Friday, August 01, 2008

The Wire, Season 1, Episode 9, "Game Day" (Newbies edition)

In case you missed it -- and, judging by the minimal comments, I'm guessing many of you did -- I decided to double up on "The Wire" reviews this week in order to get back on schedule. (If you didn't see 'em, here are the Veteran and Newbie editions of the review for episode 8, "Lessons.")

Same drill as usual. We're revisiting season one in two editions: one for people who have never watched the show before and don't want future episodes (or seasons) spoiled for them, one for people who have watched from first episode to last. This is the former; scroll up for a veteran-friendly zone.

Spoilers for episode 9, "Game Day," coming up just as soon as I put on my sun visor...

"I just don't wanna play. Don't wanna play no more." -Wallace

"Game Day" lives up to its name with all kinds of games being played -- or not being played -- by most of our characters.

There's obviously The Game itself, and this week both Wallace and Bubbs express a desire to stop playing it. By getting high to blot out the guilt over Brandon's death, of course, all Wallace is doing is becoming a different kind of player. Bubbles, after nearly dying over what turned out to be a burn bag, seems to be taking the wiser route by crashing with his understandably wary sister.

Then there's the game that Lester teaches Prez and Sydnor how to play, the scavenger hunt (as Prez aptly describes it) wherein they try to track down all of Avon's assets, as well as any contributions he might have made to politicians like Clay Davis. We got a hint of how a game like this might end last week when Burrell ordered Daniels to give back the money they took off of Day-Day Price, and Daniels doesn't look like he particularly wants to keep playing, either, even though he knows he has no choice.

The most obvious game, of course, is the annual West side vs. East side hoops contest, with an Avon-backed team going up against a bunch of guys supported by Avon's biggest rival, the very old (by standards of The Game), very wise (ibid), very sneaky (op cit) Proposition Joe Stewart. It gives me no end of pleasure to watch actor Robert F. Chew work as Prop Joe, but the real fun of the basketball story is the humanity it gives to Avon. Yes, he's a drug lord, and a killer, and he's not above cheating even at something as relatively small-time as a basketball game. (He just isn't as good a cheater as Prop Joe.) But he also has genuine pride for his neighborhood, can be very funny ("You can't even read a playbook! Be for real!") and does appear to hold some rules and roles to be sacred. Witness his tirade at the ref over the decisive non-call at the end of the game. Avon is furious at what he believes to be sloppy officiating, but he gets even angrier when the guy's terrified reaction makes it clear that he thinks Avon might kill him over it. That sort of thing's just not done, even by someone as cold and ruthless as Avon, and so instead he yells at the guy for not having the guts and referee-like demeanor to get right back in his face.

And the basketball game in turn leads to a game of hide-and-seek, as Daniels and the other guys in the detail attempt to get their first good look at the target. It's an exercise in futility; not only is Avon too good to get caught by them (love him wagging his finger at Daniels as he rolls by in the opposite direction; as I learned when I saw him play Jimi Hendrix a few years before this, Wood Harris has some of the most expressive fingers in the business), but, as McNulty explains to Prez, there's no value in it. They're not going to catch Avon doing anything remotely illegal, certainly not right after such a public appearance, and so all they accomplish is to remind Avon to be careful about police surveillance.

As I've written a few times before, Avon -- and Stringer, for that matter -- doesn't have as much screen time as you would expect given that the show is devoting an entire season to them as the detail's target, but episodes like this one give him enough stature that he has a presence even in others where he doesn't appear that much. And Jimmy's assessment of Avon -- "You know what they say: stupid criminals make stupid cops. I'm proud to be chasing this guy." -- and his dispassionate approach to him reminds you that, to Jimmy, this entire detail is little more than a game to him.

Meanwhile, Omar continues to show off his own playful side, disrupting Barksdale business in as loud and colorful a manner as possible. Last time, he whistled "Farmer in the Dell" while shooting at Stinkum and Wee-Bey; here, he threatens the crew at the Pit (minus D, Bodie, Poot or anybody else recognizable; they must have been on a food run) with "Y'all need to open this door before I huff and puff!"

But Omar's game turns deadly serious when he makes an overt play for Avon outside of Orlando's, inadvertently supporting his own argument from last week that "You come at the king, you best not miss." Given how pathologically careful we know Avon to be, Omar's not going to get such an open look the next time, will he? And Stringer's probably not going to have so easy a time telling Avon to be patient with Omar, either.

Some other thoughts on "Game Day":

-When Kima picked Shardene's face out of the photo array last week as a potential witness to turn, she had no idea how on the money her instincts were. Not only is Shardene as moral and malleable as she and Lester had hoped, but they find out that she's been dating D'Angelo -- and that she's not immune to Lester's charms.

-Getting back to the property scavenger hunt, that montage is something that doesn't exactly fit with the series' house style, but I imagine it was the only way to make Lester's long explanation about corporate charters palatable for the audience. Even nine hours into a show that has made it clear it expects you to think about what you're watching, that speech is asking a lot of the viewer. The upside is that, when we see cops in the future try to follow the money trail (and it's not a spoiler for the newbies to say that money trails will be followed in the future), we're now relative experts on this unglamorous type of policework, and so the show doesn't have to spend much time explaining what's happening.

-Along similar lines, because the show has spent so much time explaining the rules governing the wiretap, it then allows for scenes about what happens when the cops bend or break those rules, like Jimmy pretending Sydnor monitored the call about the stash house, or Herc and Carver's eavesdropping of Poot's phone sex leading to a tip on Wallace that they shouldn't be allowed to use.

-I don't know if the homage is intentional or not, but Prop Joe's tactic of keeping his ringer on the bench for the first half so he can jack up the wager at halftime reminded me a lot of the football game from "M*A*S*H" the movie, where Hawkeye and Trapper deliberately keep Spearchucker Jones out of the game long enough to inflate the rival coach's confidence. The guys in the 4077th have less respect for the sanctity of the game than Avon, though, as they wind up neutralizing the other team's ringer through less-than-legal means.

Coming up next Friday: "The Cost," in which the detail tries to find the stash, Stringer reaches out to Omar and Kima has a night out.

What did everybody else think?


Anonymous said...

"Shardene . . . she's not immune to Lester's charms." Well, that makes as least two of us.

Now that you mention it, Alan, the montage does seem a bit odd, but I really didn't notice it the first time I watched it. Maybe because it was Lester doing the spiel. See above.

There was a funny little bit of continuity with Carver cheering for Eastside (My boys!). Back when he was trying to sweet talk Bodie, I wondered if he really did come from the Eastside projects, or if that was some police BS.

Usually it's Wallace who really gets to me--and he did. But in this ep, it was Bubbs who broke my heart. Andre Royo just nails every scene.

Anonymous said...

I'm currently at episode 4 of Season 4, so it's hard for me to peel back the layers and see where I was at this point.

One of my favorite little things about this episode was Bubbs saluting the American flag as he was walking up to his sister's house.

Anonymous said...

Alan, I just wanted to add that I hope you don't take the lack of comments in the newbie thread to be a lack of interest or appreciation.

Also, I just now saw the previous post. Ruh-roh. I've been around the Sorkinosphere enough to know that any post entitled "What Kind of Day has it Been?" can't be bringing good news. I'm so sorry about the SL upheaval. I truly hope everything works out well for you.

Anonymous said...

Alan - just wanted to say thanks for posting these. I'm slooooowly making my way through Season 2, having just watched Season 1 about 6 months ago, and it's really fun to read your posts!

Anonymous said...

It's been mentioned by the cops at least once, but this episode (and the picture at the top of this post) proves it: Avon's not particularly flashy, which is part of what makes it hard for the detail to get to him. He stands out in that picture because he's the only one with a visor and who's wearing a colour, but other than that, if you didn't know who he was, would you notice him particularly? I love the excitement in Herc and Carver's voices when they realize he's actually at the game. (Love also how they just chat with the Pit guys while watching the game.)

"Shardene . . . she's not immune to Lester's charms." Well, that makes as least two of us.

Three. *raises hand*

Anonymous said...

I just caught up reading your reviews after having started watching The Wire sometime last week.

What a fantastic show! Thanks for recommending it Alan, and I enjoy reading the reviews

Anonymous said...

In the spirit of McNulty: Stupid TV shows make stupid viewers. I’m proud to be watching this one.

Luis Ramos said...

Thanks Alan for such a fantastic effort. These articles of yours are like the "long tail". New Wire-lovers will come here and find your outstanding texts and will help them to better understand just how deep this story is. I've just started watching the Wire 5 days ago, and here I am, 4 chapters away from finishing the 1st season, and the first thing I do aafter watching every single episode, is come to your page to share with you the emotions and the thoughts... I hope to keep on sharing this great time with you all.

BTW, is it just me or Lester is started to look/sound like a youger Morgan Freeman in "Seven"?

Best regards from Puebla, Mexico.

The best

Mith said...

I'm in exactly the same situation as the above poster. Except I'm a Vietnamese fan of The Wire. Glad I believed the "hype".

Thanks for the insightful reviews.

emerald772 said...

After years of hearing you and Mo Ryan talk about the Wire I'm finally getting around to it. Love that these write ups are still available!
All I could think at the end of this ep was "Oh Omar, you missed!"

UPTHEORG said...

Just wanted to let you know, as we say on a forum thread:


I know it's "late" to be getting into this show, but your posts are an important adjunct to my watching. Thanks for writing them and making sure they stay on the servers . . .

Edmund said...

I am just starting to watch the Wire and I'm so glad to have found these posts. Thanks for keeping them up!

My favourite part of this episode is when Carver tells Herc that Avon might be at the basketball game. When Herc complains he has no clue what Avon looks like, the scene cuts to the court with everyone in plain clothes except for Avon in the orange shirt and visor.

Anonymous said...

It's 2014 and those posts are still useful (and the show still awesome, albeit finished).

The Transcontinental Consultant said...

I just wanted to drop you a message from our pretty awful future (2021) to say that I’m so glad you did these, Alan, in both newbie and veteran format. The one bright side of the COVID pandemic was that it gave me lots of time to catch up on great shows. I finally got started on The Wire this year, and boy am I glad I did!

Anonymous said...

2023 now and I’m as appreciative of these posts as everyone above, thanks for maintaining them.