Although there’s still a lot of loose ends to tie up, or more realistically to simply drag past the camera eye, the shortened season and ornate plotlines (yes i stole the word from Freamon since McNulty couldn’t bring it to mind when talking to the reporters) are making everything seem very tightly packed. I worry I’ll spend too much time writing about Marlo or the gang getting back together (kinda sorta) and ignore Bubs or Dookie, potentially much richer narrative actors since they stand on the knife’s edge of actually making something out of their lives, even if all that means is survival outside of drug addiction or drug pushing. I admire the writers’ ability to allow time for Bubs’ suddenly much flatter, beige-er, boring-er world of sobriety to get so much airtime, since his interactions with Walon, the director at the soup kitchen, the nurse, and his sister have painted one of the fuller portraits of a life that we’ve seen all season, and certainly in his character’s history. Not being high stretches out time, allows for all the recollections that were previously so easy to subsume beneath the brain-fry-up to rise up and wait on the still surface of everyday chores and banalities. Realizing he doesn’t have decades of medications, doctor visits and fear of his own body’s capacity for failure in the cards is unsettling because it’s just another, larger “now what?” At least HIV would have allowed Bubs to focus on his years of using and point to their consequences, but without illness, with a relatively fresh and low-interest lease on life (forgive the metaphor; too much financial newsreading), Bubs sees days stretching out before him without joy and without despair, just stretched out, blank. If the first few episodes where he was fitful and anxious were the emotional hole after the extended high, this is the phase that follows, where Bubs has to decide if he wants to push his life forward in any direction, if he can push anywhere other than the simple maintenance of sobriety, already a weighty burden.
Cutty’s reappearance and pointed dialogue with Dookie (how these two have missed meeting before seems now ludicrous) refracts Bubs’ predicament from another angle. While we’ve known Cutty’s to be a genuinely positive tale of rehabilitation and redemption through good works (admittedly bankrolled, at least at first, by some pretty bad works, but, you know, it’s all, what’s the word? collected? corrected? dang), his talk with Dookie betrays a larger sadness that life may exist outside the neighborhoods he has always known, but he’s been forever cut off from it, and is likely never to see it. It’s a real No Exit moment, and while Dookie provides a hopeful example (and of course, be careful what you hope for on this show. best to duck and cover) of someone whose “other skills,” as Michael puts it (I hate myself for having thought, at that dense and weighty moment (I mean they’re holding GUNS!) of Napoleon Dynamite), could earn him a pass to that larger world, one wonders if there is anywhere for him to go. School? He seems to have abandoned any thought of that, presumably because Michael counts on him to look after Bug, though night school exists, and there are other ways always. Yet these thoughts bandied between two of the most langorous, pensive, and, each certainly in their own way intellectual (for Cutty perhaps his last name Wise is a better adjective) characters on the show reflect a larger theme in the episode and the series, of being trapped, but of that state that not stopping anyone from having, as the quote at the start notes, an opinion.
Of course if we look close enough we find that every character is, to some degree, trapped: McNulty in his quest to do police work is trapped in an ever-more-screwed state of personal and professional hell; Daniels sees his hands tied tighter than ever before as he assumes greater power than ever; Davis is trapped in the eternal shit-eating process of avoiding absolute failure; I could go on forever. But I think that while Simon & Burns and the other writers like to remind us that there are better things in the world, better lives to lead (lives that most viewers, presumably, lead), the words of Beanie Sigel ring true for many more in this country: “And still we grind from the bottom / Just to make it to the bottom.” Think about Bodie.
So there I go spending a whole post talking about characters who (save one) did not even hold a gun or wield any kind of power in the episode. Never enough time.