To Each His Vulcans

In the run-up to January, I’ve been watching Season Two again. It had always been my least favorite, mostly because it’s the whitest; while there is the “gotcha” connection to the Barksadale saga, by and large it’s about setting about a parallel form of Baltimore strife. With the union severely corrupt and the next generation turning to crime, the stage is being set for a neighborhood’s downfall—or, this being the twenty-first century, gentrification. Then there’s Frog and White Mike, intentionally pale reflections of West Baltimore soldiers.

But this around, I’ve been fascinated by how much this season widens the shows scope. Not in its ode to Sobotka and the docks, but in the international crime syndicate that all of sudden crops up. The characters of The Wire are comically, sadly provincial. Most of them know this, and take a small measure of pride in it. Season Two offers remind us, with almost crushing irony, that Baltimore is technically still a port city, a gateway to the world. But at this point, the only people who care are undesirables on some sneak and smuggle shit. I once thought it screwy that Spiros, The Greek, Sergei, and Etan hung around Baltimore. I’m realizing now that this is both apt and believable.

And yet as characters, this crew was only barely developed; past the facts, the most we learn about any of them is Spiros’s misplaced paternal affection for Nick. They demonstrate Baltimore’s backhanded niche in globalization, remind us of drug trade food chain, and, in some ways, sidetrack the “portrait of an American city” project. These cosmopolitan gangsters provide a window out into a nearly infinite network of localized dramas, a million Wires waiting to be made in nearly as many languages. Lord knows I’d rather see that than Traffic or Syriana. But they all vanished after that season’s finale, which for this program is pretty unusual. It’s like they mostly just spoke of the port, while further isolating that scene from the other seasons.

But during Season Four’s balls-out montage, all of a sudden Spiros and The Greek returned. What’s telling is that they’re introduced as part of Marlo’s power-mad machinations; he demands a meeting with Spiros and later tails The Greek. In Season Two, their involvement in the drug game put Stringer and Prop Joe in perspective. Kings of Baltimore, they were but placeholders in a far bigger structure. It’s kind of like that scene where Nick enlists Sergei and company to confront Cheese. Sitting in the car, you can see Nick’s expression shift from apprehensive to, well, more apprehensive. First, he’s nervous about the situation getting ugly. Then, when the uzis come out and Nick realizes just how deep shit is. He hasn’t just tip-toed over the dark side—he’s plunged headfirst into the abyss.

Marlo, on the other hand, has already proven himself in his field. He’s ruthless and rational at the same time, exercising an iron hand with hardly a loose end left. The fact that Prop Joe will set up face time with Spiros for him speaks volumes for Marlo’s place in the drug lord pecking order. So when we see him trying to insinuate himself into that next level, it’s not a joke at his expense. Marlo Stanfield wants to make it out the criminal ghetto (that’s what happened in American Gangster, right?), and until proven otherwise, we have to take his ambitions serious.

Despite all the geo-political complexity that separates West Baltimore’s dealers from The Greek’s brand of organized crime, what makes it matter is the disparity in power. If Marlo can get their attention, earn their respect, or go toe-to-toe with them, his story becomes about raw power, and these out-of-towners become a measuring stick. Peers, not semi-facetious foils.

Explore posts in the same categories: organized crime

8 Comments on “To Each His Vulcans”

  1. Ben Guest Says:

    I caught a quick glimpse of Nick in one of the Season 5 previews as well.

    Spiros and The Greek are not a part of Baltimore in the same way that the other characters are. I imagine this is why there has not been an in-depth look into their organization (beyond what we saw in Season 2). They are part of an international crime organization who touched down in Baltimore. When Baltimore got too hot, they pulled out.

    I would love to see a season, or even a different show, examining this type of organization. I imagine, though, that Simon and Burns have had only the barest glimpse into this type of syndicate.

  2. Ann Says:

    Interestingly enough Michale K. Williams in the recent special The Wire Odyssey also speaks about season. He mentions how by taking the show to the docks it put the Stringer/Barkdale drug trade into perspective. I agree without season 2 it might have been easy to miss the point that the Barkdales were really just little fish in a big pond and that the drug trade in West Baltimore is just a tip of the iceberg.

  3. ryan Says:

    Pretty much summed up my earlier thoughts on season 2. Initially, like most die hards of the show, I was a bit put off by what Shoals and others call the “whiteness” of the season. But this really is a storyline that can best be appreciated upon closer examination. It really does open up the series to much bigger things. It made the transition into the political aspect of S3 much smoother, and shows that every corner you turn, the system is damaged. The nostalgia for “better days” within Frank Sobotka definitely resonates when you look at the context of the series as a whole.

  4. dobie Says:

    Season 2 is unfairly deingrated by many Wire fans. It’s the season that widened the scope of the show to be about more than just another bunch of black drug dealers being chased by the police on tv. It’s the season that began to draw distinctions between different philosophies of drug dealing with stringer bell and prop joe on one side and avon barksdale on the other. By using the dockworkers it showed how industrial collapse leads men into crime, severing the stereotype that blacks deal drugs because they’re black and that’s what simply black people are like.

    It’s the season that shows the breadth and complexity of the drug trade from roaming gangs of international traffickers to roaming enforcers like Brother Mouzone. Season 2 is when The Wire showed how special a show it is.

  5. Dat RoRo Kid Says:

    That portion of the organized crime syndicate doesn’t just re-appear all of a sudden during Season 5. Don’t Spiros and Marlo meet via Prop Joe in the last episode of Season 4? I’ll have to re-watch ‘Final Grades’.

  6. Shoals Says:

    That was a typo; obviously I was talking about Season Four, since Season Five hasn’t happened yet.

  7. joe-el Says:

    “I’ve been watching Season Two again. It had always been my least favorite, mostly because it’s the whitest”

    Truly a statement that only the whitest of the white (bread) would make,

    Co-sign on what Michael Williams and the above poster mentioned…to take season two out of the wire would have made the world of the Wire and Baltimore in general seem so much smaller. As a post-industrial, population-decreasing city, it was absolutely essential that the current state of unionized labor be shown unto the masses that were entrapped in the love of these ghetto drug dealers. You hit it spot on in that the Sobotka storyline is a tidy parallel to the Barksdale saga.

    I can’t wait to see bits and pieces from season two helping connect the dots further on the new go-round.


  8. Shoals Says:

    Hey JE–

    When I write a sentence as silly as “my least favorite because it’s the whitest,” it doesn’t need you to make it self-aware and self-deprecating. Thanks, though.

    And while I’m white, I’m not that white.

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