Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Wire: Scrubbing Bubbles

Spoilers for “The Wire” episode two, “Uncomfirmed Reports,” coming up just as soon as I explain why I couldn't possibly care less about steroids in baseball...

Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy. What the hell are you doing?

Okay, so it's kind of clear what you're doing, but like the Bunk -- and the On Demand viewers -- my immediate reaction to your phony serial killer plan was queasiness and dismay.

As I've seen a number of episodes past this one -- and therefore know more about the mechanics of Jimmy's plan and how successful he is (or isn't) with it -- I need to step lightly here. I know there have been some complaints that have gone past horror at McNulty's actions and straight to the matter of plausibility. Some people think this is too absurd, too bizarre, to be part of the grim reality of "The Wire." To those people, I have one word: Hamsterdam. How is a cop inventing a serial killer (for reasons that I'm sure you can guess, but which will be spelled out next week) any further out there than a police commander legalizing drugs in his district?

If there's a problem with the story, it's the rush with which it comes together. That's a symptom of the condensing of the season from the usual 12 or 13 episodes down to 10. In an ordinary length season, I'm sure we would have spent more time on Jimmy stuck back in Homicide, dealing with the broke-ass nature of the BPD (though him taking the bus to a crime scene was great shorthand), just as I'm sure that the scene where he finds out how to make a natural death look like murder would have been in a separate episode from the one where he makes use of the information. Between the shorter order and the addition of the newspaper people, everything's going to feel a little rushed this year. It's unfortunate, but it's what we have to work with. And as Lester and the MCU so often show, it's possible to work miracles with limited resources.

It's important that Jimmy doesn't just start desecrating the corpse the second the uniformed officer leaves the scene. No, he has to go out to the car and take several very long pulls on his bottle of Jameson before he can get the courage to go through with this idea. It's long been a truth of the character that his work drives his addictions (to both booze and cheap women), but now we're seeing the concept working in reverse. Take a Jimmy who was sober, who was going home to Beadie every night, who wasn't painfully hung over in the Homicide bullpen when Landsman sent him out to this crime scene, and you have someone who could never even conceive of this idea, let alone get the nerve to try it.

Years ago, I interviewed David Milch about an "NYPD Blue" arc where Sipowicz fell off the wagon when his son died. Why, I asked, did Andy fall so far, so fast? Hadn't he been doing well for so long that the descent to rock bottom would have been much slower? Milch, a recovering addict of many stripes, fixed me with a patient stare and explained that being clean for a while doesn't mean you start off higher up on the boozehound ladder; when you start using again, you generally go right back to the level you were at before you got clean, maybe even worse because of the time away. I'm not saying that's every addict's experience, but it definitely seems to be Jimmy's.

And as a contrast to McNulty sinking under the weight of the booze and his desire to prove he's smarter than the rest of the damn world, we have Bubbs robotically treading water. He's doing recovery the right way on paper, going to meetings and staying away from temptation. But as I noted last week and Walon (season five theme song singer Steve Earle, who was Bubbs' sponsor back in season one, and visited him in the hospital in the season four finale) does here, he hasn't replaced the huge place dope occupied in his life with anything else. Even when he tries, by volunteering at Viva House, he can only allow himself to do the most menial jobs: handing out tickets, scrubbing pots, etc. He can't forgive himself for what he did to Sherrod, can't even talk about it and claims not to feel anything -- which, as Walon points out, goes against everything we've ever known about Bubbles. If the man has a defining characteristic other than his addiction, it's his great capacity for empathy. Hearing Bubbs talk about his inability to feel anything was painful. Bubbs isn't the one on this show who's not supposed to feel; Marlo is.

And speaking of which, we immediately see the folly of Rawls and Burrell pulling the plug on the Major Crimes Unit. When the MCU's away, Marlo and his people go out to play, putting out hits on anyone who's even rumored to have said something bad about Marlo, massacring families, going after Omar, and taking steps to get with Vondas and The Greek. Actually, I take back what I said before about Marlo not feeling anything. The man's capable of one emotion: ambition. He's obsessed with wearing "the crown" and punishing anyone who tries to tarnish it.

It's been interesting reading the reaction from the On Demand viewers to the return of Avon Barksdale, the first of many curtain calls for former characters that we'll get this season. Some are convinced he and Sergei are running some kind of scam on Marlo and others were pleased to see the majestic, charismatic Avon in the same room as the (deliberately) colorless Marlo. Without getting into what does or doesn't happen in this story down the road, my initial reaction to that scene was to think how pathetic Avon seemed. He's talking way too much about what a big man he is in prison, whereas when we saw him locked up in season two and three, he treated whatever power he had inside as understood. He stammers here and there, lamely tries to bond with Marlo over them both being from the West side (and you can see how disinterested Marlo is in this exercise, though he plays along in order to get to Sergei), even flashes gang signals at Marlo during the second meeting. I didn't exactly feel sorry for Avon, as he deserves his current fate and far more, but this was definitely a marked contrast from the Avon I remember. He used to talk about only serving two days in prison -- the day you go in and the day you go out -- and now you can see him feeling the weight of every day in there, and of the loss of the crown that Marlo now wears.

Marlo's replaced Avon, and in a way Michael has replaced D'Angelo. His questioning of the reason for killing Junebug sounded a lot like the sorts of things D began to ask about The Game as season one went along. Michael, unfortunately, has even less power and less ability to get out, but you could see how much he wanted to, both in the car with Snoop and in that moment where he saw the little boy run out the back of the house. After Michael arranged his stepdad's death last year, I said there was no coming back from that, not for a long time. Maybe I spoke too soon.

The Junebug killing then led to our first real path-crossing between the cops and our new newspaper characters, as Alma tried in vain to get Kima's attention from behind the crime scene tape. One of the many things "The Wire" is brilliant at is taking a stock figure you would never think anything of -- in this case, those anonymous reporters hurling questions at cops trying to do their jobs -- and putting a human face on them. Usually in that kind of scene, you're supposed to be annoyed with the reporter for getting in the way of policework. But because we now know Alma a little, and know that she means well (as opposed to Scott), suddenly we start thinking, "Hey, Kima, couldn't you help her out just a little with a quote?"

One man apparently in no need of quotes is Scott, at least based on the way the scenes at Camden Yards were filmed. We don't know for certain that the kid in the wheelchair didn't exist, but you would think if he did, they would have shown Scott talking to him, no? Instead, we saw Scott trying and repeatedly failing to find anyone to fit his preconceived plan for a column about the game, in a sequence that will be familiar to any reporter who set out to tell a particular story and then couldn't find anyone or anything to back it up.

Because Scott has already been portrayed as a lazy, entitled social climber, and because Gus is shown repeatedly to be as conscientious as they come -- the late-night call to the copy desk to make sure he didn't transpose the numbers is also something that anyone with newspaper experience can relate to (I once woke up in a cold sweat at 1 a.m., having realized that I referred to Bruce Campbell in a column when I meant Billy Campbell) -- the implication is pretty clear that Scott is, to use a bit of newspaper jargon, cooking it.

Whether he is or isn't doesn't matter, though, because executive editor Whiting is so in love with the story that he pushes it through over Gus' objections. The entire thing is foreshadowed at the loading dock, where Gus tells a story about a reporter harassing the mayor. When Jeff Price asks whether that really happened, he's told the story was "too good to check out." Not only does Whiting not seem to care that Scott's story doesn't meet the Sun's fact-checking standards, you can tell if he found out it wasn't true, he'd be more irritated at having to cut the story than he would over Scott's ethical lapse.

As I said last week, a lot's been written about how Whiting and Klebanow are stand-ins for David Simon's ex-bosses at the Sun, John Carroll and Bill Marimow, how a lot of reporters think Simon has an unhealthy vendetta against them, and how I feel that these two aren't necessarily depicted as any worse than Rawls or Burrell -- they just have a lot of reporter friends and colleagues to stand up for them. By far the best account of the dispute I've read is Lawrence Lanahan's story in the Columbia Journalism Review, which is good both because Lanahan doesn't have any real history with either side, and because the piece is less about the he-said/he-said of what happened at the Sun a dozen years ago than it is about opposing philosophies about the way to cover the problems of the urban poor, which is the very point of this season. (In that way, it is to the other Simon v. Marimow stories as "The Wire" is to regular cop shows.)

It's a very long article, but well worth your time if you're interested in going deeper into issues like the debate Gus and Whiting have about the education series. It's interesting: because Gus is so clearly our hero and because Whiting makes such a terrible first impression in the season premiere by shooting down the U of Maryland desegregation story -- and because there's been so much written about Simon allegedly using this season as revenge on Carroll and Marimow -- it's easy to view the argument as completely one-sided in Gus' favor. Yet having read the CJR story, and having gone back and watched the scene a few more times, I can at least see the other point of view, even though I disagree with it.

Yes, years of watching this show have conditioned me to reject a statement like Whiting's "I don't want some amorphous series detailing society's ills. If you leave everything in, soon you've got nothing." That's anathema to everything "The Wire" is and says. But at the same time, Whiting/Carroll have a point about the difficulty of pulling off the kind of journalism that Gus/Simon would like to see, and about the minimal commercial viability of it. "The Wire" has been telling these kinds of complex, leave-everything-in stories for years, and its audience is a fraction of the ratings for the "CSI" shows. When Whiting asks who would want to read the Gus-approved version of the education series, he's being cynical, but I don't know that he's wrong. It's a lot like how we bash Rawls and Burrell for living by the stats, and how Carcetti did it last year, but the bottom line is that, for whatever reason, people want to hear about the stats. There's the world that we want to be, and the world that is. Simon, and Gus, and McNulty and Bunny and Lester, are all arguing for the world that should be; Carroll, Whiting, Rawls, Burrell and, sadly, now Carcetti all work in the world we're stuck with.

Some other thoughts on "Unconfirmed Reports":

-Boy, did it do my heart good to see Lester watching Marlo on his own time (and listening to some great music while doing so). Also nice to see the continued education of Sydnor, who still gravitates towards street work but isn't willfully ignorant about what Lester wants to teach him about the value of going after the Clay Davises of this world.

-Speaking of Clay, he also seems to have picked up a bit of a stammer since last we saw him. Being the subject of a grand jury probe will do that to you, I suppose.

-In addition to Avon's return -- and, for that matter, the return of FBI man Fitz, who showed us how deep the impact of Carcetti's cursing out of the US Attorney runs -- we had another echo of stories past with Bunk repeating his familiar, "There you go, giving a fuck when it ain't your turn to give a fuck" from the pilot.

-One echo that maybe didn't work: Marlo calling Sergei "Boris." Sure, it's a callback to Ziggy in season two, but what are the odds that Marlo Stanfield has ever even heard of Boris Badenov, let alone seen a "Rocky and Bullwinkle" episode?

-And another echo from "Homicide": Jimmy unable to find his car in a garage full of identical cruisers evokes a similar scene from both the book (involving Edgerton) and the TV show (maybe the best interaction ever between Pembleton, going ballistic over his inability to find the car, and Felton, amused as hell at seeing Frank boil). The difference, of course, is that Edgerton and Pembleton could have gone back to get another car if they wanted to, while Jimmy had to either find that particular car or take the bus. And I loved the way Ernest Dickerson shot Jimmy's spaz-out from a distance -- violence is always funnier for me when it's somewhat removed.

-Have we had full-frontal male nudity on this show before? Admittedly, it was a corpse, but it still seemed like a new one on me.

-Keep in mind Scott's reference in the loading dock scene to the single mom who died of a crab allergy. It comes up again later in the season, and I had forgotten about it until I went back to rewatch each episode for note-taking purposes.

-Getting back to the return of Steve Earle as Walon, while it might be distracting to have the singer of the theme song appearing on the show, I spent a good chunk of season one thinking that the lead Blind Boys of Alabama singer was really Andre Royo under a pseudonym. (Listen to it on YouTube, and tell me it doesn't sound a little like Bubbs with a music career.)

-I made it a practice last season to break out some of the funnier or more insightful bits of dialogue for each episode, then completely forgot to do it for the premiere. Sorry. Let's give it a try for this one, though. Some nominees for Lines Of The Week:
"Everything's thin. The whole world shines shit and calls it gold." -Chief of Staff Steintorf

"I'm gonna drive away now, if it's okay with you two suckholes." -Fitz

"Fuck those West Coast niggers. Cause in B-More, we aim and hit a nigger." -Snoop

"You think if 300 white people were killed in this city every year, they wouldn't send the 82nd Airborne? Negro, please." -Lester
A reminder once again of the spoiler policy: talk about this episode and what's come before, that's it. There will be an episode 3 On Demand post up in the morning. I see any comments discussing material in that episode or ones down the road, I'm just going to delete them.

What did everybody else think?

82 comments:

SJ said...

I take issue with the fact that Gus is portrayed as such a hero, and obviously Simon is putting himself in the shoes of Gus. And at certain moments it seemed like they were talking directly to us (the scene about "tell the whole story", etc.), which annoyed me.

There has been full-frontal nudity on this show before: Omar's first appearance in season 4. It was a bit weird since they didn't do it for 3 seasons. In this scene it was a bit funny since the director zooms in towards McNulty slowly, as if he realized a little too late that the nudity was "in the way".

The car scene with Fitz was hilarious. Also it seems like he has packed on a few pounds since we last saw him (was that season 2?).

As for that "Boris" reference, it seems like Chris could have read Sergei's "alias" in the report. And perhaps Marlo was using that name to signify that he knows what Sergei went through and his history with the Greek.

Andrew said...

I think "Boris" works. I've never watched Rocky & Bulwinkle, but I still know that "Boris" is a stereotypical name to refer to Russians.

310 said...

Mr. Sepinwall, you say no spoilers on the comments yet you talk about things to look out for in future episodes you've already seen. Some of us don't want to know that we'll be seeing more characters from seasons past.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I take issue with the fact that Gus is portrayed as such a hero, and obviously Simon is putting himself in the shoes of Gus.

Wait, are you saying that you don't like that Gus is being portrayed as a hero, or that you don't believe he's being portrayed as a hero?

I've seen a number of complaints from reporters that Gus, as Simon' stand-in, is too perfect, but I don't think he's any more idealized a newsman than Bunny Colvin was a police commander.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Mr. Sepinwall, you say no spoilers on the comments yet you talk about things to look out for in future episodes you've already seen. Some of us don't want to know that we'll be seeing more characters from seasons past.

There's a difference between saying that other characters will return -- especially since that's something the series has done throughout its run -- and, say, identifying who those people are going to be. (Which I don't do.)

HonestTea said...

I was one who was really happy to see Avon's charisma in the same room as Marlo, but when I watched the episode again, I noticed the kind of sad air over Avon that you mention.

The weary way in which he says "Always" shows a man who is desperately hanging on to a sliver of what he once had.

I mentioned that Avon would never be like Cutty; at least not until he is able to step outside himself.

Great acting by Wood Harris

paul said...

I love the way Simon and company include inside Baltimore and Maryland references. Governor Ehrlich's feuding with former Sun columnist Michael Olesker and failure to get slots approved were issues that Baltimore Mayor O'Malley (i.e., Carcetti) used to great effect in the 2006 election.

Though I wonder if this episode didn't reveal a slip-up. The state closed the maximum security wing at Jessup last year. I assume Avon would have been in that wing.

SJ said...

"Wait, are you saying that you don't like that Gus is being portrayed as a hero, or that you don't believe he's being portrayed as a hero?"

The former. He is being portrayed as a bit too perfect as you said. Though yes your point about Bunny also being "perfect" is apt.

I actually enjoy the character, but the scene kinda annoyed me.

It is probably my first ever real complaint with the show though...I'm only saying this because I expect so much from this show.

Alan Sepinwall said...

SJ, I would say that Gus is to Simon as Bunny was to Ed Burns (who first came up with the "brown paper bag" concept that Simon put into Bunny's mouth, just as he put his roof shingles/hurricane thought into Gus's).

Jeremiah said...

anyone else kinda unhinged on the fact that they used TWO Bunk epigraphs in a row? They're both good quotes, but with so many characters, they could've easily given that line to Lester or McNulty and have some variety with the quotes.

what a minor quibble, but there it is.

Tina said...

Yeah, Gus is a little too perfect at this point (which can't be good for him, of course; those guys never win on this show) but since he's played by Clark Johnson, I don't mind at all.

The one scene I would have liked in this episode was Marlo delivering the money to Brianna. Michael Hyatt makes the most of every scene she's in, it would have been delicious.

I think I said this in the other thread, but the 'misdemeanor homicide' bar scene was just great. Ditto the Clay Davis/Burrell scene -- those actors have great chemistry.

I worry a bit about Michael and his conscience. Is he the next Prop Joe or Stringer, or will he be the next D'Angelo or Bodie?

Chris Littmann said...

I can say with some degree of certainty that, unfortunately, there definitely was male nudity before in the show. Someone mentioned Omar before, and there was quite a bit in Season 2 as well. Honest to goodness, there might have been so much it outnumbered the females that season. ...

Did I mention 2 is, by far, the season I enjoyed the least?

Speaking of Season 2 parallels, Whiting is in a class of douchebagery only approached by Ziggy as far as I'm concerned. The only thing that disappoints me is that he's not part of some illicit thing like Ziggy, so there's no chance he gets killed. They've almost made him too obnoxious, which spurs this whole interesting hero/anti-hero debate that's going. I'll be interested to read the CJR piece.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Yeah, I guess I had mentally blocked out how often Ziggy took his one-eyed monster out in season two.

SomeGuy said...

A couple things...

-Sergei said in Season 2 that everyone in America was always calling him "Boris", just because it was a stereotypical Russian name (even though he's from the Ukraine...)

-Regarding full frontal male nudity:

Season 2 gave us Ziggy pulling out his junk in the bar (in the first episode) and Season 4 gave us a clear view of Mayor Royce's johnson when Herc walked in on him and a female political aid (I think in the second episode that season, maybe).

I can't think of any instances from Seasons 3 and I can't think of one from Season 1, either (although I recently re-watched season 1 and I could swear I remember thinking, "Another one!" at some point, leading me to propose a theory that they tried to squeeze one wiener into every season. :)

Anonymous said...

Along with the CJR and Atlantic pieces, there is an article by Simon himself about his days at the Sun in Esquire:http://www.esquire.com/features/essay/david-simon-0308?src=rss

seems relevant to the storyline, now that there's a reporter making stuff up.

on the dole said...

I thought Episode 1 had a lot of exposition-heavy speechifying, and beat us over the head w/ the impact of the police dept cuts. They should've devoted some of that time to better setting up McNulty's plan. But I was a bit spoiled going in, as one of the show's writers had revealed (at a public event-- I have no inside pipeline) that the fake serial killer bit would pop up this season. Apparently, it's based on real events, though I'm not sure the motivation was the same.

With Avon, keep in mind that what little power he now retains probably stems from having so many of his loyal enforcers, like Wee-Bey, in jail alongside him. His drug empire is gone. I thought he was doing his best to bleed Marlo for money without looking either overly pathetic, or overly boastful.

Everyone seems to describe Marlo as lacking any emotion, but I disagree. For example, last year we saw his pride wounded when he got schooled at poker. So he goes to the store, shoplifts lollipops just because he can, and has the security guard killed for daring to speak up for himself. Marlo's emotions include pride, greed, envy, and wrath. Interestingly enough, all deadly sins.

Anonymous said...

Gus doesn't seem so perfect to me. As a boss, he seems pretty ideal. But waking up at 1 a.m. worrying about some part of the paper isn't much of a life. We've seen the effects that being unable to leave the job at work has on McNulty. Gus has that same kind of addiction.

Also, Scott outside the O's game was a really great scene of what it's actually like reporting a pretty standard story. It reminded me a lot of the investigation scenes where the cops are bored out of their minds.

I was taught pretty early on to not go into an assignment with it already pre-written in your head. That's hard to do -- especially with the pressure of an editor. But a good reporter knows to adjust his story to what he/she actually sees.

Also, the story about a guy ranting and raving about how much he hates baseball because of steroids sounds like decent copy for an opening day story. Or the story of how someone retains allegiance to the Cubs while living in Baltimore, etc.

Scott played the game but he's a complete sack of shit.

-- Anonymous Reporter

Anonymous said...

Notice the sly attack on the Hollywood portrayal of inner-city blacks and the influence it has had on popular culture. "Boyz 'n the Hood" is even a decent movie, which arguably does not aim to glorify the imaginary "gangsta" lifestyle. But it seems the only message it got across to the boy in the car with Snoop is that drive-by shootings are what real "gangstas" do. It's very typical "Wire" style to show how this life-imitating-art "gangsta bullshit" (to use Stringer's words) would really play out: shooting a moving target from a moving vehicle just isn't all that easy.

Anonymous said...

Who was the white guy with a beard and glasses in Whiting's meeting? I thought I'd seen him before in Season 3 in one of Royce's cabinet meetings to discuss the fallout of Hamsterdam.

carter said...

Alan,

With regard to spoilers/ character appearances, I have a slight issue with your line: "... return of Avon Barksdale, the first of many curtain calls for former characters that we'll get this season."

"Curtain call" leads me to assume that I shouldn't look forward to possible reappearance(s) of Avon.

Not trying to break balls here, though.

Tim Masterson said...

Ever watch a movie with someone who has already seen it? Right before something happens they say, "Pay attention, this is important." It kinda takes away the discovery, it removes surprise a bit. It's that saying to remember the blue crabs is a spoiler, but now I'm thinking about it. Had nothing been said, it would have happened more organically.

RP said...

>>>>>> If there's a problem with the story, it's the rush with which it comes together. That's a symptom of the condensing of the season from the usual 12 or 13 episodes down to 10. <<<<<<

Tough to do more with less. :)

drake leLane said...

I liked the whole 'slippery slope' concept introduced in the opening and carried through in the beginnings for what seem to be major story arcs.

Dee Dee tells her story in the NA meeting of having rules set up (when she started doing drugs) that she wouldn't start doing tricks.

Turning tricks in the pursuit of drugs... running an unverified story in pursuit of a Pulitzer... doctoring a crime scene to look like a homicide... it's a slippery slope they're all sliding (or, in the case of Dee Dee, slid) down.

Narrim said...

I spent a good chunk of season one thinking that the lead Blind Boys of Alabama singer was really Andre Royo under a pseudonym

I'm still having trouble believing it ISN'T Bubs.

quipu said...

Perhaps the most heartening moment of this episode was the re-emergence of Michael's conscience. From the end of Season 4, it seemed that, in Namond's words, Michael had become cold, and now belonged to the streets. Yet in the first episode we saw that he still looked out for Dukie, and Bug. His concern over Junebug's hit, and his refusal to shoot the young boy running from the scene, showed that Michael was still human. (Excellent acting from Tristan Wilds). The look which Chris gives him in the rearview was also nicely handled, and carried just the right amount of ambiguity.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Ever watch a movie with someone who has already seen it? Right before something happens they say, "Pay attention, this is important." It kinda takes away the discovery, it removes surprise a bit. It's that saying to remember the blue crabs is a spoiler, but now I'm thinking about it. Had nothing been said, it would have happened more organically.

Tim, it's not a huge thing, in this case. But it comes up again so much further down the road that I had actually forgotten the existence of that scene on the loading dock and thought it was brand-new information. (And that was in spite of watching all seven episodes within a week's time.) When I went back to watch all the episodes a second time, I said, "Oh, that's where that came from!"

Alan Sepinwall said...

And overall, I'm trying my best not to spoil things down the road for people watching in real time. It's a tricky line to walk, and I'm sorry if/when I step off it.

Ted said...

My overall feeling is that the first two episodes is that they are rushing to get somewhere and I am not satisfied with the pace of the show right now. Was the ten episode season Simons choice or HBO's?

alice said...

But because we now know Alma a little, and know that she means well (as opposed to Scott), suddenly we start thinking, "Hey, Kima, couldn't you help her out just a little with a quote?"

No, this made me dislike Alma, actually. She's asking for a quote before Kima has seen the crime scene. All Kima knows at this point is that there's at least one dead body at this address. What possible info could she give to Alma?

Pandyora said...

I agree with Ted that the pace feels a bit rushed at the moment. I am not sure if this is the shortened run or just the sheer density of the plotlines. That being said, the episode still had some longer, brilliant observed scenes - such as the NA meeting.

As for the big twist in this episode, I was not as shocked by McNulty's actions as others. I'm sure in his alcohol addled brain, the idea of turning a death into a murder is simply a victimless act justified by his disgust for the higher ups. Also, the fact that his plan has a high chance of failing reflects the fact that it was hastily conceived. This is not a lie that Jimmy will be able to sell without help, from the patrolman, from Bunk, from the police department and from the media.

As for the newspaper, I think things are more ambiguous than many are letting on. Its not entirely clear that Scott is a fabulist, even though that seems to be the suggestion. And Gus isn't entirely a saint. While attentive to detail, he is also prickly and self-righteous. I think there is more going on here than Simon simply settling old scores.

Anonymous said...

Was the lady that Bubbs sees threatening to whip her kid at the homeless shelter the same girl who spoke in the cold open?

Alan Sepinwall said...

Was the lady that Bubbs sees threatening to whip her kid at the homeless shelter the same girl who spoke in the cold open?

No. However, as people in the On Demand thread pointed out, she's been on the show twice before. In season three, she's still relatively well-to-do, and buys an 8-ball from, I think, Bodie. In season four, she's hooking and is in Old Face Andre's shop in one scene.

Alex said...

I thought the scene with Avon was very sharp, in the writing and the acting. I really felt the absence of Stringer. Avon, unlike Prop Joe and Marlo, once had a partner who was very close to being an equal, and that partner was the strategist behind the gang. Without Stringer's contributions, Avon just doesn't seem as powerful or as shrewd as he used to.

Dave S said...

I hope the series slows down a little - they set everything up much quicker than usual and there's less character development. In light of all of the things this show does better than all of the other shows on television, character development has been the key part of it that prevents it from being preachy and too clever. Besides, I need Dukwan, Daniels, Carcetti, Herc, Carver & Omar (!) to get their screentime. And I really hope we get at least a few scenes with Prez. His absence is like Sydnor being gone in season two after Daniels fights so hard to get Sydnor on the team in season one.

Some other thoughts...
I would say the closest relative to Gus is Freamon. He's been a hero since day three, and has never really shown the human/closet full of skeletons that the rest of the cast has shown. I think because Freamon and Burrell (the closest the series has had to a villain with no redeeming qualities... except maybe Marlo) never shared the screen (to my memory) they never appeared one-dimensional. It's only because Gus is squaring off against the unredeemable villain so often that they seem like caricatures.

What else... Boris didn't work for me either, I also don't want to be told what to keep in mind for later (but will forgive it this one time...), Jimmy taking matters into his own hands to some ridiculous degree worked only because seasons one and two began the same way... it always works out for him, so his complexes run deeper than others. What I'm worried about is that I don't want Bunk & McNulty to be strained for the entire season. I like conflict and drama... but in the final season, I want to see two old partners working in tandem.

TuckPendleton said...

Some comments:

I loved how after the talk on the loading dock about how it's always the "mother of four" that dies re: Scott's crab allergy death, the next corpse that McNulty sees (the large woman who died in her sleep) was a "mother of four, grandmother to many."

Alan, I'm not sure we know at this point that Scott is a lazy, entitled social climber. He did want to go the strip club (that Alma got sent to instead), though yes, he did bitch at having to go into the morgue for clips. And I would assume his request for a story, that he's "up in the rotation" wouldn't be a crazy request at the newspaper? I also thought that his sucking up to his editors, while repugnant, was also a matter of playing the game as it exists, not how the game should be. So I think it's a little early to hang this label on him so strongly.

procrastinating redcoat said...

RE: Avon. I suppose I read him differently than most, as my guess is that Barksdale has something in store for Marlo. The whole West Side thing, and throwing that West Side gang sign, seemed a little insincere. He never struck me as the type to let a grudge pass, so he doesn't seem so powerless now, not to me.

One observation re: Marlo. He reminds me a lot of the Chigurh character in No Country for Old Men. Like Chigurh, the reptilian Marlo is emotionless (seemingly) and psychopathic, living by a bizarre code (kill anyone who messes, or is perceived to have messed, with me). And while it is well hidden, he does possess a sense of humor, albeit a twisted perverse one (again, like Chigurh, who clearly like tormenting people with his wordplay) - once in a while, a cold smirk flickers across Marlo's face.

Snoot Boogie's Dad said...

Am I wrong to assume that people who are big enough Wire fans to read and comment on this blog probably by and large have forked out the extra $6,95 to get On Demand? I have a busy life, a newborn son and work until very, very late on Sunday nights, but going to bed without watching a new Wire episode is unthinkable. Not much of a point, but I think we should be allowed to discuss the third episode, I may be wrong

Alan Sepinwall said...

Snot Boogie's Dad, that's why there's a separate post for the On Demand episodes.

Jon said...

The saddest thing about Scott is that he had a good story right in front of him - the fans' disaffection with baseball on Opening Day - if he weren't so bent on trying to jam a feel-good piece through.

Dave S said...

I forgot to post this earlier... there's a really thoughtful interview out there with Bubbles & Bunk - Wendell Pierce & Andre Royo - on this weeks' Sound of Young America. Required listening to fans of the show.

You can listen to the latest podcast here.

drake leLane said...

Snoot Boogie's Dad - you're wrongly assuming that everyone here is on cable.

While I'm sure DirectTV and Dish Network would gladly take an extra $6.95/month from subscribers, they have no On Demand (yet) to give in return.

Anonymous said...

One observation re: Marlo. He reminds me a lot of the Chigurh character in No Country for Old Men.
After seeing NCfOM, I asked my girlfriend "so who do you think would win in a fight between Anton Chigurh and Chris Partlow?" :) She just rolled her eyes at me. :(

nm said...

Does Walon know Cutty/Dennis? Because it's obvious that what Bubbles needs is to be put in charge of some kids -- not given the chance to say no or maybe, just forced to do it. And Cutty might have some kids hanging around the gym who need mentoring. But someone will have to set it up; Bubbles is in no shape to do that himself.

Also, they are giving Lester altogether too many speeches this season pointing out things we ought to be able to figure out on our own. I supposed it's because of their having only 10 episodes, but it sure feels to me like Lester is being set up to die while Doing The Right Thing.

The Markitect said...

I agree that the pace this season is also a lot faster than normal, but that comes with the shorter season like many have mentioned. That being said, we've had four seasons of exposition to understand where we're at. This is a conclusive season, and along with that will come a conclusive story (maybe/hopefully?). In either case, I'm willing to cut some slack (both on Simon and Co. for writing it, and HBO for greenlighting it in the first place; on any other channel, we wouldn't have seen anything past the first season). As for the hurried introduction to the newspaper story line, we are well aware of the parallels they're displaying. I guess what I'm trying to say is that its still early and I'd much rather have the set-up fast-tracked than the pay-off at the end. Lets be honest: even with a full 13 episode season, it would be difficult to tie up every story line from the past four years neatly and cathartically (although Simon has never failed to amaze me).

Mike E. said...

Anyone's On Demand still not showing next weeks episode? Can't find ep 53 yet.

bill komissaroff said...

Mike E. said...
Anyone's On Demand still not showing next weeks episode? Can't find ep 53 yet.

YES! 6pm on Monday and still no ep 53 on my ON DEMAND. I am not sure what is up...

(ps- Can someone tell me how to add the html tags for italics?)

Alan Sepinwall said...

(ps- Can someone tell me how to add the html tags for italics?)

Bill, you use the two arrow-shaped brackets that should be the shift versions of the comma and period keys on your keyboard, and bracket them around an i at the front, and a /i at the back. Pretending for a second that you use parentheses instead of those brackets:

(i)Here is how you would put something in italics.(/i)

Mike E. said...

Thanks Bill, I was going crazy thinking I was the only one. Don't taunt us ON DEMAND! (okay, maybe I'm still a little crazy)

And thanks to Alan, I came across your site specifically searching for wire related info. A good read, and I enjoy the discussion here too!

bill komissaroff said...

Thanks Alan!

Mike, I still feel your pain. No ep 53 yet OND.

Belle is... said...

I've never worked in a newsroom but I am a writer at magazines. It's pretty much unheard of to ask for a story. You want a story, you go find a story and pitch the idea. Sometimes you get called to do a story, but to just ask for one when you're not even looking for one, is plain lazy. Hence Gus's summarily dismissive response.

Anon Reporter: Is it the same in newspaper world?

Alan Sepinwall said...

Belle is, in my newspaper world, while reporters can and do get assigned stories from their editors (often ones they'd rather not do, since they feel they know their beats better than the bosses), if a writer doesn't have a current story, they're supposed to be looking for one. It's not like being in Homicide where you're sitting around waiting for the phone to ring because you're "up."

Eric said...

About Paul's comment on "Jessup":

Very inside baseball here, but technically the writers are correct. "Jessup" refers not to just one prison, but to a complex of several state facilities in western Anne Arundel County.

Last year, the governor took maximum-security prisoners out of the unsafe 100-some-year-old Maryland House of Correction, where a guard had been killed. But the neighboring Jessup Correctional Institution, formerly known as the "Maryland House of Correction-Annex," is still a going maximum-security concern. It's quite reasonable for Avon and "Boris" to be there.

JCI, as it's known, is much newer and thus theoretically safer than its older sister prison. (Though that hasn't stopped inmates from stabbing each other. Maybe Carcetti - er, I mean O'Malley - has cut back on shifts at the prisons, what with tight budgets and all. Um, I'm starting to forget what's reality and what's TV...)

On an unrelated note, "misdemeanor homicides" is another of many, many (and seemingly increasing by the episode) callbacks to Simon's book "Homicide." I think there's a scene where a couple detectives are chatting/complaining about how a lot of city murders are just second-degree assaults - bar fights, domestics and the like - where someone got unlucky or stupid and somebody ended up dead. "Baltimore - home of the misdemeanor homicide" is the line, I think.

daveshac said...

My 0.02:

Interesting that the name of the editor at the Sun with whom Simon feuded was Marimow - Simon used that character name for the jerkoff who Rawls sent to make life hell for MCU.

Also, I thought it was interesting that they brought back the beach-house building lieutenant to run MCU for the year up until Episode 1. I loved the scene in where Kima tries to pump him for information about backpay, and he shrugs it off as "not in the loop." Funny how his incompetence cuts both ways - they used to sneak warrants and paperwork under his nose during their aggressive heyday.

I too am having a bit of trouble with the pacing and believability of Season 5 - amazing how 2 or 3 fewer episodes impacts a narrative as delicate as The Wire. At first I thought that McNulty was trying to drum up the serial killer angle as a way at getting heat back on the 23 bodies from the vacants, but now I understand that he's just trying to stir up public panic about murders in general - which is somehow more twisted and should be interesting to see if Simon can pull off.

Dale said...

My wife suspects McNulty may be as ruined now as Bayless was on the final year of Homicide, when the writers turned him into a killer.

Not that McNulty served the same purpose over here; the wide eyed lamb among the hardened pros.

And not that Simon had one thing to do with Homicide making so many left turns the final couple years.

Anonymous said...

The things we've seen from Gus so far have shown complete and total laziness. I'm not sure a non journo audience can pick it up but it's clear to me.

I started at weekly papers in North Jersey. My beat consisted of covering a small town(or two) where I literally had to report on EVERYTHING that happened. There's not much news happening in Midland Park. The thing my first editor taught me was to become completely self-reliant on developing my own beat. Occassionally I was given an assignment -- many times not anything I wanted to cover -- but the beat was almost completely my own.

After I ended up at bigger papers, those skills were the same. You developed your own beat. 95% of my stories were developed on my own. Out of the ones an editor assigned to me, they were evenly split between dogs ("Go cover this bake sale") to some really great stuff.

I was a GA (General Assignemt reporter) at a daily paper for a while. I not once ever asked my editors for an assignment. This paper covered an area that was probably about 1/100000th the size of the city of Baltimore.

Scott is a total turd. His "I'm waiting for phone calls" line was picture perfect. I've said that more than a few times when I was just goofing off. True, he was probably waiting for a call from a source but if you're doing that you also should be researching/developing/etc.

His behavior at the baseball game was spot on. Interviewing people on site at a big event like that is like making a cold call. You have to have a thick skin because most people won't want to talk to you. You talk to a bunch of people, they give you something, and you try and find something really interesting to write about. Sometimes a good story pops up. Sometimes it doesn't.

-- AR

dcdame said...

Re Eric's comment above about the line: "Baltimore - home of the misdemeanor homicide."

Yes, it came out of the book, but it was also delivered (verbatim) by Detective Meldrick Lewis (aka Clark Johnson) in HLOTS.

Donny said...

Does anyone know why some On Demands do not have Episode 3 available? I read a few posts in here complaining about that, and then sure enough when I went home to watch last night it wasn't there. Thanks!

dez said...

At first I thought that McNulty was trying to drum up the serial killer angle as a way at getting heat back on the 23 bodies from the vacants, but now I understand that he's just trying to stir up public panic about murders in general - which is somehow more twisted and should be interesting to see if Simon can pull off.

Wouldn't having a potential serial killer on the loose also interest the FBI? They can refuse to help with the 22 bodies so as to settle a score with Carcetti, but they can't ignore public outcry (nor can Carcetti, for that matter).

Interesting to see how many bowls of [brown word] Carcetti's been eating over the years. He seems to have acquired quite a taste for it.

Anonymous said...

speaking of reappearing bit characters-- in the scene where Lester is staking out Marlo's meeting spot, there is a negligent mother leaving her child just inside the door to go talk to someone down the street. Was it just me, or was that the girlfriend of the guy whose job was to collect burners in season 3? ("You are the dumbest guy I've ever gone out with." "I can't wait to get to jail.")

Anonymous said...

For those of you waiting for new episodes to show up On Demand, try rebooting your cable box. That always works for me: yank power cable out, plug it back in (since my box doesn't have a power switch or reset button). New episodes are generally available 12:01am on Monday.

bill komissaroff said...

Does anyone know why some On Demands do not have Episode 3 available? I read a few posts in here complaining about that, and then sure enough when I went home to watch last night it wasn't there. Thanks!

Where are you located? Apparently it is a problem in the Philly area. There is a thread on HBO.com about it. I am in Delaware and still no ep53 here.

Alan Sepinwall said...

From a contact at HBO: "Our HBO On Demand guy said someties it takes 48 hours to 'propagate the assets.'"

Donny said...

I am located in Harrisburg, PA - so close enough to Philly that it may be the same problem. Thanks for the info. They better hurry up and fix it already!

Anonymous said...

I don't think the sister with the kid(the young neglectful parent was the same as the one rolling down the highway with her man buying burners. Overall I think without all the buzz in the blogs and from the critics I do not think the McNutty actions would be believable. Without critics imploring everyone to wait before they judge his actions this would definitely be shark jumping territory.

I think Marlo call the Russian Boris because he wanted to exert control and put him down ie. show him who wears the crown. Also Boris is a stereotypical Russian name. Like if he had called a white chick Becky

Anyon else still see parallels between Michael and Chris? Both seemed to question the need for killing even if Chris' reasoning was purely pragmatic.

To my eyes Avon looked pathetic(though well acted and good to seem him this year). He came off as a largely useless former soldier grabbing power where he can. The worst part was buddying up to Marlo after shaking him down. Imagine Marlo and Avon doing small talk

Mike E. said...

Also live in the Harrisburg, PA area...it's Wednesday morning, and still no Episode 53 ON DEMAND.

And just so I'm not just here to b!$tch, I'll try to contribute to the discussion. I first thought the woman with the baby that Bubbles took interest in was Nick Sobotka's girlfriend.

Donny said...

FYI - Ep 3 is On Demand in the Philly/Harrisburg area.

Simon Hsu said...

Anyon else still see parallels between Michael and Chris? Both seemed to question the need for killing even if Chris' reasoning was purely pragmatic

You're not alone. That question popped into mind during the last part of the car scene; Snoop berates Michael for having a conscience, which leads to Mike reclining into the seatback. But Chris tilts his head into the rear-view so that we only see his eyes, definitely a concerned look that identifies with Michael's sentiments toward undesired violence as opposed to one that disapproves his insubordination.

More evidence of a conscience in Chris was seen in the killing of Bug's father. Part of what made the scene so powerful was seeing Chris "lose it" for the first time. Whether or not this is due to his distaste for the misdeeds done to Bugs (a sentiment which would parallel Mike's reluctance to pull the trigger this very episode), or simply his bond with Michael (their brotherly affection, chemistry, whatever you call it is incredible) would both point to their similar viewpoint on needless bloodshed.

This, imo, would place Chris closer to Mike than with Snoop who has completely lost any human response to killing (hence her puzzled/jocular comment after seeing Chris pound Bug's daddy outside). Very much looking forward to how this season will develop the relationship between these surrogate brothers.

Angel804 said...

I feel two ways about that scene with Chris looking at Michael in the rearview mirror; on the one hand I think he could be agreeing with Michael silently, on the other, I think Chris is worried that Michael is not as fully "in" as he thought he was. I wouldn't be surprised if they "test" Micahel's loyalty soon.

Chris's killing of Bug's father made me think something similar happened to him, just because of the sheer violence of it. He was doing to Michael's abuser what he wishes he could have done to his own. Then again, maybe that's just my armchair psychoanalysis, and Chris just beat him down because of what he knew he done to Michael.

David said...

I did think that Avon seemed powerless, but I took all the "West Side" references and "how's it going" buddyness as a deliberate (and very funny) attempt to needle Marlo, who knows very well that Avon couldn't give a crap about him or the West Side. It was Avon making use of his limited power position in the best way he could, and getting in some digs while he was at it.

And put me on the bandwagon that thinks that Gus is way too perfect. He joins Freamon as one of the few "pure good" characters.

drake leLane said...

I'm with you on both fronts, Angel804.

I think Chris identifies with Michael in that they were both abused as children. That look in the mirror, though, was one that seemed to say "my boy's not soft, now is he?"

It was such a short look that I'm sure we'll be able to interpret a number of different ways once the full context comes into play.

Eric said...

Regarding the speculation about whether Chris and Michael's interaction is supposed to hint that Chris was sexually abused:

I believe David Simon explicitly confirmed this in the DVD commentary for the Season 4 finale. Almost at the very end, there is a glance in the mirror similar to the one from Season 5, episode 2.

But I'll be honest here: I totally missed all of this when I watched Season 4 on TV.

Angel804 said...

Yeah, I gotta believe Avon's gaming Marlo. He seemed a little too "eager" IMO. At least I hope he's gaming him.

One thing that's bugging me is Lester's comment to Sydnor re the Clay Davis case: "I could die happy", I thought of it as soon as I saw him staking out Marlo & co. by himself. i hope I'm just reading too much into a throwaway line.

Anonymous said...

Me, too. I thought Avon was just teasing Marlo with his obviously fake camaraderie. No way he's desperately trying to buddy up to his nemesis. Just grabbing some quick cash and rubbing Marlo's nose in his temporary disadvantage.

Simon Hsu said...

Angel, drake: I'm definitely with you both on Chris' childhood history; thinking it was obvious I omitted it from my comment - the ways The Wire is able to convey details without outwardly expressing them is one of the masterstrokes of the show

God, I'm still perplexed at the enigma that is Chris Partlow. How is he able to kill a delivery lady outright yet come to take Michael under his wing? Late S4 Marlo didn't seem pleased Mike stood up for "the snitchin' boy", but nothing becomes of that. We never see Mike confronted about it so I've always assumed Chris saw it as inconsequential since he obviously values the kid.

Back to present day, I'm definitely looking forward to Chris' reaction to Mike's eps 3 field trip escapade.

Angel804 said...

Chris is definitely an enigma. He likely feels a kinship with Michael because of abuse they both suffered.It'll be interesting to see if this creates any tension between Chris and Marlo. I think Michael's loyalty will be tested soon, asking him to do something horrible.

lnewcomer said...

sorry to pick at nits, but I've got to think Steve Earle's character's name is "Waylon", not "Walon", after legendary country singer Waylon Jennings. I haven't taken the time to go thru HBO's web site to confirm, but I would be really surprised if that's not correct, considering Earle's music career and the type of music he plays.

fgmerchant said...

No one has mentioned this yet, but Dee Dee has made appearances on The Wire before. First on Season 3 Episode 8 about 30 seconds in when she is first starting out and buying drugs for the first time. Then in Season 4 Episode 8 about 41 minutes in when she is talking with Old Face Andre about how she is still turning tricks. Now we see her in this episode telling her story of how she went through all of that. It's a nice little call back for hardcore fans of the show, and I certainly wouldn't have noticed if I hadn't just watched the entire series in the past week.

Karen said...

Two episodes in and I'm not feeling this season as much as the first four. Maybe it is the rushed pace, but the newspaper gang seems forced and a little artificial to me--almost, dare I say, Sorkin-esque. Gus is a little too much of a saint, Scott is already clearly a villain. I wasn't sure where they were going with EJ immediately (until Scott said his name, I wondered if the kid in the wheelchair was going to turn out to be one of our corner boys), but as soon as Rebecca and Gus started talking it seemed clear they were taking Scott in a Jayson Blair/Stephen Glass direction (which I should have got immediately, given the montage of less heartwarming Oriole Park interviews he was getting).

It feels...heavy-handed.

That being said, it was good to see Michael questioning Marlo's motives--he's still in there, somewhere. It was good to see Avon again, although I agree with Alan that his bravado was a little forced. Nice to see him still taking care of Brianna, though. Although I guess that's so Brianna can take care of him, isn't it?

Bubbles continues to break my heart. Marlo continues to chill mine--he's like some horrible hybrid of Bill Sykes and Hannibal Lecter, all cold menace and intelligence.

I still love the show--it's still better than just about anything else that's ever been on in history--but this season is going to need to convince me a little.

I can't even talk about Jimmy. Damn.

Andrew said...

Hey, I know I'm late to the party, but I've been watching the show over the past couple months - thank god for Netflix.

One parallel I think was very interesting was McNulty kicking the side of the car...for me, it harkens back to Bodie losing it when Chris/Snoop killed Lil' Kevin. Both were expressing frustration at the lack of control they had, in a situation where they used to rule the roost.

Also, Alan, I had the same reaction as you did to the newspaper editor's speech - "we can't become about everything, otherwise it's about nothing." Seems like The Wire is Simon's F U to that type of attitude.

Keep up the great work - love your podcasts w/ Simmons.

sender said...

I've been looking everywhere trying to answer a question that stuck out at me when I watched this episode.

Does anybody know if the shipping stats Gus wakes up to check on are significant of anything? I don't know if the discrepancy between cargo and "RoRo" signifies something, or if it's just random jargon.

Anonymous said...

I know I'm way late to this party, but as a long time avid wire fan i've been reading these (starting with the "veteran" posts on seasons 1-3), and there was a discussion on one of the veteran season 3 posts about the avon-marlo scene in this season 5 episode, so i've been thinking about it ever since and waited until what I thought was the appropriate place to say my peace.

Before reading the previous debate (as well as this one), Avon being "pathetic" hadn't crossed my mind. I can certainly see that angle now.

However I believe it may have been a little of both. I think it's clear that Avon still has a great rep and power behind bars (or else he would never have been able to interject in this moment). He's eager to show marlo "i'm still here, I still have A crown, even if it's not THE crown you wear and you still have to go through me". I think his talk with marlo about the westside and everything besides the business at hand was some needling at marlo (who, despite the two having never actually met, we'd assume that word has gotten around what kind of person marlo his, with his apathy towards small talk) with a touch of longing to "remember when" for avon. He may have started it just to mess with marlo, but by talking and thinking about it, it made avon start to miss it.

We know that avon couldn't have known the greeks before season 3 because avon got his stuff from new york and prop joe (despite being, we assume, secondary to the barksdale organization in b-more, at least before the first season)was the sole person the greeks knew, and through mouzone we know that a lot of avon's power in his name is derived from his sterling reputation with powerful people in new york. We know the greeks know marlo because of the meeting in season 4 after prop joe gets jacked by omar. So some how, Avon still has enough pull that the greeks feel it necessary to make marlo go through avon to talk to the greeks.

Ahmedkhan said...

I'll always be puzzled over why Avon doesn't fleece Marlo for more than 100 large. A sum like that is chump change to Marlo, and considering what he has to gain from achieving the connect to the Greek, I believe Marlo would have been more than willing to give Brianna several multiples of that amount.

It's a crying shame we couldn't have Wood Harris back for more than the two brief scenes, but at least we got to have him back. He absolutely owns the character of Avon.