Spoilers for episode ten, "Storm Warnings," coming up just as soon as you get me my copy of Harper's...
"He wasn't saying 'Please don't shoot me.' He was more... begging." -Ziggy"The Wire" season two aired back when I was still teamed up on the TV beat with the great Matt Zoller Seitz, and I remember him coming into work the morning after he had watched "Storm Warnings" raving about the sequence where Ziggy murders Double-G and stumbles back to his car.
"That," he said, "was like a Springsteen song come to life."
For all the grief that Ziggy takes from "Wire" viewers, new and old, for being so pathetic, that sequence wouldn't be half as powerful without all the past humiliations we'd witnessed. If Ziggy wasn't terrible at everything - if he wasn't constantly being laughed at, and dismissed, and shouted down - then it doesn't make sense that he would snap like this, killing one man, wounding another, and throwing his own life down the drain. But because Ziggy has been the lifelong butt of a cosmic joke, because we've seen his frustrations mount as he's failed at living up to his father and his cousin, we understand how he gets to this breaking point when Double-G shorts him on the money and then laughs at (and gut punches) him. Ziggy has always bottled up his anger, and has always been prone to rash decisions (fighting Maui, buying the duck), and with a gun in his hand(*), he makes another one that he can't undo. The duck's not coming back, but nobody really cares about the duck. George Glekas, on the other hand? Ziggy has to answer for that, and he knows it, and in one final understandably screwed-up decision, Ziggy embraces the deed, so long as the official record makes it sound like Glekas was the coward begging for his life, and Ziggy was the bad, bad man who put him down.
(*) A gun that, as I pointed out in the previous veterans edition, he was only in a position to buy because Double-G wouldn't front him some cash for the theft and Ziggy had to go pawn the duck's necklace.
I don't know that James Ransone ever got the credit he deserved for being so convincing as such a deliberately irritating character(**). But watch a scene like Ziggy struggling to light his cigarette, or an empty Ziggy giving a disbelieving Jay Landsman exactly what he needs because there's no point in fighting the tide, and you can see that this is one of the most indelible performances of the season, if not the series.
(**) Though his work in "Generation Kill" as chatterbox Ray Person seemed to help. I remember reading a lot of "I had no idea this guy was a good actor" comments last summer.
Ziggy's rampage is the most noteworthy event in "Storm Warnings," but the episode as a whole is incredibly busy, moving the plot along more than in the previous weeks combined. It's so busy, in fact, that it opens with a quasi-break from the show's usual rules about music and editing, as we see the detail's investigation take several leaps forward in a montage scored to Johnny Cash's "Walk the Line." Because Prez puts that song on his portable stereo at the start of the montage, and because the montage is depicting the various developments that Prez is logging on the case board, it's more bending the rules than breaking them. But as with most seasons of the show, you get the sense that David Simon and Ed Burns are more interested in setting up the plot than in actually showing the plot -- that it's more important to them, from a character and a thematic perspective, to show the growing pains of a project than to dwell on the period when things are working smoothly -- which is why we get an episode like this nearly every season. And at times, so much is happening that a montage is the only way to show it all.
Yet "Storm Warnings" never feels especially rushed. We still linger on Ziggy's dazed point of view as he stumbles out of Double-G's shop, still get the long pause as Lester and Bunk jokingly stare down the feds, still get to hear Brother Mouzone deliver his whole Dirty Harry monologue to Cheese, still get to see Nick and Prissy Catlow getting drunk at the playground and crying as they swap Ziggy stories.
To fit all of this in - in terms of both time and tone - Burns and director Rob Bailey take more stylistic liberties than we usually get on a series where each episode more or less looks and feels like every other. In addition to the Johnny Cash montage, Ziggy's stumble back to his car is shot in an impressionist style where the series usually strives for documentary realism, and the playground scene feels oddly stage-bound, as if Nick and Prissy had briefly wandered into a Tennessee Williams play. I'm enough of a "Wire" purist to note the departures from the usual form, but not enough of one to be irked that this episode features so many of them.
After all, what show other than "The Wire" could end an episode with the good guys furiously typing even as we see the bad guys destroying most of the evidence our heroes are trying to obtain?
Some other thoughts on "Storm Warnings":
• Because "The Wire" loves its parallel structures, "Storm Warnings" offers us a second surprise explosion from a dorky supporting character, as Prez clocks Valchek in front of Daniels, Lester and half the Baltimore FBI field office. As with Ziggy, Prez's outburst has been a long time in coming - we've seen from the second scene of the season premiere that Valchek has no interest in listening to what his son-in-law thinks about policework - and while the result of this one isn't quite as permanent as what Ziggy does to Double-G, we know from this season that Stan Valchek is a man who knows how to hold - and pursue - a grudge.
• And how hilarious is that shot of Lance Reddick's eyes bugging out at the sight of Prez's punch? For that matter, is there a phrase on this show, other than McNulty's "What the f--k did I do?," that comes up as often, and in so many different and amusing circumstances, as hearing Daniels seething as he utters the words "Detective, my office"?
• There were some complaints in the last review that Brother Mouzone's arrival gave the series one larger-than-life character too many, and his assault on Cheese - which, again, is an homage to the most iconic scene of Clint Eastwood's career - certainly keeps him operating on a different frequency of reality than anyone on the show other than Omar.
• And speaking of Omar, we not only learn that he's tight with Blind Butchie, who operates as Omar's bank, but that Prop Joe is aware of this relationship and wants to use it to deal with the Brother Mouzone problem.
• Brother Mouzone is played by Michael Potts, one of many "Wire" actors who's so memorable in the role (and was so unknown to me beforehand) that it becomes impossible for me to see him in another role (say, on "Flight of the Conchords" as Joseph Saladou, the one Nigerian on the Internet whose request for money isn't a scam) without immediately flashing on him lecturing Cheese about the "copper-jacketed hollow point 120 grain hot streak load of my own creation." Also, Mouzone's sidekick Lamar is played by DeAndre McCullough, who was one of the main characters of Simon and Burns' non-fiction epic "The Corner." (Sean Nelson played him in "The Corner" miniseries.)
• Prissy is played by Merritt Wever, currently one of the funniest people on television as nurse-in-training Zoey on Showtime's "Nurse Jackie."
Coming up next: "Bad Dreams," the penultimate episode of season two, which means two things: George Pelecanos on script, and a whole lotta tragedy. Hopefully, we can stay on the Friday schedule for these final few weeks.
What did everybody else think?