"He made another call?"
In a run that's never gotten the credit it deserves for being funny (or for any of the other things it does so brilliantly), the second meeting between our two fabulists -- and Jimmy's attempt to conceal a grin at the realization of just how full of it Scott really is -- is up there with the funniest "Wire" moments ever, whether it's Stringer chewing out Shamrock for taking notes on a criminal conspiracy, Omar's pajama-clad trip to the store, or Tommy and Norman sprinting to their car after Rawls turned the corner.
Nearly a year ago, undercover blogger and sometime "Wire" scribe David Mills reported from a "Wire" writers summit that this would be the funniest season ever: "We're talking the 'Dr. Strangelove' of police procedurals here." Mills wrote the script for "React Quotes," and the "Strangelove" comparison is dead-on. This is end of the world farce here, a portrayal of a system that's so ossified and self-destructive that you have to laugh at how bad things have gotten -- and how easy it is to game that system -- or else you'd want to blow your brains out. The only thing the season is lacking at this point is Landsman barking out, "You can't solve murders here -- this is the Homicide room!"
It was inevitable that McNulty and Templeton would cross paths, but the genius of how it happens is that (at first, at least) neither guy realizes how much he's helping the other one. Scott's laziness and fondness for making up the details -- reinforced when he transforms religious nut Nathan Levi Boston into dedicated family man Nathan Levi Boston -- makes him the perfect tool for Jimmy's attempt to turn the money tap back on, but it isn't until Scott expresses such surprise at the news of a second call that Jimmy realizes just how amazing his luck is.
I know there's been some debate in the On Demand thread about who knows what after that meeting at the Sun offices. While trying not to spoil things from future episodes, I will say that my reaction as I first watched that scene -- and as I've rewatched it several times since, often having to rewind because I'm laughing too hard -- is that Jimmy absolutely, positively figures out what's happening, while Scott has no clue. Just look at Jimmy's complete change in posture, the barely-constrained grin on his face, etc., while Scott just looks as befuddled as usual. I want to say more but this is one of those situations where your present knowledge of my future knowledge makes it hard for me to avoid spoilers, so I'll just shut up now.
Now, as Jimmy and Lester were discussing the details of their master plan -- to acquire intel on Marlo via their illegal wiretap and then credit the information to a phony CI -- I groaned (not for the show, but for what's become of these two cops), because what they're doing is just a more elaborate, deranged version of Herc and Carver's Fuzzy Dunlop scam from season two. If Herc and Carver (at the time) were symbols of all that's wrong with the Baltimore PD, what does it say about these two top investigators that they're trying something similar?
Or maybe the question should be this: What does it say about the Baltimore PD?
The scene where an indignant Lester argues with Daniels for more manpower -- "That's the cell number of the motherfucker who put 22 bodies on us!" -- and Daniels gets even more indignant in acknowledging how dry the well has become demonstrates exactly why Jimmy and Lester are stooping to this terrible, illegal level. (It's in some ways the equivalent of the "Strangelove" scene where Mandrake doesn't have enough change to call the President and asks Guano to shoot the lock off a Coke machine.) When Rawls and Burrell shut down the MCU, it was with the promise that they could get back up on Marlo if they acquired significant new information. I would say Marlo getting back up on cell phones qualifies, but of course that promise turns out to be as empty as every other one made in Baltimore. If you're Lester, seeing what's been done to this department and this city, and if you knew you could outsmart this mass-murdering SOB, wouldn't you perhaps go off the deep end and inadvertently ape those two knucklehead junior cops you once failed to school?
If you've read enough of these "Wire" reviews, you know how fond I am of pointing out the daisy chain of events that leads to momentous changes, both good and bad. (Think of all the things that had to happen for Randy to wind up back in the group home, or all the miscalculations Prop Joe had to make to wind up Marlo's latest victim.) In this round of "It's all connected," we have the bizarre story of Marlo's phone number. Vondas gives Marlo a phone because they need a means of communication. (I won't say a word about exactly what they're doing that so impresses Marlo and so confuses Lester; you'll find out eventually.) Marlo gives the number to Levy, to whom he was introduced by Joe (the final bit of wisdom Marlo absorbed from the man before killing him and replacing him in Vondas' organization). Herc, who works for Levy because of Marlo (and, no doubt, because of his role in the first Barksdale investigation), steals the number, both to get revenge on Marlo and to apologize to Carver for the Randy thing. And Carver, having finally grown into a good po-lice, takes it to exactly the right person: Lester. (Had he exercised such judgment with Randy instead of caving in to Herc's pleas for help with the camera, imagine how differently things would have gone.) I'm not saying how valuable this number will or won't be, but it's bizarre and yet totally "Wire"-esque that all these things had to happen for Lester to get ahold of it.
Getting back to what I said before about the danger of knowing too much about what's coming, I want to say as little as possible about Omar's superheroic leap to nowhere from his firefight with Chris, Snoop and Michael. All I'll give you is that when I found out what really happened there, I wasn't dissatisfied. As for the firefight itself, though its scale and choreography was far larger than life than the show usually gets, the show has definitely gone to this level before (think the "Let's bang out" gunfight at the Barksdale stash house in season three), always with Omar, the one larger-than-life character (other than maybe Brother Mouzone) on the show. There's a lot of colors in this show's palette; Omar just happens to be the most vivid shade of red, you know?
Beyond that, the point of the shootout -- of all the scenes with Omar, Donnie and Marlo's people in this episode -- was to show that, for the first time in this series, our man with the shotgun is up against a foe he may not be able to beat. For all that guys like the Barksdale crew and their hangers-on throw around the word "soldier," the cold hard fact is that most of the boys on those corners have no idea what to do with a gun, or with the kind of well-planned ambush that Omar specializes in. Chris, on the other hand, either has military training himself or was trained by someone who was ex-military, because he and his people are vastly better at marksmanship, firing patterns and tactics than your average bunch of slingers. Against Cheese or Wee-Bey or Stinkum, all Omar needed was a plan and the boldness to carry it out; against Chris and Snoop, he was lucky to make it to that window. (And, of course, Chris had a plan of his own, which we realized when Monk showed up at the rim shop wearing a bulletproof vest, which made the later surveillance scenes with Omar and Donnie extra-chilling. I just wanted to yell at the TV and tell him to peel on out of there already.)
While Omar has always seemed so indestructible because he exists outside of any institution, beholden to no one and nothing but his own code, Clay Davis invulnerability has come from his skill at mastering all the shortcuts within his institution. Yet by the end of the episode both men have been confronted with the limits of their power. Omar finally goes up against someone he can't intimidate or outshoot, and Clay finally seems caught in a political trap he can't talk his way out of. Both the major Clay scenes this episode were brilliant and hilarious. His argument with Neresse -- featuring the first "Sheeeeeeeitttttt!" of the season, and maybe the longest one ever (Mills is a fan of Clay's catchphrase) -- evoked the moment in season one when Brianna Barksdale convinced D'Angelo to fall on his sword for the sake of the family. Clay's whispered conversation with ex-mayor Royce (note the Afro-centric tie, as the man no longer has to worry about appeasing his handful of white constituents) at the courthouse rally offered up exactly what we imagine goes on away from the microphones at every one of Al Sharpton's photo ops, didn't it?
And with Omar in mortal danger, we have two other characters who may not be beholden to an institution, but who aren't exactly enjoying the benefits of that. Bubbs has finally kicked his addiction but is still empty and insistent on punishing himself for Sherrod and every other bad thing he did in his junkie days. Dukie is off the corner but at a loss for what to do with his life. And both get good-intentioned but not necessarily useful advice from street veterans Waylon and Cutty. (Cutty looking very different; I can't tell if Chad Coleman bulked up or if the shorter haircut just makes it look like he did.)
Dukie doesn't belong in The Game. However far gone Michael might be, even he knows that and wants to find another avenue for his friend. The problem is that Dukie's greatest strength is his brain, and by dropping out of school, it's going to be hard for him to find a realistic outlet for that. I know some people have suggested that Dukie and Michael are supposed to parallel the young Stringer and Avon, and while I can see Michael as Avon (they even share a boxing background, though of course Avon was raised in a family of kingpins), I can't (or maybe don't want to) see Dukie as growing up to be Stringer. Maybe Stringer was this sweet and innocent as a teenager, but Dukie doesn't seem to have the moral coldness that would allow him to be a Stringer (or a Joe, even though both share a fondness for fixing fans). Or maybe, like Cutty, all I've got for Dukie is hope and wishes, and it'll turn out that The Game is the only place for him. God, I hope not. I'm not expecting a Namond-style liberation from the streets, but I'd like to see the poor kid get some kind of upbeat but realistic ending.
Some other thoughts on "React Quotes":
- Though the more obvious Dukie parallel in this episode is with Bubbs, you'll note that Omar would have killed Snoop had he not forgotten to jack a round into the chamber -- the same mistake Dukie makes during target practice with Michael.
- Bad Dad award, not surprisingly, goes to Jimmy. As many terrible things he's done, both this season and in the past, I'm not sure I ever felt embarrassed for McNulty in the way I did when he showed up at Elena's house with no excuse for missing the play and absolutely no connection to his kids (who have come to expect their dad being pathetic and/or absent). Elena and Beadie are both pleading for Jimmy to clean his ass up, but I don't see how he pulls out of this spiral. He's enjoying himself way too much with this fake serial killer thing, which in turn fuels all the other self-destructive behavior.
- Good Dad award, semi-surprisingly, goes to Chris, who has some Norman Rockwell-looking family stashed away in a nice part of town. On the one hand, Chris is an ice-blooded killer. On the other, outside of the deaths of Butchie and Bug's dead, he's always been shown to be a gentle killer, as these types go, no doubt a result of the abuse he suffered as a kid. So I can almost see him being a decent, if not always present, father. Still, bizarre to see such big smiles on his face and Marlo's. (I had forgotten Jamie Hector had teeth.)
- Though Gus can smell the BS coming off of Scott, it's nice to see that he's not omniscient. He caught Fat Face Rick's name in the city council minutes in the premiere, but had no idea the importance of hearing Prop Joe's name as a murder victim on the police blotter.
- One of the perils of doing a show about the media and current events that films months in advance is that sometimes you outdate yourself. The sports editors' discussion of baseball's steroid problem in the news meeting seems awfully quaint in the wake of the Mitchell Report and the Clemens press conference.
- Fans of "The Corner" may have noticed that the nurse drawing Bubbs' blood for his HIV test was played by Fran Boyd. (If you didn't read the book, Khandi Alexander played her in the miniseries.)
- Another great little touch: Michael and Cutty nod at each other, but Michael won't cross the entrance into the gym. He knows and respects what Cutty's about now, but he also knows that by joining Marlo's crew, he has no place there anymore. (Not that it's likely, but his presence there could jeopardize what Cutty's trying to do.)
- Throughout this season, there have been these little throwaway mentions of violent images from popular culture: the "Boyz N the Hood" drive-by shootings, the media obsession with Natalee Holloway, and here Landsman referring to McNulty as "Clarice" (as in Starling, as in "Silence of the Lambs"). The media and the public lap this stuff up, these mentions seems to say, so why shouldn't McNulty be able to get away with his plan?
"How's it feel, Clay? Not much fun on the ass end, is it?" -CarcettiAfter reading arguments for both sides and taking a realistic look at my schedule, I've decided to keep the posting arrangement as is: open thread for the On Demand episode on Monday morning, full episode review on Sunday night. I may not be able to resist coming in early with a review of the finale, but until then, status quo. So talk about this episode and the ones before it here; if I see any spoilers for the On Demand episode or down the road, they'll be deleted.
"If Marlo Stanfield is using a cell phone, it is just a matter of time until we are up to our asses in pretrial motions mitigating a wiretap case. Joe gave him to us just in time." -Levy
"Where am I gonna find homeless people?" -Scott
"Not at home, I'd imagine." -Gus
"Whatever else I did to piss you off, remember that I also did this." -Herc
"What the fuck's wrong with this city?" -McNulty
"You make an appointment? Sorry. I'm booked up all afternoon." -homeless guy to Scott
"Do you believe Satan walks the earth in a fleshly form?" -Nathan Levi Boston (the real one)
"They look kinda hot with their clothes on." -Landsman, changing up his reading materials
What did everybody else think?