Hothouse of honor
Found a way to fit #41 into my busy day off, and am now faced with the realization that we’ve been speaking on a narrative that’s barely off the ground. As heady as the first three episodes were, I can safely say that I’m now certifiably dizzy and stunned by where this is all headed. Before I get into my fairly narrow point, I want you all to know that 1) David Simon’s readership will not change H&H and 2) Colvin’s stroll through the school played a lot like Bubbles’ descent into Hamsterdam.
As much as it’s become a cliche to say that The Wire blurs the distinction between good and evil, cops and robbers, or order and chaos, my personal take is that it’s all a matter of honor. “Good police” don’t merely solve cases; they also do so in a way that commands the respect of their peers. As we’ve seen time and time again on the street side of things, the g-code is both the key to surivival and the structure that keep the game from imploding. Even Omar, the show’s very own non-traditional combatant, seems intent on abiding by his principles and respecting the past; hence his bizarre ability to stay alive, when the less cavalier Stringer’s downfall was brought about by his amorality.
For all this hub-bub about parallel systems of valor, it’s been largely unclear whether there’s any intersection here between the streets and the law. There was Colvin’s half-dreamt meeting with Stringer, and the ongoing slapstick routine that is Bodie vs. Herc/Carver. Otherwise, I have trouble thinking of examples where these two ways of making truth have come into collision with each other, if only symbolically. If drug dealers, police, and likely politicians share a common template, it’s only at the most basic, stem-cell-in-a-bank-vault, level. Practically speaking, the basic clash in goals keeps them from speaking the same moral language, something made into bleak comedy when Omar had his day in court.
Here, though, Cutty from the Cut might be the cipher, or Rosetta Stone, we so sorely need. There’s no doubt that he still carries the streets within him; last season, we saw him rep for the old order against Fruit, and command the eternal approval of Avon and Slim even as he exited the organization. And just as Colvin’s professional background makes him academia’s ear to the realness, Cutty can reach the corner boys because he carries weight in both worlds. In Season 3, this seemed like a transitional phase in the life of a man reformed. At this point, though, Cutty’s looking more and more like the show’s great hope for change, the prototype for the kind of role model who can communicate with at-risk kids without forcing them to compromise themselves.
The implications of this are pretty fucking amazing. Rather than simply validate the authentic cop, this implies that yes, there is some worth in the way of the criminal element. Not as anti-heroes, or metaphors, or mistranslated examples of what could have been. Instead, Cutty points toward our friendly neighborhood drug gang as containing some valuable advice on inner city masculinity. Nowhere was this more evident then when Mr. Wise observes Randy’s interrogation in the principal’s office. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that Randy, while a decent kid, is as soft as his physique, and lacks the grit that draws Cutty to Michael and Justin. He thrives on the discipline of his foster mom, and seems fairy detached from his friends’ flirations with dealing. They post up on the corner, he hustles candy. Nothing wrong with him as a person, but he’s not the type Cutty’s out to save. This scene only made explicit the connection between who Cutty chooses to train and whose behavior in adolescent environment synchs up with a certain version of manhood.
On the other hand, emergent golden child Michael is the missing link between Cutty and Marlo, the proud youngster who fits perfectly into either the gym or the game. Granted, his behavior at the fights suggests that might not be this monolithic, and the “coming scenes” have me wondering if he’s less stable than we think. For now, though, that both men see Michael as their pet project tells us a lot about how much they have in common—and how both have to be understand as having unequivocally positive qualities. Then again, with Marlo’s crew looking more mindlessly sinister than ever, and the Prince of Darkness himself beginning to let his emotions get the best of him, this paragraph may not make sense for much longer. Hopefully Prop Joe will intervene and redeem this line of reasoning.
Actually, even if Marlo does start to unravel, that Michael resembles him and his most impressive is consistent with the “Marlo represents wasted potential” interpretation. Marlo is street character corrupted and misused, but deep down inside looks a lot like Michael, or could conceivably parlay with Cutty. As far as I know, no cop—not even that rogue McNulty, or Bunk on a bench with Omar—could ever achieve that commonality. And I, for one, have zero problem thinking that the streets might have an equal or greater version of inner goodness on its side.