Is your living room dusty? Mine feel's pretty dusty right now, if you know what I'm saying. How else could I possibly explain the moistness in my eye sockets as Kima delivered her ghetto version of "Goodnight Moon" to young Elijah?
Oh, wait, I know: because it was one of the sweetest, most beautiful scenes in the whole series.
Richard Price, who wrote "Took," actually lifted the scene from his novel "Clockers," at the request of David Simon. (Scroll down to around the 16th comment to Andrew Johnston's review at The House Next Door for Simon's explanation of why he keeps asking Price to cannibalize that book for the show.) But it fits perfectly into this episode, as the show throws its support behind Gus' "This ain't Beirut" argument with Klebanow and Whiting. A carpet-bagging, myopic writer like Templeton looks at Baltimore as a blighted, war-torn city that's beyond salvation, where a Baltimore native like Gus or Kima looks on it as a messed-up place that's still, as Gus says, "Our fuckin' city."
If Templeton had a kid and tried to do "Goodnight Moon" for him in the middle of the night and then heard street activity outside his window, he'd likely slam the window shut and try to distract the kid from all that scary noise. What Kima does -- what "The Wire" consistently and brilliantly does -- is to incorporate the unfortunate sights and sounds outside the window into a larger view of the world, which is the world Elijah will grow up in. Yes, the drug culture is tragic and a blight on society, but it exists, and it affects Kima and will affect Elijah one day -- and, frankly, Kima has affection for certain elements of it. (Bubbles, for one.) You can be afraid of the world outside your window, you can demonize it and mythologize it and try to win awards from it, or you can confront it head on and maybe even find a way to make it seem less scary for the little boy in your arms.
I could probably go on for several thousand more words about that scene -- how Kima, despite her problems with assembling compressed particle board furniture aside, looks to be a much better weekend parent than McNulty, for instance -- but seeing as how its has virtually nothing to do with the ongoing stories (even if it's a kind of perfect thematic coda for the series), let's move on to the rest of the episode.
Start with Clay Davis' spellbinding performance on the witness stand. (Not to mention Isaiah Whitlock's equal brilliance throughout, particularly the moment on the courthouse steps where Clay turns his back to the reporters and you see just how scared he is.) Hey, Prosecutor O-Bond-a (heh) -- that is why you're supposed to use the Head Shot when you have it, because it prevents a slick con man like Clay from talking his way to jury nullification. Bond (or, more likely, Ronnie) should have known which way the wind was blowing the second Clay's lawyer chose not to cross-examine Lester, as you only do that move if you're not planning to address the facts of the case in your defense.
So Clay had that jury eating out of his hand, and in the process places himself on equal moral footing with McNulty. Clay's defense about how he was really using the charity money is identical to the justification Jimmy and Lester are using for their phony serial killer scam: get the money tap turned on by any means necessary, even if it's a complete and total lie, and then use the money where it can really do some good. (In reality, of course, Clay is just pocketing that cash.) Not that Lester has either the time or the sense of perspective anymore to see how Clay's defense compares to his current actions, but if he could get his nose out from all those clock photos, he might realize that this is some shameful shit he and Jimmy are pulling.
Jimmy has no time to notice, either, as he's waffling between being drunk with the power he's given himself and terror at how quickly and widely this lie is spinning out of control. If he had given any real thought to how much publicity he might generate, he never would have shown his face in that Richmond homeless shelter where he dumped Larry. How long is it going to be before the shelter worker he met sees Larry's picture on the news and give a detailed description of the guy who dropped Larry off with them? Jimmy knows how much trouble he's in, and though he tries to act big in front of Bunk -- mainly to defend himself from Bunk's accusation that his lie is getting in the way of real police work -- you can tell he wants an escape hatch, like, yesterday.
Last week, I talked about how Jimmy's abduction of Larry was the moment where he took his scheme way too far, but Kima's interview with the parents of an earlier "victim" show that Jimmy's actions have been reprehensible from the start. Sure, the dead guys are in no condition to care about what's being done to their corpses, but Jimmy's lie is devastating the family members. Like the parents say, it's bad enough to live with the knowledge that you didn't (or couldn't) prevent your son from killing himself with drugs and alcohol, but it's far, far worse to believe that you failed to protect him from being murdered and sexually molested.
And I love how, even in the middle of a completely farcical storyline like this one, Simon and Burns and Price are skilled and wise enough to step back from the comedy for a moment and show the real human cost of all this silliness. What makes "The Wire" so amazing is the way it consistently finds the comedy inside tragedy, or, here, vice versa. There's a similar sort of moment in the pre-credits sequence. After all the comedy with Jimmy's fake Baltimore accent (no doubt a goof on Dominic West's historically shaky attempt to not sound British) and Scott scared out of his mind, we go to Sydnor witnessing the chaos he just helped create, and he could not look more disgusted with himself. Yeah, he wants to get Marlo as much as anybody, but at this price?
If there's one area where I'm disappointed in the serial killer story, it's in Scott's complete obliviousness to what Jimmy is doing. Yes, we have knowledge that the characters don't, but I think it's a real missed opportunity -- and maybe the first time I've agreed with the people who argue that Simon is too tunnel-visioned in his writing of the Baltimore Sun characters -- to have Scott be so oblivious that he has no idea how phony this all is. In the scene where McNulty comes to the Sun offices, we see that Gus is able to poke a half-dozen different holes in the story. And while I get that Gus is supposed to represent all that's good and pure and noble about journalism while Scott represents all that's ruining it, think how much more complex the character would be, and how much more interesting this part of the story might be, if Scott's fabulist tendencies weren't a mark of him being incompetent but simply impatient and entitled. Imagine if he actually had enough reportorial chops to see what was really going on here -- the same way Jimmy did after Scott's "He made another call?" line in episode five -- and realized he had stumbled upon an amazing story that he would never be able to report, because reporting it would expose his own lies. Maybe the story will still go there in the final three episodes (which I haven't seen yet), but right now it doesn't feel like this story is being exploited as well as it could be if Scott weren't such an idiot.
Gus, clearly, is no idiot. Not only is he able to sniff out inconsistencies in Jimmy's story, but he finally takes steps to investigate one of Scott's previous lies, the one from last week about the sister of the lady who died from eating shellfish. For those who couldn't make sense of Gus' conversation with Dennis Mello (more about that scene below), he asks Mello whether Scott's explanation -- that the sister is good people, and that some neighborhood con woman keeps using the sister's name whenever she's arrested, hence the confusion about the scholarship fund -- holds up, and Mello explains that the hypothetical con woman would only be able to impersonate the sister one time before the system figured her out. So now that he has fairly solid evidence that Scott is making things up at least some of the time -- and, as he notes to his pal Rebecca, if Scott will lie like that to duck a correction, how much would he lie to improve his stories? -- what's he going to do about it? Like he also says to Rebecca, he doesn't want to call another reporter a liar, and Scott has the added benefit of being the pet of the paper's top two editors. Why do I have a very bad feeling that Gus is going to pay far more for Scott's lies than Scott himself? (Because this is "The Wire," that's why.)
And why do I continue to have a bad feeling about Omar? (ibid) Much as it was gratifying to see Savino (who, you may remember, was one of the key guys in the ambush that nearly killed Kima in season one) taken out of the picture, it was painful seeing Omar definitively break his promise to Bunk like that. (It's unclear whether he also killed the guy on the floor in the stash house, but if he did, at least that was in something resembling self-defense.) I know that Omar is now at war with Marlo, and that it's bad strategy to leave an enemy soldier alive and in play, but Omar has always been defined by his code, and part of his code is keeping his word. It's a very slippery slope he's limping down here.
Was I the only one, by the way, who took Michael's fear of Omar to have two meanings? Obviously, he's terrified that Omar might recognize him from the shootout where Donnie got killed. But we were also reminded in this episode that Bug's dad molested him, and I'm sure in Michael's worldview that homosexuals and child molesters are one and the same. To have Omar not only holding a gun on him, but sitting that close to him, and behind him -- a position that Bug's dad surely occupied many times when Michael was younger -- must have freaked Michael the hell out, even though he would never admit that to any of the other kids on the corner.
I think it's pretty clear by now that Omar's not going to survive this mission. Even if he somehow takes out Marlo or Chris or Snoop, it'll be a mutually assured destruction scenario. But I have a feeling that Omar may be denied a larger-than-life end, that the person killing him will be someone less glamorous, whether it's Michael or even little Kenard, who acted like he couldn't have been less impressed by Omar hobbling around on his broom.
Some other thoughts on "Took":
- Gus' arrival at the bar where he met Mello featured a moment that was both a loving tribute to fans of David Simon's work and an absolute nightmare for continuity wonks. In case you never watched "Homicide" -- or "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," for that matter -- the grey-haired guy trying to extend his tab was none other than Detective John Munch, the most crossover-happy character in TV history. He started on "Homicide" (where he did, in fact, own a bar for a time), is now a regular on "SVU" and has appeared, in character, on two other "Law & Order" series, "The X-Files," "The Beat" (a short-lived Tom Fontana cop show for UPN), and even "Arrested Development." Having Munch turn up here places "The Wire" in the same fictional universe as not only those shows, but series ranging from "Picket Fences" to "The Simpsons" to "Cheers" to "St. Elsewhere" -- which would, I guess, make "The Wire" nothing but a product of Tommy Westphall's imagination. It's probably one of those things, like last week's Martin O'Malley reference, where it's best not to think too deeply of the continuity implications. And given that Munch was based on Jay Landsman, who plays Dennis Mello, the only thing the scene was missing to be completely mind-blowing was an appearance by Delaney Williams as the "Wire" version of Landsman.
- The show sure does love its parallel bureaucracies, doesn't it? The montage where Gus and Cedric briefed their respective troops and explained that the recent budget woes wouldn't be a factor evoked previous intercut sequences like the Tilghman teachers and the Western cops both suffering through pointless lectures.
- And speaking of both Tilghman Middle and the opening of the money tap, we haven't seen Prez yet this season, and now I don't want to. The scene where Carcetti learns the budget ramifications of this investigation running more than a month made me very afraid that one of the school teachers who would be laid off would be Prez, under standard "last one hired, first one fired" protocol.
- The On Demand discussion has been fairly light on guesses as to how the clock photo code works. Do you think it has anything at all to do with time? And is Marlo supposed to be using it to communicate with people like Monk, or did Vondas intend for him to only use it for Marlo-to-Vondas messaging?
- For the people with legal expertise, can the Head Shot still be used on Clay, or is it double jeopardy even though one charge was state and the other would be federal? And is there any way O-Bond-a would allow the federal prosecutor to bag Clay after he failed so spectacularly?
- In case you missed the credits, this one was the directorial debut of Dominic West. Usually, when actors direct an episode of the series they're on, it's one where they won't be appearing very much. Given the prominence of the McNulty story this year, that obviously wasn't possible, but I thought West did a good job of blending in with the house style. The only scene that felt even a little bit un-"Wire" was the final one, with the long pullback from Kima's window, but even that seemed an appropriate touch for that particular moment.
- Bubbs finally seems to have turned a corner. He's serving food, happily, at the soup kitchen, he's wearing his hat again, and he's serving as Mike Fletcher's tour guide to the homeless world the same way he used to help Kima and Sydnor navigate the drug world. I don't know what kind of future Bubbs has ahead of him, but he seems to be one of the few characters who I expect to end the series in a positive frame of mind. Very gratifying to see.
- Getting back to Michael and Bug's dad, it was interesting to see how shaken Michael was by those crime scene photos Bunk showed him. On the one hand, I'm sure he feels Bug's dad deserved that punishment and more for what he did; on the other, that's more damage than he's ever seen the normally calm and efficient Chris commit before.
- The scene where Carver picks up Michael from his corner had a number of hilarious moments, whether it was Dukie struggling to interpret the want ads (see below), Dukie pop-locking to show what a great exotic dancer he could be, or Michael uttering McNulty's "What the fuck did I do?" catchphrase.
- As is happening more and more this season (see also Bill Zorzi as Bill Zorzi), Clay's defense attorney Billy Murphy was played by real-life Baltimore attorney (and judge) Billy Murphy.
"Policework. What do you know?" -Kima (echoing Carcetti's "Homelessness. Huh." from last week)What did everybody else think?
"'High quality dental office seeks front desk.'" -Dukie reading a want ad
"What, do they mean like furniture?" -Michael
"Ain't you the little king of diamonds?" -Bunk to McNulty
"You doing good here, boss." -Crutchfield
"What did you just call me?" -McNulty
"Man, they want some good contestants, they need to come around westside." -Clay Davis on "Survivor"
"What the fuck just happened?" -Bond
"Whatever it was, they don't teach it in law school." -Ronnie
"45 inches of Clay Davis playing not just the race card but the whole deck coming at you." -Gus
"I feel very white." -Tim Phelps (Sun state editor)
"Let's say goodnight to everybody. Goodnight moon. Goodnight stars. Goodnight po-pos. Goodnight fiends. Goodnight hoppers. Goodnight hustlers. Goodnight scammers. Goodnight to everybody. Goodnight to one and all." -Kima & Elijah