Friday, May 29, 2009

The Wire, Season 2, Episode 1: "Ebb Tide" (Veterans edition)

As we did last summer, it's time to revisit "The Wire," the greatest drama in TV history, this time moving on to season two. And, as I did last summer, I'm going to do two slightly different versions of each review: one for people who have already seen the entire series and want to be able to discuss how events in these episodes impact or are echoed by events down the road; and one for people who are slowly working their way through the series and don't want to be spoiled for episodes they haven't been to yet. (If you want to see how they differ, you can go back to check out the veteran and newbie editions from season one.)

Veteran-friendly spoilers (the newbie edition is here) for the season two premiere, "Ebb Tide," coming up just as soon as I take note of the mileage...
"It's all about self-preservation, Jimmy -- something you never learned." -Jay Landsman
As I wrote when I reviewed "The Target," the first episode of season one, "The Wire" is a show that teaches you how to watch it. And even here, with a full season under its belt, the series still needs to offer up reminders that it's going to play by its own rules.

Having spent the 13 hours of season one introducing this huge cast of characters, explaining how they work together, or against each other, you might expect season two to pick up with a quick re-assembly of Lt. Daniels' task force to go after Stringer Bell and the remains of the Barksdale drug operation, or after a similar drug crew. Instead, it's like we're back at square one.

There are some familiar faces, but they're often in new and marginalized places, like McNulty working on the boat or Daniels in the evidence room. Characters who were marginal last year, like Prez's well-connected father-in-law, Major Stan Valchek, are now major players, and we're introduced to a whole new cast of characters down at the docks.

Because the stevedores are a predominantly white group, you might assume that "Ebb Tide" is in some way an attempt to reboot the series and try to draw in a larger audience. You would be wrong (though this was the show's highest-rated season). Outside of Prez's monologue in Valchek's office, in which he offers his own brief synopsis of the Barksdale investigation, there's no attempt at hand-holding, no effort of any kind to make this world fathomable to a new viewer. I could barely follow the action with Bodie and Shamrock and Stringer in this one the first time through, and I'd watched the first season religiously. This is the start of volume 2 of the Great American Novel for Television, and good luck to you trying to crack it open at this point.

No, what David Simon, Ed Burns and company are doing here is revealing that "The Wire" is going to be far more than a cops vs. drug dealers saga. It's not a crime show. There's a lot of crime in it, yes, but it's a story about the death of an American city (really, the death of the American city), and little by little the show is going to take us into every corner of that city. Last year, it was the projects and the drug war raging within them. This season, our focus turns to the ports, and to the state of blue-collar, industrial America, which has been phased out in favor of a service economy that many of these guys just aren't equipped for. As Simon referred to it in a few interviews, it's "a meditation on the death of work and the betrayal of the American working class."

As has been said many times before, the opening scene of each "Wire" premiere is like a mission statement for that season. We open with McNulty riding forlornly on the boat, staring out at the many abandoned factories ringing Baltimore's harbor. Once upon a time, these places were thriving concerns that provided jobs for any man willing to put in the work, no matter his background or skill level; now they're rotting husks, relics of a time that barely exists anymore. Jimmy looks at those factories and thinks wistfully about the way things used to be, the lifestyle his father and his father's friends had. Then he and his partner Claude answer a distress call from a party boat filled with yuppies who couldn't care less about Bethlehem Steel or Domino Sugar; they just look at the harbor as a place to get their drink on while dancing to "Blue Skies." Jimmy notes that they have to tow the boat out of the shipping channel, but at the same time, the harbor seems so dead that it hardly seems worth the bother; it's been a long time since cargo ships were constantly coming and going from this port.

Recognizing all of this, Jimmy takes a bribe to tow the boat to an out of the way location where the party can keep going, and there you have your season in a nutshell: the port workers are dinosaurs, being replaced by wealthy people looking to party (or buy condos with waterfront views), and the only real money to be made around here is through bribery.

And it's in that capacity that we get to know the new season's central character, union leader Frank Sobotka (Chris Bauer). I don't want to go too deep into discussing everything Frank is up to, but he makes some of it clear in his argument with union rival Nat Coxson, and in the actions we see him take involving his nephew Nick, the mysterious "Greek," and Father Lewandowski at the local parish. Because the grain pier has fallen into disrepair, and because the shipping channel isn't deep enough any longer, not enough ships are coming to the port to employ all stevedores that Frank represents. So he's taking bribes from the Greek to slip shipping containers past customs, and then using that money to get close enough to politicians -- with a little help from his favorite priest -- who might be able to help him get the canal dredged.

But in buying a new window for the church nave -- and in making an offering higher than the one the Polish cops and firemen could afford -- Frank has now put himself on the radar of the petty but politically influential Stan Valchek. And in trying to help the Greek and his people import a shipping container (or, as they'll be referred to mostly from here on out, "can") full of dead girls, he's about to get a whole lot more.

Again, without wanting to give too much away, let me offer the best I can in terms of an explanation of who some of the key new (or more prominent) figures are so far:

• Frank Sobotka: Head of the stevedores union. Keep in mind that there are several different types of stevedores involved at the port, but the primary group, and the one Frank and these others are a part of, are the checkers, who are responsible for identifying and tracking all the cans as they move in and out of the port, and who have the ability to help smuggle items in.

• Nick Sobotka (Pablo Schreiber): Frank's nephew, such a junior checker that he struggles to get shifts when there are so many senior guys ahead of him and so few ships to work. He's Frank's go-between with the Greek.

• Ziggy Sobotka (James Ransone): Frank's bumbling (but well-endowed) son, who can be as charming as he is obnoxious.

• Horseface (Charley Scalies): Frank's heavyset sidekick

• Stanislaus Valchek (Al Brown): Commander of the Southeastern district of the Baltimore PD, which covers most of the remaining white ethnic neighborhoods in the city, as well as the port; he's Prez's father-in-law.

• Spiros "Vondas" Vondopoulos (Paul Ben Victor): Nick's soft-spoken contact; is either the Greek, or at least a Greek

• Beadie Russell (Amy Ryan): Port cop whose job largely involves driving around the stacks of containers to make sure nothing's amiss; she's the one who notices the broken customs seal on the Greek's can.

This is a lot to take in, I know. Lots of new people, and lots of old friends still absent for now. No Bubbles, or Omar, or D'Angelo, and a bare minimum of Bunk, Kima, Avon and others. But just as I imagine lots of you were completely lost at this stage in season one, only to grow to understand and love it as you went, I suspect you're going to have a similar learning curve here.

Some other thoughts on "Ebb Tide":

• To make it clear that the show hasn't forgotten about the Barksdale investigation, and that it views every part of this city as connected in some way, we spend a decent amount of time in the premiere following Bodie trying to pick up a non-existent drug shipment, and then on Stringer trying to find out why their supplier left them hanging. What makes it particularly inscrutable is the way we keep seeing Bodie and his partner Shamrock from the perspective of Tank and Country, the two older hands Stringer has sent along to make sure the young guys aren't stealing. It's sound strategy on Stringer's part, but it makes the subplot more complicated than it probably should have been in the middle of an episode that's already incredibly dense.

• That subplot does give us two wonderful Bodie moments that echo season one. First, we have him being confused by the idea that the radio stations change when you leave Baltimore (and then being disgusted when the first Philly station he tunes in is playing "A Prairie Home Companion"), which is very much in keeping with Wallace not even knowing what things are like on the east side of town, let alone in the country. Second, we have him scolding -- in an echo of one of D'Angelo's lectures to him last season -- one of his new soldiers about the futility of always thinking of violence as the first solution to any problem in this business.

• One final point on that subplot, and a holdover from the veteran discussion of last year's premiere. A commenter, Boones19, suggested that the Dominican drug crew that Fitz from the FBI was investigating (with the help of one of Jimmy's informants) would turn out to be Avon and Stringer's supplier, but when I caught the lawyer telling Stringer that his client was under investigation from the DEA, not the FBI, I checked with David Simon, who says they're two unconnected outfits.

• A new season means a new -- or, in this case, the Tom Waits' original -- version of "Way Down in the Hole," and a new opening title sequence, this time filled with images of the port. As I did last year, I suggest taking a look at Andrew Dignan's analysis of each of the first four seasons' title sequences at The House Next Door, though I'd steer clear if I was a newbie, as it's filled with spoilers about this and later seasons.

• "The Wire" is nothing if not patient, as is Jimmy McNulty, and the show is willing to take the time to show Jimmy taking the time to screw over Bill Rawls and Jay Landsman (who, we find out, was the one who gave away Jimmy's fear of the marine unit, rather than Jimmy himself doing it out of self-loathing over what he did to Kima and D'Angelo) by going over the tide charts for proof that the dead woman fell into the water within Baltimore PD jurisdiction.

• This show loves its parallels, and here we get Daniels and Bunk tearing apart the evidence room for the material on the Gant case at the same time Bodie, Shamrock and the mechanics are searching the car for the drugs that are supposed to be there.

• The band playing at the stevedore bar is The Nighthawks, who enterprisingly put a banner with their website on it in the background of the shot.

• This qualifies less as a spoiler than it does a fair warning for the newbies: get used to Ziggy showing off his large (albeit, to our eyes, clearly fake) male appendage.

And now we'll talk about some elements of the premiere and how they'll play out down the line:

• You know I like to keep track of the many minor tragedies along the way that have to happen for the big tragedies (Wallace's death, Randy's foster mom getting burned) to take place, so I'm going to be keeping a close eye on the events that lead to Ziggy's downfall. First up: if Nick's car hadn't broken down, he wouldn't have needed Ziggy to drive him to the Greek's diner, and Ziggy might never have gotten involved with Double-G and the others. (And note Double-G calling Ziggy "malaka" -- the final insult that will inspire Ziggy's shooting rampage -- under his breath while Ziggy is up at the bar studying a menu.)

• I'm going to be watching these at the same rate I'll be blogging on them, so I can't remember how many more episodes it took before we found out for sure that Vondas wasn't the Greek, and that the unassuming guy at the counter was. Still, it's funny to watch him sitting there, casually reading his newspaper and listening in on everything his underlings are doing.

• Even though Beadie seems bored with her job in the early going, note that she's still observant enough to spot the broken seal, and tough enough to go into the can on her own to investigate. Lester and Bunk are going to teach her a lot about detective work, but she has some good raw material to work with already.

• "Always Boris." Still funny.

• Kima's disinterest in Cheryl's fertility treatments (and dismay at the expense), not to mention her discomfort at being a "housecat" in the asset forfeiture unit, are the first signals that this relationship, the healthiest of season one, isn't going to last.

Coming up next Friday: "Collateral Damage," in which the dead girls cause a stir among various law-enforcement agencies, Avon's sister pays him a visit, and Valchek's vendetta begins.

What did everybody else think?

82 comments:

Ostiose Vagrant said...

This wasn't explicit, but I kinda felt it woulda been more realistic if Sobotka was pocketing some of the money for himself. I'm not sure anyone does what he does, particularly after the dead girls, and not be in it for himself. Maybe he was supposed to symbolize the American worker? But if you're going for believable then he's saving some of that for Ziggy.

Carmichael Harold said...

Ostiose,

I always got the sense that Frank prioritized his local above Ziggy, which I think becomes more clear when they have their big talk near the end of the season. I think this is partially what makes Ziggy Ziggy.

Also, having seen (and enjoyed) Ransome in Generation Kill, I now find his portrayal of Ziggy less irritating (though still plenty irritating) than I did the first time around.

Ostiose Vagrant said...

Point taken, Harold. It's just maybe not what my limited knowledge on human behaviour would allow me to find rational. Still, point taken, especially on why Ziggy has that need to act like he does and maybe the pigeons thing too. Thanks.

Carmichael Harold said...

Otiose, I think another way to try and square it is that Frank clearly knows that what he is doing is, in some sense, wrong even though he seems to consider himself a, generally, moral person. I always imagined him justifying what he does as an act of almost selfless sacrifice for a greater good. He would lose that justification were he to enrich himself directly.

Ostiose Vagrant said...

Okay, I'm convinced. Yeah,the altruistic angle works. A victimless crime? I like the show too much to nitpick too much. Really, it's true.

Linda said...

I understand the sense that Frank should be pocketing something, but in my experience with guys like Frank who are heavily invested in their unions, it's often on the same level as a religion. There are a lot of families where the devotion to the union is basically the same as the devotion to the church. It's pretty easy for me to believe he'd get himself waist-deep in whatever if he thought it would help the local.

Eyeball Wit (aka avincent52) said...

Alan
First off, you are an absolute freak for doing this, but our kind of freak. In any case, thanks.

As for the beginning of Season two, I always wondered about the way the Major Crimes squad gets broken up and brought back together throughout the arc of the show.

I can see why, if the show was supposed to last only one season, it makes perfect dramatic sense (and a perfect ending) to cast all the members of Major Crimes to the wind after their modest and tainted victory over the Barksdale crew.

But it always seemed like Simon and Co. spent the first half of Season Two undoing the denoument of Season One, getting the old gang back together.
(And this happens to greater and lesser degrees at the beginning of other seasons as well)

Of course, if busting up this sometimes too effective unit is a symptom of the bosses' cluelessness, this re-assembly has to be done slowly and randomly, so as not to give the Powers That Be too much credit. Commissioner Gordon can't just get on the Bat Phone...

But as I watched it, it slowed things down so much that I was saying to the television, "Okay, you made your point, David. Let's get on with it..."

Club4911 said...

My second viewing as well through as series that I watched through iTunes in about 2 months last summer ....

I was struck this time by the title, Ebb Tide, which is the low tide, and how it lowers everything on the water to the mud and lowers expectations for everyone as well.

(My only complaint on the 5 seasons is the Ziggy character. I understand he was supposed to be annoying, but he was to such a degree, that I dread his scenes.)

Dan said...

Alan - I will blame you if my "Wire" watching gets in the way of my studying for the bar exam in July. I remember "following" along with last year's season 1 reviews and I found that I couldn't hold back and I zoomed through all 5 seasons, again, in no time.

This year I will try to stick to one episode a week. I doubt it will last.

Nevertheless, thank you for doing this. Friday mornings are that much more exciting now.

Ben said...

Yeah Ziggy annoyed the hell out of me for most of season 2 - up to the point when he went over the edge and killed the greek guy, it was pure pay off and such a WTF moment that it was worth it!

Mike C said...

Do we know if Jimmy's getting sent to ride the boat was set up from the beginning to help establish the docks plot in this season? I realize that it's first mentioned very early in Season One, but it works so well to provide a familiar face in the midst of all the new characters and settings that I'm curious if Simon and company had it in mind all along.

Dean Winchester said...

In response to the first commenter, I just wanted to echo some of whats already been said, namely that it becomes very clear that Sbotka is not in this for personal enrichment, not for himself and not for his son. He is taking the money to fight for the union and for their way of life. This climaxes (not to get too far ahead) in what I think is the single greatest monologue in the entire series, Sbotka's rant to the lobbyist Dibiasi about the fate of the American worker.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that like Omar, Sbotka engages in criminal activity yet aheres to a very strict moral code.

Oh, two other great examples of this is him giving money to New Charles' wife after his accident, and sending one of the stevedores to Dolores for a "drink".

Finally, Alan since this is the thread for vets, I'm allowed to forge ahead in series in the comments like I've done here, right? The spoilers policy is off? Apologies if I'm wrong about that...

Anonymous said...

I'd also like to thank Alan for taking the time to do this. God this show is so good.

I remember feeling overwhelmed at the new characters, the new setting, etc. Makes you appreciate not having everything force fed to you.

- Mike

Indeed said...

Darn you, Alan. A few weeks ago I was mulling diving into Season 3 again. But now I'm going to get sucked into Season 2 first. I can't wait to see Frank and Beadie and Nick again...
Always enjoy your commentary. I first discovered your great blog when I first got into the Wire (watching season 1-4 over about a month) and needing some good commentary.
I'll echo other comments and say thanks!
I agree with the comment on Ziggy. He really is one of the more annoying major characters on the show. Difficult to watch.

Gordon Harries said...

Aww, Man. I just watched Season 2 & 3 back to back.

you're going to suck me back into 2, Sepinwall!!!

Rich Walsh said...

Looks like I'm clearly in the minority here, but Ziggy was a favorite character of mine in this season. I enjoyed his humor and cleverness and braggadocio - born of insecurity I believe - complemented by his complete lack of street smarts (he and Nick are intelligent in such different ways and what Ziggy has to offer is mostly out of place in the milieu he inhabits). In any case, I give his excesses something of a pass because of all of that and his story does ultimately veer into the tragic.

If memory serves, he might be one of the few significant - and still living - characters who doesn't have a curtain call in season 5.

Jeff L said...

Thanks for doing this, Alan.

This is my favorite season of the Wire, because it features the most tragic criminal of all: Frank Sabotka.

Of all the "crime bosses" The Wire featured, only Frank thinks he is doing good -- and only Frank commits crimes without taking a personal profit. No, Frank is "in the game" to change the system, and we all know how well that works in The Wire's universe.

At some point (that we never see) Frank, who was an honest, hardworking Union leader figured the only way to save his beloved union was to start taking money from the Greek. And for some time (perhaps a very long time) he thought he was committing a "victimless" crime. He took a bit of money, he handed that money to politicians, and maybe, just maybe, he could save the union. Nobody got hurt, and he got to do good in the world.

But Frank never knew what was in those cans. I don't for a minute think the can full of dead women was the first can of people. Frank has been directly, and unknowingly, involved in human trafficking, perhaps for a very long time. And then, of course, the can full of women arrives, and everything goes South. Frank's first confronted with his victims, and eventually becomes one himself.

Certainly, other Wire characters have story arcs that pull more on the heart (Wallace, Randy, hell even Prez), but, to me, no other character is so perfectly and unknowingly caught up in the horrible choices he makes.

debbie said...

I'm going to watch this episode again this weekend since it's been a couple of months.
I feel so proud to be on the veteran section after going through Season 1 as a newbie.
Being a "Wire" fan makes me feel like a better citizen. Is that wrong?
Thanks so much for doing this!

Anonymous said...

I was always flabbergasted how this entire season was started because of the pettiness of Valchek wanting that space for his stained glass window. I mean, without that, nothing else happens. This prick ruins lives because he's jealous his window will be one floor higher.

God I hated Valchek.

-DamnYankees

Alan Sepinwall said...

Finally, Alan since this is the thread for vets, I'm allowed to forge ahead in series in the comments like I've done here, right? The spoilers policy is off? Apologies if I'm wrong about that...

The spoiler policy is off, correct. But that means we're going to be talking about stuff not just through season 2, but the rest of the series. So anyone who's watched season 2 but not further would be best off sticking with the newbie posts.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I was always flabbergasted how this entire season was started because of the pettiness of Valchek wanting that space for his stained glass window. I mean, without that, nothing else happens. This prick ruins lives because he's jealous his window will be one floor higher.

It's not just that it'll be one floor higher, but that it'll be in the rectory, and not where the congregants are looking when they come to church on Sunday.

Beyond that, though, the dead girls in the can means that there would have been some kind of investigation down at the docks, if not one involving Daniels, Prez and Kima. Beadie, Bunk and Lester would have found something out eventually, I imagine.

Anonymous said...

I'd also like to stand up for Ziggy. Well, not really Ziggy, but the concept of Ziggy. I didn't like the guy, but you aren't really supposed to. Ziggy, to me, was the ultimate example of someone who just has nothing going for them:

No education
No talents
No looks
No love
No charima
No money

He just has nothing going on for him. The question is what would happen to someone like this - well, we see. He's just a terrible guy who, while sympathetic, is hard to actually sympathize with because like I said he just has nothing going on for him. And I think that sort of unpleasant character is something fiction should be able to explore.

-DamnYankees

Alan Sepinwall said...

Jeff L, the interesting thing about your analysis of Frank's motives is that it would be so easy for the season to let him off the hook about what he was doing, because his intentions were noble and he didn't pocket the money. But then we got that amazing scene where Nick's dad tears into Frank, and it's the first time anyone Frank trusts has been able to confront him with the stark reality of the crimes he's committed.

Anonymous said...

It's not just that it'll be one floor higher, but that it'll be in the rectory, and not where the congregants are looking when they come to church on Sunday.Ah ok. I was raised Jewish, so my knowledge of Church blueprints isn't so great!

Beyond that, though, the dead girls in the can means that there would have been some kind of investigation down at the docks, if not one involving Daniels, Prez and Kima. Beadie, Bunk and Lester would have found something out eventually, I imagine.True enough, but there's no gaurantee it would have come back to Frank. Remember in the middle of the season (I forget where), they actually are doing good work on the deaths, and they think they have it figured out, but they haven't tied it to Frank, and its Valcheck who yells and demands they get Sobotka - he clearly cares more about his vendetta than actually catching The Greek and Vondas. I think without Valcheck being such a prick, Frank doesn't really get as caught up in all of it, and is much more easily able to simply pretend to be a bystander in the whole ordeal.

-DamnYankees

Eyeball Wit (aka avincent52) said...

Certainly, other Wire characters have story arcs that pull more on the heart (Wallace, Randy, hell even Prez), but, to me, no other character is so perfectly and unknowingly caught up in the horrible choices he makes.Couldn't agree more. Those other guys are largely victims. I think the only arc that's comparable is Stringer's, because they both think they're running the game--and do for a while- but ultimately the game runs them.

Ziggy, to me, was the ultimate example of someone who just has nothing going for them:I think in a just slightly alternate universe, Ziggy is a different guy. In this blue collar world his choices are being a straight, "regular guy" (like Nicky) or a street-smart hustler, and he doesn't have the tools for either.

But if he somehow manages to ace his SATs and get into Johns Hopkins or even U of Maryland, he'll find friends (and probably a girlfriend) who think his version of weird is charming. His wisea$$ wit and quick but unfocused mind becomes an asset.

And he probably tones down his act (or acting out) because he feels like he fits in and has the prospect of a future. (In short, he's probably a little more like Ransone's character in Generation Kill.)

The one person who could have steered him in this direction was Frank, but helping his kid to "get out" would be an admission of defeat he couldn't allow IMHO.

Hatfield said...

I woke up today excited for this, and you did not disappoint, Alan! Of course, I'm on the West Coast, so there's three extra hours, but that's not the point. Anyway, here are a couple points:

As I said in the Summer Advisory post, this season easily wins the battle for most sex and nudity, and this episode shoves it in our face right away with Ziggy's manhood. But while it looks fake in this shot, the picture he eventually puts on Maui's computer looks pretty damn real. Not saying it's James Ransone's, but not a Boogie Nights situation either, I don't think.

Oh, and perhaps our first indicator that Frank is not Ziggy's dad: While Ziggy has clearly been blessed, Frank makes a joke about his own "three and a half inches of blue steel diamond cutter." Subtle clue by David Simon? All right, I probably have a phallic fixation, I apologize.

In more serious news, I agree that Frank is the most tragic character ever on this show. He's into some dirt, as Valchek says, but he really is trying to save his union and the livelihood of his guys, and he sells his soul for it. Any doubt about his intentions should be answered by his argument with Nick after Ziggy and Nick steal the cameras, when Nick says something about all the money: "You think it's for me?" he screams. Sometimes I think this season is the best, if only because it's so insular in so many ways, and these guys are gone after these twelve episodes, and yet looking back, few images mess me up the way Frank taking his (unknowing) final walk to meet The Greek does. I know Alan is still torn up by Wallace's fate, and Dukie and Randy's are awful as well, but the fall of Sobotka has to be right there.

Mike C said...

Just wanted to chime in on the Ziggy debate. The first time I watched this season I really didn't enjoy his presence on my TV. At all. But now that I know his whole arc, I actually really like the character. As others mentioned, you can see how his limitations/skills are a horrible mix given his environment and upbringing. I just feel so bad for the guy.

Anyway, that change in perspective is one of the main reasons Season 2 jumped from being one my least favorite to possibly my favorite.

Theresa said...

Nat to Frank: "If the grain pier don't get built, some asshole's gonna build condominiums all over it." Ladies and gentlemen, that would be Tommy Carcetti.

Ah, how I've missed The Wire. Season 2 is not my favorite, but Bodie trying to make sense of A Prairie Home Companion is one of my favorite things ever.

Zac F. said...

Thankfully, the show counterbalances Ziggy's penis by also showing us Nick's girlfriend's magnificent breasts.

I watched the entire series last summer, bought the complete series at Best Buy the day before Christmas at 50% off and am eager to go through the whole series again.

If Jimmy doesn't figure out where the body was actually dumped, I wonder what happens instead. A ripple effect of a decision on this show.

Eyeball Wit (aka avincent52) said...

But then we got that amazing scene where Nick's dad tears into Frank, and it's the first time anyone Frank trusts has been able to confront him with the stark reality of the crimes he's committed.Great scene.

Frank and his older brother remind me of the elder Costigan brothers in The Departed.

Leonardo DI Caprio's father (we learn) was an uncorruptable tough guy who worked at the airport.

Jack Nicholson says at one point "There's a man who could have been anything." And later
"You know if your father were alive, and saw you, sitting here with me... he'd kill seven guys just to cut my throat. And he could do it, which is something you may not know about William Costigan, Sr.... He kept his own counsel. He never wanted money. You can't do a thing with a man like that."

DICaprio's "excellent" Uncle Jackie fell in with Nicholson and ends up dead and his body pieces (literally.)

All this also reminds me of how about "it's between the Brothers, Kay" in Godfather II. Frankie Pentangeli just gets that look from his brother "who was 10 times tougher than me...he could have had his own family over here"

Frank Sobotka's older brother reminds me a little of my dad, too.

Timothy Holden said...

Alan, you are a handsome genius.

Anonymous said...

My sister likes to believe that Bodie went back to PHC, because he enjoyed it.

Anyway, I too feel I must defend Ziggy. He's very much like Dukie--not as lovable, obviously, but he's just wholly unsuited for his environment.

Are we ever sure Landsman sold Jimmy out? He professed innocence.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Alan, you are a handsome genius.

I don't know if I'd go so far as to call me a "genius," but...

Alan Sepinwall said...

Are we ever sure Landsman sold Jimmy out? He professed innocence.

He professed innocence of motivation, not deed. He admits to telling Rawls about the boat; he just claims to not have realized what that would lead to.

Anonymous said...

I too have become a reluctant fan of Ziggy after rewatching. His arc brought some of my favorite moments in the show:

-The conversation he has with his father one night on the pier reveals a very different Ziggy, who understands his father and the world in which they are trapped. He has a dignity and a sorrow in that scene that I find very touching.

-The entire scene where he commits murder and returns to his car, to find that his parking meter (and hence his own existence) is up (Time Expired), is one of the best tv scenes I've ever seen. I love to watch it, even as it breaks my heart. I just rewatched it at youtube, and the shaking teary realization of what he has done (his fingers fumbling for a cigarette) undoes me every time. I would HATE Ziggy in real life, or maybe tolerate him, but that scene does such a nice job, without dialogue explaining who he really is, and how tragic his impetuous childish ways really are. He's not a bad man at all, in fact, his remorse at the killing is incredibly humanizing.

-Ziggy's confession with Jay, and the way Jay plays off of his tearful explanation of the errors in the report with just his eyes... so good

-Finally, this scene doesn't include Ziggy directly, but it is all about him and it makes me tear up every time. After Nicky finds out about Ziggy's arrest and fate, he gets drunk and sits at the playground with a girl from the neighborhood, reminiscing about their past and Ziggy's antics. The story he tells about Ziggy screaming "College kids ain't shit!" and breaking down gets me every time.

Chris said...

I'm not really sure what the metaphorical connection is but not too long after Valchek is manhandling his stained glass dove, Frank Sobotka walks around the docks and notices a sea gull that looks very much like a dove (sort of).

Chaz said...

Its worth noting that not only is the party boat filled with upper-class yuppies, but its not even from Baltimore. The channel has become a leisure playground for the wealthy from Washington, partying among the skeletons of Baltimore labour.

Anonymous said...
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Hot Breakfast said...

IMHO, Ziggy has gotten less annoying the more I've watched S2 and picked more things up.

Basically Ziggy has other skills but never the real opportunity to utilize them. We see that Ziggy is pretty good with computers (one area where he has something over Nick) "taking the future by the balls" as he said. However, Frank mentions that they decided, obviously for monetary reasons, to send a different child to community college instead of Zig.

In S4 Namond remined me of Ziggy. Constantly being outdone by Michael where Ziggy was by Nick. Not really being made for the world they WERE in but if under the proper guidance (Namond found his before it was too late) they can make something of themselves.

Ryan said...

I don't think I'm another Ziggy fan, per se, but as stupid and annoying as he is, he just wanted people to notice and/or care about him and in turn, wanted someone/something to care for. I don't know why, but his lashing out at Nick later in the season after his duck died (on his own stupidity, no less) was heartbreaking.

Anonymous said...

I'm not a big Ziggy fan, but he's a great character, and that scene with him and Frank late at night around the docks is just incredible, kind of devastating and heartfelt at the same time.

Also, yeah, it is sort of incredible that Valchek's pettiness is catalyst for so much of this season's events. Of course, in the previous season, the only reason the investigation was able to get off the ground was because of the equipment (surveillance vans etc.) they got from Valchek because Prez cold-cocked the kid, something I didn't realize until my last of several viewings of the season.

Also, yes, the sequence with Bodie, Shamrock, Tank, and Country is pretty inscrutable, not least because the only real identifiable character is Bodie. Even for devoted viewers who have watched the whole series a few times, they might still not recognize Tank and Country.

Eyeball Wit (aka avincent52) said...

Also, yeah, it is sort of incredible that Valchek's pettiness is catalyst for so much of this season's events Good point. The other catalyst was McNulty trying to stick it to Rawls with the tide charts. Spite makes the world go 'round.


In S4 Namond remined me of Ziggy. Constantly being outdone by Michael where Ziggy was by Nick. Not really being made for the world they WERE in but if under the proper guidance (Namond found his before it was too late) they can make something of themselves.Interesting parallel between Ziggy and Namond.

Lynn said...

I didn't watch this recently - but after at least 5 viewings of the whole series I feel pretty informed. But I'm not clear about the connection with the church window and future benefit for the union. I always assumed the gift was a way for Frank to relieve some of his guilt. A penance. And pride. And maybe some posturing. Is there something explicit in an exchange with the priest? Do you not think that Frank is somewhat ambivalent about his choices? - although clearly he sees no other option.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Is there something explicit in an exchange with the priest?

Frank seems to think that only donating the window -- and the cash offering that goes with it -- will get Father Lewandowski to then arrange for Frank to get face time with the state senator. The priest suggests otherwise, which is another of the great ironies of all this: without that window, maybe things go differently for Frank.

Good Dog said...

I always saw poor old Ziggy as the Fredo Corleone of the Sobotka clan. He just didn’t have the skills or brains to do what he wanted to do and didn’t have the support of his family.

Andrew said...

To follow up with what some of the other commenters have noted, Sobotka sees the union as his family, which Ziggy is a part of, but Frank is looking after the family's general welfare first. One could make an analogy to Tony Soprano's relationships with his Family and his family.

Sobotka is getting dirty to protect a way of life, his way of life, which he thinks is going to pay off in the long run.

This is now the third time I've watched season 2, and I'm amazed at how much depth the series reveals on rewatching. And that you don't really fully appreciate the earliest episodes of each season until watching them a second time after the full season.

Andrew said...

Just a quick correction, Alan -- Frank asks the priest for a meeting with "Mikulski," who is Barbara Mikulski, the real-life U.S. Senator from Maryland.

Lynn said...

My vote for worst fake penis is actually Felicity Huffman's in Transamerica. A weird beige hot dog. Actually maybe a bratwurst.

Lynn said...

"Frank seems to think that only donating the window -- and the cash offering that goes with it -- will get Father Lewandowski to then arrange for Frank to get face time with the state senator. The priest suggests otherwise, which is another of the great ironies of all this: without that window, maybe things go differently for Frank."

Ah, that's right. Just a stab in the dark or a corrupt priest that mislead him? (if only there was another season! The institution of religion!)

BUT I can't believe that as a union leader he couldn't get a meeting with her.

Anonymous said...

I am not someone who pays much attention to camera angles or the way a scene is composed, but there are some moments in the Season 2 opening credits that are visually stunning--they look like abstract art to me! Specifically, there is a moment in the opening credits where we see a scene at the docks with some equipment (no clue what it is) being slowly lifted up; very attention-grabbing.

That said, with the exception of the D'Angelo arc and the scene where Brother Mouzone shoots Cheese(which we'll get to later), season 2 is absolutely my least favorite. Without lots of help from Wikipedia (i.e., what's the significance of "dredging a grain pier"? What does it mean if a "customs seal is broken?"), I would have been utterly lost when it came to the Port storyline(s). I get that I shouldn't have to have each and every bit of exposition spoon-fed to me, but someone presumed an awful lot of VERY specialized, technical knowledge (or a willingness to hang in, regardless, which was the case with me) on the part of this season's viewers. Even when I did manage to cobble together a basic understanding of the Port storyline, I didn't find that plot especially interesting.

Because I absolutely love this show as a whole, however, I am gleefully thankful that Alan is reviewing season 2! Looking forward to the rest of the episode reviews!

Lodi2k6

Anonymous said...

Another interpretation to the opening scene as prologue and symbol of the entire season is to consider that much in the way the guys from the boat party pay McNulty (another system/institution) to let him continue a bit longer, when by rights they should have docked and gotten it over with, Sobotka is trying to keep the "party" of the docks institution, clearly a dying one, to last a bit more.

AndyK said...

Alan, one correction/clarification:

Frank is head of IBS Local 1585 (?), the checkers. Ott is in 1585; by the rotation previously set up, it's Ott's turn to win election.
Nat is the head of IBS Local 47, which represents the people doing the actual loading and unloading of cargo.
Nick's in Nat's local.
Ziggy's in the checker local.

Also, I think Ziggy's a particularly interesting character; he's a fairly intelligent guy (figuring out his big heist, negotiating over the cameras, etc.), but he has no street smarts. His antics are classic attention-seeking; his father cares more about the union than him and his mother's addicted to painkillers. If the allure of fast cash from the petty (all the old stories of stealing from the docks) and not so petty crime (drugs, smuggling) wasn't there, things may have gone much differently.

The entire season you can watch his frustration at being a fuck-up building; Nick is a better dealer than he is; Frank, his father, trusts Nick more. Maui humiliates him on the dock, the fake paternity suit, etc. The last Vondas deal was one degradation too many.

thanat-0s said...

I never understood where people got the notion that Frank wasn't Ziggy's real father. Yeah, in jail Ziggy said someting about how "the same blood doesn't flow for us, dad", but I never thought that he meant it in a literal way. I thought he was just apologizing for failing Frank as a son.

paul b. said...

Lynn said:
if only there was another season! The institution of religion!I have thought the same thing for a while. The Church is an institution that would have been ripe for a Wire season. Perhaps Simon never even considered it because he is not Catholic and thus lacked firsthand knowledge of its role in the city?

BUT I can't believe that as a union leader he couldn't get a meeting with her.Unions with lots of members (read: voters) such as cops and teachers have a lot of political clout. As Valchek pointed out in this episode, the Checkers have fewer than 100 members. They wouldn't be on a State Senator's radar screen without a little help from a lobbyist.

Chip said...

I'm sorry but while I love this show this was easily the weakest season, I just did not find the port and stevedores very interesting. I respect good drama but it was honestly boring at times. That said I think the Greeks were among my favorite criminals on this show.

thanat-0s said...

another thing re: Frank and Ziggy.
in the jail Frank said to him that: "you're more like me than you know" signaling that in a greater scheme of things, he (and his union) is a sore thumb, a relict of an industrial economy in a post-industrial world and in the end Frank was as unsuited and unfit for the modern "game" as Ziggy was.

Anonymous said...

"I think the only arc that's comparable is Stringer's, because they both think they're running the game--and do for a while- but ultimately the game runs them."

Good call. Those are my two favorite arcs of the show for that reason.

Muz said...

I'm a big Ziggy fan. Guys like him occur in just about every low skilled work environment. A pretty mild example of which, I might add.
I'm inclined to think the vast disdain for the character is a good indication of just how much middleclass coddling most of TV is.
Leave Zigg alone. It wouldn't be the docks without him.

Eyeball Wit (aka avincent52) said...

in the jail Frank said to him that: "you're more like me than you know" signaling that in a greater scheme of things, he (and his union) is a sore thumb, a relict of an industrial economy in a post-industrial world and in the end Frank was as unsuited and unfit for the modern "game" as Ziggy was.Good observation. Frank was saying that and about 100 other things too. That scene, that line, just broke my heart.

Another interpretation to the opening scene as prologue and symbol of the entire season is to consider that much in the way the guys from the boat party pay McNulty (another system/institution) to let him continue a bit longer, when by rights they should have docked and gotten it over with, Sobotka is trying to keep the "party" of the docks institution, clearly a dying one, to last a bit more.another good insight. They're both fighting the tide, as it were.

Eyeball Wit (aka avincent52) said...

Alan
Technical problem.
When I try to post a "quote" it shows up with a line space in the preview, but it's run together when it's posted, which makes it hard to read.

Is there a better/easier way to do quotes here?

Anonymous said...

So the good ship "Capital Gains" (Washington D.C.) is dead in the water despite having two engines -- an electrical problem it seems -- and needs a tow. (Doubtless if Captain Oreo and his Wall Street crew were onboard back then this wouldn't have happened.)Wow. "Captain Oreo"?

Just how racist and assholish does a comment have to be to get deleted here?

And for the record, it's President Oreo. If you don't like that, you're welcome to leave.

michael said...

Is it just me, or is the Veterans version the exact same as the Newbie version? I just read both and I think they're the same.

DolphinFan said...

Re some earlier comments:

As far as I can tell, neither President Obama nor anyone from Wall Street wrote, acted, directed, produced, shot, edited etc. on any of THE WIRE's Season 2 episodes. I'd rather focus on the people and characters who filled those roles. Thanks.

Alan Sepinwall said...

This is what happens when I try to take things easy on the weekend and don't read the comments as diligently.

I'm going to make this clear: read the rules for commenting here, and if you can't find a way to follow them, don't comment.

Yeesh.

jasctt said...

LOVE LOVE LOVE the moment where Jimmy, Lester and (I think) Bunk are drinking in the bar and Lester says something like "Mother f**er, they ain't EVER going to let you off the boat!" And they're both laughing and so clearly drunk.

The second season is so good and so perfect and enveloping a new take on the decline of the USA city. I thought, as with most things on this show, that it was done perfectly.

Hey, Alan, I never watched the repeats on BET, but is it true they edited all the port stuff out of this season, only showing the "black" story? I read that somewhere and always wondered.

Ryan said...

Re: the last comment

I only saw scraps of the season 2 episodes on BET, but you are right to some degree. Season 1 eps were only edited for content and ran for like 90 minutes apiece, but they actually showed the season 2 episodes in an hour. That alone should tell you something.

I also think season 2 is one of my favorites and only a tick behind season 4 in that regard. There is so much going on in this season that you just don't see anywhere else or in any other medium, such as the port unions or even watching a crime syndicate attempt to recover from serious legal troubles. I started watching the show with season 2 without having seen season 1, so I could be a bit blind to its flaws, but it held up well in my recent repeat viewings with my fiance. Only real issue with this season is that Beadie sometimes exists in scenes simply to allow the writers to explain whats going on.

Favorite minor moment from this season: Bubbles, after just having attempted to discern how tightly secured the Marine Unit's grill is, has to teach McNutty how to tie a knot.

eyeball Wit (aka avincent52) said...

And for the record, it's President Oreo. If you don't like that, you're welcome to leave.I think I remember Josh saying something like that to guest senator Tommy Lee Jones in Season Nine of the West Wing. Or was I just dreaming?

I love McNulty's pathetic attempt to tie a knot. (Doesn't Bubbles even say, 'What's that?') A moment like that just makes you remember that Bubbles wasn't always pushing that shopping cart.

Isn't that the same scene where Bubbles talks up "unforgiving Omar" hoping to get a few more bucks from a McNulty?

I'd forgotten. We Mr. Little's testimony in S2. Sweet.

Lynn said...

paul b. said...
The Church is an institution that would have been ripe for a Wire season. Perhaps Simon never even considered it because he is not Catholic and thus lacked firsthand knowledge of its role in the city?

Not just the Catholic church though, there's all of the storyline that involves "the ministers". That always cracked me up - sounded so British. Or Monty Pythonesque anyway.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Is it just me, or is the Veterans version the exact same as the Newbie version? I just read both and I think they're the same.

They're identical up to a point, and then there's a segment at the end of each veterans post that has stuff the newbies shouldn't see.

Jeff said...

All I can say is "Where were you last year, when I needed your help in making sense of Season 2 as I shotgunned thru the whole series?"

:-)

I thought Season 2 spent a bit too much time getting the band back together that it seemed to not give them enough time to devote to the MCU before wrapping it all up again.

That said, in retrospect, Season 2 is the one that seems to resonate with me, a 40 year old white-collar, white guy living in suburbia.

"We used to make stuff."

debbie said...

Thanks, Eyeball for this: I think in a just slightly alternate universe, Ziggy is a different guy. In this blue collar world his choices are being a straight, "regular guy" (like Nicky) or a street-smart hustler, and he doesn't have the tools for either.

But if he somehow manages to ace his SATs and get into Johns Hopkins or even U of Maryland, he'll find friends (and probably a girlfriend) who think his version of weird is charming. His wisea$$ wit and quick but unfocused mind becomes an asset.
This made me see Ziggy in the same light as Stringer and Dukie...trapped in the wrong world and not able to get out. I never thought of him like before. It really enhances Season 2 for me.

Eyeball Wit said...

Thanks, Debbie

it reminded me of a great book by Darcy Frey called The Last Shot about high school basketball players in Coney Island.

Frey talks about one particular kid who was a talented basketball player, but easily distracted by his interests in things like music and poetry and, well, life.

Ordinarily, you'd want to encourage this kind of a world view. Frey said that if the kid grew up in Scarsdale, he'd be the loveable class flake who every parent (and every girl) loved and who would have to go to Bard instead of Brown because of his screwing around.

But growing up in Coney Island, he either needed a basketball scholarship or he was going to be the smartest bagger at the Stop and Shop.

Kind of reminded me of Ziggy. There's not much room for error in this kind of a place

lizkdc said...

Like other commenters, I'm fascinated by Ziggy, or more particularly the Frank, Nick, Ziggy Sobotka triad.

I think Ziggy serves a couple of important narrative purposes

One, in Frank and Nick, Simon wants to gives us his meditation on the betrayal of the US working class--but he's a good enough craftsman to realize that putting his thumb on the scale too heavily could ruin the story.

Frank and Nick each have elements of nobility. Frank wants to save the union, has a vision of protecting a way of life beyond himself.

Nick is narrower--but also younger, and he too has some of his uncle nobility. He's motivated by wanting to be the good son: to balance out his harmless but feckless parents, to take care of his girlfriend and daughter, even to take care of his useless cousin. He wants to provide, to earn, to have skills. The Greeks even play off this characteristic: that Nickie is a good boy, clever, not a f*ck up, and they manipulate those characteristics skillfully. It's a brave thing he does at the end,too.

Ziggy, I think, is deliberately stripped of any such elevating purpose. He's just pitiable. At the end of the day, he gives us no real redeeming characteristics. He's weak, sure, but also lazy, vain, and envious. Again and again, his desperate neediness and scheming ends up dragging in his uncle, cousin and co-workers to his mess, and helping bring about their downfall, but I can't recall a moment when he contemplates sacrifice, or even restraint, to repay the protection he claims from them.

When he attempts his half-assed drug deals, he doesn't even *get* Nick's point that drug dealing is stupid, degrading, and means giving up on their classes' former pride. Ziggy would be just as happy as a drug dealer if he could manage it.

I think Ziggy is there to balance out the portrait of the endangered working class. He's the doomed dockland character who's not idealized, not an anti-hero. Just sociology: the weak zebra in the herd. In the past, the stronger blue collar clan protected him, and the Ziggys of the past. Now, he's a weak link they can't afford. In the world of mechanized shipping, new skillsets and meritocratic education, when he has to compete against workers in India and Mexico without "protectionism" at the family and union level, he's toast, even before he veers into tragedy.

Anonymous said...

Another note on Ziggy. He based on a person named Pinkie Bannion.

Get Got said...

It wasn't until I had watched all 5seasons that I could really appreciate S2. The connections that are revealed over the course of S2, that end up playing out through Seasons 3 through 5, are just brilliant storytelling.

One of my favorite things about whatching this series over and over and over is being reminded anew, each time, of the small incidents (e.g., Nick's car breaking down requiring him to get a ride from Ziggy to go meet the Greeks) that set the course of everything to come. So I am particularly excited to watch S2 again with Alan's keen insight into all of the small things that set everything else into motion.

Thanks Alan!

Eyeball Wit said...

Ziggy, I think, is deliberately stripped of any such elevating purpose. He's just pitiable. At the end of the day, he gives us no real redeeming characteristics.I think you're being a little harsh. One thing to remember here is that Ziggy is just 21 years old (that's how old James Ransone was during the filming).

If he grew up in Towson as the son of an accountant, he'd be a senior in college, planning pranks, passing out at frat parties and chasing co-eds, with nothing expected of him and no real consequences attached to his behavior.

Nicky ain't exactly Tom Joad. He's a little tougher and more street smart than Ziggy, but he's living in his parent's basement, he's not much of a father.
While Ziggy's just dabbling as a criminal (up until the very end) Nicky's up to his neck in it.

That said, I do see more than a little of Fredo Corleone in Ziggy, helped by Ransone's resemblance to John Cazale.

Lou said...

Alan-

I'd also consider another theme from this season is how people are screwing up. I say this because some people think the season is marred by too much Ziggy ("the Jar-Jar Binks of the Wire), while I'd say he's a foil for a lot of other characters who think they know better but still make huge mistakes- from the obvious (Frank and Nick both thinking they know what they're doing) to Stringer's botched attempts to get rid of Brother Mouzone (which he doesn't pay for until the next season.) There's also Fitz screwing up by sending the info to the wrong agent, or Daniels thinking Carver or Herc was the leak (and thus originally thinking he screwed up by trusting Carver again.)

So, maybe another way or looking at the element of hubris from Greek tragedies that Simon has talked about in interviews?

Kirchhoff said...

One of the things (among many) that threw me the first time I watched season two was believing that Frank Sobotka was old enough to have an adult son. Indeed, Chris Bauer was a mere 36 when season two was filmed (and he's only 13 years older than James Ransone).

I'm guessing that Sobotka was originally written for an older actor, but Bauer was so good in the part that they went with him despite his age. Still, when they first introduce Ziggy cluelessly wandering around the cans in episode one and reveal he's Sobotka's son, I had to rewind several times to see if I heard that correctly.

Birds on a Wire said...

I appreciate Ziggy's character just like I appreciate John Cazale in The Godfather and The Deer Hunter. However, I found them very hard to like, regardless of how tragic their story ended up.

day day said...

I realize this post is from eons ago, but I just felt it was necessary to point out that the comment about Bodie and the radio station wasn't entirely accurate in the episode notes. It's mentioned that Bodie reacts negatively to hearing The Prairie Home Companion, but there's a look on his face when he first hears Garrison Keillor's voice that betrays that notion. It also just so happens to be the station Bodie tunes it to when he's driving back to Baltimore on his own in the drug car later on.

I'm not sure what this means but it always stood out to me.

RaeRay said...

When Nicky questions Vondas on using Sergei repeatedly for pick-ups and thereby risking Sergei's identification, I thought it was interesting that Vondas said (to paraphrase?) "When you trust someone you stick with them". Fast forward to season 5 - Vondas agrees to forgo Prop Joe as a connect (altho' there were years' of trust built up there) to give Marlo a try. I loved Prop Joe, and I wish Vondas had stuck to his philosophy because then Marlo would have needed Prop Joe around for the supply (and couldn't have killed him)....Vondas may have had a moral code (a subject given to much discussion in these forums) in Season 2, but by Season 5 it's changed....Did Marlo just have enough money?

Also: it's been under some debate about whether Omar is whistling "A Hunting We Will Go" or "Farmer in the Dell". Why? Don't these songs have the same tune to start out with? If Omar whistled more than the first two sentences of the song it might matter, but the first two lines from each song are indistinguishable, tonally speaking.

Phew. Wanted to get that off my chest for a while now. I know it's been a long time since these discussions began, but The Wire is immortal, and people will be reading these for a long time yet...Great job, Allan - you've enhanced my enjoyment of a show I didn't think I could love anymore than I already did!

Ahmedkhan said...

Right before he storms out, disgusted with their foot-dragging on the grain pier in favor of dredging the canal, Nat's tonguelashing of Frank and the checkers includes heated advice that Frank in a much later episode ("I got to get clean.") takes to heart: "You need to get back in them holds to remind you of who you is and where you came from."
Frank later does just that.

I like Nat's character - too bad we didn't see more of him, but that's a result of superb story writing by Simco.