"That's nobody, Mr. Mayor. Nobody at all." -Andy Krawczyk
That line wasn't the epigraph for "The Dickensian Aspect," but it might as well be the epigraph for the entire series. If the fundamental thesis of "The Wire" is, as David Simon has said over and over, that every day in our society human beings are worth less and less, I can't think of a more appropos line than a wealthy developer dismissing the main character of an entire season (at least, the main character who survived) as "nobody."
But that's the thing about "The Wire" -- everyone has their own perspective, and from Andy Krawczyk's, Nick Sobotka is, in fact, nobody. Worse, he's a nuisance, a minor impediment to another condo development that will build more playgrounds for the rich on the same soil where the poor used to find work. But as the audience with our omniscient view, we understand everyone's role and how it's all connected. We know who Nick is and what the grain pier used to mean. We know the stories of all the forgotten and ignored souls wandering through this season in general and this episode in particular. Bunk looks at Randy Wagstaff and sees another kid made too hard by the game; we look at him and cry for the sweet boy he used to be, and we understand that he had no choice but to become this cold, hard thug who won't talk to police and bullies smaller children. (It's the first time in the show's history I was rooting for someone not to give crucial info to Bunk; Randy's been punished enough for talking to the cops, right?)
I don't think it's a coincidence that the final season's story arc revolves around the homeless, who are the most forgotten, devalued members of our society. Regardless of how they wound up on the street, Carcetti is absolutely right when he says we'd all just rather act like they don't exist. And now, because McNulty needs fake victims where no one will ask questions, and because Carcetti needs a wedge issue against the governor, the homeless briefly matter -- not as people to be helped, but tools to be used to serve some larger goal, be it capturing Marlo or winning an election.
I'll give Carcetti this: that's one hell of a speech he offers up for the national media. But then, Tommy's always been great with the flowery oratory -- think back to the post-Hamsterdam monologue at a council meeting that launched his mayoral campaign. What makes him such a wonderful speaker is that, in the moment, he really believes in what he's saying. He would genuinely love to find a way to solve the drug problem without resorting to something like a Hamsterdam. He really feels bad about how they care for (or don't care for) the homeless. He really wants to improve the way Baltimore is policed. Hell, I think if he and Nick Sobotka were to be locked in a room together so Nick could regale him with tales of woe about the once-mighty stevedores union -- or if he were forced to hear Randy's biography -- Tommy would, however briefly, get fired up about revitalizing the city's industrial economy, or reforming the foster care system. But time and again, when faced with a choice between what's right and what's politically expedient, Tommy never has the intestinal fortitude to do what's simply right. (When he complains, "How many shitballs (or, as several readers suggested, "shit bowls") are there?," he makes it clear that his top concern about the homeless murders isn't the poor homeless people, but yet another crisis for his campaign to solve.) It doesn't make him a bad man; it just makes him, as he admitted to all those dazzled reporters, a politician.
(Also, I think it's a nice touch that, after Tommy got elected mayor on the back of a witness murder that wasn't really a witness murder, he now has a better shot at becoming governor because of a bunch of homeless murders that aren't murders at all.)
No, Carcetti isn't the villain of this story. McNulty is.
Because he's been our main character since day one, and because so many of his antics had some socially-noble goal (even if they were never Jimmy's primary goal), it's been easy to forgive Jimmy in some way for all the crap he pulls. Not this season, not when we see him screwing around on the wonderful Beadie, not when he's been desecrating corpses, and especially not now when he's taken things way too far by abducting and relocating helpless, homeless Larry. I don't have a problem believing Jimmy would do such a thing -- he's lost his damn mind and started to believe his own BS (note how indignant he gets about Judge Phalan refusing the second wiretap, even though, as Lester points out, they don't need the second tap to deal with Marlo) -- but it still hurts to see him so far gone. Jimmy at the homeless shelter in Richmond, watching his disenfranchised victim struggle to eat a sandwich, was one of the most brutal scenes in "Wire" history, on par in many ways with Wallace dying, or Randy yelling after Sgt. Carver. And what almost makes it worse is that, while we don't really know the victim, we know -- and once really liked -- his victimizer.
(And, yeah, Larry's physical and mental condition would be the same no matter where the city, but in Baltimore he had his own name and, based on the prescription bottle, at least some people who knew him and tried to help him. Just because a man can't protest doesn't mean he deserves whatever you do to him.)
That Jimmy has now come up with a means that can no longer be justified by his ends is made clear by the parallel storyline that shows Bunk and Kima going at Marlo, Chris and Snoop through honest, old-fashioned police work. Jimmy, Lester and now a reluctant Sydnor are playing games with cell phones and desecrated corpses and relocated homeless men, while Bunk is doing it the right way -- or at least trying to, with the usual bureaucratic snafus along the way like the "et al." mistake at the trace lab. It's funny: in the original paradigm of the show, we were meant to view Bunk's insistence on doing policework within the system as archaic and lazy, where Jimmy and Lester represented the way things should be done. Now they're off the reservation, and the happiest possible ending for this season would be for Bunk to slap bracelets and Chris and Snoop after the ample trace evidence from the murder of Bug's dad comes back in.
One happy ending that I can't imagine happening is Omar taking out any key members of Marlo's crew -- or even surviving. While he lived through his desperate plunge out the window (and evaded detection by going to the one place Marlo's crew never would think of looking: back in the building), it came at a cost. His leg is broken, and his spirit and code feel broken along with it. Though he's slowly gathering up guns and ammo (that was a nice move, using a bottle to take Fat Face Rick's pistol), he's as over the edge as McNulty. He's cursing, for God's sake, and even though he's doing it because he knows that language will enrage Marlo and maybe get the street confrontation Omar wants, he can't realistically expect to limp away from such a fight, can he? At the start of the season, the shot in the credits of Omar in front of the exploding SUV looked like another example of the show's larger-than-life icon doing what he does best; in context, it looks like a man descending into a hell of his own making. Omar's on a suicide run, plain and simple.
Even though he and his crew are busy scrambling around looking for Omar, Marlo still has time for his Bond supervillain moment, where he dissolves the co-op in everything but name and makes it clear that everyone in that room now answers to him. Rick and the others know he's the one who did Joe and Hungry Man, but the downside to the 3-4 years of the New Day Co-Op is that it's made these old hands soft. They liked slinging dope without the old beefs, and while they could try to team up to take out Marlo, Marlo's army is both larger and better-trained than anyone left can deal with. (The only way to hurt him, as Omar is showing, is with the kind of guerilla tactics that only one obsessed individual can do.)
Finally, for this week, we have the Baltimore Sun, where Scott, Klebanow and Whiting are on one side of an argument and Gus is on the other -- and Gus turns out to be wrong. But how can that be? I though the Sun storyline was just an excuse for David Simon to settle petty grudges while painting his enemies in as unflattering and one-dimensional a picture as possible, right?
Admittedly, Scott doesn't make it through the whole episode looking wonderful. He begins it being a falsely modest tool with Nancy Grace (who's either too dumb to realize how bad being associated with this story makes her look, or, more likely, too vain and publicity-hungry to care). And he ends it by making up another one of his standard elaborate lies -- ironically, about a story where someone else was making stuff up, not Scott himself. (Remember the crab allergy story from episode two? The one where I said people should remember it because it seemed minor but would come up again?)
But in between those two moments of Scott being Scott, he finds time to act like a real reporter, to go out into the streets and (after a few false starts and one very loud dog) talk to a person with firsthand knowledge of the subject, to write that person's story simply and without the usual flourishes, etc. Now, without the serial killer BS (from both McNulty and from Templeton), no one would care about Terry the Iraq War veteran and his PTSD, but the fact remains that Scott comes up with a decent idea for a story, Whiting and Klebanow encourage him to do it, and though Gus is initially skeptical, he admits in the end that they were right. It's the kind of nuance that nearly every "Wire" character gets if they stick around long enough, and even in this abbreviated, overcrowded season, I'm glad our three newspaper villains got their moments of not being all bad.
Some other thoughts on "The Dickensian Aspect":
-Jimmy's comment to Bunk about how Scott is making up his own stuff about the homeless killings should, I hope, put to rest the notion that Jimmy didn't realize exactly what was happening when Scott asked about the killer making another call.
-For those wondering why Nick -- last seen entering Witness Protection after taking his uncle's deal to testify against Vondas and The Greek -- is back hanging with his port buddies, I asked David Simon, who said that Nick, like lots of people who go into Witness Protection, eventually left the program because he missed his old life and family. (And since Vondas and The Greek were never caught or brought to trial, I doubt the feds kicked up much fuss at saving that expense.)
-I'm once again struck by the military-like precision of Marlo's crew in their search for Omar. As soon as the cops left the scene, they were ready to work their own canvass (complete with Monk posing as a cop), systematically check hospitals, etc. And Chris definitely has military training; just look at the way he cleared rooms, or how casually he tosses that knife at the floor as he hides out with Snoop.
-Another "things aren't so black and white" moment from the Sun story: Gus tries to get Scott assigned back to the education series, not because he has any interest in that series (which he argued loudly against in episode two) but because he's annoyed that Scott is getting so much play for the homeless story.
-In addition to Randy and Nick, this episode marks the return of Judge Phalan, last seen back in season three. Makes sense he's been gone this long, I suppose: MCU was either non-existent or not running any wiretaps for all of season four and much of this season. I wonder what role, if any, he'll play in this courthouse leak story.
-Can any Baltimore residents tell me whose statue Jimmy was ranting to?
-Though I couldn't understand enough of it to put it in the Lines of the week, the funniest moment in the whole episode was Bunk muttering to himself at the trace lab -- and sounding very much like Popeye -- after finding out that his request was being held up by work on Jimmy's phony case.
Lines of the week:
"I'm a murder police. I work murders. I don't fuck with no make-believe. I don't jerk shit around. I catch a murder, and I work it." -The BunkThe On Demand thread for episode 7 -- the last one, as of now, that I've seen in advance -- will go up tomorrow morning. Do not talk about that episode here.
"Never pick a fight with anyone who buys ink by the barrelful." -Judge Phalan
"My heart pumps purple piss for you." -The Bunk
"Homelessness. Huh. I'll be damned." -Carcetti
"Text? Need I remind you, Detective, these young men are products of Baltimore city schools." -Lester
"I don't want to hurt your feelings, but I can see why Daniels cringed every time you opened your fuckin' mouth. You're a supervisor's nightmare." -McNulty
"McNulty, you're deserving of serious psychological study." -Lester
What did everybody else think?