Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Wire, "The Dickensian Aspect": Those left behind

Spoilers for episode six of "The Wire" coming up just as soon as I mug someone with an empty bottle...

"That's nobody, Mr. Mayor. Nobody at all." -Andy Krawczyk

That line wasn't the epigraph for "The Dickensian Aspect," but it might as well be the epigraph for the entire series. If the fundamental thesis of "The Wire" is, as David Simon has said over and over, that every day in our society human beings are worth less and less, I can't think of a more appropos line than a wealthy developer dismissing the main character of an entire season (at least, the main character who survived) as "nobody."

But that's the thing about "The Wire" -- everyone has their own perspective, and from Andy Krawczyk's, Nick Sobotka is, in fact, nobody. Worse, he's a nuisance, a minor impediment to another condo development that will build more playgrounds for the rich on the same soil where the poor used to find work. But as the audience with our omniscient view, we understand everyone's role and how it's all connected. We know who Nick is and what the grain pier used to mean. We know the stories of all the forgotten and ignored souls wandering through this season in general and this episode in particular. Bunk looks at Randy Wagstaff and sees another kid made too hard by the game; we look at him and cry for the sweet boy he used to be, and we understand that he had no choice but to become this cold, hard thug who won't talk to police and bullies smaller children. (It's the first time in the show's history I was rooting for someone not to give crucial info to Bunk; Randy's been punished enough for talking to the cops, right?)

I don't think it's a coincidence that the final season's story arc revolves around the homeless, who are the most forgotten, devalued members of our society. Regardless of how they wound up on the street, Carcetti is absolutely right when he says we'd all just rather act like they don't exist. And now, because McNulty needs fake victims where no one will ask questions, and because Carcetti needs a wedge issue against the governor, the homeless briefly matter -- not as people to be helped, but tools to be used to serve some larger goal, be it capturing Marlo or winning an election.

I'll give Carcetti this: that's one hell of a speech he offers up for the national media. But then, Tommy's always been great with the flowery oratory -- think back to the post-Hamsterdam monologue at a council meeting that launched his mayoral campaign. What makes him such a wonderful speaker is that, in the moment, he really believes in what he's saying. He would genuinely love to find a way to solve the drug problem without resorting to something like a Hamsterdam. He really feels bad about how they care for (or don't care for) the homeless. He really wants to improve the way Baltimore is policed. Hell, I think if he and Nick Sobotka were to be locked in a room together so Nick could regale him with tales of woe about the once-mighty stevedores union -- or if he were forced to hear Randy's biography -- Tommy would, however briefly, get fired up about revitalizing the city's industrial economy, or reforming the foster care system. But time and again, when faced with a choice between what's right and what's politically expedient, Tommy never has the intestinal fortitude to do what's simply right. (When he complains, "How many shitballs (or, as several readers suggested, "shit bowls") are there?," he makes it clear that his top concern about the homeless murders isn't the poor homeless people, but yet another crisis for his campaign to solve.) It doesn't make him a bad man; it just makes him, as he admitted to all those dazzled reporters, a politician.

(Also, I think it's a nice touch that, after Tommy got elected mayor on the back of a witness murder that wasn't really a witness murder, he now has a better shot at becoming governor because of a bunch of homeless murders that aren't murders at all.)

No, Carcetti isn't the villain of this story. McNulty is.

Because he's been our main character since day one, and because so many of his antics had some socially-noble goal (even if they were never Jimmy's primary goal), it's been easy to forgive Jimmy in some way for all the crap he pulls. Not this season, not when we see him screwing around on the wonderful Beadie, not when he's been desecrating corpses, and especially not now when he's taken things way too far by abducting and relocating helpless, homeless Larry. I don't have a problem believing Jimmy would do such a thing -- he's lost his damn mind and started to believe his own BS (note how indignant he gets about Judge Phalan refusing the second wiretap, even though, as Lester points out, they don't need the second tap to deal with Marlo) -- but it still hurts to see him so far gone. Jimmy at the homeless shelter in Richmond, watching his disenfranchised victim struggle to eat a sandwich, was one of the most brutal scenes in "Wire" history, on par in many ways with Wallace dying, or Randy yelling after Sgt. Carver. And what almost makes it worse is that, while we don't really know the victim, we know -- and once really liked -- his victimizer.

(And, yeah, Larry's physical and mental condition would be the same no matter where the city, but in Baltimore he had his own name and, based on the prescription bottle, at least some people who knew him and tried to help him. Just because a man can't protest doesn't mean he deserves whatever you do to him.)

That Jimmy has now come up with a means that can no longer be justified by his ends is made clear by the parallel storyline that shows Bunk and Kima going at Marlo, Chris and Snoop through honest, old-fashioned police work. Jimmy, Lester and now a reluctant Sydnor are playing games with cell phones and desecrated corpses and relocated homeless men, while Bunk is doing it the right way -- or at least trying to, with the usual bureaucratic snafus along the way like the "et al." mistake at the trace lab. It's funny: in the original paradigm of the show, we were meant to view Bunk's insistence on doing policework within the system as archaic and lazy, where Jimmy and Lester represented the way things should be done. Now they're off the reservation, and the happiest possible ending for this season would be for Bunk to slap bracelets and Chris and Snoop after the ample trace evidence from the murder of Bug's dad comes back in.

One happy ending that I can't imagine happening is Omar taking out any key members of Marlo's crew -- or even surviving. While he lived through his desperate plunge out the window (and evaded detection by going to the one place Marlo's crew never would think of looking: back in the building), it came at a cost. His leg is broken, and his spirit and code feel broken along with it. Though he's slowly gathering up guns and ammo (that was a nice move, using a bottle to take Fat Face Rick's pistol), he's as over the edge as McNulty. He's cursing, for God's sake, and even though he's doing it because he knows that language will enrage Marlo and maybe get the street confrontation Omar wants, he can't realistically expect to limp away from such a fight, can he? At the start of the season, the shot in the credits of Omar in front of the exploding SUV looked like another example of the show's larger-than-life icon doing what he does best; in context, it looks like a man descending into a hell of his own making. Omar's on a suicide run, plain and simple.

Even though he and his crew are busy scrambling around looking for Omar, Marlo still has time for his Bond supervillain moment, where he dissolves the co-op in everything but name and makes it clear that everyone in that room now answers to him. Rick and the others know he's the one who did Joe and Hungry Man, but the downside to the 3-4 years of the New Day Co-Op is that it's made these old hands soft. They liked slinging dope without the old beefs, and while they could try to team up to take out Marlo, Marlo's army is both larger and better-trained than anyone left can deal with. (The only way to hurt him, as Omar is showing, is with the kind of guerilla tactics that only one obsessed individual can do.)

Finally, for this week, we have the Baltimore Sun, where Scott, Klebanow and Whiting are on one side of an argument and Gus is on the other -- and Gus turns out to be wrong. But how can that be? I though the Sun storyline was just an excuse for David Simon to settle petty grudges while painting his enemies in as unflattering and one-dimensional a picture as possible, right?

Admittedly, Scott doesn't make it through the whole episode looking wonderful. He begins it being a falsely modest tool with Nancy Grace (who's either too dumb to realize how bad being associated with this story makes her look, or, more likely, too vain and publicity-hungry to care). And he ends it by making up another one of his standard elaborate lies -- ironically, about a story where someone else was making stuff up, not Scott himself. (Remember the crab allergy story from episode two? The one where I said people should remember it because it seemed minor but would come up again?)

But in between those two moments of Scott being Scott, he finds time to act like a real reporter, to go out into the streets and (after a few false starts and one very loud dog) talk to a person with firsthand knowledge of the subject, to write that person's story simply and without the usual flourishes, etc. Now, without the serial killer BS (from both McNulty and from Templeton), no one would care about Terry the Iraq War veteran and his PTSD, but the fact remains that Scott comes up with a decent idea for a story, Whiting and Klebanow encourage him to do it, and though Gus is initially skeptical, he admits in the end that they were right. It's the kind of nuance that nearly every "Wire" character gets if they stick around long enough, and even in this abbreviated, overcrowded season, I'm glad our three newspaper villains got their moments of not being all bad.

Some other thoughts on "The Dickensian Aspect":

-Jimmy's comment to Bunk about how Scott is making up his own stuff about the homeless killings should, I hope, put to rest the notion that Jimmy didn't realize exactly what was happening when Scott asked about the killer making another call.

-For those wondering why Nick -- last seen entering Witness Protection after taking his uncle's deal to testify against Vondas and The Greek -- is back hanging with his port buddies, I asked David Simon, who said that Nick, like lots of people who go into Witness Protection, eventually left the program because he missed his old life and family. (And since Vondas and The Greek were never caught or brought to trial, I doubt the feds kicked up much fuss at saving that expense.)

-I'm once again struck by the military-like precision of Marlo's crew in their search for Omar. As soon as the cops left the scene, they were ready to work their own canvass (complete with Monk posing as a cop), systematically check hospitals, etc. And Chris definitely has military training; just look at the way he cleared rooms, or how casually he tosses that knife at the floor as he hides out with Snoop.

-Another "things aren't so black and white" moment from the Sun story: Gus tries to get Scott assigned back to the education series, not because he has any interest in that series (which he argued loudly against in episode two) but because he's annoyed that Scott is getting so much play for the homeless story.

-In addition to Randy and Nick, this episode marks the return of Judge Phalan, last seen back in season three. Makes sense he's been gone this long, I suppose: MCU was either non-existent or not running any wiretaps for all of season four and much of this season. I wonder what role, if any, he'll play in this courthouse leak story.

-Can any Baltimore residents tell me whose statue Jimmy was ranting to?

-Though I couldn't understand enough of it to put it in the Lines of the week, the funniest moment in the whole episode was Bunk muttering to himself at the trace lab -- and sounding very much like Popeye -- after finding out that his request was being held up by work on Jimmy's phony case.

Lines of the week:
"I'm a murder police. I work murders. I don't fuck with no make-believe. I don't jerk shit around. I catch a murder, and I work it." -The Bunk

"Never pick a fight with anyone who buys ink by the barrelful." -Judge Phalan

"My heart pumps purple piss for you." -The Bunk

"Homelessness. Huh. I'll be damned." -Carcetti

"Text? Need I remind you, Detective, these young men are products of Baltimore city schools." -Lester

"I don't want to hurt your feelings, but I can see why Daniels cringed every time you opened your fuckin' mouth. You're a supervisor's nightmare." -McNulty

"McNulty, you're deserving of serious psychological study." -Lester
The On Demand thread for episode 7 -- the last one, as of now, that I've seen in advance -- will go up tomorrow morning. Do not talk about that episode here.

What did everybody else think?


Chris Littmann said...

I'm wondering about Slim after that latest (and possibly last?) co-op meeting. He's no fool and knows how Joe went down, but he didn't take the offer from Marlo to take over some new work.

On the larger plot points: Randy and the homeless man were almost a tie for me when it comes to moments that depressed me the most.

Ted Kerwin said...

I knew all along Jimmy would leave Larry in Richmond but I was still rooting for him to just forget the whole thing and go bring him back to Baltimore. You say he has lost his mind but that scene shows he has pangs of conscience still.

Anonymous said...

The song on the car stereo when Jimmy drives Larry to Richmond was "Turkish Song Of The Damned" by The Pogues.

Poor Jimmy...

Anonymous said...

Brillian recap Alan.

The statue on Federal Hill is of Major General Samuel Smith. I think he was the leader of the Baltimore militia during the War of 1812 - could be wrong on that last point though.

At the end of the episode didn't it seem as though McNulty was finally seeing how low he has sunk?

Anonymous said...

"My heart pumps purple piss for you." -The Bunk

I love The Bunk!

When I watched this episode the first time around On Demand, I literally got a knot in my stomach watching that scene with McNulty kidnapping the mentally ill homeless man. I was so angry.

And you know, I just don't give two shits that he was conflicted at the end, pausing before he got into his car and looking pensive. Boo hoo hoo. I can better understand someone without a conscience doing the shit he's doing. McNulty knows he's doing terrible, terrible things and he does them anyway.

I can't imagine back in S1 believing that this show would end with me actively rooting for McNulty to go to prison, but I am. And he can take Lester with him. If there was ever any doubt that Lester was *not* as big a fuck-up as McNulty, that ended tonight when he co-signed this kidnapping bullshit. Shame on you, Lester.

Frankly, I was glad to see Randy taking care of himself. I mean, given the options he had available to him, he had to get hard or die. So considering the alternative, at least he's breathing. On this show, you take what you can get in terms of "positive" outcomes.

Ted Kerwin said...

I am guessing the way Omar survived the fall was that newly mulched garden Marlo is looking at when he measures the distance of the fall. He breaks his ankle and manages to roll away, somewhat plausible.

Anonymous said...
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Alan Sepinwall said...

Andrew pointed out that I made brief reference to a very minor scene from next week's episode, so I deleted both that reference and Andrew's comment.

Sorry, folks. Not remotely a big spoiler, but since I'm being such a hardass about spoilers, I need to police myself, too.

Ted Kerwin said...

I am also guessing that the grain pier structure was computer generated since that was a 2003 story about development. I guess it is already condos.

Anonymous said...

Disagree that homeless addicts are homeless by choice. No one sets out to become an addict.

Liked the connection between Carcetti's end-of-season three speech and this one. Noticed that they used the same pan-in camera movement.

Thought Caretti said "shit bowls" not "balls" as in having to eat a bowl of shit every day from season four.

Josh Mauthe said...

Nice point someone made on a forum I frequent regarding the statue: "It was a nice touch to have McNulty talk to the statue of Samuel Smith, who led the defense of the city during the Battle of Baltimore. As deluded as McNulty is, he probably feels like he's taking on that same responsibility."

Alan Sepinwall said...

Disagree that homeless addicts are homeless by choice. No one sets out to become an addict.

But they do choose to start taking the drugs, which sets them on the road to this, as opposed to someone who winds up on the street after suffering a lot of economic misfortune.

Thought Caretti said "shit bowls" not "balls" as in having to eat a bowl of shit every day from season four.

You're probably right about that.

rukrusher said...

I love the fact that a tempo worker at the lab can screw up 14 crime scenes and is still working at the lab, if that doesn't sum up the institutions perfectly nothing does. Plus I like that we had a shot of Michael playing connect 4 while CSI was on tv and the wire's interpretation of CSI Baltimore.

Anonymous said...

But they do choose to start taking the drugs, which sets them on the road to this, as opposed to someone who winds up on the street after suffering a lot of economic misfortune.

Tens of millions of people chose to "start" taking drugs (including alcohol. The idea that all of those people are, at that point, responsible for setting themself on a path to homeless, do not pass Go, is....ludicrous. I love the re-caps Alan, but wow.

It also either ignores or shows a disbelief in the disease model of addiction, which is a little startling in this day and age. We know a lot more about brain chemistry than we did 50 years ago and some people are wired (you should forgive the expression) to be addicts.

Anonymous said...

Is Carcetti *allowed* to make reference to the O'Malley administration? Had a strange sense of going through the looking glass there.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I knew I was going to get in trouble with the use of the word "choose," and I don't want this to derail the larger discussion of the episode, so I'm just going to concede that the issue is a lot more complicated that I can sometimes convey when I'm hopped up on cough medicine. (Which I chose to take.)

Alan Sepinwall said...

Is Carcetti *allowed* to make reference to the O'Malley administration? Had a strange sense of going through the looking glass there.

As Andrew Johnston points out over at The House Next Door, Carcetti acknowledging O'Malley is a double screw-up, since 1)It leaves no room in the show's chronology for the Royce administration, and 2)It undercuts the notion of Tommy's win being some historic upset of a white man winning for the first time in decades.

Cyn C. said...

There were so many laugh-out-loud moments in this typically tragicomic episode. One of my favorites was inebriated Jimmy's "Excuse me" to the statue of Major General Samuel Smith when his cell phone rang.

On another topic, I got the distinct impression that the clueless "et al" temp working in the lab was providing special off-the-book services to her supervisor, contributing greatly to her job security.

Anonymous said...

Good call cm. I got that funny feeling about the temp too. I also happened to point out the same funny moment, "excuse me", over at the HND.

Anonymous said...

"Frankly, I was glad to see Randy taking care of himself. I mean, given the options he had available to him, he had to get hard or die."

I completely agree, Kathy. I actually felt proud of Randy for ending the meeting with Bunk the way he did. It wasn't pretty, but it showed that he isn't naive or dependent anymore--when placed in a potentially dangerous situation he does nothing that might increase his exposure. He thinks in terms of what he has to do to get himself out of danger, period. I don't feel proud of myself for reacting that way, but that's The Wire for you . . .

Anonymous said...

The actual chronology of white mayors is Tommy D'Alesandro III from 67-71 (presumably the older Tommy who Carcetti has lunch with early in his run. William Donald Schaefer for four terms into the mid-1980s when he is finally elected Maryland's governor. Then a brief tenure for Clarence Du Burns who is the council president and succeeds to the mayor's chair as the first black mayor of Baltimore only to be defeated by Kurt Schmoke who has two terms as an elected black mayor. Then O'malley who had two terms and now, succeeding him from the council president's chair, Sheila Dixon, who is black.

Seems to me you can overread Carcetti's comment including O'Malley. You could, for purposes of fiction, simply shave a term off each of Schmoke and O'Malley's tenures and give each to Clarence Royce and place him at the end of the list. Carcetti wasn't necessarily listing mayor's in chronological order, he was just citing those who had helped redevelop the harbor.

As to the argument that including O'Malley makes Carcetti's white insurgency less remarkable, remember that O'Malley and Schaefer both -- the previous white mayors going back to 1971 and through the millenium -- did not have to run as challengers against black incumbents in a majority black city. Schaefer followed Tommy the Younger when Tommy declined to run for another term. O'Malley ran for an open office after Schmoke left office voluntarily. The doubts that everyone had about Carcetti were not about the mere fact that he was white -- there had been white mayors at the time Baltimore was majority black -- but about the larger improbability that he was taking on an intrenched black incumbent in Clarence Royce.

To include O'Malley as perhaps having a four year term somewhere in the two decades of Burns, Schmoke, O'Malley and Royce, say, of a non-fictional/fictional construct doesn't fuck anything up. Fiction works that way. And if you are counting years, you simply give Schmoke or O'Malley or whoever a term less here or there.

To discuss this further, we must all first admit that we have become, well, Trekkies.

Anonymous said...

I almost started crying at seeing what's become of Randy. Damn your stupidity, Herc!

Ironic that Scott winds up getting a great story out of McNulty's fake one, and probably even more ironic that its authenticity will be questioned if he gets caught (which is what I hope happens).

I wonder if Bunk will rat out Jimmy and Lester? He looked beyond pissed off when his labwork got pushed off in favor of Jimmy's.

SJ said...

The O'Malley mention was weird since Carcetti is clearly based on certain elements of Carcetti (white guy winning in Baltimore) and they didn't mention Sheila Dixon, who Narese is based on.

Who wants to bet that Bunk will be the one who catches Marlo and others through good old-fashioned police work? I have a feeling he will catch Michael.

Mrglass said...

Great episode and great recap, once again.

This may be my favorite season of "The Wire" so far, it is mixing comical and tragic elements so well that you really don't know what think about the morality of the whole thing.

Anonymous said...

My biggest fear for Bunk right now is that even if he catches Marlo through old-fashioned police work, it will be tainted because of Lester & Jimmy's illegal wiretap, leading to Marlo getting away with it all.

Haikal F said...

Great write-up. I agree that Marlo's crew has pretty good training, especially Chris who sure does know how to clear a room. Seeing as how injured he got after his first battle it was good to see Omar continue his one man war. I'm not very optimistic on him winning but I'm thinking his hit-and-run tactics will make Marlo do something irrational.

McNulty has left the building no doubt. It's over for him. Lester too, despite how much I respect him. And they dragged Sydnor into this. The one man who dared to have morals on The Wire.

Four more left...

Anonymous said...

Not defending McNulty (its sick what he's doing in the quest for more $ for the BPD), however,its possible that Bodie's death pushed him over the edge. Especially when he found out why Bodie was killed.

As far as the statue, I thought it was of George Washington in Baltimore's MT. Veron area?

No mention of Randy's foster Mother? I guess she died from the fire bomb....sad

Anonymous said...

How far has McNulty fallen? Well, for a moment -- just a second -- when he stood staring at the disabled homeless guy, I actually thought Jimmy was contemplating MURDERING HIM to get another body. Imagine my relief when he merely kidnapped him and left him cruelly stranded in DC. Yeesh.

Anonymous said...

So Freamon admitted to Sydnor that he's been running an "illegal wiretap" against Marlo. This parallel to real-world events has been on my mind for a while, but now Freamon made it explicit. Freamon and McNulty think that the ends fully justify the means, and they might be vindicated if they could actually get intelligence on Marlo that leads to an arrest. Here it's their crusade against one murderous drug dealer (who the world would be better off without) that's used as a justification to violate his right to be protected from illegal searches; and out in the real world it's the threat posed by terrorists (who the world would certainly be better off without) that is used to justify illegal wiretapping.

The other school of thought, personified by The Bunk, holds that you need to do some old-fashioned field work and "play the hand you're dealt". I sincerely hope that this time his hard work will pay off in the end (on the other hand, this being The Wire...). At least The Bunk appears to be making slow but steady progress, in the face of adversity, incompetence, and an environment whose priorities are severely skewed.

However, in the world of The Wire, good police work is usually not recognized, and b/s is disproportionately rewarded. Even though McNulty has gone over not so much to the dark, but merely the callously indifferent side, I have the lurking suspicion that he'll get away with it. Homelessness is now such a hot issue, and the newspaper, police, and city hall all depend on it for their survival that they can no longer acknowledge the truth, if it ever comes out.

Anonymous said...


You've said that it's admittedly tough writing your reviews of these episodes considering you've already seen the first seven of the year.

Not sure if you'll get the final three episodes in advance, but assuming you do, how about this...

Write your review/blog post for each of the remaining episodes after you see it, but before you watch the next one.

Just save the post until the night it airs, then post it.

This way, even though by the time we read your thoughts you will have already seen the final 3 episodes, or at least as much as HBO will have sent out, your comments will still come off as though you're watching in the same week that we are.

Just a thought.

Love the reviews!

Alan Sepinwall said...

Write your review/blog post for each of the remaining episodes after you see it, but before you watch the next one.

Mike, that's not a bad idea, but keep in mind that it takes me at least two viewings and several days to write each review. To do it the "right" way like that would require self-control I'm not sure I have. If you had the final three "Wire" episodes in your possession (which I don't have now and don't know for sure that I will), would you be able to wait days or even weeks to watch them?

Alan Sepinwall said...

Also, after sleeping on it, I took the "some choose" bit out of the review. It was a gross oversimplification and didn't add enough to the discussion to be worth leaving in.

Anonymous said...

I've read elsewhere that the statue honors General Samuel Smith, who led the Maryland militia which defeated the British in the battles of Baltimore and Fort McHenry (War of 1812). If so, what a perfect move by the writers. A brilliant tactician who defended Baltimore against a violent menace AND a triumphant enemy of the British? The perfect hero for a crusading Irish cop.

A question about the latest episode--when Lester talked to Sydnor about defying the department's "illegitimate" decisions, it sounded to me as though he were suggesting that his actions were a kind of civil disobedience. In other words, if the department makes an unjust policy--defunding the rowhouse murders investigation, for example--Lester, a la Thoreau in the nineteenth century, refuses to go along with that unjust policy, even if it means he might go to jail. If that's the way Lester's thinking, do you think he has a point, or is this just a weak rationalization?

Anonymous said...

Sorry--this is the "elsewhere" I was talking about . . .

Anonymous said...

I thought Tommy's line about shitballs was actually "How many shitbowls are there?", a reference to the season 3 speech about all the different special interest groups bringing in a bowl of shit for the mayor to eat. But that could be me...

Alan Sepinwall said...

It occurs to me that the "balls" vs. "bowls" thing is one of the rare instances where Aidan Gillen's accent slipped.

Anonymous said...

Maj General Smith's view of downtown B-more.

Anonymous said...

Alex raises a good question, namely is what McNulty and Freamon doing civil disobedience. My biggest problem with their plan of action is that Baltimore doesn't have the money. Unlike the obstructions of Burrell who didn't want the investigations to proceed because they would reach to the corrupt political machine, the Marlo investigation has been stopped because Baltimore doesn't have the money--due to the corruption they were never allowed to investigate. I don't think McNulty and Freamon know that Carcetti turned down the state's proposed bailout. As a result they're are using illegal acts to make policy decisions for the city even though they will never have to be accountable to those effected by the decisions. Another example of how it's all connected runs through this vein of the story--a drug investigation reaches into the dirty money of politics, the political machine reaches back and shuts down that part of the investigation and continues on, the political machine "loses" $54 million from the school budges creating a financial crisis, the crisis shuts down an investigation into the 22 murders (which wouldn't reach back to the machine), McNulty and Freamon respond by staging murders exacerbating the financial crisis. Ultimately, Carcetti may have to fire middle school teachers and we've already seen how underfunded the schools are. A more conventional show would have McNulty and Freamon heroically work overtime, knowing they wouldn't be paid for it to bring down Marlo.

Anonymous said...

If that's the way Lester's thinking, do you think he has a point, or is this just a weak rationalization?

I can see Lester glamorizing his actions that way. But it's not even good enough to be a weak rationalization. The anguish they are inflicting on the families of the "victims", the kidnapping and abuse of the mentally ill man, and lying to friends and colleagues who trust them -- none of that would fall under the heading of "civil disobedience". The more apt comparison would be to terrorism - if the "war" is Lester and McNulty vs. the department, then what those two are doing is waging war such that any innocents are fair game as well.

Abbie said...

I didn't like the theme song at the beginning of this season, but it's complete lack of soul really mirrors the plot and several character arcs this season.

We've already heard the "Dickensian Aspect" this season: when they were talking about the schools. The paper can explore the Dickensian Aspects of the homeless because it's easier to blame it on a ton of different problems rather than one central problem, but the paper couldn't do the same with the schools because people really want an answer for broken schools. People don't really care much about the homeless, except in the 'tut-tut' type of way.

Chris Littmann said...

Alan, have you been checking out the Freakanomics blog they've been doing about The Wire? They've gathered up a few significant street figures to watch the show each week. The results are interesting.

Anonymous said...

Alan speculates that Omar is on a suicide mission, but I wonder if members of the Co-op might beat him to the punch. I believe that Prop Joe was the one who originally brought Brother Mouzone to Baltimore - might not one of the other East-siders have the contact to bring him back? Might Brother Mouzone and Omar team up once again?

And, while Bunk is doing traditional police work, relying on the lab (in spite of delays due to the priority of the fake murders) to get the evidence, he could take Chris off the streets, at least temporarily, impacting Marlow's crew.

Also, might the lab actually disclose some evidence about McNulty's involvement with the last two bodies in the supposed serial killings? If that did occur, McNulty's only defense would be his disclosure to Bunk about his actions - but if Bunk were to support him, it would cost Bunk his career.....

Anonymous said...

Is the mayor chronology really a big discontinuity? First, the show has always used real people's names for fictional characters, so who's to say the Schmoke and O'Malley that Carcetti names are the same ones that were mayors of Baltimore?

Second, even if there was a recent white mayor of Baltimore, I don't think that destroys the continuity of Carcetti's victory being a big shock. Anyone who follows politics knows that the CW on who can win and who can't can change virtually overnight. We're seeing that this year: now that it's fait accompli that a Senator will be elected President later this year, the previous CW that Senators can't win the presidency has been swept under the rug. I don't think it's unimaginable that the CW on whether a white person could be elected mayor could've changed during Royce's tenure, especially as he's been shown pandering for black votes. Two or three big black voter turnouts for Royce and his cronies easily could've flipped the CW in Baltimore.

sc said...

since every character seems to have a little "farwell scene" this year, and we have seen Michael, Dukie, and now Randy, anyone else think/hope we will see Bunny and Namond in the last few episodes?
Also...Alan, am I the only one who was reminded of our good friend Mr. Swerengen from Deadwood talking to the "Chief" while Jimmy was discussing matters with the statue?

Rand said...

My great compliments for the Wire recaps Mr. Sepinwall, especially since I usually don't have the time or stomach for the Wire (although I'm going to try ("I'll do it this afternoon...")).

I'm not sure this is the right place to place this thought, but that line you pointed out:
"That's nobody, Mr. Mayor. Nobody at all."
reminded me about something I was thinking about with the whole Simon-former Sun editor's feud. I think this sort of feud is a (can't think of the right word, so I'll say example of) a big issue in the journalism world. My media studies book had a similar point of view when it criticized mainstream journalism's belief in watched capitalism (ie capitalism that's kept in check by responsible government and an active citizenry and press).

Essentially I think the difference is Simon and many journalists who think similarly believe the fundamental system of living in America, probably not only capitalism but also in terms of government and society's values as well, is wrong and needs to be changed, while I think journalists like the Sun's former editors believe the basic system of living in America's alright, it just needs to be kept in check through, well, as I said, responsible government, active citizenry, and of course, a watchful press. Essentially, the Sun's-editor's crowd (well, I'm guessing here, but I think it's an educated guess) believes responsible, hard-working individuals can keep the system working and correct its flaws, if only gradually.

Simon's crowd on the other hand (again speculating) I think believes that while individuals may be noble and sincere, ultimately against the fullness of the system they can't do anything until the system changes. No matter how hard working they are, ultimately they're nothing.

But I could be wrong on all that, still I think it's an interesting debate in views where both sides are sincere, thoughtful, well-informed, but uncompromisingly opposed.

Anonymous said...

Great recap and fantastic episode. A couple of thoughts: Nice bit of parallel construction having Snoop use a reporter’s steno pad to check off the list of hospitals she’s visited in search of Omar. Perhaps she has a future career at the Sun?

The reveal about Prop Joe having a real inside source was surprising. I guess his source was not just his ability to do funny voices over the telephone.

Michael’s mother continues to view for worst mother ever award, selling out her son simply to avoid being inconvenienced.

Finally, for all of the complaints about this season moving too quickly, this episode paused on a number of occasions to let its themes sink in. The “brutal” sandwich scene at the homeless shelter, for example, seemed to go on forever.

Anonymous said...

re the comment:
Michael’s mother continues to view for worst mother ever award, selling out her son simply to avoid being inconvenienced.

I know she's not mother of the year, but I don't view her action there as so horrible. I'm actually holding out hope that it might save Michael from himself. I admit - that's way too optimistic for a seasoned Wire-watcher.

Anonymous said...

is it just me..or does it seem that Omar is on his last leg?

Anonymous said...

The speech that McNulty is making to the statue seems similar to a speech that Beadie could make to one of her girlfriends about McNulty.

He treats his love interests the exact way the city treats him.

Donny said...

re Omar:

Yes, and no pun intended, it does seem like Omar is on his last leg. He seemed awfully desperate this episode and going forward I can't help but think he's doomed.

re McNulty:

I seem to be in the minority here in rooting for McNulty. I can't abandon him and hope he gets caught and goes to jail simply b/c of this serial killer plot. It'd be hard to argue the morals behind this...but it seems that everyone is siding with the unknown homeless men and jumping ship on our main character who we've loved for 4+ seasons. Seems a bit odd to me.

Anonymous said...

Alan's right to say that Omar seems desperate and over the edge in this episode, but Omar is also being incredibly brave. His enemy causes him to jump from a building, so he puts on a homemade splint and goes after the enemy on one leg? That's like something a gangster played by James Cagney would do back in the thirties! Has anyone on The Wire ever shown more courage?

Anonymous said...

Alan, thnaks for keeping the posting schedule as is-- we DirecTvers appreciate, at least this one does

Speaking for myself, I never loved McNulty, he's been more or less tolerable at different times, but "loved"-- not me. Up until now I've been hoping he'd somehow be able to get out of this relatively unscathed, screwing with corpses was bad, but that he took a pathetic, defenseless, mentally ill guy and dumping him hundreds of miles away from everything he knows. He needs to feel some consequences for this

Anonymous said...

I just got inspired about where the heartbreaking Randy Wagstaff story is going--First, Omar has to get rid of Cheese. Bye,Cheese. You had it coming. Then, Attorney Maury Levy, who has been laundering money for Prop Joe, knows there are bank accounts filled with "clean" money which will have to go through probate if Prop Joe has any living relatives or else the money will just go to the State. So Levy decides to send Herc to look for any relatives who can hire him (Levy) to make a claim on Prop Joe's estate so that he (Levy) can get some legal fees out of the probate of Prop Joe's estate. Herc eventually finds Randy Wagstaff, son of or brother to Cheese, Prop Joe's "sister's kid" and realizes Randy's Joe's only living relative. Levy tells Herc that since Randy's a minor he has to have a guardian in order to make a claim on the estate and then either Herc, or better yet, Carver, winds up getting appointed as Randy's guardian and Randy gets Prop Joe's money and gets finally out of foster care. Just maybe. . .

Jenn said...

I seem to be in the minority here in rooting for McNulty. I can't abandon him and hope he gets caught and goes to jail simply b/c of this serial killer plot.

Yeah, I'm still rooting for him, too. Though I'm relieved he didn't kill "Dennis," since that's where I thought it was going. It's awful what McNulty did to him, but I do appreciate the man's creativity.

I'm much more interested in this plotline than earlier in the season. I felt the tension notch up as Bunk and McNulty were both working the case -- who would get a break first? Who would make the case and using what type of tactics?

And I felt so much for Omar. He is beyond my favorite character - seeing him literally physically hobbled (and figuratively emotionally hobbled) hurt. I will root for him from now until the end of the season, but I feel it's going to be a painful journey.

I don't understand Scott's lie at the end about the woman with food poisoning...was he being lazy or trying to cover up a previous lie? It seemed like people thought he was lying before Gus told him to check out the story, but I couldn't figure out why. I thought he wrote that one straight. I'm glad he got a chance to be a deeper character and write a good, straight story this episode - I like my d-bags with depth.

Anonymous said...

Otisishungry -

Very creative thinking, but I don't think it passes legal muster. I'm not familiar with Maryland's estate statutes, but I believe Joe has relatives that are closer to him than Cheese that are still alive...which would put the kibosh on your theory. For example, I believe Cheese is his sister's kid. If Joe's sister is alive then she'd get the money and not Cheese. In order for Cheese to get the money, the Stewarts would really need to be a decimated bunch.

Nice try, though. In Wire-speak, "it got good to you"!

Anonymous said...

Happy Contrarian-
It DOES "pass legal muster". . . assuming that Cheese's mother is dead. If so then Randy only has to be his closest relative, not his only relative. Everything we know so far tells me she is dead and that's why Joe was always so protective of Cheese, even when it meant going out on a limb for him; like the time he took care of paying off Ziggy's car for Cheese in S2 for example. Also in Joe's last scene he is at home, alone, surrounded only by pictures of dead relatives, no wife or live family other than Cheese is ever revealed. So I think it is possible. Randy could even share his wealth with Dukie and they could both get out of the game.

But I don't know that Simon is capable of such a redemptive plot ending. I think he's just going to break my heart in the end. Randy and Dukie will both be desperate or dead, Bunk and Kima's real murder po-lice work will bear real fruit and they'll make a case against Marlo, only to be brought low by revelations of McNulty and Lester's cockamamie illegal wiretap. Carcetti, who is planning on running for Governor on a real reformer's platform, is taken out when it is revealed that his police dept. manufactured a serial killer. The newspaper will apologize on page 12 for their Stephen Glass problem and because of Templeton's lies, the deep & real stories of the homeless Iraq veteran and the homeless dockworker will be ignored.

This is classic tragedy. Simon makes us hope and want to believe it can work out for these characters but in the end, he makes us see that it can't. That's the way the game goes.

Anonymous said...

Jenn, I think Scott was being lazy. My personal theory is that Gus was testing him by feeding him a phony tip to see what came back. Gus probably made the whole thing up about the sister keeping all the money and now he knows Scott is lying when he says he checked on it.

Anonymous said...

Otisishungry -

I apologize, I'm so drowned out on cold medicine that I didn't fully digest your post. You are correct - if Cheese is the closest living relative (and if the probate court found all of Joe's hidden money) then Randy could wind up with the $. I completely agree that Simon would never end the show with such a plot device and on such a happy note, but then again I never thought I'd see The Wire go in its current direction (re the serial killer).

There is a more important question, though. In this episode we saw Snoop trying to comfort Chris. In the second season, we saw Wee-Bay try to comfort Avon when D'Angelo was killed. Who would you rather be comforted by - Snoop or Wee-Bay?

This episode also saw Carcetti channel Johnny (from episode 6 of the first season if my Wire-memory serves) by using the "it got good to me" phrase. Will anyone channel D'Angelo and utter "Mos 'def" before the series is over? One can only hope. Speaking of wishes, would it be too much to ask for another scene of The Bunk puking at an Irish cop's wake?

Anonymous said...

At the end of season 3, McNulty seemed to take Bodie's death very personally. I wonder how much that factors in as motivation for his serial killer scam.

Is his drive to go to any lengths to get Marlo driven by guilt or revenge regarding Bodie?

Anonymous said...

Gus probably made the whole thing up about the sister keeping all the money and now he knows Scott is lying when he says he checked on it.

I thought another reporter handed Gus that tip, though.

Anonymous said...

I think The Wire is capable of a redemption story, but that felt like Randy's curtain call to me.

To the show's MO, redemption certainly happens in real life, but usually not in neat little packages. To have Carver suddenly adopt or care for Randy years later seems too neat and tidy for this show.

I mean, no matter the context, if a duck subsists on alcohol, it's going to die, right?

Unknown said...

I don't think you could glean this from the show, but as a Baltimore native, I am fairly sure that the Federal Hill park overlooking the city, where Jimmy talks to the statue, is the same park, though shot from a different angle, that Marlo meets with Vondas on the bench when he gets his drug iPhone. Not sure if that's just a convenient location, or if the writers wants us to note the parallels, but I thought I'd throw it out there.

Anonymous said...


vondas and marlo meet in patterson park in east baltimore.

Anonymous said...

I was rooting for McNulty to come out on top somehow-- until I saw the guy struggle to eat a sandwich. The scene made me so uncomfortable, I had to pause it when the food hit the floor. In life, some lines need to be crossed. Some, you just don't. This was one of those times when you realize you've gone too far and do whatever you can to make it all better. Taking a man who needs help and is woefully childlike out of his environment, depositing him elsewhere where no one is even attentive enough to help him eat a sandwich...? Well that's just plan effing wrong. I mean, McNulty couldn't even help the guy eat? This is very similar to what was done to us with the last season of the Sopranos. We loved Tony for six seasons, then after he essentially strangled Chris, we realized he was a psychopath. Same with McNulty. He's a likeable guy, but does dispicable things in the name of justice and not letting The Bad defeat The Good when all he's ever cared about is proving he was the smartest man in the room. Great writing, directing, and acting because I now HATE him. The man has no soul.

Randy. I sat at my computer and wept. The smile... it's gone. It has to be, but what a tragedy to see someone so goodhearted and sweet and optimistic become so so old. The system really does a number on people, huh?

Anonymous said...

I'm gonna sound like an insensitive a-hole, but I'm glad McNulty only transferred the guy to another city. I mean, I was expecting him to stash the guy somewhere or something, it scared the be-jesus outta me.

Karen said...

How far has McNulty fallen? Well, for a moment -- just a second -- when he stood staring at the disabled homeless guy, I actually thought Jimmy was contemplating MURDERING HIM to get another body.

Glad it wasn't just me. McNulty is like Milton's Lucifer now: "better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven."

If his homeless murder lie keeps Bunk from catching Marlo...damn.

Andy Hutchins said...

McNulty gave Bubbles money -- too much, in fact -- for info in S1 when what Bubs really needed was twenty minutes with Kima. (Kima did, too, but McNulty was far more oblivious/brusque.) He's shattered his family (used his kids as a front-and-follow team) and only Beadie's and his shared ingenuity (remember that her kids do not call McNulty dad) has prevented him from doing the same for another one.

He purposely crashed a car just for the sake of proving he was drunk. You could argue that his negligence helped get Bodie killed. His inability to put aside grudges (Phelan, Daniels, Rawls, Landsman) has never helped him. And, of course, he has a psychotic obsession with being the smartest motherf--ker in any room.

I don't find anything about Jimmy's plan to start a revolution in policing by fabricating a serial killer out of character. But I don't think I ever really liked this guy.

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure the ink by the barrell line is originally Mark Twains.

Angela said...

I'm surprised no-one said this was a great line:

"That's some real spider man shit there." Marlo

Part of what made it great was Marlo's mannerisms. He executed that scene with perfection. His puzzled look had me laughing so hard.

(That scene also ties in with Alan's sub-title from last week, "Look, he can fly!" :-)

But dammit, I don't know if I can stand to see Omar killed. Yet if he did, and killed Marlo it would make more "Wire" sense than the system and Bunk being able to do it through old fashioned police work.

Another great line: "True but you'd be surprised what you can get done when no-ones looking over your shoulder." Lester to Rhonda.

I cringed when Snoop was at a hospital, saying Omar was her brother. I just can't stand to see her anymore.

I'm still rooting for McNulty. As someone said recently about Julian Assange, you don't accomplish anything in this world by fitting in.

I think McNulty left when the guy dropped his sandwich not because he "couldn't even help the poor guy eat his sandwich" but because he couldn't stand to watch anymore. He knows what he's doing is wrong. Or why his very long pause outside the community center before he got into his car to leave? He wanted to go back in but could not. It's just who he is.

I'm enjoying seeing what goes on inside a newspaper company, and also the great input by commenters about how stories are written and newspapers made. I always thought being a newspaper reporter would be cool. So sad that it's come to an end in real life.

Well, I don't have much of anything of importance to contribute tonight. I just don't want this show to end, and this is my cheesy way of making it last. My only consolation is that when I watch it again from the beginning and see so much more the second time around. Plus I'll get to read all the veteran posts.

Credit to you also Alan, that 2 years after you posted these reviews people are still commenting on your blog.

Donna said...

My thought on McNulty's misery while watching the homeless man he had kidnapped struggle so much, with so little control over his body and circumstances - was that he could well have been looking at his own future. McNulty is an addict in a rapid downhill spiral. He could just as easily (maybe more easily) end up homeless than in jail.

Anonymous said...

Have to say one of the funniest scenes of the series came from the opening seconds of this episode.

Marlo: Which one?

Chris points out the balcony Omar jumped from. The look on Marlo's face warranted me rewinding at least a dozen times. Absolute hilarity from the unlikeliest of sources, followed by the brilliant line "That's some Spiderman shit right there."


Ahmedkhan said...

This season provides numerous "circle closers." Recently we've seen two:

1). McNulty's propensity to pilfer newspapers. He does it twice (!) this season. This harkens back to Season 1 when he lifts his upstairs neighbor's paper after Bunk calls him to inform him his recent moves have made a splash ("Happy now, bitch?" Tsk, tsk, Jimmy - a sworn officer of the law pilfering? True, it's not nearly as bad as the major hoax you and Lester have concocted, but still...

2). The fake restaurant call that Lester lays on Marlo to test out Marlo's cellphone number, which Carver has provided him. In Season 1 Carver tests out D'Angelo's pager number by faking a wrong number call from a "Korean" restaurant (after Herc tells Carver he sounded "Chinese," Carver responds with the classic "like you could f****** tell the difference!"

Anonymous said...

"That's nobody, Mr. Mayor. Nobody at all." -Andy Krawczyk

It's statements like this that make me better appreciate two particular moments with Krawczyk in Season 3:

Avon callously dismisses Krawczyk's lunch invitation by thrusting the hard hat into Krawczyk's hand and stating, "Oh, hell no, man, I got elsewhere to be." Thank you, Avon, thank you.

Omar, having just gunned down Stringer's security man, looks down derisively at the wimpering Krawczyk before he stalks off after Stringer. Thank you, Omar, thank you.

Kamran said...

I, for some reason, found the sandwich scene more brutal than even the Randy/Carver corridor walk. I wasn't cringing or crying, the feeling was some weird mixture of goose-bump inducing horror and sadness over what had become of a character I once loved.

I won't ever be able to look at a homeless person again without thinking about Larry and McNulty. Larry had only one thing left in his life, only one. His identity. McNulty robbed him of not only his identity, but the last shred of his poor existence. For all intents and purposes, he has "murdered" Larry. There's no "Larry" anymore in Baltimore and the guy who was Larry has nothing left of his 50-something years of existence. In that moment, McNulty is probably as evil, if not worse, than Chris.

Anonymous said...

Here over a decade late to say McNulty and the homeless guy was fucking hilarious and I’m shocked you guys didn’t find it funny at all