscious judgments... (Walker) is more a function of class-consciousness, then race-consciousness. I get a sense that people who still think police brutality is linked to racism, rather than classism are about ten years behind the street.")

And I realize I've gotten through the bulk of this review without even mentioning the event which provided its subtitle. Bubbs' payback of Herc is really the bare minimum that our resident MCU lunk has coming to him. The minimum. But it sure was nice to see, wasn't it?

Some other random thoughts:
  • Language parallel #1: Bodie and Sydnor essentially give the same advice to Little Kevin and Herc: get out in front of your mistake if you want to survive. Little Kevin goes through with it and dies for his trouble; Herc half-asses his confession and takes the out Marimow gives him.
  • Language parallel #2: Herc gets upset when the minister calls him "son," just like Spider did with Cutty back on election day. Something tells me Herc wasn't raised in the most nuclear of families.
  • Omar's practically turning into Lester Freamon with all this patient surveillance of Marlo's crew and Slim Charles -- which, I suppose, makes Renaldo the Herc of this Bizarro-MCU. I don't even want to picture the full implications of that. Moving on...
Lines of the week:
  • Burrell & Clay Davis: "'Police shit'?" "Well, whatever it is y'all do for a living."
  • Bunny threatening to take Namond's balls: "I'll cut 'em off, give 'em to Dolly in a jar. Don't doubt me, boy."
  • Namond & Bunny: "Eddie Haskell? Who dat?" "You are, son."

What did everybody else think?

27 comments:

Mark said...

Great episode. When Chris and Snoop were first talking to Michael, I thought "Wow, Chris gets it immediately." In the end it became clear why. Makes one completely reevaluate Chris's previous murders, like shooting someone point blank is him being at his gentlest and quickest, just like he promised Andre.

I used to think that Herc was dangerous because he's an incompetent tool, but his very incompetence, especially the consequences of not honoring his agreement with Bubbles, might well ensure that he won't be at it for much longer. Officer Walker, on the other hand, is arguably more dangerous because his actions won't as easily get noticed by his bosses. It's clearly about class and about power more than about race: an officer, black (Walker) or white (Prez in season 1), can easily inflict serious harm on a West Baltimore juvenile with impunity. But going after someone with more power (Herc after the minister, various people after Clay Davis), whether justified or not, is going to have consequences. Except in the world of The Wire the unintended consequences may dominate, or in the case of Herc I wouldn't be surprised if he's saved by Daniels cleaning house as the new CID commander and reassigning Marimow.

Bodie is still stuck in middle management, just like in season 1. But, as he said himself, he's older now, and if he has any regrets about what he and Poot did to Wallace, at least he can tell himself that his hands were tied. He got a direct order from Stringer, and there was nothing he could have done to save Wallace (D'Angelo tried, to no avail). But he's clearly haunted by the case of Little Kevin. Not that he could have done much, it seems, to change the outcome: if Kevin hadn't come forward himself, Marlo or Chris would probably have heard anyway and asked questions, just like Bodie told Kevin. So the only real difference is that in this case Bodie was convinced that Kevin was reliable, and perhaps started to have doubts about Wallace too. I'm not sure what Slim Charles is up to, talking to Bodie about Marlo and at the same time meeting with Marlo. Is he testing Bodie's loyalty to Marlo, or is he planning to move against Marlo and looking for partners?

Minor correction: Colvin threatened to give Namond's cut-off balls to Ms. Donnelly, I think.

Anonymous said...

Looking ahead, I wonder what will happen to Burrell, Rawls, and Daniels. I'm beginning to wonder "how for real" Carcetti will be able to be, as Daniels puts it. We as viewers know that the official murder rate is an underestimate. Even the Homicide unit knows it: Bunk and Freamon are well aware that there's a drug war going on, but they haven't found the bodies yet. Before the end of the season those bodies will show up. Then what will happen to Carcetti's 10% reduction in crime? He's living on borrowed time, and he'll be lucky if crime is the only problem he has to deal with. One might think that he will soon be enlightened (isn't this season about education, rather than reform?) about the true wisdom of Burrell's way. He may have no choice but to keep Burrell and let him do what he's always done. Juking the stats might be Carcetti's only reliable option to offset a sudden jump in the murder rate. Remember the panic in the mayor's office in season three when Royce "ordered" the murder rate to stay below some magic threshold? Then it was Carcetti applying the pressure. This time he'll be on the receiving end.

Anonymous said...

Another place class shows up is in Bubs seeking revenge. He not only got revenge on Herc but also gives the preacher his comeuppance. I think this is another case of class friction. The chuch folk saw themselves as better than Bubs. The preacher and parishioners were scared of Bubs, probably more than usual given the recent burglaries.

Line of the week - DeLonda - "you afraid to go to baby booking"

If the area superintendent had been with Colvin at this moment she would have understood where these kids are.

Anonymous said...

First let me say that I love De'Londa! I think she's way more frightening than Snoop and Chris. They at least show compassion. Marlow should seriously think of picking her up as muscle since apparently there's not a single person (besides Avon's sister) that has the balls to say no to this woman.

Moving on,

I have such an issue with Herc, when he questioned Kev I thought, this idiot has just killed Randy. Luckily Marlow has a bit of common sense and realizes murdering 8th graders is pointless. Social alienation is probably a fate worse than death for an 8th grader.

On the Michael issue:
I realize the insinuation that Bug's father was a child molester, and that is obviously what Chris got from Michael, but I'm not sure that molestation was the case. Perhaps there was an alpha male issue there. Michael was the male in that household, even the head of his household before Bug's father reappeared, but after the father's return, his control was in question. He never said, This man laid hands on me, he just let people believe whatever they wished. I wonder if the truth about that situation will come out in the last three episodes.

R. Simms said...

Anonymous2, who did he let believe anything? He never spoke to anyone other than Chris and Snoop about Bug's father and even then, he said nothing. All the evidence pointing to his molestation was provided by the writers based on his behavior and his mother's words (Why does his mother tell him people can change? Why is he fearful to be alone in a car with Cutty?). They are showing us something that Michael will not even allow himself to verbalize. Perhaps Alan can or will elaborate, but I don't think the sexual assault can even be questioned.

I also noticed that look that Michael gave his mother. He is certainly enjoying his power and he has become hardened. I haven't see next week's episode, but the previews gave some indication of just how hardened his heart is from what seems to happen between he and Randy.

Good point, Mark--I was wondering what would save Herc this time.

Brian said...

The other argument supporting Michael having been molested is the conversation between him and Bug's father the episode before this, when Bug's father calls him cold, and tells him that he (Michael) doesn't have an ounce of forgiveness to him. It's apparent from that scene alone that the man has wronged Michael in some way, and in a manner where he thinks it's no big deal, but Michael is angered that the man thinks it's something that can be forgiven.

What did the previews for the next episode say? My Tivo cut them off.

dez said...

The previews showed Michael not sticking up for Randy when others called Randy a snitch, and then what looks like Randy getting beaten up by other kids. I don't remember the other previews because I'm still stunned by Chris' brutal beating of Bug's father, and how freakin' cold Michael was about it afterwards. What a great, yet heartbreaking, episode.

BTW, how often do B'more cops like Walker get their comeuppance in real life? I'm on the West Coast and the biggest focus here is what manner of ill the LAPD is up to, so I don't usually hear about cops in other states unless their misdeeds show up on YouTube.

Anonymous said...

You'll also recall in Boyz N the Hood that Tre's chief tormentor was a sadistic black cop who loved spewing the N-word. This is probably a not-uncommon dynamic.

Chris's ferocious beating of Bug's dad reminded me that in The Wire the only people we see murdered before our very eyes are the least sympathetic people, the ones who had it coming: the Turkish sailor, for instance, or Stringer Bell, or Bug's dad. And even then the effect is more depressing than cathartic. The victims we feel for (Wallace, for instance, or the little boy who caught the seeing-eye stray) are usually killed just off-screen, as the camera focuses on the killers and their actions. The great director Kenji Mizoguchi often did this, too: He wanted to spare the victims the indignity of having their death become a spectacle while not letting the viewer forget just who is committing the crime.

On those very rare occasions when we do see a sympathetic main character killed in front of us, as with D'Angelo, the effect is particularly wrenching and not some cheap bit of lurid sensationalism. Further proof of the integrity of The Wire.

Anonymous said...

In terms of the African American police being tougher on other African Americans than white police ... one cause is that an officer who is a racial minority may want to prove to a white colleague that he won't be "going easy" on his racial brethren, and may go over the line to a greater extent to establish this.

There is no one reason, of course, nor is the observation universal, but that is one explanation I've heard theorized, and it doesn't sound unreasonable.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone realized that Randy and Melvin "cheese" Wagstaff share the same last name? Any connection between the two characters?

Anonymous said...

"Has anyone realized that Randy and Melvin "cheese" Wagstaff share the same last name? Any connection between the two characters?"

Lots of people have noticed the shared surname. So far the writers haven't given us any clue about its significance, but I kind of doubt it's merely coincidental or a slip-up by the writers. I'm sure all will be revealed eventually.

stormyscout said...

Another argument to support child molestation is the conversation Michael has with his mother in which he says with much more than just jealous displaced alpha-male sentiment, "You lied to me."

Michael had to have been no more than between the ages of 7 and 9 when Bug's Daddy was living with them before he went away. I'm doing the math from Bug's age subtracted from Michael's age combined with the amount of jail time that is implied. With Michael stepping up to be there for his little brother at this age even being upset with his mom for taking up a new man--I don't think it adds up to the amount of feeling behind this conversation.

I think he would be angry yes . . . but betrayed to the point of feeling desperate, even murderous? I sense more than just Bug's loyalty at stake--it's his very innocence, protection from whatever Michael has been through. How about the "F***!" at the after-school program and the running and the "Get over to me now?" and the pure RELIEF in Michael's eyes when Bug's Daddy leaves the room? Obviously, I feel strongly about this. So, I thank whoever who raised this point. (c;

Anonymous said...

This show never just gives you the obvious, feel good story, does it? I've been waiting all season for Michael to actually use some of his boxing skills to beat the hell out of Bug's dad. Never gonna get that now, am I?

Jen said...

Wow. That was a...brutal way of giving us a hint of backstory on Chris Partlow. Amazingly well done. Now I'd love to get just a snippet of background about Snoop or Marlo. We do know that Snoop has a sister...Namond mentioned a few episodes back, "Your sister's in my class" (while he was running away from Snoop, I think!), and we've seen glimpses of a girl who looks just like her in Prez's class. I wonder if she'll have anything to do with the story, or if this was just a way to give Snoop's real-life sister (?) a bit part.

Namond's mom...I have no words.

Karen said...

My sense on the Chris backstory was that it might have had to do with his own prison experiences, which I'm thinking happened when he was younger. It's right after Bug's daddy (did we ever even get his name?) said "Man got to bust his nut, know what I'm sayin'?" that the camera lingers on Chris' face as he says "I do" and then he just goes to town on him. Chris drew the guy out about sex in prison to see how he'd behaved there--when he got his answer, he took out his anger in an entirely visceral way.

Not to mention that Chris intuited immediately what the issue was with Michael without Michael saying a word. Snoop was clueless both through the meeting with Michael and through the encounter with his stepfather.

I worry that Bubbs is going to get blowback from Herc on the incident with the reverend. Frankly, I don't know why Kima sent Bubbs to Herc instead of to Sydnor. She knows what an idiot Herc is. The one thing I'm praying for is that the good reverend's anger at Herc will resound through the ministers so as to pull their support from Burrell. That man is Herc, with slightly more political astuteness.

April said...

One thing about the "Eddie Haskel" scene bugged me -- would it have killed Bunny to spend a moment explaining the cultural reference? Even if it were just a tiny thing "Get 'Nick at Night' or 'TVland', kid?" or more kindly "There're some TV shows from way back that a lot of people my age reference, even if we never watched them. So in one of them, called..." (fade out). I would have gained a little more respect for Bunny as an attempted educator with that line.

Teaching the kids these unspoken codes and references of the non-corner world is what the Special Class is all about. (I'm a college teacher, mostly freshman composition (writing), so I'm also teaching kids to decode a different set of often-unspoken assumptions.)


(I just snarfed all of the Wire and have been binging on them, reading your analyses afterwards ASAP! Just wanted to thank you, now that I feel I'm far enough along to have a comment, and had something I felt halfway qualified to comment upon. I know this is a small point compared to the larger parts of the episode, but it irked me.)

Ellis said...

In my opinion, Worst Mother of The Wire doesn't go to either Namon's mom *or* D'Angelo's mom.

It goes to Michael's mom. It's not even close.

Harry said...

I know I'm pretty late to the discussion, but if I may play Devil's Advocate for a moment: doesn't Michael deserve that look? That feeling of finally not being subject to that man, or his mothers apathy and inaction in regards to that man? I don't normally glorify the violence in any way, but seeing Chris give Bug's dad that beating was immensely satisfying...I had been just hoping and waiting for that guy to get his comeuppance (and no, I've not had an experience in my life, but anyone with even a hint of sympathy in their hearts should be able to see just how low it is to take advantage of an innocent child).

Anonymous said...

Am I the only one who thinks that Bunk´s youngest son is in this special class in high school with Bunny etc?
When they all talk in school about what they want to be when they grow up, the small one says that he wants to become a surgeon or some other kind of doctor.
Later, in the pub, Bunk says something like "he´s still in the -I want to become a surgeon/doctor/whatever- phase...."

Manky said...

Good to see i'm not the only one still reading these! Nah, I don't know if this is your first watch through, but something happens in a couple of episodes that makes it very clear that the kid you're talking about, Albert, is not Bunk's. Come on, he'd raise his better than that.

I love the Partlow murder scene, I didn't fully understand the first time I watched through, but that was awesome with full understanding. I personally feel the Chris got raped in prison, maybe when he was quite young, which explains better his questioning to Bug's dad. I couldn't feel anything but empathy with Michael and Chris here, the stuff they've suffered through, you'd just want to hit and keep hitting, appropriate given Michael's hobby. You've also got to think something a bit different would have happened for Chris to be the way he is, emotionlessly murdering civilians like he does. Bodie is probably the closest personification we have to the game, it is all he knows, and he couldn't do that.

I quite liked Herc first time round, but i'm more against him now, because it has become apparant to me he isn't just dumb, he's very selfish too. If he cared about other people, he would, even with his limited brain power, have been able to realise he shouldn't mention Randy's witnessing, and he needed to help Bubbs. This is espeically shown by his career aspirations.

Anonymous said...

Alan, as many before me have said thank you so much for these amazing recaps. I missed this show in it's initial run and am devouring them now as I just finished this episode on the 21st day of my viewing marathon. Had it not been for your newbies version I may have punched out due to sheer confusion early in season 2, so glad I did not as this is easily becoming my all-time favorite show.

As for this episode, it was fantastic. The side of Chris that we see, which even had Snoop taken aback, was from such a dark place that managed to be so sinister, but also made a cold sadistic killer actually seem more human. This is no small feat to accomplish.

I think the boys are my favorite new characters the series has ever introduced and it is truly sad to see the direction their fates are heading. Randy being labeled a snitch will no doubt severely hamper any attempts at getting him on the right track and lead to him opening his own store someday as he dreams. Namond is probably the saddest story of this group. Forced into a life he is too scared to live and which will inevitably lead him to incarceration (where he will no doubt have to resort to mass humiliating actions for survival) or another casualty in this game. While I know many viewers dislike his character, I actually feel nothing but sympathy for him. And then finally there is Michael, who will have the physical and mental strength to rise up someday as the next Marlo, but can anyone call that a success story?

Oh well, at least Dukie isn't being picked on anymore.

-E-

Anonymous said...

I know I'm a few years late to the party, but I wanted to thank you, Alan, for these posts. I've been going through the series and reading your recaps after every episode.

I just had to comment on this episode, being a lurker in the past: the scene with Walker made me actually step away from the TV. How awful.

I must admit, I'm starting to see Herc as one of the villains in this season. His utter stupidity and incompetence is jarring. Sometimes, I feel like he's worse than Snoop or Chris or Marlo: at least those guys think about what they're doing and advancing their own agendas, evil as they may be. Herc is just domb and his stupidity will get several people killed before the season's end.

I'm also beginning to get extremely frustrated with this season in regards to the bodies: we have three episodes to go, and nothing's been discovered yet. Is it really that unrealistic to look in the vacants? That should be the FIRST place the police should check after everything else has been exhausted but people still keep disappearing.

The last scene was so powerful. Chris showed emotions, and it startled even Snoop. I was rooting for him then: to me, a child molester is up there with a murderer, and it's eerily astisfying that Bug's dad did not get Chris and Snoop's "euthanasia" treatment. But poor Michael; this is going to get costly.

Anonymous said...

It's been over 5 years since these posts were first written, but it seems that many like me are watching The Wire for the first time and coming here to reflect on what they've seen and I have a feeling that's going to continue in the days and years

As for what Anon said Dec. 10 2011:

It's hard to explain if you've never been to or lived in Baltimore, but checking every single vacant would take the entire Baltimore police force and more. The sheer number of abandoned buildings in this city is staggering.

Pale Ale said...

How great is it when Bubbs deadpans the plates over the phone PR8ZGOD...I burst out laughing.

Great Ep...so many brilliantly woven storylines by this point in the season, but no Lester the last few episodes though which isn't good.

Anonymous said...

When Randy was labeled a snitch at the top of the episode, I was excited that that would lead to him better prospects. Wouldn't a snitch label get you out of the gang world??? No one would want to work with you! But it seems clear to me from people's comments that that's not gonna happen. Still a snitch label would give you great motivation to go straight, a snitch just can't survive on the streets.

And I would say Dukie's whole family seems worse than De'Londa and Brianna combined. They can talk all they want but the boys can still make their own decisions, Dukie's people just use and neglect him, literally stealing his stuff. The other parents, at least Brianna, still kind of care. Season one I thought Brianna was the worst of the worst, the most evil character, but God, they actually came up with WORSE parents.

This show is getting too hard to watch.

Paul said...

This episode really hit home for me. Michael's story really came to fruition and now the gears are in place for either a tragic fall or a redemptive rise. Excited to see where that goes.

But my favorite takeaway from the episode is that of Chris. His brutal fight with Bug's dad revealed so much about his character and all of a sudden, so many character traits make sense for Chris. His coldness comes from an abusive past. His desire to make each death as painless as possible was truly sincere and you know why.

Also, the Wire's best trait throughout each season is its patience. It shows you little things here and there that seem like something small, only to then become very important down the road. Same goes for Chris. From the first episode of the season, we've seen him and Snoop kill target after target in the same manner: cold, quick and untraceable. Once we finally get used to it as an audience, the show throws us for a loop when Chris goes ballistic with the beating of Bug's dad. It was so unexpected and initially out-of-character, but that's the brilliant part of it: you know this happened for a reason. Love it.

Also, looking back to Michael's earlier conversation with Chris it again makes perfect sense now. Michael is too shamed to say what truly happened, but Chris knows that look and immediately understood. I love that and it's a great yet subtle touch that now has a deeper meaning. Just great, great writing and directing across the board.

Paul said...

Hey Pale Ale, thanks for pointing out the license plate numbers that Bubbles gave to Herc. I forgot about that scene and it was hilarious! Yet again displays Herc's stupidity and makes for yet another hilarious scene with Bubbles.

Think about that: Herc had to write down the license plate numbers. Wouldn't any somewhat competent person, let alone police officer, see the phrase? I usually love Herc and he was my favorite comic relief for years, but now he is beginning to worry me.