Look at that face in the picture above. Look at the expression on it -- or the lack of one. Here's a man who has just achieved his heart's desire, the only thing it's clear he's ever cared about. He is the undisputed king of the Baltimore drug trade, master of all he surveys, and what does he feel? Does that look like a man who's enjoying his moment -- who's even capable of enjoying it?
David Simon likes to describe the Greek -- Marlo's new best friend -- as a symbol of capitalism in its purest form, someone whose only concern is maximizing profits by any means necessary. Vondas has a sentimental streak, and was reluctant to sell out Frank, Nick and now Prop Joe, while the Greek himself has no problem cutting anyone loose if it's good for business. But if that's the case, if the Greek is pure capitalism and nothing but, what does that make Marlo?
Marlo, I think, is pure capitalism as well, but he's also a pure product of the drug culture he's been raised in. Avon, Stringer, Joe -- they all had outside interests, took pleasure in their successes, in family, love, whatever. Marlo's younger than any of them, has grown up in a Baltimore much rougher and more consumed by the drug trade, and he reflects that. He is cold, wants for nothing but to wear the crown, and now he has it. And that is a very scary proposition for Baltimore.
And speaking of which, rest in peace, Joe Stewart. He finally met a problem he couldn't talk his way out of.
"Transitions," as the title makes clear, is about the transfer of power from the old guard to their next generation proteges, from Joe to Marlo, and from Burrell to Daniels (who's far more well-rounded and moral than Marlo, but who has a tendency to keep his emotions under wraps, and who was originally introduced as a single-minded careerist). The episode makes the connection plain in the scene where Joe tells Herc that he and Burrell were a year apart in high school, but the parallels are clear throughough. Both are men who have survived for a long time while vast changes have taken place in the institutions around them, both were gifted at cutting deals and knowing which palms to grease, and in the end both refused to see that the world had finally changed enough to render their way of doing business obsolete.
Carcetti was going to be done with Erv sooner or later, but by juking the stats one last time -- the old trick that served him and his predecessors so well under Royce -- he seals his fate. Joe, meanwhile, thought he could civilize Marlo, that if he taught him enough, showed him enough kindness, Marlo might curb his usual homicidal ways, at least when it came to Joe. Worse, he stuck to old values like putting family before business, and it got him killed. Had he given up Cheese to Marlo after Omar stole the re-up, he never would have had to introduce Marlo to Vondas, and without access to the connect, Marlo wouldn't have been able to kill him. (Really, Joe brought this on himself when he sent Omar after Marlo to entice Marlo into joining the co-op to help get rid of the New Yorkers on the east side. Had he just hired Brother Mouzone or someone like that, none of this would have happened.) And had he turned on Cheese after Butchie died -- as Slim Charles, far more loyal to Joe than his sister's boy could ever be, wanted him to -- he might have gotten out of town alive. But even though Joe can recognize that his nephew's generation has different values, he still can't truly comprehend how much people like Cheese and Marlo value respect above all else.
(Getting back to Marlo vs. Daniels for a second, note that Cedric, having expanded his horizons beyond a simple desire to keep climbing the ladder, is actually able to put a smile on his face when he assumes the throne.)
So now Marlo and the Greek are in business together -- a perfect, terrifying match if ever there was one. Some of the On Demand posters have wondered why the Greek would be willing to sacrifice such a dependable, meticulous partner in Joe in favor of a loose cannon like Marlo, but the Greek -- pragmatic in a way Vondas can't always be -- makes it plain. No matter what they said, Marlo would keep coming back, and would kill Joe, so why not accept this man who clearly seems interested in learning the right way to do business with them? Left unsaid are two points: first, that if Joe had let a fox like Marlo into his henhouse, perhaps he wasn't so dependable anymore; and second, that if Marlo self-destructs (as we can only hope he does), they're still so far removed from the street that they'll have plenty of time to get away. Invisible, invincible, invulnerable -- that's the Greek.
That was, at one time, Omar as well. Is it still? Can he really take out Marlo, even with the help of Butchie's old pal Donnie? (Played, I believe, by Donnie "The real-life Omar" Andrews.) I don't know what it says about me, but as bad as I felt for Omar last week when he learned of Butchie's death and realized his tropical retirement was about to end, it made me feel very, very happy to see him marching down a Baltimore back alley in his duster, skull cap and the rest of his war togs. The confrontation with Slim was riveting, but do you think he spared him simply because he didn't seem to have anything to do with Butchie, or because he's trying to find some way to get his revenge on Marlo without breaking his promise to Bunk? A man's got to have a code, so what happens if he breaks that code?
The two transfers of power so dominated the episode that the season's two most-discussed storylines -- McNulty's fake serial killer and the happenings at the Sun -- took a backseat for a week.
Jimmy and Lester made slow but steady progress on the former, with a little help from Lester's old pal Oscar, yet another of the show's examples of individuals crushed by the system. What I find really interesting is that, even as Jimmy is just exploiting the issue to help him in his insane quest to turn the money faucet back on, the show itself is actually taking some time (not as much, but some) to look at the problem. The visit to the homeless camp introduces us to various types who have found themselves out on the street: the mentally-ill man who collects business cards, the guy who has a job but not enough money to afford a place to live, and of course, Johnny 50.
For those of you who haven't watched season two in a while or don't have a long memory for this stuff, Johnny was Nick and Ziggy's frequent partner in crime. (In case you don't remember him, here he was the guy with the dog.) It's a nice touch, as it both puts a semi-familiar face on the homeless issue and serves as a quiet epilogue to the port story. While I imagine a lot of the stevedores haven't wound up on the streets, having either family or pensions to help cushion the fall, it's not hard to see how a relatively young, single guy like Johnny wound up where he is.
Over at the Sun, Templeton's dreams of working for a prestige paper like the Washington Post get dashed, and it couldn't have happened to a bigger tool. We already know he's a lazy, entitled fabulist, and when he actually gets a chance to hobnob with the folks he thinks he's worthy of knowing, he blows it. In addition to being full of crap as usual with his "I prefer to write it dry" (what little we've heard of his overwrought prose makes him sound like the kind of guy who sleeps with a thesaurus under his pillow), he trash-talks his current employers, and when the Post editor notes areas where the Sun still impresses him, Scott's adrift because he doesn't cover the state. I'm not saying he would have been hired otherwise, but maybe if he had tried talking up what the Sun's Metro staff was able to accomplish even with the cutbacks, he might at least have had a shot.
And while Scott's off getting shot down, Gus gives Klebanow a prime example of the impact the buyouts are having on their newsgathering (Twigg not being available to get the true dirt on Burrell's "retirement"), then witnesses another on his own (them missing the Clay Davis perpwalk because they don't have a statehouse reporter, and because Bond's people didn't care enough to make sure the Sun was there to cover it). Tough times in the newspaper business. Everytime I even think about buying into the "Simon's too much of a cynic" school of thought, I read a story about yet another major paper doing massive staff cutbacks (this week, it was the Chicago Sun-Times) and just get depressed again.
The Colicchio story seemingly has little to do with any ongoing arcs, but it provides some nice character moments for Herc and Carver. When the series started, the two of them were symbols of what the War on Drugs had wrought on the Baltimore PD: impatient knuckleheads with no interest in anything beyond street rips. Carver learned his lessons and is now in a position of some power at the Western, while Herc never did and is now off the force, in a rare "Wire" instance of merit triumphing. (But only sort of, in that Carver had to snitch on Daniels to get his stripes in the first place.) Seeing Colicchio completely unrepentant about assaulting the schoolteacher gave Carver no choice but to report him, but what was unexpected was Herc recognizing in the end that Carver made the right call -- and that he probably deserved to get bounced from the job. No doubt, this rare moment of Herc wisdom was aided by the realization that he's working for the man (Levy) who represents the man (Marlo) who ruined his career, but it was still a pleasant surprise. (I also loved the shot of all the beer cans on the Western roof, a Bunny Colvin call-back.)
Some other thoughts on "Transitions":
- I have yet to see "Gone Baby Gone" (it's at the top of the Netflix queue for when it comes out on DVD), but congratulations to Amy Ryan for the Oscar nomination. The scene where Beadie confronted Jimmy about his drinking (and, implied, whoring) was a painful one. When we met Jimmy and Elena, we were inclined to side with him, or at least to put some measure of blame on her for the end of the marriage. Now, though, Jimmy's doing this to someone that we know and like, and it's clear that Beadie has done absolutely nothing to deserve what's happening to her.
- Nice to see Kima getting on better with Elijah now than the last time she got the parental urge. It helps that he's older and more interactive now, but seeing the traumatized kid from the triple-homicide seems to have reminded her that Elijah is more than just a financial commitment she made to Cheryl before they split.
- I'm opposed to the idea of typecasting -- if an actor's good enough to play multiple roles, he or she should be allowed to -- but it still troubles me whenever I see an actor from one of my daughter's shows pop up in an adult series. In this case, it was Roscoe Orman -- Gordon from "Sesame Street" -- as Oscar. I recognize that this is my problem, not someone like Orman's, but now I understand why so many parents were confused when Steve from "Blue's Clues" played a murderer on "Homicide."
- Sometimes, the best moments on this show involve the audience having far more knowledge than one or more characters in a scene. In this case, we know exactly why Bond isn't interested in using "the head shot" on Clay -- he intends to make his career on this case, which he can't do if he hands it off to the federal prosecutors -- but poor Lester doesn't.
- More continuity: the florist Joe hires to arrange Butchie's funeral is the same one Bodie went to for D'Angelo's funeral back in season two.
- Was anyone else terrified at the realization that Neresse took Burrell's file on Daniels with her when she left his office?
- For that matter, was anyone else terrified by the notion that Burrell was going to pull an Al Capone in "Untouchables" and bash Daniels' skull in with that putter? Clearly, it was shot to evoke that famous scene, but the scariest thing in it was the way Burrell didn't say a single word throughout it. Had he delivered some kind of threatening speech, it wouldn't have been half as chilling. On very rare occasions, less really is more.
- Who exactly am I supposed to pity more in the scene where Michael's mom bails him out of jail? I suppose Michael, in that the mom letting Bug's dad back in the house is what led Michael to become a drug soldier, but that is one messed-up family.
"...out of respect for the man's skill set" -Joe explaining why he's going to avoid OmarFinally, a word about the "Wire" posting schedule. Last season, the two-tiered set-up worked fine. The small handful of "Wire" fans who watched the On Demand episodes had a place to talk, and the bulk of us got to talk about each episode the following Sunday night. This year, though, the On Demand talk has increased exponentially. By now, the show's audience is so small and focused that anyone who realy cares about it and has access to On Demand isn't going to wait until Sunday to watch. By the time I come in on Sunday nights, it feels as if every nook and cranny has already been thoroughly examined, and I'm just repeating or cribbing what's been said over the last six days. (The Marlo/Daniels parallel comes courtesy of NJ.com blog commenter Stooge9, for instance.) So I'm thinking strongly of switching things up and just posting the reviews on the night the On Demand episode airs.
"Name of Rawls, as I remember it." -Jimmy & Lester revisiting Oscar's story
"Motherfucker, don't even... Fuck you, too, motherfucker." -Bunk telling off Jimmy
"You will eat their shit. Daniels, too, when he gets here." -Burrell, putting Rawls in his place (and inadvertently quoting Carcetti)
"Collegial? I fuckin' failed out of journalism school. What's the fuck do collegial mean?" -Gus
"You'd take the 'crab' out of 'crab soup.'" -Gus to Jay Spry
"You're killing me. I gotta ask..."
"Stone stupid." -Herc and Prop Joe revisiting Burrell's salad days
"I wasn't made to play the son." -Marlo
I don't want to ruin things for the people who don't have On Demand and/or can't get around to watching each episode until Sunday, but one of the advantages of leaving spoilers off the main blog page is that you can wait and read the entries at your leisure without having to worry. I'm not sure I can actually make the logistics work -- writing these posts takes time, and to switch up I'd have to do two in one week, plus I'm not sure I'll be getting the final three episodes in advance -- so while I try to figure that out, anyone who wants to make an argument for why I should stick to the current schedule, feel free.
What did everybody else think?