Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Wire: Western civilization

Spoilers for "The Wire" episode three, "Not For Attribution," coming up just as soon as I put some backspin on my throws...

"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." -Jimmy

"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")
As 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.

What did everybody else think?


Fluffy said...

I saw Donald Worden (from "Homicide" the book) mentioned in the closing credits. Who did he play?

Angel804 said...

Am I the only one that didn't know Daniels has a law degree?

Andrew said...

Worden played one of the detectives in the first scene who Bunk relieved. He was the one who said, "Type quieter asshole."

Alan Sepinwall said...

Am I the only one that didn't know Daniels has a law degree?

It's a plot point in season two, and the reason the Daniels marriage falls apart. After Cedric gets banished to the property room, Marla wants him to quit and take the bar; when he agrees to head up the Sobotka detail, she decides she's sacrificed enough for him, and he starts sleeping on the couch.

Angel804 said...

Thanks, Alan--I'm almost embarassed to say that S4 was my first season watching start to finish, though my husband has been a fan from day one.

Anonymous said...

Nice post, Alan. I have to admit, while it's wonderful that more people are watching The Wire than ever before (as it should be!), the endless scrutiny - particularly over the show's fidelity to "realism" - that this season has engendered is starting to spoil the episodes for me. I think it's important to remember that this is a show that gradually became more and more popular due to the availability of DVDs in the marketplace; consequently, as many of us watched it for the first time, we weren't constantly being pummeled with how "real" this show is.

First of all, The Wire has always depicted events that wouldn't play in the real world. Of course, Hamsterdam is the most obvious example, but there are plenty of others. Even the beloved character of Omar, for example, is pretty farfetched; yes, I'm aware that Omar is loosely based on an actual person, but a guy who carries a large shotgun around Baltimore robbing from the rich and giving to the poor while whistling "The Farmer in the Dell" is a pretty cinematic creation. This isn't the first time show has been reflexive, either; anyone who knows anything about Steve Earle's actual personal history will see what Simon & Co. have in mind with the Walon character. Even the style has not always been ultra-realistic; re-view the scene from Season 1 where Herc and Carver watch Bodie's crew beat on a rival crew with baseball bats and remark on how they get pensions or something to that effect - when Bodie wields the baseball bat, there is a pretty distracting slo-mo device that is employed to make it look all the more badass.

And lastly, contrary to the story that the press is telling us, The Wire has always been rather explicit about its themes. In this post, Alan, you point out the adminstrators in Season 4, and if you look back at the earlier seasons, you find all sorts of examples of characters expounding. Remember the scene in the last episode of Season 1 with D'Angelo in the interrogation room when he delivers a long monologue about how his entire family grew up in the drug trade and that it gets so bad that sometimes you just can't breathe? Why do I get the feeling that if a character delivered a monologue like that in one of these new episodes, we'd take the show to task for being too explicit? After all, we're talking about a show that takes the most important line of dialogue from the episode and emblazens it across the screen for us at the beginning just to underscore its significance.

There are plenty more examples, but I suppose the point I'm trying to make here is that the reviews of this show seem to have led us all to believe that The Wire is the most ambiguous, realistic show ever put on television. It is. But within limits.

Tim Masterson said...

The idea of a cop faking murders is no more far fetched than a firefighter setting fires.

striaght outta silver spring said...

I think Bolander was based on Worden.

Lester, all of a sudden being on board with Jimmy, give the whole serial killer thing much more believability, oddly, for me. All in all I like the message of Jimmy's and Lester's actions. Nobody gives a rats ass about deaths of people that "don't matter". Thier actions are putting light on this issue.

I saw the Chris and Slim scene as possibly Chris trying to recruit Slim or feel him out for the possibility. When you couple it with Marlo's words at the co-op it seems more plausible.

I'd love to know what Burrell was thinking as he let the phone rang. This time it was actually Rawles who actually talked Burrell into juking the stats. Burrell had seemed resigned to the fact that the stats needed to be clean.

great episode.

Monkey Wrench said...

We as viewers can already predict that, even if everything goes McNulty and Lester's way, their scheme won't pay off quite as neatly as Lester imagines. Chris and Snoop discussed their plans to change up after killing Butchie: Marlo will hold indoor meetings from now on. Sure, they could be easier to wiretap (see e.g. the end of Season 1), but it won't be a matter of two weeks as Lester thinks. Something has interrupted their routine already, and the MCU would have to do more surveillance to find out where Marlo will be holding court. And we can be fairly sure that more changes will be coming, courtesy of Omar.

straight outta silver spring said...

good catch monkey wrench. I didn't put that together when Chris first spoke it after killing Butchie.

Alan Sepinwall said...

This time it was actually Rawles who actually talked Burrell into juking the stats. Burrell had seemed resigned to the fact that the stats needed to be clean.

Was it? I'd need to go back and watch the scene from the previous week, but I remember it as the two of them being on the same page about juking the stats s much as they dared. But you may be right.

dcdame said...

Another great ep, but I just couldn't bear to watch the last scene with Blind Butchie. "Nice dolphin, %x#" -- LOL.

More life imitating art (quoted item published in the NYT today)-- substitute Baltimore for LA and you have The Wire, S5, practically verbatim, re: the Sun:

"The top editor of The Los Angeles Times has been forced out for resisting newsroom budget cuts, executives at the paper said Sunday . . . Chicago has demanded cost savings and higher profit — officials at The Times say the paper still makes a healthy profit, despite its troubles — and the view in Los Angeles has been that the new owners are slowly killing an asset they neither value nor understand."

Alan Sepinwall said...

I think Bolander was based on Worden.

He was at first, though the TV writers took the character in a different direction pretty quickly, making Stan a guy who regretted every decision he had ever made in his adult life, where Worden certainly never regretted becoming a cop.

Years and years ago, back in my Usenet days, I wrote a list showing who each Homicide character was based on.

Alan Sepinwall said...

"The top editor of The Los Angeles Times has been forced out for resisting newsroom budget cuts, executives at the paper said Sunday . . .

The funny thing about the constant drama at the LA Times -- and something I was remiss in mentioning in my review -- is that John Carroll, the inspiration for Mr. Whiting, resigned from the Times back in 2005 rather than oversee the kind of layoffs that his fictional counterpart is now willingly participating in.

straight outta silver spirng said...

Thanks for the link Alan. Outstanding as always.

As for the stats stuff. I think it was Rawles idea to give it (juking the stats) a try again after Burrels says something like, "but the Mayor has made it perfectly clear he wants clean stats".

We didn't see the subsequent conversation between Rawls and Burrell, but I would assume it didn't take a whole lot of arm twisting to get Ol' Irv to agree.

Anonymous said...

I've been watching The Wire from the beginning and every season had at least one aspect that struck me as bogus. And yes, it does detract a little from my enjoyment of what I consider the best TV drama ever. But it never spoiled the show for me. Let's hope it stays that way.

However...I'm still not buying Lester's eager participation in Jimmy's crazy scheme. Sure, Lester is deeply frustrated about the case--but enough to risk jail? And I'm not reassured by Jimmy's "These guys couldn't catch the clap in a Mexican whorehouse" line. It ain't so just because Jimmy says it is. If Jimmy and Lester succeed in getting the major media attention they're hoping for and the BPD devotes substantial resources to the case, some smart detectives just might start noticing some things about Jimmy's case that don't add up.

I respect Alan's judgement and I really hope he's right about this season, but I worry there might be some shark-jumping in the near future.

Tim Masterson said...

Watching the episode again, I'm really enjoying Bunk's reaction to the grave McNulty is digging himself. Early in the episode when McNulty is trying to goad Barlow and it finally works, Wendell Piece gives Bunk's reaction just the right mix of disgust for the situation and admiration for McNulty's scheming.

Then, when Lester goes along, the look on Bunk's face is priceless. He's out. He wants nothing to do with this.

Anonymous said...

BTW, I thought Gus's remark about Mencken might have been prompted by the fact that HLM was known to be more than a little bit racist and right-wing.

paul said...

Do we know what Burrell has on Daniels? I can't remember if this came up in a previous season.

kwig said...

Re: the expensive laptops, in my experience, institutions almost always over pay for computing resources, especially public institutions.

I'd guess in this case some smart cookie in the BPD got the full worth out of the allocated funds. Maybe there's another Lester who got buried in accounting and is still there.

Anonymous said...

Not specifically. Daniels had a lot of extra money, but we don't know exactly how he got it.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Do we know what Burrell has on Daniels? I can't remember if this came up in a previous season.

It's like I mentioned in the review (and first came up in season one): when Daniels was in a Narcotics unit in the Eastern, he was suspected of having stolen money in a raid (or something along those lines), and Burrell has evidence of that. Daniels called his bluff on it in the past, but now Erv has nothing to lose by revealing what he knows, does he?

Anonymous said...

Jimmy and Lester are, to use Simon's (and the Baltimore PD's) language, "real police." Fucking with the sanctity of a crime scene would be the last thing they would ever do. Sure, McNulty might fudge things every now and then (there was a scene in Season 1 where no one was on the roof to verify a phone call and McNulty wrote Syndor down as having been there), but McNulty deliberately wrecking a crime scene and creating a serial killer seems completely implausible to me. Lester going along with it, even encouraging it, is even more unbelievable. This is completely out of character for for both and may very well be the jumping the shark moment for the best show ever broadcast...

straight outta silver spring said...

With all due respect, the term "jumping the shark" jumped the shark years ago. The Wire can not jump the shark.

I definately think whether or not Jimmy and Lester are acting out of character can be debated. But I for one am totally on board and excited to see where this goes from here. I think it most likely ends up with Jimmy and Lester in deep, deep doo-doo. I just hope Bunk doesn't go down with them. I mean we know he wants no part of it, but will he get in trouble for not coming clean?

Tim Masterson said...

The problem with the "jump the shark" phenomenon is that people are looking for that jump moment. Anytime anything significant happens people want to be the first to call out the jump the shark.

Anonymous said...

"I definately think whether or not Jimmy and Lester are acting out of character can be debated."

Jimmy has been drinking very heavily for months and is clearly coming unglued. So his descent is somewhat plausible. But Lester? We needed to see him coming unglued in previous episodes, because what he appears to be planning with Jimmy isn't just cutting a few corners out of frustration--it's all-out batshit crazy. Lester was never crazy.

Anonymous said...

"Anytime anything significant happens people want to be the first to call out the jump the shark."

That may be, but not in this case.

"The Wire" is a show where many significant events have taken place, from Omar and Brother Mouzone killing Stringer, Stringer dropping a dime on Avon, the death of Bodie, Herc destroying Randy's life, etc. All of these "significant events" were understandable. Logical. The term "jumping the shark" is perfect for what McNulty is doing because it literally refers to a major character acting in a completely implausible manner. Now, of course, some people (most notably David Simon and Ed Burns) do not find Jimmy's (and Lester's) actions implausible. But I do. It goes against everything I, as a viewer, know about these characters.

Anney said...

"Anytime anything significant happens people want to be the first to call out the jump the shark."

That's not true at all. The Wire has by far the most devoted fans of any TV show, and I think because we love it so much, we're more than willing to give it a break for its faults (preachiness, for example). But faking a serial killer? Come on.

straight outta silver spring said...

Well, as Alan mentioned in his write-up, Lester has been working Marlo since S3 and has had the rug pulled out from under him by the bosses on a few occassions.

Lester's comments in the bar in episode 2, I thought, showed that he was completely fed up with the way that department and the general public deals with the death and destruction of people that "don't matter".

Similar to Colvin, Lester is nearing the end of his string with the BPD. I think he would love to bring in the Stanfield case. I think he explained his reasons pretty well to Bunk. "no one cares".

I'm ready to go with this. But again, no disrespect to your view of dissent.

Andrew said...

I'm don't find Lester's actions out of character at all. We have seen his obsession with Marlo over the last couple of years grow to the point which it's about equal to Jimmy's obsession with Stringer. Last week, they did a good job of showing Lester's Marlo obsession growing to the point of being unhealthy when parked his car and staked out a location until 3 a.m. on his own time. Lester is the man who gave Jimmy the lecture in season 3 about how you have to have a life outside the job and the job will not save him. For man who said such a thing to be keeping track of Marlo so obessively is clearly the sign of someone coming unhinged.

Anonymous said...

"But I for one am totally on board and excited to see where this goes from here."

Sure, it may be exciting. But, for me, the question is, are these actions congruent with what we know about the characters? No. As you, and Bunk, point out, Jimmy and Lester are risking jail time. As reckless as Jimmy is, I can't see that. Lester, who is methodical about everything and who has, as far as I can remember, never cut one corner in an MCU investigation, would never go along. He has kids (as does Jimmy), a girlfriend (assuming Charlene is still in the picture), and a life outside of the force. No way does he risk all of that.

Nor do either of them break the one thing they hold sacred: the investigation of murder. They are "murder police." As David Simon put it in his book "Homicide" they are "investigators entrusted with the pursuit of that most extraordinary of crimes: the theft of a human life. You speak for the dead. You avenge those lost to the world. Your paycheck may come from fiscal services but, goddammit, after six beers you can pretty much convince yourself that you work for the Lord himself… Homicide is the major leagues, the center ring, the show. It always has been. When Cain threw a cap into Abel, you don’t think the Big Guy told a couple of fresh uniforms to go down and work up the prosecution report. Hell no, he sent for a fucking detective. And it will always be that way, because the homicide unit of any urban police force has for generations been the natural habitat of that rarefied species: the thinking cop.”

Exciting, yes. Plausible, no.

straight outta silver spring said...


Your argument is great. Far better than I can do for the other side. All I know, is that I, like you, have seen every episode of the show, multiple times. I have absolutely no problem with the plausability of what these characters are doing.

They are doing what they are doing because they DO want to solve murders. Marlo's murders. Both detectives are just so arrogant that they actually think they can get away with it. I have no problem believing this.

Anonymous said...


You are absolutely right! I enjoy reading Alan's thoughts on the episodes and there is always a good point or different view of an event made in the comments. Enough with the complaints about how realistic the McNutty storyline is. The show is fiction, they exagerrate to make points.

For the most part everything that happens in the Wire could happen in real life. So until a slow-mo gunfight between McNulty and Marlo takes place quit yappin about it.

I've avoided the majority of these articles about Simon and his past as a newspaper reporter, besides the Sun's review of the 5th season. I don't necessarily see it being that preachy. I think they had to speed up the introduction and make us aware of the problems a little quicker than say the docks in season 2. I haven't seen past episode 3, but I don't see the head newspaper guys as clear-cut bad guys. Besides being lazy regarding Scott's story about the wheelchair kid, I can see their point of view regarding the cutbacks and the way to approach the school series.

Anonymous said...


And being that McNulty and Lester are murder police they want to get Marlo. The 22 bodies in the vacants and who knows how many more are on Marlo. It's been made clear to us by the action of Bodie and the feelings of the Co-Op that Marlo is rutheless. Lester has been pulled off the case for the 2nd time and McNulty gave up a good thing he had goin in the Western to catch Marlo. I can't say I agree with what Lester and Jimmy have done, but I can how they have been pushed to do it.

Anonymous said...

I'm not buying the whole serial killer storyline...yet. But I'll withhold final judgment until season's end. If Simon can pull this off and make it plausible and fully consistent with the established behavior of the characters, I'll eat my hat and proclaim him a god.

Re the whole newspaper thing. Simon's treatment isn't any more preachy than earlier seasons set in classrooms, docks, or police stations. I just think the newspaper critics are touchy because Simon is encroaching on their turf. I like the newspaper storyline just fine. And it's great to see Clark Johnson back in front of the camera again.

Filipe said...

Lester knows its very unlikely that he has any serious jail risk. Whatever way he might help McNulty, he will not be helping him directly with the cases given that he doesn't work in Homicide, so the only serious jail risk he faces is if McNulty gave him up as his partner.

Anonymous said...

But, felipe, your argument supposes that Lester is fine with risking Jimmy's career (and possibly his freedom) by encouraging him in his plan. THAT'S certainly a new twist for Lester, being reckless with other cops' careers.

Anonymous said...

Most of the pro-serial killer posters make some variation of the argument that Lester and Jimmy are so frustrated by Marlo that they are willing to concoct a fake serial killer in the hopes that the brass will expend more money and reactivate the unit on Marlo. If this is the plan, why not simply pull Marlo over and plant evidence on him? This is much less risky and much more likely to result in a conviction.

SJ said...

That was the D'Addario? I was reading Homicide a while ago and it is interesting how much of it is presented on screen.

SJ said...

People have made good points about how The Wire has gone beyond the realistic sometimes (Hamsterdam, Omar, etc.) But all these things have had realistic outcomes and endings (Wasn't really a surprise how Hamsterdam ended), and I get the feeling that what Lester and McNulty will be brought back to "reality", to perhaps suggest that you don't go outside the rules of the game.

Anonymous said...


Because THAT would be pretty boring television.

And, in all seriousness, it would not speak at all to the fact that certain people's murders don't matter as much as others. Notice, the dead vagrants are white.

straight outta silver spring said...

I think I need to clarify a little bit. Obviously the dead vagrants were white and nobody would have cared in not for the seriel killer angle.

But still as the show has been "preaching" the murders of some do not rate compared to the murders of others.

Anonymous said...

"But all these things have had realistic outcomes and endings [...] and I get the feeling that what Lester and McNulty will be brought back to reality"

The main complaint is that Jimmy and Lester (or at least Lester) wouldn't have left reality in the first place.

KcM said...

Another factor to consider when weighing the believability of the serial killer storyline: Thanks to Carcetti, nobody's been paid in a dog's age.

Not that McNulty and Lester are in it for the paycheck, but imminent poverty adds stress to the equation, and makes people do funny things. Perhaps they figured the BPD has broken the contract, so why not take matters into their own hands?

I was iffy about the serial killer storyline after 52, but 53 calmed my concerns. It looks like much else in the Wire-verse: not likely to work out as intended.

By the way, I put this up over at THND earlier this evening, but found it interesting enough to repeat myself (and it's a good confluence of where my head's at the moment.) Apparently, The Wire is Barack Obama's favorite show (and Omar is his favorite character.) If nothing else, this speaks in favor of the Senator's judgment...

straight outta silver spring said...

Again, IMHO, I think, in Lester's mind he WON'T be caught. He and Jimmy have both always thought they were the smartest detectives in the department. It doesn't feel like much of a risk to Jimmy and Lester.

Bunk, on the other hand...

quipu said...

Great post. Nice catch on the circular use of Barlow. This is a show that's obssessed with circles and loops.

Would have added Bunk's line on McNulty as one of my favorite moments in the episode:

"Did he fuck you?"

"No. He tried to. But he mostly fucks himself."

Was Butchie's death possibly one of the most brutal deaths we've seen yet on The Wire? The murder of the captain in Season 2 was pretty disquieting, but there was some measure of distance as we didn't really know who he was, and it was apparent that he was a bit of a scumbag anyway. Brandon's death, as we can see from his body, was pretty brutal, but we're spared the details. Wallace. D'Angelo and Bodie's deaths were all painful, but did not compare to the torture of Butchie.

The Wire's always been rather sparing in its use of violence, which meant that whenever somebody was actually killed on screen it was made all the more shocking. To have such an intense scene so early on in the series can only mean that there is much more to come.

Also, with regards to the gunfights in The Wire, we've come a long way from "Stray Rounds" in Season 2, where the gunfights were shambolic affairs, people running and shooting without even aiming, which somehow always struck me as being a more indicative of how actual shootouts work. The cool efficiency with which Snoop and Chris work definitely marks them out as a new breed.

Filipe said...

But, felipe, your argument supposes that Lester is fine with risking Jimmy's career (and possibly his freedom) by encouraging him in his plan. THAT'S certainly a new twist for Lester, being reckless with other cops' careers.

Lester was very aware and very okay about risking Rhonda's career last season.

Its not as dangerous as this, but he had far less reason to believe Rhonda would get away with it and he actually try to do it behind her back. One should have in mind that (a) It's Jimmy idea and he is okay with risks (b) Lester actually think he is smart enough to pull it off (we know he isn't but that has more to do with how we know this show works) (c) there's a small shot of even Jimmy going to jail over this. Or anyone truly believes that Carcetti, Rawls, Daniels and who else is in power when this thing blows in Jimmy's face will want to leak how the homeless serial killer that was in the news was a prank by a Baltimore cop? The very outrageousness of the whole thing makes it pretty hard to anyone be convicted over that. It would be a disgrace to Baltimore police and they couldn't arrest him without the reason leaking to the press. Lester might think that in the very worst case scenario Jimmy is fired and Rawls does wahtever he can to make his life hell. There's many other things that can go wrong and makes things much worse (like what will happened if the person that discovers the truth is Alma instead of another Homicide cop), but for a smart guy with an obsession that sees it as room of opportunity and serious believe he has what it takes to pull it off, I can see how he woulf ignore all the small variants that can make things much worse.

dcdame said...

sj said, "That was the D'Addario?"

That's the real Dee, indeed. He also had a recurring role in HLOTS as Lt. Jasper, the head of the Baltimore SWAT team.

Dan Jardine said...

Rather than chilling, I would describe the look on Omar's face at the end of this episode as heartbreaking. He's our surrogate at that moment, expressing all the pain that the audience feels having witnessed the death of such a great character, mix that in with the sudden urge for vengeance, and contrast it with the peacefulness and happiness he has obviously found in his new digs, which he knows at that moment are likely gone forever, and you have one helluva moment. And, as usual Michael Kenneth Williams, just nails the moment. Great piece of acting, and, as usual, a few seconds with Omar overshadows just about everything else on the show. You can see why they need to use the dude sparingly in order to keep the rest of the show from becoming a footnote to his character.

aml said...

I don't see it out of character for either Jimmy or Lester to develop the serial killer fabrication. I think Jimmy and Lester actually have a lot in common in terms of, you know, "fucking themselves". Lester just has more discipline and saavy but he's not opposed to burning bridges and neither is Jimmy.

As a side note: how awesome would it be if Omar reached out to Brother Mouzone for back-up. I know it's unlikely, but a girl can dream, right?

Dave S said...

Remember Lester's line to Daniels in season one - "I don't want to come to the dance unless I can rub some..." Crude as that was, it's all I need to buy into Lester's involvement in the serial killer storyline. He wants to solve these cases. He seemed happy enough to play by the rules as long as they were doing something worthwhile (e.g. the beginning of season three), but he, like Jimmy, is at the end of his rope - a murder police without the proper funding, influence or authority to solve the murder case he opened up. He tore the bodies out of those vacants, and he wants to finish the job. Jimmy, I think, presents him with the first plan that could actually work given the current state of all of their past routes. I buy this.

What I think must be mentioned though, is that this is a borderline-lazy move. It should be viewed no differently than the made up quotes and storylines from the newspaper reporter.

Not much else to add... the pacing of this episode felt good, like they've set everything up and now they have their swagger back.

Dan Jardine said...

There's no doubt that the made up stories/quotes and fictionalization of the serial killer are intended to be seen as parallel storylines/themes, but there is a rather big diff. Scott is doing his thing out of not only laziness, but self-aggrandizement. He wants a better job on a more prestigious paper. Lester and Jimmy are much more "ends justifies the means" guys who are trying to do their jobs the only way they know how--using the system in the only way they know how in order to bring Marlo down.

Of course, if you take a larger world-view you have to wonder why they bother, because once Marlo's gone, there will always be someone who comes along to take his place. As long as the current socio-economic system remains intact, there will always be a drug trade, and someone will always wear the drug lord crown.

Alex said...

Beautiful attention to detail in last night's episode --

homicide detectives still telling their colleagues to "type quieter"

Barlow still talking about carpentry when he's supposed to be paying attention to his work (that goes all the way back to the first episode)

Omar still disappointed that he can't find any Honey Nut cereal

And poor Butchie still listening to old blues classics (I think I heard Mystery Train and Messin' With the Kid . . . )


Angel804 said...

Jimmy's plan makes slighlty more sense now that we see he's using old murders, not just new ones. As for Lester's involvement, as someone else noted, he thinks he's smarter than everyone else. Plus, he like Bunny, surely has close to 30 years in.
The newpaper folk are growing on me, I think it a bit much to say they are one-dimensional, I mean, there's no way they could match S4's kids for emotional intensity. Plus we all know this is the final season so its unfair to comapre them to people we've known for four seasons...

The show's built up a lot of goodwill, so I 'm willing to go were leads.

Poor Beadie, I hope she's turned the porch light off by now...

SJ said...

By the way, I put this up over at THND earlier this evening, but found it interesting enough to repeat myself (and it's a good confluence of where my head's at the moment.) Apparently, The Wire is Barack Obama's favorite show (and Omar is his favorite character.) If nothing else, this speaks in favor of the Senator's judgment...

Maybe Obama should realize how the drug war is a futile effort and should try to bring it to an end.

Coincidentally, Baltimore mayor Sheila Dixon endorsed Obama today. Nerese Campbell in the show is partly based on her.

On the Dole said...

I mentioned last week that the faked serial killer angle had been partially spoiled for me a while back. One of the show's writers had accidentally brought it up at a public event, and said that a version of it had really happened. I don't know any details, and I think the motivation behind it had been different. Sounds like no one else here knows anything about it?

McNulty hatching the plan could've been set up better (shorter season partly to blame), but I can buy into him doing so. And I believe Lester jumping on board now, because McNulty's already put it in motion, and Lester sees that no one's caught on (or cares). In Lester's mind, this confirms that their superior intelligence and planning can pull it off, with fairly little downside.

Donny said...

Re: Most brutal killings in "Wire" history.

How about Chris beating the living hell out of Bug's father? That was, by far, the most brutal killing!

SR said...

Maybe McNulty's plan can work if Lester can figure out a way to pin the murders on Sgt. Doakes. ;^)

dcdame said...

I don't find the killing of Bug's father to be the most brutal, in part because I had no attachment to him and he was characterized as a bad guy (not that I approved of dispatching him, especially that way).

Blind Butchie, OTOH . . . well, I was attached and the killing was purposefully cruel (whereas I'm not sure Chris intended at the outset to go into a frenzy). I could barely stand to listen to the scene with Butchie (I shut my eyes - first time ever when watching The Wire, & I've watched every ep. to date). In fact, it probably would have been less painful to me if, instead, I had muted the sound and just watched the video.

Anonymous said...

I took a 3-day writing seminar once about script writing. In good dramas, a character lke McNulty who's up for a bad end always get the worst possible fate.Think of Randy in s4. After the snitch-bitch campaign, you knew he was up for a terrible ending--and back in the group home was his worst fear realized. If McNulty gets caught with this, his worst fate is getting kicked off the force. Jail is a step above that. What would he do, if he couldn't be a cop? Oh, the horror. My guess is that the season ends with him having to say buh-bye to the only thing that means something to him.

I'm concerned about Dukie. Like what is he doing with himself now that he's just Bug's "nanny"?

Donny said...

Well then you aren't talking "most brutal murder" you are talking about the hardest to watch, or the most heart-wrenching . And in that case, I would agree it would have to be Blind Butchie. A little torture and then a shot to the head isn't all that brutal....especially if you watch a show such as 24. You get used to torture real quick.

But again, I agree that there was no attachment towards Bug's dad and one could almost be satisfied when he "got his."

Zach Haldeman said...

I can't believe no one has noticed what a sublime moment of hilarity the part with Omar and the little children was. Children shouting "Omar coming!" as they run away from him has to be one of the defining sounds of the show (there's even a snippet of it on the soundtrack), and it was so brilliantly ironic that in Puerto Rico the little children run towards him, hoping to get candy. I thought that was the funniest moment of the episode.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Zach, I'm sure I would have found it funnier if it hadn't taken me until they were practically indoors to realize that this was Omar and Renaldo. The lighting, his hat, 'Naldo's different hairstyle, and the fact that we had just been in a Caribbean setting with Marlo for some reason led me to wonder if we were now being introduced to some French Antilles drug lord who would somehow run afoul of Marlo. (The use of a scooter, which seems to be the new vehicle of choice for Marlo's lower-level people, added to my confusion.)

lungfish said...

Quick question- does anyone remember exactly how Cheese knew of Omar's relationship with Butchie?.. Or was it just common knowledge that Marlo's crew was not privy to?

Anonymous said...

Lungfish: Cheese knew of Omar's involvement with Butchie because Prop Joe regularly dealt with Omar through Butchie: in season 4 he met with Omar in Butchie's bar to tell him about the Westside poker game. Other people knew about the Omar/Butchie connection too, e.g. Bunk in season 3 when he was looking for Dozerman's lost service weapon.

It's quite possible that the Omar/Butchie connection is public knowledge and that Marlo was feigning ignorance in order to test Cheese's loyalty to Prop Joe, just like he was doing when he spoke out about Joe's business affairs during the co-op meeting in the first episode of this season.

dez said...

And then Scott -- Out of laziness? Frustration? Awareness that he'd gotten away with it before?

I'd say a mixture of those with an added dose of arrogance and entitlement. I hate Scott almost as much as I hate Marlo.

quipu said...

Re: Bugs'Dad

Good catch on that one. I guess I'd tried to block that one out. That was a horrible death. Although I felt not attachment to his character, seeing Chris beat his face to a pulp was one of the most visceral and shocking moments of violence in The Wire. In fact, Chris has been responsible for some of the worst things, including his callous gunning down of the delivery lady. The scene in which he helps her up the steps, and then coldly shoots her in front of Old Face Andre, was chilling.

I think it was not only the fact that Butchie was a character we knew, but the fact that he was blind also which got to me.

And yeah, in terms of torture scenes, it was fairly mild. It definitely didn't compare to some of the more sadistic moments in 24, or even the unseen torture of Brandon. But still...

TIMMY!!! said...

Not sure if anyone mentioned this yet, but I finally caught it last night on third (!) viewing. The set-up was the withering look Gus gave Scott when he (Scott) talked about "getting rid of the dead wood"; the payoff was a few minutes later when Gus gave Twigg the Daniels' story, then walked over to Scott's desk and said (I'm paraphrasing) "While Mr. Deadwood there is writing the story maybe you could get me some react quotes". Perfect.

quazi said...

Butchies murder wasmost brutal by far. Though the most chilling part of it was the look in Chris' eyes after the final shop was fired. A mix of wonderment and wtf have we started.

Lester jumping on the serial killer bandwagon made it much more believable and much funnier at the same time.

Laughs of the episode:

1. Landsman's reaction to the "serial killer" on the loose while eating chinese

2. clap in a mexican whorehouse

3. McNutty banging the chic in the parking lot

4. Focus!

5. He fucks himself mostly

chris w said...

I really really love this show and I'm so glad I caught up so I can watch this season as it progresses (4 seasons in about a month and a half).

I cannot stand Snoop at all. Aside from the fact she's a cold-blooded killer, her voice is so unbelievably annoying to me. She sounds like she's trying to talk with softballs in her mouth. And then the random weird bird calls she does to alert people. Ugh. I cringe every time she comes on the screen.

Anonymous said...

Snoop is popular because she's the girl we love to hate. Never thought I'd see a believable female hitman, but now I have. She's totally creepy and totally credible.

Anonymous said...

i don't think butchies dies was as horrific as some other murders for a few reasons;
1) butchie was old school, he knew the game. recall he even warned omar that "this is not over" after they robbed the connect shipment.
2) he maintained his street dignity by not giving in and ratting out omar.
2)wallace was a kid and to watch him beg for mercy was truly painful.
3)d'anagelo death was painfully tragic as i'm sure he could see his life pass before him as seconds seemed like hour while he struggled for his life.
5)certainly bubs dad was gruesome and totally unexpected for him.

i am concerned that michael, dukie, or omar will not make it out of this season alive. the show has a cynical bend that is sometimes difficult to watch without geeting down on life. i'd rather see levy the lawyer go down more than clay davis. davis is obviously a politician who came from the streets and uses money from the streets to finance his campaign and his lifestyle. but levy is an infleuntial lawyer who chooses to work with drug kingpins and help their henchmen get away with crimes against the citizens on baltimore. i'd love for him to fall, maybe even more than marlo.

Anonymous said...

i miss bodie. so much.

Gridlock said...

Apparently, The Wire is Barack Obama's favorite show (and Omar is his favorite character.) If nothing else, this speaks in favor of the Senator's judgment...

And now he's in, he's Carcetti. Brilliant.

Andrew said...

Again, late to the party here. But the thing that strikes me re: Lester and McNulty "jumping the shark," and Simon/Burns' intentions here:

The whole show is premised on taking something real, and fictionalizing it as necessary to demonstrate the truth of the reality. That's exactly what McNulty and Lester are doing. So what that it's not a real serial killer on the loose? They're making that up to demonstrate 2 larger truths, 1 intentionally and 1 unintentionally: intentionally, that they need to catch Marlo, who's the nastiest mofo out there; unintentionally, that no one, not even the police, give a damn if a bunch of poor people (white homeless/black drug addicts and dealers) get executed.

Fictionalizing the real to drive home the truth.

Ahmedkhan said...

"Focus, motherfucker! Focus!" -Day-Day Price

Best line of the episode, IMO. I have contracted with Mr. Rawlings to stand before both houses of our dysfunctional Congress wheneve in session, to frequently repeat this line, in order to get our elected representatives to focus (finally) on the urgent business of this country.

And for the 2012 State of the Union address, Rawlings will appear in place of the president, to deliver this line. It will be the shortest, most effective SOTU address in history.

Michael said...

In comparing Hamsterdam and the 'serial killer' story, I tend to agree that each are about as likely/unlikely as the other.

However I think the reason people pick the serial killer one as weaker (apart from the compressed timeframe due to less episodes) is that with Hamsterdam I believe a lot of people (myself for one anyway, Royce for another) felt that there might actually be something in the idea, that (crazy as it was) it might have some real merit as a different approach to a seemingly intractable problem. Thus, although it's unrealistic in a fiction/reality sense, it is perhaps easier to accept because it chimes somewhere in the back of our heads.

The serial killer idea, on the other hand, is not one that I suspect many would countenance as even remotely acceptable as a method. It's not only beyond realism, it's beyond a certain moral boundary, so it seems even less plausible.

Just a theory (some years late!) about how people react to and compare the two storylines.

I don't think the plausibility of the later story necessarily weakens the show in itself though. Although Season 5 is IMO probably the weakest of the 5 (while still being compelling TV) in my view it's down to very slightly weaker writing (again, probably due to compressed timeframe) and the difficulty in writing a season that this time was definitely to be the end (as opposed to S4 which could have been, but left enough ends to make another season possible).