Archive for February 2008

When It’s Time, It’s Time

February 25, 2008

THIS IS #59. FOR THOSE WISHING TO WEEP UPON #58, GO HERE.

Hopefully, by now those of you living the OnDemand lifestyle have gotten past #58. I hope you have, because #59 was like a zillion times more sad. A lot of it was cliff-hanger-y in nature, setting us up for a monster finale. Since I’ve sworn off predictions, I won’t bother with wondering if the Marlo bust will stick, if McNulty’s headed for awful, or if Herc and Levy will be burned at the stake. What I want to focus on is Michael, because those last five minutes were probably the saddest shit this show has ever foisted upon us.

First off, the decision to off Michael—or, as it turned out, his semi-affectionate offing of Snoop, which kind of felt like someone murdering his big sister/guidance counselor. The issue was that Mike didn’t follow orders, thought too independent, and just generally wasn’t cut out for soldiering. Telling that both Marlo and Chris didn’t, or really didn’t want to, believe that this marked him as the snitch. But you’ve got to assume that one of them ultimately gave the order, so I won’t dwell too much on what they think his true nature is.

However, when Snoop lectures him in the car, you could take it two ways. Either it’s proof that Michael should’ve stayed in school, kept the anger inside, and tried to be a normal kid. “You were never one of us,” Snoop spits matter-of-factly. The question is, what was he never? Snoop, the consummate mindless soldier? Chris, who knows how and when to voice his opinion? Or a gangster in general? There’s still the possibility that, in making this move, Michael showed what we’ve suspected all along: That’s he destined to end up like Marlo, because he’s just too smart, shrewd and determined to work for anyone else. Hence that flipping of what Chris and Snoop taught him about how to scope out a potential hit. He took the field manual and used it for himself.

Those last two scenes, with Bug and Dukie, were positively heartbreaking. I’ll admit it, I cried a little. When Bug walked through that door, and the relative (aunt?) closed it with only an ambivalent glance at Michael, you knew that the kid had now crossed over. She may not have known exactly what had happen—with that murder, Michael is now either headed for a grave or in the midst of a power move.

For Bug to stay safe and grow up normal, he’s got to be away from his brother. Ironically, Michael always seemed like a parent, but only when he watched Bug walk away did he finally look like an adult. One who has chosen, or been backed into, a life that’s bad for those around him. Hard to say whether he became a man when he responsibly said goodbye to Bug, or when he decided to throw himself whole-heartedly into the game by offing Snoop.

And then, the parting of ways with Dukie. I guess he could’ve explained things better, but that’s never been Michael’s way. Of course Dukie, the most vulnerable character the show has ever seen, can’t take it. He throws his heart out on his sleeve, hoping for some response, but Mike’s already repressed it all. At first, I was pissed, and then, I realized it was Bug redux. Dukie shouldn’t want to be around Michael. He’s not built for the street life, and that’s the road Michael’s most definitely stuck upon. The four kids are all now officially worlds apart, and to appeal to that fleeting moment of innocence and camaraderie is, for all of their sake, best avoided. Dukie needs to figure out his own way, and Michael can’t be responsible for him anymore—that would be irresponsible.

I know I said no predictions, but as Bubbles heals and Dukie draws closer to the abyss, the similarities between the two are striking. Hopefully—and I say this knowing how dumb it is to root for characters on this show, and how little it was to do with its message—Dukie will find some niche that doesn’t augur total self-destruction. Given where’s he from, and what he’s been through, that small consolation would be a major accomplishment.

It Ain’t No Secret

February 22, 2008

BEWARE NUMBER FIFTY-EIGHT! FLEE!

I know you’re all eagerly awaiting some words on #58. But what the fuck are we supposed to say? A guy who cheated death multiples times per season finally died. His invincibility was central to his role in this program’s cosmology, but as we saw this season, there are limits to how much disbelief we can suspend in the interest of mythology. This wasn’t Prop Joe, who stayed quiet but was still in a dangerous business. Omar’s entire line of work was loud, proud, and on the edge. And by the end, he was a caricature of himself, hobbling around in rags screaming at every hopper in sight.

What I’ve been trying to figure out is whether he was done in by the game (cue Pacino), his own code, or both. Certainly, they haven’t been incompatible. No one had more fun spouting off the vaguely Eastern rhetoric of “all in the game” than Mr. Little, even as his boundless self-determination seemed to contradict this fatalistic stance. At the same time, Omar eschewed the notion of collateral damage, or even the expansion of the “game” metaphor to encompass anything beyond dealers, users, and stick-up kids.

You could say that it was Omar’s ties to the underworld that brought him back from his tropical sojourn. But “the game” has always been about profit, commodities, and how to get over on others. In this case, it was pure honor and revenge, which really don’t compute to most characters on the show unless there’s an effect on earning. In fact, Omar’s main impact on the show has been as an irritant to first the Barksdales, and then Marlo. In both cases, it was over love, or honor, or some other sort of sentimental bond that ALL IN THE GAME lives to fracture. Avon helped get his best friend killed. That’s in the game. Leaving behind wealth and security to hunt down your enemies . . . that’s a Western, where no one ever has any money anyway.

A brief interlude: I won’t be reading the comments section anymore, unless that anonymous guy or one of my close personal friends says something. Sorry, but it’s gotten too perilous. And to that anti-Semite, thank you. Thank you. I love getting to feel like a meaningful minority for once.

Pizzawhale pointed out how weird it is that The Wire seems to kill off the characters who usually survive: Smart ones. Little Melvin, quiet as kept, is alive, but Prop Joe died. That dude who provided the model for Omar is still with us today. In real life, being smart and clever sustains you. In The Wire, it leads to hubris and free-thinking, which invariably gets the whole world turned against you.

In conclusion, I’ve also been enjoying The Sarah Connor Chronicles and the first season of Dexter. And I have no fucking clue what schedule we’re on, since none of us have gotten the last three episodes yet and my OnDemand is inconsistent.

Tele-PHONY

February 21, 2008

We’re working hard to get some new responses up for #58. Half of us live in the modern world and have access to such things as On-Demand at a reasonable (which is to say not a criminal) price, and so excuses for such as those won’t be profferred, just vague shrugs and mumbles.

automat

Others of us, and that would include myself, hate cable companies and cable providers and pretty much every penny-sucking element of cable television, which is funny because where I’m from is where the technology was “invented.” Carbon County, PA, being equally isolated from Philadelphia and New York City, and separated from each by sizable mountains (for Pennsylvania) isn’t exactly where I’m from, but that’s where the technology was established, and John Walson (who invented an identical system at roughly the same time as the Carbon County progenitors) lived out his latter days in Allentown, which is close enough to where I’m from to claim something from it. I remember hearing that his modest suburban home was the site of Hearst-like castle-building projects that never ceased. I think these were lies. ANYWAYS, cable is a ripoff, and I’m getting ripped off as it is without blowing even more of my paycheck on On-Demand and HBO, which is why I have not yet seen #58. I know that sounds insane and whiney, but I don’t make all that much money and I seriously cannot see how cable companies expect working people (and many of them make a hell of a lot less than me) to pay upwards of $120 a month for the privilege of watching their shows (and then using their internets to write about said shows). Is there a sub-prime cable-loan scandal lurking somwehere out there?

falling

That being said, we’ll have some discussion of 58 up soon. Promises promises.

Black, Jewish and Poor

February 17, 2008

void_split.jpg

Comments on this post are closed! Seriously dudes, go for a jog or something! Or put together some Ikea furniture!

Pizzawhale has had too much work these past two weeks and not enough impetus from the season. However, I am roused by deep sadness to hear that Sean Finnegan, Wire crewmember and former drummer for suburban Maryland’s finest teen HC band died earlier this month at 43. RIP, buddy!

Now I want there to be a scene in Cutty’s gym with “Organized Sports” playing loud in the background. (I know it’s implausible, but maybe Henry Rollins can become a longterm sponsor?) The rest of the season can be consumed with this stupid Templeton/McNulty plot and way too many other white actors, while they attempt to fully humanize Kima and Daniels, but just give me that former thing.

Oh, and I finally watched Dexter, which by virtue of being set in Miami and is thus full of insane Cubano characters lets me give up on the Wire’s sole latina character, Alma Gutierrez, to be meaningful at all in portrayal. I guess I can’t put all my hopes for thoughtful television eggs in one basket.

Only Inmates Run Shit

February 15, 2008

I haven’t been around here much, so perhaps I’ve lost all right to speak on this site. However, I liked the last episode bunches, in large part because of what’s happened with the fake serial killer plot. While for many of you, it’s been the sticking point for this entire season, I think it’s turned into a stroke of pure Wire genius.

On and on again, what’s the key word about this show: systems. Or, in its applied form, bureaucracies. The whole hook has been that these things are impersonal, indifferent, and, in their blank rationality, often uncomfortably irrational. They are not human minds, blessed with elasticity and empathy. They are what they are, and they churn on with no purpose beyond self-renewal. No matter what happens in the margins, on the streets, or between the cracks, it’s more of the same “get crime down”, “bring up test scores”, “get territory”.

Some of you have compared Jimmy and Lester’s ruse to Hamsterdam. Hamsterdam was a social experiment, one that, like Stringer’s attempt at reform, could only exist until the system caught up with it. Plus, it was, like String, remarkably rational. That’s why so many public officials were intrigued by it, and why the co-op did have some staying power. Until the same old asserted itself in the form of Marlo Stanfield, who makes the old new and the new old again.

The serial killer thing is something different. I wasn’t for the drawn-out evidence tampering, mostly because it was silly and boring. But in its present form, the killer is a virus turning bureaucracy on itself. The police department—and, on a parallel course, the information industry that Templeton’s manipulating—now belong to outsiders. If it’s been mute and confusing all along, why not use these perplexing qualities toward rightness and justice? Jimmy has spent this whole show as the rebel, the outcast. Now, as he himself intoned in #57, he’s the boss. Templeton’s along these same lines, minus the decency part: He’s a self-serving liar who wants out of Baltimore; he’s found a way to get the editors, who represent the feckless modern media, to basically bankroll his exodus.

The key difference is that Templeton’s irredeemable, while Jimmy’s arguably serving the greater good. But they both have their all-too-noble foils: Gus and Bunk, who, not coincidentally, are being touted by everyone as the season’s finest performances. I guess I can see it; however, it seems more like we respect the sheer gravitas of their positions, which we once thought Freamon stood for.

I kind of find this outlook naive, and if anything, it’s the possibility of Bunk breaking the Marlo case that I find unrealistic. Or Gus having some sort of journalistic triumph that slaughters Templeton and puts the higher-ups to shame. It’s like, okay, these are honest men doing honest work and they’ve come through in the end. But what about The Wire up to this point would suggest this is anything less than fantasy? You might think McNulty and Templeton are outlandish, but their story arcs at least work with/within/in the same realm as The System. We’ve seen McNulty go from utterly defiant to co-opting the Department that he once battled against. Bunk, he’s just acting like there’s no external pressure or stress on his hermetically-sealed need to do things the right way.

If everything is connected, and everything is histrionic or crumbling, how many times out of ten are we ever going to see this outcome?

Aura Recognize Aura

February 14, 2008

This week I’m posting a non-topical entry, but Christycash has some commentary on 57 just below, while Shoals is working up something for later today or tomorrow. If you’re coming to us from 56 read on and then look HERE.

jr writer

A while back I was asked to contribute to an article for Vibe magazine concerning The Wire. I opted to work on the top ten moments section of the article, the final cut of which is in this month’s issue. An earlier version of the article focused on some of the smaller, more discrete moments that I felt defined the type of narrative, characterization, and approach that made the show so unique. Following are a few of those entries.

Please go out and buy the new issue of Vibe (they don’t have the piece online). It’s the issue with 50 Cent and Bobby DeNiro on the cover, and the Wire article features stellar work from Chris Ryan and Sean Fennessey. Then you throw in Boylan and it’s a real Irishfest. Anyway, enjoy these, and check out the rest on newsstands now.

haunt

The big blockbuster scenes are easy: Stringer’s killing, D’Angelo teaching chess, Michael giving in to Marlo. The Wire’s season-ending montages are similarly ripe, laden with irony, fate, implication, and deep-rooted emotion. But the program isn’t formula television, so its secrets lie as much, if not more, in smaller moments, the spaces between gunshots and shouts when characters exhale and define themselves in less conspicuous ways.

Night at the Cinema
Bodie, Poot run into Herc, Carver, and Dozerman at the movies
Season 3 – Episode 2 (27) – All Due Respect
Cops and corner boys meet coming out of the movies on a Saturday night and coolly acknowledge one another. Bodie and his friends explain to their dates that these are the police officers who harass them daily, but never can catch them dirty. The corner boys are in on the joke that they and the police officers are peers. But all Herc, Carver and Dozerman can do is gape and fidget, until finally Bodie just says “See you tomorrow.”

Stringer’s Rules
“Is you taking notes on a criminal fuckin’ conspiracy?”
Season 3 – episode 5 (30) – Straight And True
Shamrock, ever the dutiful assistant to Stringer Bell, follows Robert’s Rules of Order at Bell’s business-school-inspired meetings of the Barksdale crew. So when Bell, Prop Joe and the rest of the city’s major dealers hold their first powwow to consolidate distribution and minimize conflicts, Sham takes minutes. Stringer unleashes the line above on Sham, pointing out that records are not needed here.

Sketched
Michael cuts out on Cutty
Season 4 – episode 4 (41) – Refugees
Cutty runs a modest boxing gym (thanks to the generous sponsorship of Avon Barksdale), and takes his star pupils Justin and Michael out to the armory fights one night. Dropping off Justin first, Cutty turns to ask Michael where he lives, but before he can, Michael is out the door and walking off into the night. Cutty seems confused, but we see something of the inner terror in Michael and his distrust of all adults and suspicion of anyone looking to lend a hand.

Guy Noir
Bodie doesn’t understand the radio
Season 2 – episode 1 (14) – Ebb Tide
While in a van driving to Philadelphia to pick up a new drug shipment, the radio station starts to go out. Bodie’s vanmate Dragon tells him to find a Philly station, to which he replies “The radio in Philly is different?” Having never been out of Baltimore, the street-wise Bodie never knew radio varied. Dragon flips through stations, but Bodie is impatient, so they settle, amazingly, on NPR’s A Prairie Home Companion, before Bodie exclaims “Why would anybody want to leave Baltimore?”

Domestic
Bernard is harassed by Squeek for traveling so much
Season 3 – episode 7 (32) – Back Burners
These two might be the best tandem on the whole show. Bernard is a Barksdale man in charge of supplying the whole crew with disposable “burner” cell phones. He buys them, a few at a time, on long road trips way outside Baltimore accompanied by Squeak, his shrill, shrewish girlfriend. She belittles him, hilariously, and tells him it would be easier to buy in bulk. He finally does, mostly just so she’ll shut up, and consequently makes the police investigation a lot easier.

Run and Gun
The basketball game
Season 1 – episode 9 – Game Day
Prop Joe and Avon each support a team in a community basketball game. Having secured the services of a top Juco player (for $20,000) for his squad, Avon is confident enough to accept doubling up on a bet over the game with Prop Joe for $100,000. Joe, in a giant suit with a tie clip and a clipboard, brings in a ringer of his own after the double-up “proposition” has been accepted, and steals the game, and the bet, right out from under Avon.

Kidz
Randy Changing shirts to sell candy.
Season 4 – episode 4 (41) – Refugees
Chaos reigns in Prez’s class, so Randy slips out to his locker where he changes his eighth grade uniform polo for that of a sixth grader. Using a stolen hall pass (another result of Prez’s classroom chaos), he heads to the sixth grade lunch to sell snacks out of his bag. It’s the perfect distillation of his Randy-ness. He’s just a kid still, rebelling with a hustle that, at heart, is pretty innocent.

Doing Dirt
Bunk burning pants to destroy evidence
Season 1 – Episode 8 – Lessons
McNulty makes it an early night, but Bunk does not. Jimmy must respond to a late night call to bail out his very drunk, marble-mouthed friend. Bunk is found sprawled in the bathroom of his one-night stand wearing a pink bathrobe and necktie, chomping on a cigar, having attempted to burn his own clothes in her bathtub (to destroy the trace evidence and cover up any incriminating, uh, smells). Jimmy lets the Bunk sleep it off in the (wokka wokka) bunk bed he built for his kids.

TANK TOP TIME

February 12, 2008

OK, OK, So we’re on #57, if you’re still on #56, go here, cause we’ll be spoiling, and you don’t want that, not when things are really cooking.

So this happens every season, right? There’s a few episodes, say between the fourth and the sixth episodes of the season, when all seems lost and tangled and slow, and you start to worry that the magic is gone? And then the gears slip into place for the wind-up to the home run and you breathe again and remember that every little thing is gonna be alright. Well, not for the characters, but you know, for you, the viewer. I can’t recall if we’ve talked about this before on the blog, but my understanding is that HBO told the Wire they had to cut from 13 episodes to 10 at some point after they had been working on the season, and so some of the flipped and clipped feeling of the last few weeks (in which I, who could form no coherent thought about what was happening, briefly took a HH sabbatical) might be caused by that. But no matter.

snip

Let’s get down to the most important thing about 57. Tank tops. Whoa, lord, Daniels and Pearlman, do you just sit around in your glassy apartment with its gorgeous view, looking all muscular and underwear ad-esque every night? And Daniels, really, boxers? These are the choices that I want to know more about. Why boxers? Was Pearlman wearing pajama pants? Kicking it at home.

In terms of actual plot-type things happening, I certainly enjoyed this episode more than 55 or 56, but I’m still at a loss as to how it’s going to come back together. I’m especially interested to see if Gus confronts Templeton or not. And Bubbles, acting as Virgil for Fletcher in the underworld of the homeless, was a trip while still being moving.

As I write this, before my morning coffee, I realize that coherence can’t always be faked. This is still a blog, right?

I was surprised Omar killed — I had really thought he would just shoot kneecaps until Marlo came to the street, but I guess he’s getting impatient. I cannot wait to see Omar take him down. I just hope it happens. In the meantime, he should really have that foot looked at.

Dance, Dukie… Dance.

belzer

Daddy Got Hosed

February 6, 2008

First off apologies for our infrequency of late. We don’t intend to be a letdown. I’ll be talking, vaguely, about episode #56, so if you’re not caught up, please point your brain HERE. Otherwise, continue on and get bummed out.

hobo

Honestly, I’m not sure how the Slate folks, or anyone else tring to comment thoughtfully on this show (not that I’m accusing the Slate folks of doing that), are able to muster enough energy to discuss this dizzying season. Much like our comments section, most of the discussions seem to center on minutiae, as if somehow the show has become Ghetto Lost. IS OMAR MAGIC? I know I speak for all of us at H&H when I say we’re a bit exhausted by the frenetic pace of the show right now, the feeling that every old story must be dredged up and paraded in front of us for a few minutes  even while the new stories are totally bonkers and complicated in their own ways. It doesn’t leave a lot of room for ideas to shine through. If season one was a feather floating to earth, this season is a hammer coming down fast on an anvil, and we’re in the middle. It’s all connected is starting to feel like a threat more than a promise.

strangelove

Did we really need to see Nicky Sobotka hollering to understand that the mayor was hammering yet another nail in the coffin of the docks? Like, I watched season 2 already. I get it. At least Randy has some connection with the ongoing crime story. Anyway, all these digressions just feel sort of hollow. Seeing Randy beefed up, innocence lost, cynicism front and center, fearful and bullying, was heartbreaking true, but also kind of unsurprising. Like, no shit that’s what happens to Randy. Did we really need to spend five minutes out of only around 500 this season just to see this? I thought the season about kids was last season? Remember when there were two or three narrative threads meandering through a season, and plot twists came about sluggishly, mundanely, and yielded results equally slowly, even murders, arrests, whatever. Between Omar blowing up a truck with a broken ankle (I presume), Marlo cancelling the co-op and raising prices on dope, essentially pissing of a couple dozen other DRUG DEALERS just because he’s got some clout and some muscle, McNulty and Freamon pursuing ever more ludicrous schemes to try and tarnish their careers as much as possible, it’s hard to remember that this isn’t like other cop shows. Even Bunk’s narrative, which is the most like the real police work we’ve grown used to, is now intereracting with an (albeit wittily ironized) CSI lab. When does the big chase scene happen? When will Horatio roll up on Marlo and they’ll gab about their Hummers before the Who kicks in?

Of course it’s not really like that. There are more moments of pure Wire-ness than not, even with all the extra action. What I wonder about is with all this summing up (and we’ve only got four episodes left), who will get left behind, whose narrative being unfinished will feel the most disappointing (for me, I fear it’s going to be Bubs, Cutty, and Dukie, who I spoke on last week)? It seems like a balance has been lost in the interests of re-making points that viewers will have learned long ago. Everyone has their own favorite seasons, but for me the contrasts and connections in season 2 were the most satisfying, since the docks presented such an alien world to the street, yet the grinding gears of the law kept the two linked, kept the viewer grounded, and kept the focus of the show on the ongoing, uphill process of fighting crime. As humane as the show is toward its criminals, Ed Burns was a distinguished member of the police force, and Simon has nothing but respect for anyone trying to fight systems from within (and neither wants to confuse humanity with legitimacy).

blue line

This is something where the insanity of the cop plot loses me. I suppose we’re supposed to see two great cops reduced to faking murders, creating a false scandal, and tying up all sorts of police offices with their bullshit in the vain pursuit of funding to catch one particularly nasty drug dealer. This is tragedy on a grand scale, because it comes from such a good place. All they want to do is good police work, and it’s the one thing they aren’t being allowed to do, so they’ve got to ignore the system (Lester had a great line about that to Sydnor, who flipped unbelievably easily, though who among us wouldn’t follow wise Freamon anywhere?). What gets lost, even just as a matter of airtime, is the other side of police work, the cases Bunk and Kima are working, or what the mayor is doing not related to the homeless killer. Kima hangs out with her kid once and we’re meant to understand what about that? Beadie threatens to leave Jimmy, comes to the office to talk with Bunk about it,  so now what? If we’re lucky we’ll have quick rejoinders to these questions over the last four hours of showtime. Beadie throwing Jimmy out, Kima spending the day with Cheryl and the kid, Bubs smilingly serving at the shelter, or the inverse of any of these and more (everyone shot by Marlo).

statue

I guess the most enjoyable moments for me this episode were watching Jimmy wrestle with his treatment of that homeless man, watching the sort of man we have all seen, someone who is utterly helpless, damaged far beyond repair, and yet left on his own to try and make a life among the homeless. And Jimmy picks up this man, figures him into a scheme, then drops him at a shelter without his identity card and (horrifyingly) with his real name scratched off his anti-psychotic medication, which would presumably at some point prevent him from access to… not being psychotic. It was a direct affirmation of Carcetti’s impassioned speech about the homeless, and it clearly wasn’t easy for Jimmy to cast aside even more of his humanity. It’s interesting to note that Jimmy hasn’t been seen (by us anyway) drinking as much (aside from the scene talking to the statue of, I believe, Major-General Samuel Smith), and that this could be seen to indicate that he’s so fully devoted to making these cases work that he has not time even for his vices, but perhaps also that he’s drunk on lying, falsifying, and fucking with the system, that he’s found a new, far more destructive vice. Similarly, the scene where we finally see Templeton doing solid journalism (although spending the night hanging with the homeless seems like it could be rather dangerous) gives a face to the homeless, and shows Templeton’s own struggle with humanity, connecting with those people he too is seeking to exploit for his own purposes. For him, it may also be too late, as Gus seems suspicious of his work already.

As much as I complain, I have to admit I’m giddy to see what happens next. These plotlines may be overwrought and overwritten, but they are still compelling as hell. I suppose it shows my fanhood to admit that I wish there was no end to all this, that each story, made quite real over five seasons, should have its due, have its say, be allowed to fully exhale its humanity. Hopefully we’ll get a few more stolen breaths before the end.


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