Into The Steeple / Of Beautiful People

So in keeping with our new policy, which we hope will make us all the more beloved, those seeking links to commentary on #42 may find us speaking on this, that and the other. Those intrepid souls unafraid to explore the spoilers and themes of #43, please continue reading.

rosetta tharpe

I want to begin with some praise (pun intended) for an opening sequence focusing on church that was pure poetry. The Wire‘s creators still shock me sometimes with their ability to present cross-sections not just of the dramatic universe of the show, but of our own world in all its thrilling glory. Those churches are not just sets from the show, nor are they simply churches in Baltimore with mocked up choirs. They are real churches in the world, with real church-goers, choirs, preachers, hand-claps and amens. It was all the more satisfying, then to see that vitality brought from our world into this one, and then so deftly interwoven back into the characters and narratives of the show. See Royce’s empty smile (and note how empty the scenes with him were throughout the episode, as though no one wanted to get too close to a potential loser); learn that Tony Gray is a Catholic (which goes some way to explaining his quiet rage); note Randy sneaking glances as Bodie and the corner boys on the way to his storefront church; and finally, watch Carcetti and his button-cute wife sway and clap earnestly and arhythmically amid a sea of black faces, black believers, black Baltimore.

And Carcetti’s terrified look while processing his victory near the end of the episode spoke once again to his position as a “white mayor in a city that ain’t.” Shoals’ spot-on description of Tommy as “brittle” is evidenced in his constant sway from vitriolic (and self-obsessed) tantrum to earnest hope for the future of his city. Of course, those two aspects of his mercurial personality were both unable to process a friend of his father’s who, pumping Tommy’s hand on the street, lamented the loss of the city to its black politicians, and showed hope for, above all, a change in race in the mayor’s office. It was an awful moment, realizing that not only race but racism determines elections, but perhaps more cuttingly, it was a startling vision of the sorts of people Carcetti has no choice but to work with and possibly for as Mayor. Another of those people, of course, is Clay Davis, whose hilarity as a character notwithstanding is perhaps one of the most venal players in the whole shebang. Yet he is there, and he cannot be brought down, and Carcetti will need him and all his evil ways more than a few times if he wants to get anything done as Mayor.


Shoals really presented a compelling and substantive vision of Randy this week, but I would like to interpose a few thoughts on the matter of him and his representative meaning within the larger scope of the show. He has been profoundly unlucky, both in being chosen to enact a key part in Lex’s murder and in getting caught up in the rape imbroglio. As before, he attempts to weasel out of trouble by telling on others, but I think a lot of the gut reaction meant to be elicited by that: that such behavior is either childishly against the “code” of the streets, or worse (for the judge, that is), that it is the behavior of a “snitch,” is to ignore the impossible position Randy occupies. He is someone who hasn’t given up on himself or the things he wants to think are right and good about himself and the world. He may be disabused of notions about voodoo and zombies; he may revel in his naughty turn as salesmen to 6th graders; he may not be interested in boxing, or dealing drugs, or girls, or boosting cars, or growing up at all. But he does his schoolwork, he tries to please his foster mother (to little avail), and he put all those fliers in all those doorways, because he said he would.

Randy’s honor may be anachronistic, his work ethic may not mean much in the face of his bumbling involvement with all the ugly things around him, and he may be displaying such integrity in small doses just to set himself up for the fall, but I don’t think it’s unimportant that he wants to do the right thing. I think our sympathy, and the program’s, for the necessity of slangin’ is being fully exploded in ways I never would have dreamed of in prior seasons. Ney’s mother, Marlo’s pride, Michael’s parents are all putting Randy’s moral tailspin in high relief. It’s just too bad we know so well what happens to people like him.


Finally, while I plan a longer and more detailed music post dealing with the new playlists on the HBO site, among other things, to spring from my brain fully formed later in the week, I would like to point out that this episode was rife with the use of music. Many have commented that music is always incidental and specific to settings in the show (i.e. it comes from a car, a stereo, etc. – I’m sure there’s a term for that, but I’m not in television so I don’t know). The church scene, Cutty’s jog to Curtis Mayfield and “We Are Family” being sung and played at the election celebration were all really powerful uses of song, more deliberate than usual and more meaningful in the end. “Move On Up” is a propulsive and joyful expression of hope for revolution, and its placement in the voting scene is inspiring enough, until it ends when Cutty sends away an electioneer since he can no longer vote. That went a long way to cooling my frustration with Cutty this week. Finally, the cheese factory of “We Are Family,” was appropriate to the local election celebration soundtrack, but also biting in its use for Carcetti as he wrestles with the very real prospect that not everyone in Baltimore feels like they share something like family with their neighbors or varying class and race distinctions. Still, we’ve got “Move On Up,” and I still have some hope left whenever I hear that song.


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11 Comments on “Into The Steeple / Of Beautiful People”

  1. Shoals Says:

    randy is most of us. it’s kind of shameful that, as fans of a show steeped in realism, myself (and many other viewers) have refused to realistically consider how we might behave in its situations.

    string wanted desperately to be an educated businessman; for a certain audience demographic, he was on the outside straining inward. randy, on the other hand, is the honest point of entry for many of us into the world of west baltimore.

  2. christycash Says:

    It’s clear by now in the season that this “code” of the streets is a fatally flawed one. The idea of “stop snitching,” as we’ve known since the very first season, only serves to perpetuate injustice. (Does anyone else remember when Cam’ron refused to say who had “shot” him in his lambourghini because he wasn’t a “snitch”? As if you could be a “snitch” against yourself. That episode only demonstrated the rabbit-hole logic, taken to its extreme.) The whole idea of a “snitch” is to protect a system that may provide a lot of things — family, money, protection, purpose, employment, belonging — for its participants, but eventually also provides for their ruin. And as you point out, JSJ, Randy isn’t of the streets — so even if you stand by its codes as something worth standing by (it’s pretty clear here that I don’t, at least not for children who still have a chance), those codes shouldn’t apply to him. Those were never intended to be the dominant codes for everyone, anyway; they were outlaw codes. I admired Randy for coming clean about the murder in the principal’s office, and only hope that he wouldn’t be killed for it.

  3. Teresa Says:

    I’m not in TV either but I’ve heard David Chase refer to incidental music on “The Sopranos” as “source music.”

    Thanks for the thoughtful blog.

  4. hoopinion Says:

    Music from a specific source within the frame and/or in the world of the characters is diegetic.

    Randy may end up being a tragic hero. Even more than most kids that age, Randy desperately wants to belong. His conscience/moral code gets such a workout because he was lucky enough to get placed with a caring and supportive foster parent. Just as Miss Anna’s treatment of him reinforces Randy’s morality, the threat of being put back in a group home magnifies all the mistakes of his youth. It’s a different type of sadness than Dukie’s resignation to his lot in life, but no less affecting and unfair.

  5. jetsetjunta Says:

    Thanks for the help with my vocab. I knew I had heard people use better phrasing than mine someplace. I do love how in this episode the constraints of this diegetic sound are used to the benefit of the dramatic development, rather than lapsing into the often soupy realm of the musical wrap-up. To me that convention is like a plague on tv drama, and at this point it has been rendered so cliche that it rarely even tries to do anything more than vaguely echo what catharsis is supposed to look like.

    As for Randy, I think hoopinion is totally on the money. If anything, Miss Anna is the best parent we’ve yet seen on the show, and perhaps this is why Randy is the only child able to put forth any kind of gallant effort at being a just person. Michael is certainly capable of kindness and responsibility too, but he’s also deeply wounded by his family life. It strikes me that the show is presenting parenting as yet another hopelessly broken system in the underclass, where you get one example of decent parenting form the foster parent, a place you would not perhaps initally expect to find it.

  6. Lokar Says:

    I’m not sure of Jetset was referring to the Wire’s use of musical wrap-up at the end of each season, but I think those are great. I’m glad it only happens once a season, though.

    I think Randy’s foster parent being the best of them all is a great point. One would assume that a foster parent has to go through a level of vetting by the state before they can get a kid. Actual parents don’t have to, and the emphasis on being stuck not only on the streets, but with the family, is very important.

    As far as Cutty goes, I’m still not sure about the pedophile implications. I think Michael’s reluctance with the whole boxing thing, and with letting Cutty drive him all the way home, has to do with a general distrust of authority. His meetings with Prez back this up, I think. Having a junkie mother will do that, I suppose.

    So, as an update on the kids (and their potential for tragedy):

    Randy: Good mother has allowed him to keep some level of innocence, and his adaptation to the way of the street (as in, running a candy racket to 6th graders) is insufficient because of it. He’s not growing up fast enough to adapt properly, so that might be his tragic downfall.

    Michael: Junkie mother has forced him into the role as Adult of the House, taking care of his little brother. It has helped him cope better than anyone with home life and the Street, but the attention he’s getting from Marlo because of it (and his distrust of normal authority roles) could mean a move towards the street (this being his tragedy).

    Namond: As posted extensively, his mother and her expectations (hard work and success on the street), are at odds with how he was raised (pampered and not prepared to really work). His pride, but inability to truly function on the corners could mean his downfall.

    Dukie: I had assumed (as others had) that he, being the sweetest and seemingly most hurt by his upbringing, would be the one who got it in the end, but I’m really not sure anymore. He has a quiet resilience to the negatives in his life, and one would hope that a helping hand might do him some good.

    This is obviously a pointless exercise, as we all know the Wire well enough to know that trying to guess what’s going to happen is useless. The smartest show on television doesn’t give into predictability (and even when it does, it is done in the way of an inevitable tragedy). I just know that no matter what happens, even if they all get out okay, I’ll probably cry. And I never cry.

  7. jetsetjunta Says:

    Great points Lokar. I do want to point out that I was not referring to musical montages on The Wire, but rather on shows like ER or Smallville or the O.C. (though I love it) or something, where it seems to happen every week with not real point. Like, “what a deep and affecting 42 minutes we’ve spent together watching nothing important happen. let us revisit some of the highs and lows together with the help of STIRRING MUSIC.”

  8. Lokar Says:

    I didn’t really think you were referring to the Wire, Jetset. I just wanted to voice my love for the end of season montage. Agreed totally about the use of them on other shows (and I, too, watch the O.C.). If the Wire ever uses any version of “Hallelujiah” (whether it be Jeff Buckley, Imogen Heap, or whomever else) over a montage, I will promptly throw my DVD’s out in disgust. Okay, probably not, but you can be sure there will be some serious grimacing at the television screen.

    On another note, I think it’s time for a post about Herc. I love him, but he’s a moron, and I sometimes wonder if I would revile him if he wasn’t given so much screentime. I get the impression he’s basically, from the outside, the same as that horrible Western officer with the Army Ranger haircut.

  9. Lokar Says:

    Rewatching episode 6, I just noticed Cutty coming up to Michael and saying “you know I like the women” after flirting with that extremely attractive woman. I can’t tell if it’s him being a creepy pedophile or if he’s trying to connect with Michael because of his comments at the boxing match.

  10. anonymous Says:

    i didn’t necessarily think so at 1st, but after watching #43, i think cutty indeed thinks michael’s aloofness/discomfort around him is due to his fears of being molested, hence cutty’s comments about women…but thus far, michael’s shown an ability to defy the wishes of grown folk (see: the marlo incident, his initial “i already got a family” response to chris and snoop and, to a lesser degree, skipping detention without telling prez), even against conventional (street) logic…i think he trusts his instincts enough that he would stop going to the gym altogether (a la spider) if he had enough of a problem with cutty…his interaction with cutty may simply boil down to a mistrust of adults (male role models?), something that cutty (and the viewers) are still pondering…also, if michael has been molested (let’s assume it was at home, like many victims), i question why he would let his little brother, who obviously cares for, stay home without his loving supervision in the afternoons, rather than drag him to the gym or even leave him in the care of, say randy, while he works bodie/marlo’s package…on a different note, while i want the best for dukie, i’d rather simon and co. give dukie’s character a wallace-like story arc than make prez’ concern for him become too lean on me-ish (altho that does happen often enough and real life and dukie, with his caring nature, would be the perfect kid for it, then go on to high school, college, uplift his family/leave them in the hood and live happily ever after…)…lastly, did we ever find out who was the mystery math whiz?…it would be fitting if it was dukie…namond is out, michael’s shown an apathy to doing schoolwork (could be a facade/prez didn’t wanna put him out there as an undercover genius) and randy (i won’t get into the stop snitching debate, but his naivete at basic interrogations and eagerness to name names, especially without being prompted, is appalling to me), for all his precocious business acumen, seems far too preoccupied with his candy hustle to get his work done…i wrote way more than i originally intended; i promise to use regular punctuation if there’s a next time

  11. Kevin Says:

    It seems Randy is on a collision course with Marlo as he is the link between them and the death of Lex. If Michael does become a soldier for Marlo I wonder what Marlo would have Michael do to show his loyalty.

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