Bon Appetit

A lot of good discussion going on about episode 46… this post will continue the trend of spoiling it. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

If anyone hasn’t had enough of beating me over last week’s post and the tempest in teapot it started, please, add some gasoline to the flames here. More 45 content here.

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Today I want to think about the steak dinner at Ruth’s Chris that Colvin “treated” Zenobia, Nay and Darnell for completing their puzzle — ie, working together as a team — the fastest. (Okay, they were the only ones to complete it, the few extra pieces in Nay’s pocket notwithstanding. But they were still the fastest.) As Shoals pointed out, there are obvious echoes here with both the expensive dinner McNulty and D’Agostino had, as well — more interestingly in this case, I think — the dinner that D’Angelo and Donette had in Season 1. Not only do these moments require the characters on the show to physically move to different spaces — to go from the Towers to the waterfront; from the run-down basement to the fancy hotel — but they obviously put them way out of their element. D’Angelo memorably told Donette that he was worried they didn’t belong; she tried to assure him that as long as he could pay, they belonged, but D’Angelo knew, as Stringer found out, that money can’t buy you everything. On The Wire, you can’t ever escape where you came from. Incidentally, this plays into one of the themes I obsess over in crime/mobster shows/movies: Wealth doesn’t change people, it just exaggerates who they already are. Think about the house in Goodfellas. The money they have doesn’t buy class, or good taste — it just gives them the freedom to be bigger versions of themselves. Stringer thought that he could change who he was and where he came from; he found out that on this show, you can’t. Whether or not you can in America is a bigger question, and one that probably has no one answer.

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I was glad that we saw the kids in Colvin’s car both going and coming; it provided some nice bookends for the scene, from Billie Holiday to rap, from openness to the unknown, soft and melodic, to a return to the harsh familiar. There are a lot of obvious things to say: The kids were out of their element; they were freaked out; they didn’t like being reminded of the difference between them and “high” society. But I think that, in fact, it wasn’t being reminded of the difference that upset them — it was becoming aware of it. Much like Bodie didn’t know there was other radio outside of Baltimore (and thus listened to Prairie Home Companion in one of my favorite Wire moments ever), these kids just didn’t know that people drank without straws or that a hostess shows you to your table. I held my breath while the Asian waitress recited the specials; part of me was afraid the kids were going to make fun of her accent. But they were too scared to do even that.

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Why did Colvin do it? Was he trying to show them how small their lives are, how the “big stakes” of controlling one shitty corner versus another are nothing compared to what’s available to you outside of that world? Was he just experimenting? Some might say that Colvin’s unfeeling, that he’s interested purely in experiment and not in these kids’ lives. I think that it’s probably true that he’s not too worried about breaking a few eggs. But that’s only because he’s trying to understand what makes them tick. He might have gone too far; but if he hadn’t, he never would have known where the line is.

And did anybody else get a huge kick out of Zenobia? That girl is such a queen. She handled the experience much better than the boys — it was almost like Zenobia had been waiting for someone to at last recognize that she was hot shit. It was her close up, and she was ready for it.

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18 Comments on “Bon Appetit”

  1. Shoals Says:

    if she handled it so well, why didn’t she want to pose in front of the restaraunt?

  2. jetsetjunta Says:

    I think she still handled it better than Darnell and Namond. All of them began acting out as soon as they left the place, with Namond perhaps being the worst (and the whole juxtaposition is funny considering Nay’s insane outburst where he wouldn’t stop saying “fuck you” to Colvin). Zenobia seemed the happiest to strut her stuff and talk about how long it took to do her hair, whereas Darnell and Namond just seemed lost. There was a strangeness too to how they all quieted down and didn’t really want to talk at all until they were in the car. Like, did they just get completely shut down? Were they too scared to speak (or order the right thing)? Were they actually depressed about reckoning with the haves and being the have nots? The gleeful bragging the following day was a note of truth, showing that they are still kids, eager for any chance to pump themselves up and show a bit of glamour. I wonder what this all means in terms of Bunny’s involvement with the sociological work and with his relationship to the school.

  3. PostmanE Says:

    I agree with your Goodfellas analogy, but to a point. In the kids’ cases, what I was most surprised with was relatively conscious decision to very quickly re-establish identity. Namond went for rap radio, the other kid for the Mickey D’s, etc. In Goodfellas, the choice was never presented – Henry Hill and wifey THOUGHT they were being classy, different from their upbringing, even though money simply accentuated their bad taste rather than change them altogether.

    With Namond, it was like they chose to, in the face of possibility, consciously reject it. One imagines Henry Hill had far loftier ideas.

    What puzzles me is – why? I suppose that’s the question Colvin’s after as well, but do you think even Simon has an answer? Does anyone? What causes people to reject hope – or at least to reformulate hope to fit their own paradigm for the sake of convenience?

    Or was the whole situation so jarring – “holy shit, people don’t use straws?!?” – that Namond and Co. felt the need to rebel in whatever way possible. Instinctual rebellion, I guess?

  4. Shoals Says:

    what’s weird about colvin is that we never really saw how he interacted with the crime side of things. except for that graveyard meeting with string, which has absolutely nothing to do with corner kids.

  5. christycash Says:

    Postman I think your comments are right-on. I think what these moments in the fancy restaurants reveal is the world outside the small world of drugs, gangs, etc. I think that rejecting the outside world is almost necessary in order to have dignity in pride in your own life, no matter how squeezed, limited or caged it is. I mean, what is a “ghetto queen” but someone who refuses to lose their humanity or dignity or individuality in depressing circumstances? The problem comes when the pride one takes in one’s world starts actually preventing one from, you know, moving up to a better world — getting an education, a job you might enjoy, or at least get paid decent money for, all that.

  6. Kevin Says:

    As Omar said, “A man gotta live with he know.”

  7. Vinay Says:

    I suppose you could call it pride that makes the kids so scared of this outside world. But what I think is more likely is a stigma, an ingrained culture of being lesser. I think the scene is important in that it tries to point out a vicious cycle where hope is just a silly thought. These kids have it tattooed into their psyche that they are lesser than this outside “have” world. It’s a terrible phenomenon that exists, but one I think is being pointed out in this case. I don’t imply that these kids can’t be “taught” to breakthrough such notions, but it’s what is real at that moment.

  8. gotcha Says:

    yeah, I agree with vinay…not only is it a vicious cycle, but its one in which the steps are also self-fulfilling.
    I don’t know, I view Colvin as more of an idealist. I don’t really see him using the dinner as an experiment, or at least as a sociological experiment anyways. I think Colvin wanted to show these kids that there was more in the world to experience then the 3 square blocks these kids inhabit. The dinner was his way of giving them some type of positive reinforcement for their behavior, and it back-fired because he didn’t realize that the reward actually turned out otherwise.

  9. hoopinion Says:

    I think a lot of the behavior that got these kids is, in part, a manifestation of a psychologically protective attempt to feel in control of their lives. Though the respective root causes are far, far different, their behavior at the restaurant were not dissimilar to the wave of extreme discomfort I still occasionally experience when presented with new and unfamiliar surroundings. When I was their age, I would deal with that by retreating to someplace comfortable (a literal, physical retreat).

    Once I regained my psychic equilibrium, my reaction to the unfamiliar was recognizably irrational and I’d feel a little ashamed about that. I got a lot of practical experience dealing with this as I grew up. Unfortunately, one has to assume that these kids won’t and that this part of themselves will not have the chance to mature.

  10. Simonsbitch Says:

    I think Colvin was surprised at how the kids were cowed and humiliated. It was planned, I think, as a true reward and to show these kids a larger world. I don’t think Colvin realized just how damaged these kids are. His comments to Parenti the day after, to me, affirmed that he miscalculated and now needed to reassess.

    Kevin’s comment about Omar also got to me thinking…where does Omar go from here? He’s given his word and we know that means something.

  11. Gavrilo Says:

    Back to the dinner: I have only found things to criticize with this show a couple of times in 4 seasons, but this is one of them. Taking the kids out to dinner was a good idea for the show, but I think it was overkill to take them to a really fancy place. First, Ruth’s Chris is pretty expensive, and if Colvin is as underpaid as we are led to believe, I don’t think it’s the kind of place he would frequent, much less choose for the field trip. It would have made more sense to me if they had gone to a decent middlebrow sit-down restaurant like Olive Garden or even Sizzler–that would be jarring enough for the corner kids. A fancy place seems like the kind of thing the academic would do, not Colvin.

    Second, I think it would have been more interesting for them to have gone not to a mostly-white restaurant, but one populated by more prosperous black people–again, maybe the kind of place Colvin might ordinarily eat. I could go on but since I’m already a week behind the curve, I will yield the floor.

  12. Shoals Says:

    i was about to agree with everything you said, then pizzawhale reminded me that colvin says “any restaraunt you can agree on.” granted, it was “any restaraunt downtown you can agree on,” but it’s not like he completely manipulated them or something.

    more to the point, why didn’t d’angelo and donette go somewhere less white and off-putting? did they not know any better, either?

  13. christycash Says:

    Maybe part of what D&D wanted to prove was that they had made it into the most elite spaces — which are the whitest ones. Or, more likely, they thought that it didn’t matter: That their money was as green as anyone else’s. They thought that belonging was about paying the bill when really, for D’Angelo at least, it proved to be about more. Donette was more like, screw those people, your money is as good as theirs. She had a more positive attitude about it, or was able to hide it better, or was able to shrug off the stares and insist on her right to be there. D’Angelo was troubled by it. I know that not everyone agrees with me that Zenobia handled Ruth’s Chris better, but I maintain she did. Interesting that in both these scenes, women were more able to negotiate than men.

  14. Shoals Says:

    after watching that episode again, i now agree with you about zenobia. she also didn’t seem quite as clueless.

  15. Gavrilo Says:

    Shoals/pizzawhale–true that the kids got to pick the restaurant, but even that is hard to imagine. Did Nay have Zagat handy? More believable if Colvin had said, what kind of food do you want, or something. Saying. And I agree that Zenobia seemed less clueless/more clueful.

  16. Shoals Says:

    again, he did say it would be downtown, which is kind of where it got fucked up. but i’m assuming naymond said something like “the most expensive ass steak house on the harbor.”

  17. Gavrilo Says:

    That’s an explanation I can live with.

  18. williedigital Says:

    To be fair, Ruth’s Chris seems especially popular among wealthy African Americans. I can think of several interviews with NBA players I’ve read over the past several years that mention going there. Maybe one of the kids read it in SLAM or something….


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