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.
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.