"You gonna help, huh? You gonna look out for me? You gonna look out for me, Sgt. Carver? You mean it? You gonna look out for me? You promise? You got my back, huh?"
Fuckin' George Pelecanos.
Every damn season, the man writes the penultimate episode, and every time he absolutely destroys me. Bodie and Poot killing Wallace. Sobotka driving to his death. Omar and Mouzone taking out Stringer Bell. But none of that was a patch on the four punches to the gut administered in "That's Got His Own." There was another death tonight, poor Sherrod, but it's the fate of the living that really stung.
Randy? His trusted foster mom badly burned and himself bound for a return to the social services system that emotionally scarred him. Dukie? Exiled from the first real home he's ever known, and abandoned by his real family on top of that. Namond? Forced to confront his absolute unsuitability for the corner lifestyle, and kicked out of his mom's house as punishment. And Michael? Already lost, a willing pupil of Chris and Snoop's, a one-time protector who now has no qualms about savagely beating on a little boy not much older than his kid brother.
I say again: Fuckin' George Pelecanos. I know that it's Simon and Burns who come up with the arc of the season and Pelecanos who only serves as their hatchet man each year, but my connection to these characters is so strong that I start talking myself into a grudge against George for not standing up to his bosses and trying to protect these innocents. Maybe "The Wire" is an unchangeable institution like the ones it tries to dissect, one where bad things happen because no one can stop them even if they want to.
But if I can divorce myself from this unhealthy attachment to four fictional kids, I can marvel at the artistry that was used to depict each of them being cast out by the society that promises to nurture and protect them.
Since I first watched this season back in June, the scene that haunted me, not surprisingly, was Carver's endless walk down that Stanley Kubrick-looking white corridor as Randy's taunts echo behind him. (A nice parallel to the "Where the fuck is Wallace?" scene from the similar point in season one. Where the boy at, String?) But just as awful was Dukie's wistful last glimpse back at Prez's classroom (and also the look on his face when he realized his family left him behind -- again), Namond telling Michael he didn't want the package and, later, breaking down in tears at the realization that he's not capable of living his father's life.
But the one that stuck out at me on second and third viewing this week was Cutty turning down Michael's offer to wait for the ambulance. For all that Michael seems lost, taking shooting lessons from Chris, beating on Kenard, shoving Namond, etc., there was still enough humanity left in him that he was willing to wait with Cutty, the man he had feared and loathed from the moment Cutty took an interest in him. In that moment, Michael seemed to finally recognize that Cutty never wanted to hurt him, that if he hadn't been so afraid he could have gotten Cutty's help in dealing with Bug's father and avoided his new career path...
...and Cutty sends him away.
He does it in part because he's furious and in pain, but also because he thinks he's looking out for the kid. And what I saw on Michael's face when I watched this scene again and again is that he doesn't want to go. Again, he finally recognizes what Cutty was trying to do for him, and in this moment, his mentor is sending him away, just like Namond's mom kicked him out, Dukie's family left, etc. Cutty's intentions don't matter, not any more than Ms. Donnelly's good intentions when it comes to promoting Dukie. Michael's finally found an adult man he can trust to protect him, and Cutty doesn't want him there anymore. In that moment, I think, Michael still could have been saved, and Cutty didn't realize it.
And what I love about this show, why I watch it even as scenes like Carver's long walk bash me in the face, are the nuances like that, the fact that I could write pages and pages and pages about what happens to every character in every episode, particularly this late in the season. But since I'm going to write an awful lot about the fate of each boy in the finale, let's move on.
Lester's argument with Landsman, and then the ultimate decision made by Daniels, then Rawls, then Carcetti, represented the clash between the old way of doing business in the Baltimore PD and what Tommy wants to be the new way. Landsman is so terrified of the stats that he won't even run the idea up the chain of command, while Daniels and Rawls recognize a way to make the stats work for them, and Tommy declares that he wants the bodies out just because it's the right thing to do.
Tommy's still enough of a politician, though, to demand that all of them get removed by end of December. But the possibility of a few dozen corpses being pulled out of vacant houses is just a blip on Tommy's radar this episode, thanks to the $54 million shit sandwich the governor is asking him to eat over the school budget. As with so many things on this show, there's no one individual at fault for the missing money; it's just the broken system at work. I'm with Norman: Tommy has no choice but to take the governor's hand-out, 2008 be damned. Is he really that self-sacrificing?
A whole lot of other random thoughts:
- Because it's a Pelecanos episode, an innocent person has to die, and the short straw goes to Sherrod. Poor Sherrod, and poor, poor Bubbs.
- And did you catch the mention of Junior Bunk by the arabers? Their description didn't really track with the "Homicide" character; my guess is that there was a real Junior Bunk once upon a time, and Simon liked the name enough to use it twice.
- The return of Omar's nursery rhyme whistling! Proving once again that he's more than just the man with the biggest gun and biggest guts, Omar outthinks Prop Joe and takes off his entire shipment from The Greek. (Nice little callback to season two.)
- To repeat a point I made in my review of "Unto Others," it's just staggering the number of inadvertent things that had to happen to put Randy in his current predicament: He had to be out in the hallway when the two boys needed a lookout for their blow job party. The boys had to be so cold to the girl the next day that she called the cops. Prez had to take Randy's problem to Daniels instead of Lester. Carver had to feel guilty for having outgrown Herc, instead of just calling Bunk directly. Omar had to call in his chit with Bunk and Bunk had to piss Crutchfield off enough that Crutch threw out Carver's eventual phone message. Prop Joe had to tell Marlo to steal Herc's camera. Herc had to frustrate Sydnor so much that Sydnor walked out of the Little Kevin interrogation before Herc gave away Randy's identity. Bodie had to convince Little Kevin to come clean to Marlo. And Snoop had to speak up to convince Marlo to reverse his decision about letting Randy off clean. And, on the bitter irony scale, Randy had to be so terrified of losing Miss Anna that he turned snitch, which set off this whole Woody Woodpecker chain of events that led to him losing Misss Anna.
- Great little moment: Prez fighting back a smile over "Tickle my nuts!"
- Is Norman the political equivalent of The Bunk? Stylish, suave, funny and he knows how to get the job done more than his boss often does. Given his work on "The Corner," kind of amazing it took Simon and company four seasons to find a part for Reg E. Cathey, but it was worth the wait.
- Inside joke: the security guard who tells Tommy and Norman that the governor is finally ready to see them was played by Bob Ehrlich, the real-life Maryland governor who was recently defeated by Martin O'Malley (who many view, despite Simon's protests, as the inspiration for Carcetti).
- Of course DeLonda considers herself a great mom because she always made sure Namond got his Nikes. I quote Mr. McCartney: I don't care too much for money, money can't buy me love.
- Ms. D has a point about the endless supply of Duquans, but Prez has an equally valid point about this Duquan. Abstracts are nice, but here's a kid who's not equipped to be on his own; what does it hurt the school to keep him in the same grade as his friends for an extra semester?
- Nice moment seeing an indignant Marimow get his. And for all of Herc's complete inability to Get It (see his whole bit about pretending the orders come from him), he at least was stand-up enough to not drag Sydnor and Dozerman down with him when IID showed up.
- How do you wiretap a crew that doesn't use phones at all and only meets in well-guarded public places? Laser mics?
- Lester, on the return of the old MCU lieutenant: "That, Sgt. Hauc, is one of the most effective supervisors in our police department."
- Norman, inventing new lyrics to 'We wish you a merry christmas': "We won't go until we get some, we won't go until we get some..." (EDITOR'S NOTE: Okay, so he wasn't making up new lyrics. Where are you Gentiles to proofread when I need you?)
- Daniels to Rawls: "Lester Freamon is not in the habit of selling woof tickets."
- Bunk on Landsman: "That John Goodman off his diet motherfucker was clear."
- Cheese on Omar and his crew: "He had this one ho pulling guns out her pussy. This shit is unseemly!"
Don't forget: the finale runs 90 minutes, so if you're recording with a VCR (I know, I know), program it accordingly.
What did everybody else think?