Fallen Angels

I’m building on Shoals’s last post here, and the comments that introduced D’Angelo. So consult that to get a sense of where this is coming from…

The topic here is, broadly speaking, pathos. I’m a little farther in the season (I watched 41 last night) but I’m not giving anything away when I say that The Wire can really tug at heartstrings, and does so more this season than ever before. It’s so hard to watch these kids sometimes, esp. Dukie and Michael’s dealings with his little brother. The way he takes care of him, gets him set up, holds his hand — it’s all very touching, and makes me feel like something bad just has to happen. Watching an 8th grade boy take care of his little brother cause his parents are MIA and he lives in the ghetto, well, that’s going to make your heart flutter a little. It inspires a whole host of emotions: admiration, guilt, sorrow, pity, and the sense that this just isn’t how people should have to live. The Wire’s an incredibly smart and intellectual show, that’s not under dispute, but it also knows how to use emotion at key moments, and with key characters, to either drive home its points or inspire feeling or just keep the plot moving.

Michael reminds me of Wallace, but also of D’Angelo. D’Angelo was and is one of my favorite characters (I can’t commit to a #1 slot), but he was marked from the start. He had to die for so many reasons: to fracture the family; to reveal the way the game had warped the family even as it had built it, had made it a family at all; and to drive home to viewers the real senselessness of the game, its refusal to spare anyone. D’Angelo was a good kid (like Michael), he was trying to do the right thing for himself (get out of the game; Michael’s (still) in school), and he was murdered –sacrificed — by his uncle and his mom. Not sacrificed to some greater good, but to the preservation of the status quo, which keeps money in boys’ pockets but also, Season 4 won’t let us forget, keeps them down in a cycle of poverty, keeps them out of school which is, as idealistic as this is to say, I still maintain, their only hope. (Street smarts are great for surviving, but not so great for leaving, as Stringer learned. And no one really survives the streets, another lesson of The Wire and countless movies — you climb high, you fall hard). To return to the point, D’Angelo’s murder was emotional — it was misty-eyed, and it was supposed to be.

What I’m thinking here is, are there any moments when the show loses its grip on pathos and falls into sentimentality? Are there any scenes — esp of the street, which seems like the easiest place to fall into some serious liberal sappiness — that anyone can remember that seemed cheap in some way, or un-earned? Some of the stuff with Michael and his brother could come across that way, but I think what we’re really seeing is not an unearned emotional moment but set-up for something bigger down the line. In fact, what seems the weirdest and most false to me so far is not on the street at all but is with McNulty and Beadie. I always thought their romance was a bit random, more like a tacked-on wedding at the end of a Victorian novel than a real relationship, and those “ankle-biters” with their perfect behavior and their “McNulty gave it to me” sing-song voices, I don’t know. I just don’t buy it.

Discuss, if you so please.

And if that’s not interesting to anyone, maybe someone else has an opinion on Bloomberg’s newest plan to reward the “good behavior” of the poor with cash? Because the people who aren’t in school, seeing the doctor or scoring well on standardized tests aren’t worth helping. There probably aren’t pressures in their communities or home lives that make “behaving well” an impossibility or anything.

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12 Comments on “Fallen Angels”

  1. Shoals Says:

    i’m assuming you meant michael=wallace because the latter cared for an even bigger pack of children. also, while wallace was naive and traumatized by the streets, he wasn’t nearly on dukie’s level of screwed-uppedness.

    someone on the hbo board made a good point about bodie’s respect for michael, and marlo’s ???????. not that this undermines his utter goodness, but d’angelo was a flawed dealer and wallace couldn’t handle it one bit. though his adeptness at it does seem to stem from some overall strength, not the kind of intuitive hustle bodie has.

    unrelated: that’s fundamentally what separates bodie from someone like wee-bey. he’s got a real instinct for how to play shit, not just an ability to follow orders and do whatever’s deemed necessary. i think that’s also why bodie has always been more than just a low-level street guy, and why the plot has given him chances to show this.

  2. christycash Says:

    Yeah, Michael as Wallace, that’s what I meant, sorry that wasn’t clear.

    You’re totally right that D’Angelo was a bad dealer — I guess that’s what made him even more pity-inspiring, in this way. You got the sense that he was just dealt a bad hand, born into a system that he couldn’t succeed in. He’s a fatalistic character to me.

    Wrt Wee-Bay: I can’t wait to see what happens to Namond. I think he’s such a rich brat. The interaction beween him and Wee-Bay was great — Wee-Bay is totally the dad who was a self-made man and Namond is his brat kid who has no discipline. I hope he gets what’s coming to him.

  3. ReverendDrGladhands Says:

    Granted, I haven’t seen 41, but based on his interraction with Marlo, I pegged Michael as the Bodie of the new group. It took an advanced level of street-saavy for Michael to recognize that accepting Marlo’s gift would leave him endebted to Marlo’s crew. He also understood that taking the money would have posed a conflict of interest while he was working for Bodie. He gets the game.

    on the Bloomberg proposal:

    While I don’t object entirely to the idea of an incentive program (provided that is simply rewards acheivers WITHOUT punnishing underacheivers), this one is laughable on every level. First of all, no NYC program should ever use federal standards of poverty. The states with the greatest per-capita populations of families living below the poverty live also happen to be the states with the lowest costs of living. If a family of four with an income of 17k is impoverished in Mississippi, they’re HOMELESS in NYC. Then comes the question of which “acheivements” are worthy of the incentives. High standardized test scores? Really? Do those reflect effort on the part of the family?

  4. Tom Says:

    The McNulty stuff this season – it works for me.

    McNulty made a difficult judgement after Stringer’s death – he realizes that his unstable personality is unsuited to the lifestyle of a hardcore investigator. He knows he’ll drink himself to death if he keeps trying to save the world, so he decides to slum it as a beat cop (which he incidentally sees as good, quality policework) and settle down with Beadie (rather than hope for a change of heart in his capricious first wife). Is he a bit of a coward or is he making the right choice? It’s hard to say – just as such things are in real life.

    This blog is great! Thanks, and keep it up.

  5. p-city Says:

    First… I’m loving the blog. I came across the link in the HBO comments forum yesterday and I’ve really enjoyed the pieces and comments.

    About Bloomberg’s plan: It won’t work. Families making less than 30K a year have never filled out an itemized tax form. Tax incentives are an abstract (and suspect) reward that they have never experienced and therefore, can’t really truly desire.

    Someone should ante up and identify more tangible and immediate incentives.

  6. Ron G. Says:

    I guess I’ll be Captain Obvious here and say that, at least on the surface, Marlo might as well have been looking in the mirror when he confronted Michael about not taking his cash. That 3 second scene when they stare at each other gave me goosebumps. All the efforts on Marlo by the Co-Op have been futile much like Marlo’s effort on Michael has been all for nought. There are a lot of different directions this character can go, personally I would love to see him get to training with Cutty and become Golden Gloves, but that’s just the pugilistic fan in me.

    Love this site, keep up the great work. Gil for MVP ’06.

  7. christycash Says:

    You know, you say it’s Obvious but for some reason that very clear parallel had eluded me. But you’re right — Michael has (or at least seems to have) an iron will, and also a lot of demons — things that are in no short supply, one assumes, for marlo. And that is doubly interesting because I think that this whole season is set up as a counterpoint to undercut some of the pleasure that seasons 1-3 took in “the game” as such by showing the way life outside the game is dictated and warped by it. (jetsetjunta and i had a long talk about this last night, it’s more complicated and probably deserves its own post one day, but not right now, as I am at that thing i call, loosely, “a job.”) So seeing Michael and Marllo as two sides of one coin is very interesting.

  8. p-city Says:

    I hate to say it, but one of the real reasons for The Wire’s low ratings is that TV is still just TV. People are tuning in and looking for a release. Tony Soprano and Stringer Bell each allow viewers to live vicariously through someone who lives by a different set of rules than the rest of us.

    We know that these people actually exist out there. But, like mortals watching Zeus and the gang throw thunderbolts, we can’t wait to see what they do next.

    (Omar gives viewers the same experience. But, although he is an amazing character, he is too static to provide the same sense of movement that Stringer Bell provided.)

    Watching Bubbles is a different story, though. I feel a sadness when I see him onscreen. I know that people like Bubbles exist, but I don’t want to see what he does next. Yet I can’t turn away when he does.

    The Wire is, without a doubt, the best thing on TV.

  9. Tom Says:

    Simon seems to think there’s a simple reason for the low ratings: the cast is 75% black.

    Unfortunately, I’d have to say “On the money!” a la Prezbo.

  10. jodytibbs Says:

    alot of people have mentioned the parralel between micAEL and marlo but i think that michael is actually a younger version of Avon. If you remember Avon was the one always preaching about family, much like michael who is responsible for his little brother. Also just like michael, Avon used to box and even mentioned that he had a good uppercut.

  11. brooklyn Says:

    the reason for low rating is, in my opinion, the same reason why i did not watch the first season–the language barrier. You can’t expect people to watch something they do not understand. The second season pulled me in because i understood the dialogue much better and once i was hooked, i was not going to miss seasons 3 and on. I, myself, turn on CC in order to get the most out of each show.

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