Friday, June 12, 2009

The Wire, Season 2, Episode 3: "Hot Shots" (Newbies edition)

Once again, we're revisiting season two of "The Wire" in two versions: one for people who have watched the entire series and want to be able to discuss it from beginning to end, and those who aren't all the way there yet and don't want to be spoiled about later developments. This is the newbie post (click here for the veteran version).

Spoilers for episode three, "Hot Shots," coming up just as soon as I dump all my telecom stocks...
"Mishy gishy gushy gushy mishy mushy mooshy motherf---er." -Lester
We're still a long way from what will pass as major progress in the story arcs of season two, but "Hot Shots" features a variety of characters from the different worlds "The Wire" follows making one kind of dangerous power play or another:

• Nick Sobotka, fed up with not getting enough shifts down at the docks and under pressure from baby mama Amy to do right by her and their daughter, decides to go in with Ziggy and Johnny 50 on a scam to steal a can full of digital cameras and sell them to Vondas' associate, Double-G.

• Valchek, with much prodding from Prez, realizes he's been pacified with a detail of humps and threatens to ugly up Ervin Burrell's coronation as commissioner if Erv won't give him a real detail, led by Cedric Daniels -- who has just made a bold move of his own in deciding to retire from the force to put his law degree to better use.

• Failing to get anywhere with the polyglot crew of the Atlantic Light, Bunk, Lester and Beadie Russell agree to let the boat sail out of Philadelphia, even though they don't have any better leads in the case of the dead girls.

• McNulty resolves to identify the girl he found in the water so at least one of the 14 can be spared the indignity of a Jane Doe disposal.

• Avon and Stringer put together a plan that will get Tilghman off of Wee-Bey's back -- and, Avon implies to D'Angelo, a plan that will lead to Avon and D getting earlier releases -- by swapping out his usual drug supply for poison.

• We hear two of the happiest words in the English language -- "Omar back." -- and then see the man who makes the grandest gestures in "The Wire" universe decide to partner up (along with new boyfriend Dante) with a pair of lesbian thieves now that he's back in Charm City.

Omar's mostly a sideshow for now (albeit a damned welcome one), so let's focus on the other happenings, starting with young Nick.

This season is going to turn into his story at least as much as it is Frank's, if not moreso. Frank and Horseface and Ott and those other guys came up in an era when the port was still a relatively thriving place, where there was more than enough work to go around. It lived up to the unwritten American promise that David Simon likes to talk about in regards to this season, the one that says something like, "You may not be highly-educated, or even highly-skilled, but if you're willing to work, and work hard, America will find a place for you." Nick, on the other hand, is coming of age after that promise has been broken, with the industrial base and the blue-collar employment it offers shrinking by the day. Whether the promise ever really existed or not, it's one that Nick has been taught from a young age, growing up in this family and this world, and now he's finding out that it doesn't apply to him. So what's he supposed to do?

We know "The Wire" is fond of its parallel structures, and "Hot Shots" starts drawing lines between Nick and D'Angelo Barksdale. Both are nephews of the detail's main target. Both have kids with women they like well enough, just not enough to really want to marry them. Both are finding that the family business isn't as rosy as they were raised to believe, and both are letting their relatives suck them deeper into a life of crime than they intend.

It's one thing for Nick to go get the can number from Vondas to pass it along to Frank, even after discovering that they're aiding and abetting human trafficking; it's something else entirely for Nick and Ziggy to start stealing cans themselves and selling the contents to The Greek and his people. But when there aren't enough ships to work, too many guys with seniority, and pressure coming from Amy to do something for their makeshift family, Nick decides he has no choice but to become an active criminal.

What Nick doesn't know is that the police pressure on the port is about to get a lot tighter, now that Valchek is arranging to have the hump detail replaced with actual police. It's hilarious -- and more than a little sad -- to see Stan listen to Prez's story of the Barksdale case and extract only the realization that he can use this knowledge to get over on Burrell. Imagine what this guy could accomplish if he actually cared about anything other than self-preservation. Of course, if he did, he likely wouldn't have the power that he does, which is why the show's version of the Baltimore PD remains a mess.

And elsewhere in the department, it's equally funny -- and, in this case, frustrating -- to watch Bunk, Lester and Beadie struggle to make any headway on a case that we all know, based on the end of last week's episode, is probably a lost cause. Lester is usually so cool and composed and erudite that it was hilarious to see him lose his cool and curse out the Atlantic Light crew. But Bunk and Lester still have 14 red names to try to turn black, and they're nothing if not tenacious -- as, it seems, is Beadie Russell.

Maybe my favorite scene in the episode is McNulty riding into the Homicide office on his white horse to save the day with his brilliant insights -- only to find out that Bunk and Lester beat him to all those insights. That speaks to both the cleverness of the current Homicide duo and the ego of Jimmy, but it also is a reminder that Jimmy, for all his narcissism, does mean well. He instigates the Barksdale detail to prove how smart he is, but he does recognize on some level that these are dangerous people who should be stopped. Here, his decision to put a name to the Jane Doe from the water is classic Jimmy, in the good and bad sense; he's trying to do right by this one girl and her family, but he's also doing it so he can feel a little like a cop while he's stuck riding the boat.

And Avon seems determined to keep playing kingpin even while he's stuck in prison. There was some debate in the later seasons about whether Avon was more or less ruthless than some other criminals the series introduced, and I think the people trying to argue for Avon as a relative softie might want to revisit the final shot of this episode. Avon has just arranged to fatally poison a bunch of convicts who've done nothing to him, just to get back at Tilghman (and, perhaps, to finagle his way into an even shorter sentence), and he sits calmly in his little corner suite, enjoying the book he took from the library when he went to see D, not a bit of concern for all the collateral damage he's created. (McNulty, for all his faults, at least feels bad when he learns that Bunk and Lester got stuck with the dead girls because of him.)

On the chess board that is season two, the pieces are starting to move into place. Get ready for some clashes, soon.

Some other thoughts on "Hot Shots":

• Poor Ziggy. Even when he pulls off (with a lot of help from Nick and Johnny 50) a successful and relatively lucrative theft, he can't enjoy the moment, because he has to be at the bar to witness Dolores handing cash from Frank to the hard-up stevedore who'd been thinking about switching unions. Everywhere Ziggy looks, he gets reminders that his father cares more about the union than he does about his own son.

• By now, the show's stylistic template is so firmly established that it's a little jarring to watch the "mishy gishy" montage sequence, funny though it is. Yes, it detailed Lester and Bunk's mounting frustration in short order, but "The Wire" usually isn't about telling you things in short order. Not bad, but different.

• Is there a "no animals were harmed during production" disclaimer at the end of this episode, or did they actually film a dog eating a rat? Either way... ugh!

• Loved Stringer making stock portfolio decisions based on what he sees down at the Pit. But given the way the cell phone market has only gotten bigger in the years since, was this a poor business decision on his part?

• Speaking of Stringer, I don't want to overlook his seduction of Donette. He's usually depicted as being so consumed with business that it can be jarring to see him just act like a man, with needs and a libido. But Idris Elba played it well; just because he's taking his shirt off and kissing somebody, doesn't mean he stops being Stringer Bell.

• I want to hire Jay Landsman to be my own personal fashion critic. "Tweedy impertinence" is never not funny.

• Confusion over "prostate" vs. "prostrate" seems to be a favorite joke of language-obsessed TV scribes. David Milch got a lot of mileage out of Sipowicz confusing one with the other, and here Landsman laughs a lot at Crutchfield using the wrong one in a report.

• How do you feel about Nick using an old-fashioned phrase like "I haven't got a pot to piss in"? Does it feel right (like this is the world Nick grew up in, and/or he thinks that's how a stevedore's supposed to talk), or is it a too self-conscious attempt to link the character back to the days of "On the Waterfront"?

Coming up next: "Hard Cases," in which Burrell tries to talk Daniels out of retirement, Avon tries to exploit the Tilghman situation, and McNulty reaches out to an old friend for help finding Omar.

What did everybody else think?


Alan Sepinwall said...

We seem to be running out of newbies here.

Question: is it just that everybody by now has watched the whole series, or that everybody has at least watched through the end of this season? If it's the latter, I might be willing to change the rules here; no point in doing these separate posts if nobody's reading and/or discussing them.

Eldritch said...

Can't speak for everyone, but as for myself, after reading so many comments about "The Wire" in this blog, I found the series about a month ago.

I found your newbie/veteran posts for season one, which really augmented watching the episodes.

But I couldn't stop at season one and went on to view the entire five seasons.

Now I'm following your season two posts.

Hatfield said...

I was just noticing the dearth of comments as I scrolled down. I referred my girlfriend to these posts, because we've just now started Season 3 for her, but since she's not actively participating in the comments, I can just warn her to not read the "looking ahead" part.

Uh, anyway, not sure that was helpful or relevant, but I'm bored at work.

Kiwibee said...

Long time lurker, first time poster. I've been reading the newbie versions almost religiously. I'm only a few episodes ahead of you in season 2, and I love that I can read your analysis without worrying about spoilers. I just never comment because I don't have anything to really add beyond your analysis - you often point out things that I gloss over, such as the frequent parallels.

That said, if you just want to have one point with a huge SPOILER line/spoiler space for newbies like me, I'm okay with that.

Kiwibee said...

One post, not one point. Sorry about that.

tiggerboy0301 said...

Here in the UK the BBC has brought the Wire to show to a non-paying audience for the first time. They are running the series back to back stripped over the week.
For the first series I read your guides after each episode and it really helped me get the show. I've now seen the whole of the second season and its very frustrating waiting the whole week to read about the next episode! I guess this will be worse when the BBC starts showing series 3!!
So thank you for you reviews, I look forward to reading about season 5 in three years time lol

Joshua said...

My wife and I borrowed the Season 2 DVDs from a friend and are 4 episodes in. We're not big on commenting, but love watching and reading along! Thanks for all your great writing on The Wire, Lost, etc.

Anonymous said...

It would be great if you could continue these posts. I've only completed season 3 and would like to continue avoiding spoilers for seasons 4 & 5.

Anonymous said...

I think Nick's use of the phrase,
"pot to piss in" works because throughout Season 2 the docks are a place stuck in the past. So Nick would likely emulate the union vets by borrowing their phrases.

Savvy Veteran said...

I'm still not qualified to read the "Veterans" edition, but I'm now well into season 4, making me, in a sense, overqualified for the "Newbies" posts. My plan was to catch up by watching the first season in time for these season 2 recaps and then watch one episode a week along with, but that absolutely did not happen. It's just such a good show, how could I possibly have limited myself like that! I can't even imagine what it would have been like to follow along with this show in real time during its original HBO run. It must have been torture!

Ellie said...

Newbie here. I'm reading the posts religiously. However, I watched S2 a few months ago. Since I haven't had a chance to rewatch any except ep 1, I don't feel like I have any particularly interesting comment other than the "Yay, Omar's back!" variety.

Thanks for the reminder about "tweedy impertinence." I love Jay. (See?)

Anyway, we newbies do appreciate the separate posts, but I do understand the frustration with extra work and not much feedback. My MIL is leaving today, so hopefully I'll catch up tomorrow and be able to comment more.

Mark said...

Alan--I'm a newbie (and longtime lurker), just a couple of episodes ahead of you in Season 2. I REALLY enjoy your posts, and am fervently against spoiling myself (so much so that I am no longer even watching the "Next On" feature on the DVDs).

I would appreciate you continuing the Newbie version, but if it is too much work, I liked Kiwibee's suggestion of calling out SPOILERS in a single post. Maybe you could collect them all at the end of the post? Or would that interrupt your narrative flow too much? I have not as yet read ANY Veteran's version, so I don't know what format you use there.

Really enjoy your whole blog--found you through Linda Holmes--keep up the excellent work!

Jason said...

We're here, Alan. Just a little late to the party sometimes. Keep it rolling!

Anonymous said...

Yeah man, I'm hanging too.

Lindsay said...

I am a newbie and I have to say that your posts have helped me a lot and really help me appreciate the show.

As far as Nick using the old union line, I can tell you from experience that when you grow up with a union father with the union influence in your house that it stays with you. Its a part of you and your family. I thought it felt totally right for the character and the setting. It didn't nor shouldn't feel outta place at all.

Mlle B said...

Also a newbie, frequent lurker/never comment. I, too, appreciate your posts (spoiler-free!) and am only a few episodes ahead in season 2 (I live abroad...). So you're not running out of us -- we're just a quiet bunch!

Tom Miles said...

I use the expression "a pot to piss in". It has always bothered me that I speak entirely in clich├ęs and now I discover that I'm a walking anachronism (!) too?

Great stuff.

Mr Whirly said...

Please keep the noobs posts coming. I just realized these posts were current! I watched and read all of season one in 5 days. I'm so happy to have these companion pieces but I hate spoilers. Help me Alan Sepinwall, you're my only hope.

Mr Whirly said...

I may be a little ahead of you (Backwash) but your writing adds so much to my watching of the show that I wouldn't want to lose it. One question: did they save money on Ziggy's prosthetic appendage by snagging it from the Boogie Nights set. it looks familiar. ;)

justjoan123 said...

Alan, I am watching the DVDs in roughly the order you are posting these, so please do not be disheartened by the slow newbie traffic. Now that I am well and truly hooked, I am determined to plow through, but I am slowed by doing the same for "Deadwood." In fact, I'm still in shock over the loss of Mr. Hickok.

Jen said...

I actually watched season 2 about a month ago, and just discovered your blog. I'm thrilled to find it. I'm watching season 4 now, so I'm very happy you have the newbie versions. I'm going to read and savor the season 1 and 2 reviews even tho I'm now done watching those seasons. Great stuff.

Jen said...

Oh, by the favorite lines listed for this ep? How about:
Stringer: I'm an XL.
Donette (looking him up and down): No doubt.

Jordan said...

I don't usually comment, but I just wanted to say I really appreciate the newbie posts. One point that hasn't been mentioned about a move to a single post system is that even if you (Alan) have a big SPOILER tag, us newbies will still have to abstain from the comments.

Bob C said...


Please continue the newbie reviews. We're watching the DVDs as fast as the library can queue them for us, and your insights are wonderful. I'll try to post reactions when I can, to let you know we're here. Thanks.


Karen said...

Add me to the chorus that wants the newbie posts to continue. I may not be able to keep it going forever, as I've sped through the last half of season 1 this morning and will probably be halfway through season 2 by bedtime, which means I'll be done with the whole series by Labor Day at the latest, but whatever. I'm really enjoying your commentary, which I race to as each episode ends.

Karen said...

Oh, also? No, I don't think that was a real rat the terrier mauled. They showed the rat peek his head out and then duck is back as Junk stuck his snout in after him, wrestled a bit, and then pulled out what was clearly an already dead rat. Or, you know, a stuffed rat.

Also also? Avon was taking quite a chance, I thought, that Dee would really listen to him about getting his head straight. If Dee had decided to go against him, he'd be dead. Was Avon prepared for that? I wonder.

And finally: to the commenter who noted an episode or so back that Idris Elba would make the perfect black James Bond, I can only say, with Donette, "No doubt."

Anna said...

Pleeeaaase don't stop posting your newbies versions! I'm a real newbie as God bids ;) and am completely hooked on your analyses of each chapter. It has become sort of a ritual for me -- first watching the episode, then checking on Wikipedia to make sure I got the plot development right, and finally your blog for interpretation and interesting remarks. I appreciate so much what you do, if I'm not commenting, it's just that I feel that compared to the veterans, I have so little to say... Looking forward to reading through seasons 3, 4 and 5 with you as well!

Anna said...

PS. Also... referring to what Karen wrote ("Avon was taking quite a chance ... If Dee had decided to go against him, he'd be dead. Was Avon prepared for that?"). Really good point, this scene got me thinking a lot, too.

My theory is that Avon decided to deliver this message to Dee in such an indirect form for two reasons.

First, Avon knew that Dee is a decent guy who would most likely warn the others not to take drugs that evening, and then Avon's plan agaist Tilghman wouldn't have worked.

Second, by making Dee suspicious in the eyes of other inmates, Avon might be trying to isolate him from other new "friends" and tie him closer to the old Barksdale crew again. Because it MUST look suspicious to others if Dee, after sniffing heroine every day, suddenly decides to pass on it this very evening, right?

todd said...

Newbie here. Really enjoyed your season 1 commentary and looking forward to following all the other seasons as you roll them out. Keep up the newbie editions!

belinda said...

I'm so thankful for these newbie editions of The Wire - so, hope you'd be doing a run for season 3 next summer (and finally, I could join in the fun at the same time instead of writing in them months after!).

Not much to say, but that I'm rather impressed at just how far Prez has gotten from the first episode we saw him.

Anonymous said...

Alan, I was watching this episode last night wondering what ziggy's forlorn look meant when he saw Dolores handing money to the down-on-his-luck stevedore. I said to myself, I wonder what Sepinwall's interpretation will be. You speculated that it's because Frank cares about his union more than his own son. That's valid, I think, but I took it another way. It seemed to me that Ziggy was feeling guilt at having taken the dishonorable road when there are so many hard working blue collar guys trying to make an honest living but coming up short. Also, maybe there was some guilt about having stolen a 'can' from the few remaining shippers who are keeping the dwindling dock industry afloat. Dolores uttering "Your dad's a good man, Ziggy" only reinforced this for me. Frank's an honest man who sometimes has to cut corners to provide for his dock workers, but Ziggy on the other hand is just a common thief now...I think Ziggy came to this conclusion right before our eyes.

Just my two cents.

LOVE your blog!

Mary-Kate Hopkinson said...

Alan, your question has been answered many times over by other enthusiastic newbies, but just wanted to point out that the Internet is forever, and there will probably be folks discovering The Wire for the first time for many years to come. Your posts are a great resource.

Wondering, though, since I'll be ready for season 3 in a couple weeks and you haven't blogged it: Are there any other good resources for recaps and analysis that you would recommend, perhaps a fellow TV critic's blog, for "The Wire" (particularly season 3)?

obafgkm said...

Alan, thanks for posting the two versions. I grew up in Baltimore, but never watched "The Wire" because I didn't have HBO. My brother loves the show, and gave me the five-season DVD set for Christmas 2010. I watched the first couple episodes and was hooked.

I discovered your blog posts toward the end of season 1. Having the newbie version makes it nice to read after watching an episode, because I hate to be spoiled.

A comment about this episode in the next post...

obafgkm said...

After seeing Stringer Bell spend 15 episodes being a "company man", I was shocked to see him defy Avon and go after Dee's woman.

Yes, Donette is her own person, but I really expected Stringer to deliver the message and leave.

dah_sab said...

Working our way through season 2, and your posts are a great resource, showing me everything I'm missing, and putting the many pieces together. Thanks for doing this.

DLH said...

Alan, I'm very late to discovering The Wire and am so glad I found your blog. Just wanted to let you know people are still reading it -- and enjoying it -- two years later. Really like reading your perspective, and you also help me fill in the things I missed (especially in the early episodes). I know you spent a lot of time writing these, and just wanted to say thank you!

PuzzleGirl said...

I'm finally watching The Wire and your blog is super helpful. I really appreciate the newbie posts. I'm not going to add to the conversation since it looks like it died a couple years ago, but I wanted to say thank you.

Anonymous said...

Alan, you won´t be running out of newbies here. I am viewing for my first time, and the only thing I want to say to you is thank you very much

Anonymous said...

Just watched this episode for the first time on HBOgo... only 9 years after it first aired...and, this is as far as I've gotten! Please keep the newbies edition posted separately. I'm sure it will continue to be a valuable resource for years to come.
I also agree with what some commenter posted earlier, regarding Ziggy's reaction at the bar, having
more of a guilty/I'm just a criminal doing this for my own gain v. My father is a criminal in order to put money in other people's pockets.
I also kind of disagree about Valcheck's understanding of Prez's "laying it all out on the table" story regarding the barksdale case. He clearly understood that there was an invalid... smelling of corruption...reason that the barksdale investigstion was shut down to quick. But, is sad that the only thing he does with this knowledge is use it to strong-arm Burrell into providing a real investigative detail for a case on a guy he seems to only have a personal vendetta against. I agree that if he was more concerned about justice... and were it a typical procedural...he would have probably made a more impassioned speech about the dead girls found on the port, etc. And, maybe even also a "you better tighten your shit up burrell and get out of that game, or I'll expose you...I've got my eye on you!" However, as you pointed out, that would really compromise his position in this kind of "chain of command first" BS force they have.
Thank you again for your insight!

Anonymous said...

Also, thanks for pointing out the parallel between Nick and D'Angelo.
And, yes... I agree with another commenter...D'Angelo now looks suspicious!

Anonymous said...

Newbies keep arriving. Finally watching your show and appreciate your analysis.

Anonymous said...

Another newbie. Just got the entire run on DVD from a friend. Glad you kept the posts coming.

I am a big fan of yours, especially regarding Mad Men, Breaking Bad and F&G which is my all-time favorite show. I read your newbie versions of that show, as well.

Nate said...

I've put off watching the Wire for a few years now, and am finally getting around to it. I stumbled upon this blog from your Mad Men posts, and just wanted to let you know that the Wire section is still getting new readers! I'm looking forward to reading your blog as I make my way through the rest of the series.Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Alan, there still are newbies watching and reading your posts. How cool is that :-)

Every night, after I've seen an episode of The Wire, I go to your blog and read your posts. I love the insights and explanations and it really makes my experience of The Wire (and previously, Deadwood) sooo much better.

DJ said...

2014 and we're still reading your Newbie recaps. Thanks for posting these. Such a great resource! Hope they continue on for the rest of the seasons.

Sherri said...

It's 2021 and we're still reading them!!

Anonymous said...

And I found them in 2024 as a very late to the game newbie!

Anonymous said...

2024 starter as well! We've watched most of the other legendary series of that era but somehow we just never got round to this one. Finally started it this year, and it's literally just occurred to me as I type that this is at least partly an after-effect of the writers' strike.

We're hooked obviously, that's why I'm here, but also struggle to follow the dialogue, jargon, accents etc so these insights are fantastic. Thank you Alan!

Anonymous said...

Likewise! Started the show in April 2024 and these blog posts have been essential reads after every episode.