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.
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.
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.
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.