"We have to kill again."
It's in that moment -- with Lester having signed on to the fake serial killer plan, with Bunk looking on in horror, with Jimmy hip deep in a pool of booze and his own arrogance -- that this final season announces itself as pure farce.
There were complaints last week after Jimmy desecrated the first corpse, and more this week from the On Demand viewers after Lester joined in, that a shark had just arrived to be leaped over. As I said before, this is a show where a character spent an entire season legalizing drugs in his district, and here we're dealing with two characters with a long, long history of obsessive, self-destructive behavior that's either in the interest of proving how smart they are (McNulty) or doing good policework (Lester). This story is several orders of magnitude more self-destructive -- now they're risking their freedom as well as their livelihood, as Bunk points out -- but we've also seen how at the end of their rope each guy is. Jimmy's drinking is worse than ever, and he feels completely betrayed by the city for the broken promises of Carcetti's new day. Lester has now spent several years (from the end of season three through now) chasing Marlo, and feels that he's justthisclose to getting the mass murdering sonuvabitch.
It's an extreme story, but it works for me because, as I said above, it's being played for the black comedy of it as much as anything. So Jimmy does this horrific thing, and not only does no one notice what he's really doing, but no one cares about the cover version of his master plan. Barlow needs to be prodded for a day and a half to remember the red ribbon, Jay thinks the entire exercise is masturbation, and the Sun gives the story even worse play than Alma's story about Chris and Snoop's triple-homicide. On "The Wire," no grand plan ever comes easy -- remember Bunny trying to educate the middle school age hoppers about Hamsterdam? -- and this one is coming harder and more ridiculous than most. When I spent so much of my column reviewing this season on the series' comic brilliance, it was moments like the "We have to kill again" -- and similar scenes to come -- that I had in mind.
(The use of Barlow -- last seen in the pilot episode not paying enough attention to the D'Angelo Barksdale murder prosecution that inspired McNulty to first defy command, leading to the creation of the MCU -- was an inspired full circle choice.)
Jimmy makes it clear that he doesn't actually care about Marlo -- the line about how Marlo doesn't get to win sounded dangerously close to Carver's rant on top of his police car at the end of the "Shaft" chase scene early in season three -- but Mr. Stanfield's actions here mark him as a dangerous and worthy target. He's simultaneously preparing for war with the unwitting Prop Joe and semi-retired Omar, and based on his track record, I wouldn't bet against the man.
Joe doesn't get it. Marlo has no interest in being civilized. He barely understands civilization (witness how out of sorts he was in the French Antilles, or even with the concept of being able to keep track of your money electronically; it was like Namond at Ruth's Cris all over again in showing how limited these characters' world is) and has no use for it beyond using it to further his power and legend. But Joe tries to civilize him, even as Marlo's tricking Joe into cutting his own throat with the "clean" bills and the financial advice. If Marlo gets an in with both Joe's drug connect and his money people, what use does he have for Joe, exactly?
His obsession with Omar, on the other hand, smacks of Avon's obsession with Marlo in season three. Business is good, Marlo seems close to mastering all he surveys, and the only person who even cares about Omar ripping him off is Marlo himself. The man was gone; let him stay gone. I'm not sure which was more chilling: the usually gentle and businesslike killer Chris deliberately being angry and cruel with Blind Butchie (RIP) to send a message, or the look on Omar's face when he realized he would have to go back to Baltimore. How long do you think he's going to keep his promise to Bunk about no more killing?
This episode is filled with characters stepping, however briefly, out of The Game. Marlo goes to check on his money, Omar is beloved by the little kids in Puerto Rico, and Dukie talks Michael into taking a day off from his corner. It should be a relief to see Michael briefly act like the kid he still is, but instead it's painful, because I know that he's already given up his childhood to become one of Marlo's soldiers. He couldn't even enjoy the trip longer than the time it took to get out of the cab, because there was Monk to lecture him about responsibilities. Back when I covered "The Sopranos," I used to write about how the glamorous mob life that Christopher dreamed of growing up was really just a ball-busting, more dangerous version of the same workaday life he thought he was escaping. Same thing for Michael here. He may have the roll of money and the respect of people on the street, but in ways beyond his conscience he's worse off than the average kid his age. If he was still in school, the day off would have been a real day off, you know?
I really wish my comrades in the media weren't so obsessed with themselves, because it feels like the thousands of articles written about the Simon/Marimow/Carroll feud have spelled out half the plot points in the newspaper story. People have complained that this season feels preachier than past years, and while there may be something to that (even though every scene with Prez and his fellow teachers last year was preachy as hell), it isn't helping that these stories (with or without interviews with Simon) keep explaining all the themes before we get to them.
Here, it's buyout time at the fictional Sun. Having worked at a newspaper through several rounds of buyouts, and having friends at other papers where the layoffs aren't even that gentle, I can say the entire scenario played out just right. Layoffs/buyouts go different ways at different papers, depending on the strength of the union and the nature of what's happening (here it was a layoff disguised as a buyout, with people like Twigg being given offers they were strongly discouraged from refusing). Sometimes, last ones hired are the first ones fired, but lots of times it's the people who have been around the longest and therefore make the most money, but who also bring the most value to the place, like Twigg.
If I didn't loathe Scott enough already, him cavalierly referring to the "deadwood" they'd be losing put me over the top, which put the moment where Twigg badly upstaged him on the Daniels question feel extra sweet. And then Scott -- Out of laziness? Frustration? Awareness that he'd gotten away with it before? -- doesn't even bother to call around for react quotes, just makes one up that, like the EJ story, is so on the money that it pings Gus's radar. I'm sure some instances of journalistic fabulism are relatively victimless (other than damaging the reputation of the place that published them), but as we see with this quote -- and with our knowledge that Daniels did something very crooked in his early days on the force -- making stuff up can have horrible unintended consequences.
Of course, if Burrell could actually pull his head out of his stats and understand that Carcetti genuinely wanted clean numbers, neither he nor Daniels would be in their current messes. It's a credit to the otherwise hopeless social climber Tommy's become that he was going to keep Erv around if he just told the truth, but Erv's habit of juking the stats was so ingrained he couldn't understand that.
And if Burrell falls, can his buddy Clay be far behind? He no longer has juice with the mayor's office, he's got Ronnie and the grand jury on him like white on rice, and now he's about to lose his most valuable remaining ally. Though Lester is currently going off the deep end with Jimmy to get Marlo, he's made it clear in the past (including last week's episode) that he (and, by extension I think, Simon and Burns) considers the Clay Davises of the world far bigger problems than the Avons and Marlos. So which would be a more satisfying ending for you in the audience: Marlo gets busted while Clay gets off, or vice versa? Or has the ending to every previous season by now conditioned you to the inevitability of an ending where nothing goes quite the way you'd want it to?
Some other thoughts on "Not For Attribution":
-Taking the whole phony serial killer plan out of the equation for a second, which is the more pathetic/funnier drunk-ass Jimmy moment: him trying to recreate his car crash in season two, or him bending the cheap blonde over the hood of a car, and continuing to do it after he badged the two patrol cops? Admittedly, it's been a while since season two, but my sides hurt by the end of the car hood scene here.
-From the funny/pathetic department: Ronnie asking her expert witness to explain every single word of his previous sentence, "starting with the word 'non-profit.'" With a case this complicated, I'm sure half the grand jurors (if not more) need every minute detail spelled out for them in language my pre-K daughter might understand.
-For much of the show's run, Richard Price has had the honor of writing each season's re-introduction of Omar scene. But even though this episode marks Omar's first appearance of season five, and even though the song on the jukebox at the bar where Jimmy is drunk is "96 Tears" (which was a recurring motif in Price's "Freedomland" novel), this one was written not by Price, but by Chris Collins. (Price wrote the script for episode 7.)
-I really liked the scene where Slim Charles and Chris wait outside while Joe and Marlo meet with the money launderer. Each, naturally, sees his own boss as the ideal drug lord, with Chris not appreciating Joe's fondness for talk and complex financial arrangements and Slim not appreciating Marlo's fondness for killing anyone he feels like, whenever he feels like it.
-When Twigg starts talking at the bar about forgiving some sinner and winking your eye at some homely girl, he's quoting H.L. Mencken, the legendary reporter, editorialist and author who wrote for the Sun for most of the first half of the 20th century. (Gus, feeling bitter, then drops an F-bomb on the late Henry Louis.)
-Norman having worked at the Sun in a previous life was mentioned at least once before. During the election story last season, when Royce's people tried to smear Tommy with a doctored photo, Norman mentioned his career at the Sun and how he should have enough contacts left there to get to the bottom of this. Nice seeing him in a scene with Gus, one of the few other largely pure characters on the show. If we could get Lester and Bunny (and, I guess, Sydnor) into the room with them, we'd have the whole set.
-Good to see that Marla and Cedric still have feelings for each other, which are being brought out in this time of crisis. They had their problems that brought about the marriage's end, but you can't be with a person as long as they were and completely discard the emotional attachments.
-Semi-hidden product placement: just as Renaldo was spotted reading a George Pelecanos novel last season, we have Barlow here reading "Generation Kill," which is the basis for Simon's next HBO project.
-I can't help but notice all the Homicide guys are now using Toughbook laptops. While no laptop is that cheap, a Toughbook definitely isn't on the low end of the spectrum. Seems an odd choice for a department that we're always told is strapped for cash, but for all I know, that's what the real Baltimore PD uses.
-Donnell Rawlings makes his first appearance since season one as Clay Davis' driver, Damien Lavelle "Day-Day" Price. In between, he gained some measure of fame as one of the second bananas on "Chappelle's Show," and I worried that I would have a hard time taking Ashy Larry seriously back in this world. Fortunately (and no doubt intentionally), Rawlings is mainly used for comic purposes, notably his scolding of a distracted Clay. (See below.)
Lines of the week:
"We have to kill again." -JimmyAs always, same spoiler police is in effect: talk about this episode and the ones that came before, and that's it. There will be a separate post for the On Demand episode tomorrow morning, and if I see any comments about that one (or later episodes, for that matter), I'm just going to delete them.
"Shit like this actually goes through your fucking brain?" -Lester
"It ain't easy civilizing this motherfucker." -Prop Joe
"Focus, motherfucker! Focus!" -Day-Day Price
"Fuckin' Burrell's asshole must be so tight you couldn't pull a pin from it with a John Deere tractor." -Valchek
"Most of the guys here couldn't catch the clap in a Mexican whorehouse." -Jimmy
"I'm the vice president of a major financial institution." -Grand jury witness
"Who the fuck isn't?" -Grand jury prosecutor (played by Gary D'Addario, the real-life inspiration for Gee on "Homicide")
What did everybody else think?