Friday, July 18, 2008

The Wire, Season 1, Episode 7: "One Arrest" (Veterans edition)

Okay, it's a Friday morning and I actually have a review of "The Wire" for you. Can't promise the same for next week (I usually take a few days off at the end of press tour), but right now we're back to business as usual, in which we talk about season one of "The Wire" in two different versions: one safe for people who are brand-new to the show (or who haven't watched all the way through to the end), one where we can talk about anything from first episode of the series to last. This is the latter; scroll down for the newbies edition if you want to be protected from discussion of things that are still to come, both this season and in later seasons.

Spoilers for episode seven, "One Arrest," coming up just as soon as I explain to Fienberg that I'm Batman and he's Robin...

"A man must have a code." -Bunk

There are several types of codes at work in "One Arrest." One is Omar's code, spelled out more explicitly in his conversation with Bunk than it was in previous episodes, in which he declares that he would never put his gun on an ordinary citizen who wasn't a player in The Game. There's the code that the Barksdale crew uses to communicate, and which Lester and Prez are proving so adept at cracking. And then there's the unwritten code of conduct that players on both sides of the drug war are expected to follow -- and the consequences that befall those who don't.

Rawls is out to get Jimmy for starting the Barksdale ball rolling in the first place (thereby depriving Homicide of a detective for the rotation system) and for giving Daniels ammunition to defeat Rawls in an argument before Burrell (thereby violating chain of command and the notion that Rawls can strike fear into the hearts of all his subordinates).

The detail tries to go around the usual code of conduct by not arresting Stinkum with the package; it's such a stark departure from how things are usually done that Lester has to repeatedly explain it to Herc. But Lester proves too clever for his own good, because Avon and Stringer are smart enough to know there has to be a reason why the cops didn't track Stinkum down later to arrest him. And that in turn starts revolving the wheels in Stringer's head, which leads to him ordering the destruction of the courtyard payphones at the low-rises. As things are going, it's probably the lesser of two evils -- giving Avon's lawyer a look at the charging document would have blown the entire case -- but in retrospect, there was probably a better way to handle their tracking of the re-up.

Again and again and again, "The Wire" shows us people in long-standing institutions who try to think outside the box, and who get mocked or outright attacked for doing so. The Game is The Game, and you're only supposed to play it one way, right?

Look at what happens when Lt. Daniels tries to reach out to Kevin Johnson, the kid Prez half-blinded back in episode two. Kevin listens to Daniels' pitch for a minute, but the pressure to behave in a culturally-correct way is too much for him, and so he turns to Carver and mocks Daniels' entire offer and belief that there's another way out for a kid like him. Maybe if Prez isn't hiding in an adjacent windowed office at the moment, he considers it a little more, but I doubt it.

(While Kevin just happening to be the runner in Stinkum's car could have seemed contrived, it fit into the show's philosophy that everything is connected, and it also served as a reminder that past actions will not be forgotten. Other shows would happily stick with the more likable, puzzle-solving geek that Prez has been the last few episodes and try to forget his original sin. Not "The Wire.")

On the other hand, when you expect everyone to play The Game by your rules, you occasionally become vulnerable. Just look at how dangerous Omar has become to the Barksdale crew. They get over by instilling fear into the citizenry and punishing anyone who might speak out against them, but they would never count on someone like Omar -- someone brave and tough enough not to fear them, and well-connected enough to have intel to offer up when someone like Bunk asks -- cooperating with the cops. Omar's beef with Bird isn't specifically about Bird killing a citizen -- it's about Bird as representative of the crew who tortured and killed Brandon -- but you can tell that sort of standard 'yo behavior disgusts him just the same.

With Polk now drying out or on vacation or whatever, our focus shifts to the lowest man on the detail totem pole: Michael "Santy" Santangelo, who fits the classic hump mold of many of the original detail members. In Baltimore Homicide parlance, a "dunker" is a case that any idiot should be able to close with minimal effort, and yet Rawls notes that Santy, at best, nails 6 to 7 out of every 10 dunkers, and is all but useless on the more difficult cases.

But if Santy isn't that bright (see also him missing a chance to photograph Avon in the previous episode), he's not that bad a guy. (It's interesting to see the bit where Jimmy calls him an a-hole when he has to cover for Santy, when we know that Santy is specifically ducking out to try to save Jimmy. It's a small moment, but one of those vintage "Wire" bits where our knowledge of everyone's perspective deepens our understanding of what's really going on.) He busts his hump, by Santangelo standards, to close one of his open whodunnits, and when luck -- and Bunk and Omar -- bail him out, he recognizes that the time has come to warn Jimmy, no matter the blowback from Rawls.

Getting back to the notion of how The Game is expected to be played, behold what happens when Bubbs accompanies Johnny to his court-mandated 12-step meeting. While Johnny thinks the whole thing is a joke, something to be endured until the judge forgets about him, Bubbs' eyes are open by the sight of all the ex-junkies he hasn't seen in so long, he assumed they were dead. Even though he gets high later that night, you can see that the group speaker Walon (Steve Earle, who will sing the theme song in season five) makes a connection with Bubbs. Johnny cares about nothing but getting high, but Bubbs sees, even for a moment, a possible way out.

But whatever progress Bubbs may briefly make is canceled out by the incredibly sad sight of Wallace getting high, doing anything he can to block out his memory of Brandon's corpse and the role he played in his death. As I've said many times over the course of these reviews, Wallace is just a boy. He shouldn't have to carry this kind of emotional weight (even though he made a conscious choice to place that call), shouldn't be in an environment where the only comfort he can find is in a bag of dope. God, that kid breaks my heart.

Some other thoughts on "One Arrest":
  • I like how the beating of the unrepentant, loathsome Bird is led by supervisors Daniels and Landsman, where you'd usually expect to see the rank and file doing it and the boss coming in to break things up.
  • Daniels' trip to the expensive fundraiser shows that, while he's a good enough politician to be tight with Burrell -- so tight that Burrell thinks nothing of uttering a line like "In this state, there's a thin line between campaign photos and photo arrays" in front of him -- he's not really of this world, and is much more comfortable watching a ballgame with the blue-collar limo drivers.
  • Speaking of which, note that thieving limo driver Day-Day Price is played by Donnell Rawlings, who would go on to greater comic fame a few years later as one of the supporting players (he was Ashy Larry, among other characters) on "Chappelle's Show."
  • Jimmy and Bunk's scene at the bar reminds me of how much I love how the show depicts drunkenness, as the two of them always reach a level of sloshed that you almost never see in movies and on television. Also, Jimmy's line about how Bunk, um, made love to him gently is a verbatim quote from "Homicide" the book, with Jimmy saying Terry McLarney's lines and Bunk saying Bob McAllister's.
  • Man, Omar gets all the best lines. Love the bit where he's telling them where Bird might be scoring dope: "That's if I happen to be constabulating like y'all."
And now let's look at how this episode reflects things going forward:
  • Obviously, the biggest long-term development is the first meeting between Bunk and Omar, where Bunk is impressed enough by Omar's code to remember and believe in it after Marlo frames Omar for killing the delivery woman in season four.
  • Rawls claims to be offering Santangeo two choices, but really he's only offering one. Santy closes a case, as demanded, and still winds up being exiled from Homicide by season's end.
  • Ronnie lists a funeral parlor among Avon's assets; it'll become Stringer's headquarters in seasons two and three.
  • Phelan predicts that Ronnie will become a judge within 10 years. Clearly, he underestimated her.
  • We're introduced not only to Day-Day, but to Clay Davis himself, though it's such a brief appearance that I didn't even want to discuss him in the newbie portion of the review. Don't expect to hear the catchphrase this year; it first appeared in season three.
  • Memory continues to play funny tricks with me about this season. I thought it took the detail much longer than a single episode to crack the pager code, whereas I remembered Bubbs deciding to get clean in the same episode where he hears Walon's speech.
  • In retrospect -- and trying not to factor in what would come later this season -- more heartbreaking: Wallace getting high, or Dukie getting high?
Up next: "Lessons," in which Jimmy takes advantage of his kids, D'Angelo considers Orlando's offer, and Day-Day takes a drive. My guess is that one will be two weeks away, as I'll be wrapping up press tour, then flying home, then taking some time off to reconnect with my family.

What did everybody else think?


Anonymous said...

This is my favorite episode of the season. I loved Omar's line towards the end that goes something like "Damn, Bird sure do bring it out in people."

To answer your question, I don't think anything can top Dukie getting high in the heartbreaking department. That episode affected me for days.

Dan Jameson said...

Honestly, I'm not sure what was more heartbreaking. I thought Dukie was at the time I watched it. But when I went back and watched Season 1 again...Wallace getting high might not be more heartbreaking than Dukie getting high...but when Wallace was murdered...that was the biggest heartbreak for me. I miss Wallace...

Anonymous said...

I have to go with Dukie. We had seen the potential that Dukie had. Wallace was always in a tough spot, and nobody ever really offered him a way out.

Dukie did have that chance, but he wasn't able to take advantage of it.

monkeys said...

hey alan -

clarification time here. i had always assumed, incorrectly it seems, that the "when it came time to fuck me" conversation was really about McNulty blaming Bunk for droppin the dime to the newspaper reporter. i mean, everyone denies doing it and mcnulty is stuck with the repercussions anyway. i just thought that mcnulty somehow figured it was bunk that was responsible and that whole conversation had a double meaning.


KendraWM said...

I have to say Dukie, Wallace turned to drugs because of his actions, Dukie turned to them because of his circumstances.

Abbie said...

I only watched season 1 on DVD, so I don't know how I'd feel on the Wallace v Dukie situation if I'd seen the Wallace subplot played out over weeks. As it is, I had much more of a chance to know and love and hope against hope for Dukie, and that shot of Dukie getting high always makes me cry and rail against David Simon. Damn you, David Simon. Damn you!

Anonymous said...

Phillip, it was Phelan who called the newspaper. He denied it initially, but he confirmed it in a later episode in the season (can't remember which one). So no, that Bunk & McNulty conversation was just two guys bullshitting each other.

Anonymous said...

I always thought that Dukie was essentially destined to end up on drugs. Obviously there was the foreshadowing but that's not really what I'm talking about. He was a bright kid but always seemed reserved with the knowledge that as nice as Prez was or whatever help he received, he was always going to be alone and eventually on the streets with a needle in his arm.

Wallace even though he was taking an active part in the drug game was still a bright (Hamilton on the $10), responsible (caring for the kids) and brave (requesting D for his money) young man. He wanted to go back to school and live his life but it didn't work out that way. He was involved in an extremely traumatic event that he never recovered from. Everything matters and his one phone call was eventually his undoing.

Dukie did what he was programmed to do but Wallace actually broke the code of conduct by using. It was dangerous to his health not only from the poison that he was using but from the infrastructure that he was abandoning and disrespecting.

As crazy as it sounds but if D ran the Pit with a stronger hand like he was Avon or Stringer, Wallace would have been too scared to use. D's kindness gave him the freedom and leeway to go down that road.

Anonymous said...

The Santangelo case-solving / psychic plotline is, I think, the only plotline that's ever been introduced and resolved in just one episode. It seems odd on a rewatch, more like a traditional tv show episodic structure (where resolution happens quickly) than the novel that the Wire has always been.

I was always waiting for Kevin to show up again in a future season. I wonder why they didn't bring him back, considering how good they were at bringing back minor characters (like the white girl who gives the N.A. speech in season 5). However, I do admire the way the Kevin incident hangs over Prez's entire teaching career, but that this is never directly acknowledged. A lesser show would've had Prez give a speech about how his guilt over the blinding (and the Season 3 shot cop) made him want to give something back to the community. But it is up to the viewer to make this connection.

Anonymous said...

Is it ok not to have been heartbroken over either Wallace or Dukie getting high?

Wallace taking drugs was oddly endearing as an assertion of his humanity, which he unwittingly betrayed in reporting Brandon's presence at The Greek's. A young, black drug dealer torn apart by an error in judgement that led to another young man's death wasn't anything I expected to see on TV.

As for seeing Dukie getting high, I didn't think there was much room for doubt that he already was taking drugs. When Michael dropped him off with the Arabers and Dukie gave his (what seemed to me, and clearly to Michael) evasive reply to Michael's question, "Why here?" I suspected that he was already using. I felt the two friends left each other each feeling betrayed by the other, and that was heartbraking. Seeing Dukie getting high was expected.

Anonymous said...

"Seeing Dukie getting high was expected."

Yes, but I was hoping he'd find his way out after dabbling in it, sort of like the way Cutty appeared to be getting back in the game and then realized it wasn't for him anymore.

But there is implied finality in the closing montage, especially since there are no more episodes left, so that's what I found sad, that he isn't cleaning up any time soon. If it weren't the last season, we could hope for a better outcome next season.

Anonymous said...

I thought this episode was an example of the show being funny, but never really getting credit for it. The Kevin Johnson foot chase, Batman/Robin conversation and whole Santangelo pyschic storyline were subtly humurous. The actor playing Santangelo wasn't given much to do during the show's run, but I thought he was great here.

Dan Jameson said...

Even though he isn't a kid so it doesn't ring home as hard as Dukie or Wallace....seeing Stringer get gunned down in the penultimate episode of Season 3 is a room silencer. I just re-watched that episode last night (yes, I'm already almost done with season 3 and I started episode 1 of season 1 when Alan did) and I couldn't cry b/c it wasn't heart wrenching...but it got my emotions going!

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to post one of my favorite Santangelo moments, from Season 4. He's one of the cops, along with McNulty, who arrests Omar. Omar says he needs to make a call, and Jimmy lets him use his cel. Santy looks over at Jimmy and says, "What are you, a Democrat?" LOL

Anonymous said...

There are four heartbreakers that stand out for me in this superb series:

1. Wallace - his murder scene
2. The innocent 9 year old kid who is shot and killed during the street gunfight in Season 2 - just think of the heartbreak of his mother when she sees him lying dead.
3. Dukie's shooting up in Episode 60.
4. The kids under Wallace's care, trying to go to school and live day to day under those conditions. They'll likely all wind up in group homes - very sad.

Anonymous said...

I've only watched the scene in which Wallace is killed once and I never want to see it again. You have to have a high tolerance for pain to be a serious fan of The Wire, but that scene was just unbearably horrific and sad.

Anonymous said...

If we're talking heartbreak, I found Randy's storyline to be haunting.

Unknown said...

Just wanted to point out that Donnell Rawlings also played one of the junkies on 'The Corner'.

(I know this is way after the fact, but I just found these excellent episode summaries today)

Anonymous said...

Is this the episode where they're all out arresting Bird and Lester breaks a bottle over his head?

I always thought that was a really cool bad-ass Lester Freamon moment. I believe it's his only real action moment, though he draws his gun once or twice after that.

The thing I love about the way 'The Wire' works is that it's paced and structured similar to 'Goodfellas'. Things seem so well-defined that they seem like they must've happened over several episodes, but part of the key is how often things are done-in-one. It's never big major plots, just stepping stones. Much like, in 'Goodfellas', (for instance) the entire Spider character is resolved within about 15 minutes, with a few other scenes in between.

Anonymous said...

"Ronnie lists a funeral parlor among Avon's assets; it'll become Stringer's headquarters in seasons two and three."

I never knew (or missed the part) where in Season 1, the police knew about the funeral parlor being a front for Barksdale's crew. Then how come in Season 3, the police never had any surveillance on that parlor and it appeared like they didn't even know about it. I think Stringer or someone on the inside had to tip the police off about that place right? Maybe a classic case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing...or just the information slipping through the cracks because no one cared.

carldec said...

I am just now watching all episodes for the second time... and I am just loving your summaries and the community you built 6 years ago, Alan. Your comments have made my second time through so very much more enjoyable.

Now that there are so many options for binge watching great television, the Wire should be on everyones list.

Thanks for leaving these up... I hope they stay up forever as a guiding light for folks that missed the Wire the first time around and now are discovering this amazing show.