Friday, August 15, 2008

The Wire, Season 1, Episode 11, "The Hunt" (Veterans edition)

We're in the home stretch now of our summer plan to look back at season one of "The Wire." Once again, two versions: one for the people who have seen and want to talk about every episode from every season, and one for relative newcomers who don't want to be spoiled about things down the road. This is the former; scroll down for the newbie-safe edition.

Spoilers for episode 11, "The Hunt," coming up just as soon as I recycle this can of Slice...

"Today, a message has been sent." -Commissioner Frazier

We have all seen some version of that press conference dozens, maybe hundreds, of times on the evening news. (Or on other cop shows, for that matter.) "The Hunt" exposes them for the glorified, meaningless photo ops that they usually are. Messages have been sent, sure, but they roughly translate as this: 1)Hey drug dealers, be more cautious with how you do business so it becomes harder for us to catch you; and 2)Hey Barksdale detail, prepare for any and all of your hard work to be sacrificed for the sake of public appearances whenever is necessary.

In fairness, the men behind the decision to raid the main stash house and put some dope on the table are depicted as human. You can see how much it pains Burrell and Foerster and even Frazier to listen to the tape of Kima being ambushed, and you can understand their desire to do something to make up for that impotent feeling. But this is a time when caution is called for, not hasty showboating -- the Lester Freamon philosophy instead of the Ervin Burrell approach -- and we all know who has the decision-making power here, don't we?

In a strange way, Kima getting shot screws both Avon and the detail about equally. Yes, it gives the Barksdale crew a much-needed kick in the ass to tighten up, but it's still too much attention and it costs them the services of Savino (in jail), Little Man (dead) and Wee-Bey (in hiding in Philly). The detail loses Kima (though at least she's still alive, if in a lot of trouble) and though they allegedly get the full resources of the department at their disposal, it comes at the cost of more attention and more pressure to do something ASAP. Look how much they were able to accomplish while they were forgotten in their little City Hall dungeon, and look how much of that progress got wiped away as soon as Commissioner Frazier learned Daniels' name. (And, after some confusion, figured out that he wasn't a white guy like Norris.)

The one exception to the uselessness of the department brass is a real surprise, as Major Rawls shows what happens when he chooses to use his powers for good instead of evil. He's the only one who can chase all the useless bodies away from the crime scene, the first one to realize how the street signs got turned around, the only one to notice McNulty sitting in a corner, covered in blood. And he shows an amazing level of compassion, considering that he is, in fact, Bill Rawls. His speech in the hospital to McNulty is one of the most inspiring bits of oratory I've ever heard to include a line like "You, McNulty, are a gaping a--hole. We both know this." Rawls can be mean and petty and vindictive, but he is not stupid and he is not a monster. He sees his archnemesis hurting, and rather than pour salt in the wound, he tries to help him. (Jimmy has too much of a martyr complex to listen, but at least Rawls tries.) Every character on this show is allowed some level of humanity, even something as small as cold killer Wee-Bey having named and attributed personalities to all of his fish. Rawls is a bastard, but even a bastard has limits.

Though Kima and Orlando (and Little Man, I suppose) are the obvious victims of the shooting, Bubbs suffers from some serious collateral damage. He had hung his entire sober future(*) on Kima, and on the day he expects to get money for a new place, he instead gets a beating from Det. Holley and, even worse, gets handed a 20 by an oblivious McNulty. Where Kima knows junkies in general and Bubbs in particular well enough to quickly suss out that Bubbs is trying to stay clean, it never occurs to Jimmy, who sees Bubbs only as a source of information. (As Ronnie puts it, he'll use anybody.) "The Wire" shows that everyone has some level of humanity, but most of the characters rarely see that in each other -- especially in characters from other social strata. Bubbs still has that crumpled-up 20 by episode's end, but you can see on his face that it's only a matter of time before he spends it, and Jimmy has no idea what he's done.

(*) In talking with Simon and Burns about this storyline years later, they noted that it's common for junkies to come up with "a very thin plan" that relies on a whole lot of unlikely if/then's to work, and which is quickly abandoned whenever one of those unlikelihoods inevitably falls through. It takes a lot of willpower as well as good circumstances to get clean and stay clean.

The episode closes with a pair of scenes tied together by similar-looking computer read-outs: the detail's computer recording Wallace's call to Poot, which Prez doesn't understand the gravity of; and the heart monitor in Kima's hospital room. Though Wallace is ambulatory and alert and healthy, his decision to leave the cricket-infested farm country and go back to West Baltimore places him in just as much danger as Kima currently faces.

Some other thoughts on "The Hunt":

• Jimmy's "What the f--k did I do?" catchphrase is usually used as a joke, but when he whispers it to Rawls at the crime scene, it's anything but funny.

• Cheryl, like the other spouses and significant others, hasn't appeared that much, but we've seen enough of her for her devastation in this episode to really hit home. Every scene with her was just about perfect, from her denial when Carver turns up at her door to the shame and hurt when none of the cops would talk to her (and Burrell got his own human moment when he picked up the ball that Frazier dropped) to the moment when she touches the blue marker stain Kima made on the couch in "Old Cases" and finally lets out all the tears. Really nice work by Melanie Nicholls-King.

• Also the usual brilliance from Larry Gilliard in the sequence where D is convinced Wee-Bey is going to kill him, even though he hadn't done anything particularly mistake-worthy of late. (Maybe he thought Stringer and Avon found out about D giving Cass and Sterling a pass for dipping from the stash?)

• Like Rawls, Maury Levy is such a loathsome creature that it's easy to miss how good he is at what he does, but he responded to McNulty's threats by talking and working rings around the cops in the Savino proffer.

• Also good at what he does, and far more likable? Cool Lester Smooth, who for a while is the only member of the detail (other than maybe Daniels, but he's understandably detained) to understand how they might be able to use their resources to catch the shooters, and who pulls off another investigative miracle with his "pull" of the Slice can.

And now it's time for some thoughts about how this episode reflects on events down the road:

• Given the dire prognosis for Kima in this episode, she's remarkably hale and hearty by the time season two begins. Admittedly, quite a bit of time passes between seasons for her to heal and do PT, and we rarely see her doing anything very strenuous in the future (no foot chases or beat downs), but she still comes out of this shooting very well, physically.

• This is, I believe, the only appearance for Dick Stillwell as Commissioner Frazier. By the start of season two, he'll be retired and Burrell will be angling to permanently replace him. Note also that a black mayor (Royce) could get away with having a white commissioner (just as Nerese Campbell will in the series finale), where a white mayor (Carcetti) has to choose a black commish.

• This will also be the last time we see Savino until season five, when he pops up as a soldier in Marlo's army, having apparently served every day of the three year charge (and therefore missing most of the destruction of Avon's empire). To be honest, I didn't recognize it was him until Omar referred to him by name in his final appearance. As Kima said last week, Savino was always the runt of the Barksdale litter.

• One more last: this is the last time Bubbs is sober until he's forced to dry out at the end of season four.

• The Slice can thing no doubt helps Lester get one of the few happy endings of season one. You could see how impressed Landsman was -- and how embarrassed he was that a cop this obviously talented had been exiled to the pawn shop detail for 13 years (and four months).

• By taking some money from the stash house, and by (as we'll learn in two weeks) becoming Burrell's new pet, Carver fulfills all the pre-requisites to become the new Lt. Daniels, a transformation that will be complete by the end of the series.

• I don't disagree with a thing Jimmy says in his rant to Ronnie outside Maury Levy's office, but in the end of the series, Ronnie goes above and beyond the call of duty to salvage Jimmy's mess with the Marlo wiretap -- and is ironically rewarded with the judgeship she would have needed many more years to get had she stuck to her usual M.O.

• "Where's Wallace?" God. Part of me doesn't even want to watch the next one. And speaking of which...

Coming up next Friday: "Cleaning Up," the season's penultimate episode and one that many fans consider to be one of the best "Wire"s ever.

What did everybody else think?

30 comments:

Real Live Woman said...

"The Wire" so closely mirrors real life in Baltimore, but it's interesting to note that recently, the city's black female mayor, Sheila Dixon, and the City Council approved the appointment of the new city Police Commissioner, Frederick Bealefeld, who is white.

Ted Kerwin said...

I have not been rewatching Season one with you this summer since I watched it six months ago, but reading your comments on the work of Melanie Nicholls King makes the office a little dusty, she was excellent in this episode.

And you are dead on about Rawls from his taking over the crime scene and dealing with Jimmy it allowed you to understand he probably earned his position in the department as well as played the political end of the game.

Anonymous said...

Alan,
Although I tried to stay current with you on the episodes for Season 1, I just could not resist waiting each week...so I am now done with the entire season, and, even though I knew what was coming, and had seen it many times, I still got goosebumps and the lump in the throat seeing D ask Where's Wallace. I really wonder what others think...which scene was more heartbreaking...that one, or the one in Season 4 when Randy utters his famous "you gonna take care of me now Sgt. Carver?" Two of the most compelling moments for me in the history of tv

Indeed said...

I also couldn't wait and rewatched the whole first season months ago. Before starting Episode 12 I had that huge feeling of dread because of what was going to happen. For me, as a moment of intense emotion on the Wire, nothing reaches the demise of Wallace and then Where's Wallace.
HAving said that, I'm now watching Season 4 again and that feeling of dread comes on every time I see Randy and Dukie and their smiles.
This show wrecks me.

Linda said...

When I first watched this season, I was roped into it pretty quickly. But the moment when the series hit an entirely different level of personal investment for me was the moment when McNulty gave Bubbs the money. It's one of the best examples I have ever seen of the genuine tragedy that can result when people who are all trying to do the right thing nevertheless conk into each other in precisely the wrong way.

I think I forgave everything that came at the end of the series, as far as what I felt was a somewhat weaker season (relatively, which is...saying a lot), and all the heartbreak of Michael and Bug and Dukie, because this moment of absolute, wretched heartbreak was eventually redeemed.

It truly, honestly, absolutely broke my heart, that scene. Weirdly, the lurch in my stomach reminds me of the less dangerous but equally complicated moment in Sports Night when Casey says, "You're wearing my shirt, Gordon" -- maybe the greatest character-driven plot twist in the history of the half-hour comedy.

Anonymous said...

Loved your observation about how all the characters have a very human side but they rarely see the humanity in each other. That is so true especially in the moment when McNulty gives the money to Bubbs, like Bubbs is an information vending machine or something.

As for Rawls, I saw the beginning of this episode as an illustration of what Rawls could have been as a leader in the Police Department if he hadn't been ground down by that institution. Still a hard ass but not a total bastard.

Also we see in this episode the dramatic consequences of shooting a cop and how strongly (if not strategically) the department reacts. In Season 3, however, when Dozerman is shot everything is much less dramatic. Of course, we don't know Dozerman nearly as well as Kima so maybe we aren't shown the full reaction to the Dozerman shooting. It's just interesting to compare the consequences of the two shootings (the detail having to show its hand v. Bunny legalizing drugs).

digamma said...

"In talking with Simon and Burns about this storyline years later, they
noted that it's common for junkies...."

This behavior is documented beautifully in The Corner. Really, any fan of The Wire needs to read The Corner yesterday.

"D is convinced Wee-Bey is going to kill him, even though he hadn't done anything particularly mistake-worthy of late."

He was relatively close to Orlando and Wallace, both suspected snitches.

"Carver fulfills all the pre-requisites to become the new Lt. Daniels, a transformation that will be complete by the end of the series."

Unless I'm reading this wrong, you are being very unfair to Carver, who learns a lot throughout the series and seems poised to become the next Major Colvin.

Jeff L said...

I also started re-watching when Alan began his reviews -- and now I'm all the way through Season 4, about to start Season 5! (thanks, iTunes)

We also see a glimpse of the detective Landsman must have been, once, too. But then he got promoted, fell in love with sitting on his butt, and now spends all his energy on protecting his own place in the system.

Anonymous said...

when i first saw Bill Rawls, i didn't like him one bit; in fact, i placed him in the same box as Burrell.

it was only on my second view-thru that mebbe i was too harsh on the guy. in fact, he's like a Cedric Daniels-type - good police, but caught between doing the job and stroking the balls of the people above him.

on a sidenote:- the first time John Doman appeared as Bill Rawls, i scratched my head trying to pin where did i know him from. scanning his IMDb listing, nothing jumps out except maybe this gamegeek bit: he is listed as voice-actor for Diego in the videogame Midnight Club 2 (for those who don't know, MC2 is an open-world street-racing game with arcade-ey elements. i know this coz i struggled for weeks to unlock the last city, Paris). that can't be right, can it?

Anonymous said...

Naming fish allows Wee-Bey a level of humanity? I thought it was illustrative of his derangement. Nonchalantly tap on a window in the dark and shoot the woman who comes to answer it and torture, mutilate, and kill a young man . . . but worry over pet fish (including plastic ones). That isn't very human to me.

Rev said...

I just wanted to chime in here and say I've enjoyed reading through and up with all of your posts on 'The Wire'.

I completely (and unashamedly) adore the show and you really do it justice with these.

gcam said...

commissioner frazier was portrayed by retired army lt. col. dick stillwell, he died in a car accident before S2 of the wire, his father was the general who replaced mac arthur when he was fired by truman during the korean war

Andrew said...

Naming fish allows Wee-Bey a level of humanity? I thought it was illustrative of his derangement.

I agree with this in a way, but I would argue that humanity and derangement are not mutually exclusive.

Jarvis said...

I echo the comments here about Rawls: John Doman's performance in this episode was definitely the highlight for me - those couple of scenes were probably Rawls' greatest for the entire series (although I also loved to watch him blast subordinates at Comstat meetings).

I loved the Rawls character right from the begining - he was ruthless but actually seemed quite competent at his job, as this episode shows, and apart from McNulty he didn't seem to hold grudges against people - he always got along well with Daniels, for instance. The big difference between Rawls and Daniels is that Rawls never stuck his neck out - the only time he defied the chain of command was in a slippery, back-door way when he helped Carcetti during the election in season 4. Rawls always did what was asked of him by his superiors, and surely that's why he was promoted so quickly (from major to colonel to Deputy Ops in just a couple of years).

@Anonymous 11.23am: I think the main reason there wasn't a similar reaction to Doze getting shot in season 3 is that there was no suspects and therefore no way to hit back - certainly not a huge pile of dope to hit.

@gcam, that's a very interesting piece of information about the police commissioner from season 1. I wonder if the show would have played out differently had he lived?

Phillystile said...

probably the best example of Wee-Bey's humanity isn't here with the fish, but in his scene in Season and 4 when he lays down his authority with Namond's mother (Yolanda?) and tells her that he's out of the game.

Chip said...

As Jeff L said, I was struck watching the episode this time by seeing how good of a detective Landsman had been. Even more than Rawls, Landsman usually lets kissing ass overpower the part of him that is real police.

One of the things I'm missing in watching "Generation Kill" is some glimpses of real ability in those who have climbed the food chain. Major Eckloff (aka Officer Colicchio on "The Wire") had one moment on the bridge, but otherwise almost all of the command structure is more like Burrell than Rawls.

Emily said...

Jeez, I guess I was the only kid that ever named my fish.

I'm another reader that was struck by this:
Carver fulfills all the pre-requisites to become the new Lt. Daniels, a transformation that will be complete by the end of the series.
I think that rings true, and it's the first time I've seen it said. Alan, do you think all the characters in the show (that lived) "grew up to be" someone else from the series?

Alan Sepinwall said...

Unless I'm reading this wrong, you are being very unfair to Carver, who learns a lot throughout the series and seems poised to become the next Major Colvin.

You're reading it wrong, and you're not. "The Wire" is cyclical. The players change, but the game stays the same, and new players assume the old players roles. D goes to jail and Poot takes over the Pit, reciting dialogue that's verbatim from something D said in the pilot. Michael becomes Omar, Dukie becomes Bubbs, etc.

Carver is the new Daniels. Like Daniels, he started out in narcotics and on at least one occasion stole money when no one was looking during a bust. He initially cares more about climbing the ladder and kissing up to superiors than he does about doing good policework, but after being lectured by Daniels in the first season finale, and again by Bunny throughout season three, he finally gets it and becomes arguably the most honorable cop left in the department by the end of the series. Daniels is the one who gets to hand him his lieutenant's bars, and in one of the final scenes of the series, Sydnor (as the new McNulty) is complaining to Judge Phelan about how the brass is giving Lt. Carver the runaround, in the same way that Jimmy used to talk to Phelan about Daniels.

Spiral Jacobs said...

WeeBay loving his fish reminded me of Tony Soprano's devotion towards animals (the ducks, his horse) while being ruthless towards other humans. I think the innocence and guilelessness of the pets appeals to their jaded natures; the animals aren't working an angle and aren't going to betray them. It's a sliver of longing for a simple, trusting relationship which I find sympathetic, while it simultaneously does nothing to mitigate the character's monstrous acts. It just shows that they are not incapable of having feelings, which means they are still human, albeit evil. Don't forget that Jame Gumb in Silence of the Lambs adored his dog!

Anonymous said...

Carver is the next Daniels, but Daniels was the next Colvin. It was Daniels that picked up Colvin's mantle of making cases and doing real police work after Colvin's forced retirement, but he was much better at the political aspects of the higher department ranks. So in a way, Carver is the next Colvin too...

Jarvis said...

Something odd I remembered about this episode after rewatching the last episode in season 4: when Bubbs is hauled into the homicide office in "The Hunt" after trying to page Kima, Bubbles and Landsman meet briefly. However, when Bubbs shows up in Homicide again in season 4 to confess about the death of Sherrod, Landsman doesn't remember him. Was this an oversight on the part of the writers, or a deliberate point about Jay's lack of policing ability? This thread is pretty dead now but I'd love to hear others' thoughts...

ElDan said...

Jarvis: I think it's reasonable that Landsman wouldn't remember Bubbs. He's not the most astute guy in the office to begin with, and imagine how many suspects, informants, etc. get run through Homocide. As far as he knew, Bubbs was just another junkie rat. Along these lines, though, I love the scene in Season 4 when Bubbs sees Prez at the school and thinks he's working undercover.

Gridlock said...

Rawls' actual interest in Poh-leece work is evident when he's angling for the Commissioner job in S4; he genuinely sees a chance to get away from the stats game and back to "serving and protecting", but obviously ends up disillusioned.

For me the only thing that marks him out as different to McNulty (and stops McNulty evolving into the 'next' Rawls) is his ability to quickly hew back to the political game when it's obvious that it's not, in fact, Morning In Bawlmore.

Birds on a Wire said...

I'm obviously way late to the party, but I just wanted to say a couple things that jumped out to me on second viewing of the episode and then reading the review...

First, seeing McNulty hand Bubs that twenty without understanding that he was trying to get clean reminded me of earlier in the season, when Kima complained to him that $20 was gonna spoil him. What originally seemed like a throwaway line now seems like foreshadowing, since $20 ends up spoiling all the progress that Bubs made to get clean.

Also, I always felt like Carver went on to be the next Daniels. However, I didn't see Sydnor as the next McNulty, and he seemed a lot more like Freamon to me. Maybe it's just because he worked so much with Freamon and seemed like he was developing an ability to follow the money trail.

Anonymous said...

McNulty was the next Freamon...

Anonymous said...

...another comment left on a dead thread - but maybe there are others like me, finally going through The Wire for the second time, and proud to have graduated to the Veteran's thread.

Another small devastating foreshadowing line I noticed - from the previous episode, one of the cops staking out for Wallace asks McNulty what Wallace did...and McNulty says "He stumbled into my world."

Ouch.

Ahmedkhan said...

There is quite a contrast in management styles exhibited in this season. In the one example, there is Daniels' cool professionalism as he snatches McNulty's bottle of Jamison's from him and says, tersely, "Do your job." In the other example, shown a few episodes back, there is the Stringer/Avon style visited on Orlando: slap him around and toss him out the door and on the floor, kick him, and say, "Do your f****** job!"

Even though this latter style ultimately proves ineffective in the case of Orlando, I have to admit the thought of using it on some hard-case employees during the course of my career certainly crossed my mind and appealed to me.

Michael said...

You're not alone, Anon, I'm even later to the party than you. Currently on my 4th go round on seasons 1-5, halfway through season 4 at the time of writing :-)

Anonymous said...

I named all my fish as well.

Anonymous said...

I bet this thread is truly dead now, but just in case....
I loved Dominic West's performance in this episode, particularly the scene in the hospital, his rant to Levy, and the argument outside with Pearlman. Wonderful acting.