Ready… okay. Episode 1. I’ve got some thoughts on it. duh.

I want to start with a question that builds off Shoals’s post about the newsroom. I, for one, am pretty psyched to have the Sun and the newsroom as a big part of the plot. But I’ve always been the HH-er who likes the Carcetti plots and the politics plots, so it’s really no surprise that I welcome this one. It’s not that I don’t like the corner, it’s just that after this many seasons, the day-to-day drama of the same system doesn’t appeal to me as much as branching into the new world of the new season. The corner boys have my sympathies and my respect, but their world is way fucked up, and I like the plots that talk about how it got to be that way and how it intersects with the powers. So to get to my question. Some of the journalists’ dialogue is a little hard to take, but I think that’s just because it’s so familiar. I’m thinking particularly of the bit about evacuating people vs. evacuating buildings. That is like Copy Editing 101, and anyone who’s ever worked at a paper or a magazine knows it. So what I’m wondering now is how much of the cop or street dialogue is boilerplate to listen to for the people from those worlds. What have I been missing?


Second thing I want to say. McNulty had a line about how he wonders what it’s like to work for a “real” police department; eager beaver ladder climbing reporter boy had his own quip about working at a “real” paper. (He, by the way, is going to get really annoying really fast if he doesn’t do more than establish his character with neon signs.) They see their situation as a kind of referendum on how shitty Baltimore is. But it seems to me that the cutbacks they’re dealing with are the rule, not the exception. They are interpreting a mass breakdown of urban infrastructure as local. Of course, when you’re in Baltimore or Philly or wherever you’re going to long to get out and get someplace where the trains run on time. But the trains don’t really run anywhere anymore.


Third and last thing, riding my lady horse. My friend A. had a great point the other day re women and the show, relating to the sex slaves sting. Why, she wanted to know, was McNulty sleeping with one of those women played for laughs? Would you think it was funny if a white master had sex with a black slave in 1800? The little crack in this most recent episode about what a hotshot McNulty was reminded me of what she said. And irked me! It was written to get an appreciative laugh from male viewers and without any regard to the woman’s humanity. Enough with the boys club already.

Thinking of McNulty. I’m going to sign off with some reflections on Irish cops from Bonfire of the Vanities, which I’m reading for the first time. (so please no spoilers!) “The Irish were disappearing from New York, so far as the general population was concerned. In politics, the Irish, who twenty years ago still ran the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, and much of Manhattan, were down to one seedy little district over on the West Side of Manhattan, over where all the unused piers rusted in the Hudson River…. Everybody moving up in the Bronx District Attorney’s Office was Jewish or Italian. And yet the Irish stamp was on the Police Department and on the Homicide Bureau of the D.A.’s Office, and it would probably be there forever. Irish machismo — that was the dour madness that gripped them all. They called themselves Harps and Donkeys, the Irish did. Donkeys! They used the word themselves, in pride but also as an admission. They understood the word. Irish bravery was not the bravery of the lion but the bravery of the donkey. As a cop, or as an assistant district attorney in Homicide, no matter what kind of stupid fix you got yourself into, you never backed off. You held your ground. That was what was scary about even the smallest and most insignificant of the breed. Once they took a position, they were ready to fight. To deal with them you had to be willing to fight also, and not that many people on this poor globe were willing to fight.”

lion and donkey

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18 Comments on “Whoa-whoa-won”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    The “real police department” line has been used before, in earlier seasons. I seem to recall maybe Sydnor saying it at one point.

  2. Shoals Says:

    So Simon has a stake in seeing the Irish as a meaningful ethnic minority?

  3. brian Says:

    I’ve always been concerned that what came across as “real” just appeared “real” because it was exotic. That is, most of the people who froth about how genuine the Wire is are not in a position to know. And I’m not talking about historically “real” or situationally “real”, I’m talking about tone, affect, dialogue.

  4. Derms Says:

    Nice piece. I cannot speak for any world other than the one that I know but the dialogue amongst the teachers and education folks in Season 4 was pretty dead on. I teach in a middle school and that was almost dead on as far as standardized testing and the kids is concerned. It really opened my eyes to all the similarities that exist between police and teachers. I am constantly finding myself victim to “chain of command” and “juking the stats.”

  5. David Simon Says:

    It may be Copy Editing 101, but I didn’t learn it until my first year of police reporting at The Sun and it was indeed taught to me by the late, great Jay Spry. Secondly, I keep seeing news reporters evacuating people to this day in various publications, so Spry is, for a lot of reasons missed.

    Welcome back. I hope you enjoy and argue and praise and ridicule to your hearts’ content for the next ten weeks. Thanks again for taking the work seriously and addressing it seriously. Sites like this one have spread the gospel and allowed us to finish on proper terms and I thank you.

    Baltimore, Md.

  6. HonestTea Says:


    Mr. Simon is also back in mid-Season form.

    To address the issue of “real,” I feel that many viewers can sense whether something is “real” or not, even if they don’t have first-hand experience.

    I don’t mean to say that viewers are never fooled, or that viewers even really consciously know whether a scene, or a piece of dialogue, or an plotline is accurate or not. But I think discerning viewers come with a certain level of bullshit detection. Whether it be how the dialogue sounds, or the presentation of a scene, or the nuances in acting, or just how the whole package comes together, certain viewers (and by “certain viewers” I mean “HH writers” can intuit the difference between “The Wire” and “The Shield” (to say nothing of “NYPD Blue”)

    A part of it is being aware of Television and Hollywood conventions, and a part of it is being in tune with how real people around us actually act and speak.

    That is not to say that Simon could insert a piece of inaccuracy into the show and we, the viewers, would call him on it. In fact, we’d likely accept is as gospel. But the relationship between a show and its viewers is one that is cultivated over time, and at this point The Wire and its viewers have a trust in each other. I trust Simon, the writers and the actors to be committed to the real, and I think (hope… wish… dream…) that the craftsmen trust the viewers to be eager watchers that will catch most of the details without having to have them being flourescent.

    In other words, I don’t know shit about cops, drug dealers, port workers, inner city schools, politics, or the media. Shit, I don’t know much about America (ask be about the afflicted in Seoul, though). But I believe I can halfway sense when a show is making an effort to, and succeeding, in being real. And The Wire has earned that trust with me.

  7. Mal Says:

    Regarding the ‘realness’ of the show, I think one thing which helps is a willingness to leave things up to the audience to decide. Any show which starts of with characters in a pre-existing relationship (say, McNulty & Bunk) has to spend at least some timje establishing who the people are to each other. I haven’t seen s5e1 yet, but in every other series, I feel like the info we’re given is as minimal and as unobtrusive as possible (pretty much just name and rank), and it’s only over the course of the season that we see hierarchies, tensions and politics reveal themselves.

    For example, rewatching series 4 now, it’s interesting to see how Naymond, after his lengthy talks in class about how you gain respect on the corner, completely loses the respect of his little hopper (Kenard?) by breaking his own rules – letting his mother boss him and bodie around, giving Michael’s mother a cheap hit etc. I’ve seen many shows where characters establish their role in the first five minutes (He’s the tough guy/the rulebreaker/the boss/the quiet, obsessive one etc etc), and while plots may change around these figures, their initial stance and position usually remains. Even Oz, which I adored, rarely seemed to allow people to be changed by their time in jail, apart from by death/brutality – whereas, for example, the Carver or McNulty of s1 is a totally different person to the Carver or McNulty of s4.

  8. Ty Keenan Says:

    I agree with Mal’s points about characterization, but I also think that certain characters are initially drawn pretty broadly, or at least I experience it that way. As christy points out, the young reporter was definitely in neon in this first episode, but I also thought that about Rawls after the first few episodes. What I’ve always appreciated about the show is that it explains how apparent cliches or types come into existence, and eventually they stop being types because of that. Or, in cases like that of Daniels, the characters are given amounts of depth that turn them into entirely different beasts.

    As it happens, this point was my biggest problem with the Atlantic article that was linked yesterday: the author seemed to think that a depiction of a problematic managing editor says that this real managing editor was the asshat and major problem. And it seems like Simon thinks that guy was an asshat, but the show has always been more concerned with the bigger issues that create asshats. I think this issue is also bothering me w/r/t people that say “I hate Herc.” Well, yeah, but what creates Herc? Agency can rarely be attributed to an individual person on this show. To return to the focus of this thread, that’s more real to me than any amount of accurate speech patterns and terms.

  9. christycash Says:

    talk about excitement. there’s nothing like going straight to the source. a good copy editor is hard to find… let me just say that I’m not saying that the dialogue is bullshit — just that I’m wondering what other standard speak we got in the classroom, at the docks, etc. but thinking back, i guess the flags are pretty clear — juking stats, NCLB, waterfront development. maybe boilerplate was the wrong word. after all, I learned a lot of stuff in introductory-level classes!

    honest-tea, any info you have about seoul and what it’s like there for whatever the equivalent would be of the street, would be awesome to share. i saw a segment on tv recently about police in tokyo that made it look like they had really gotten the idea of neighborhood policing down. cops live in the neighborhoods and, in the absence of a strong religious culture, are the go-to guys for people to talk about problems, get help for all kinds of bureaucratic matters, etc. of course, they also don’t have as many guns as we do. so it’s hard to say what we can really take from their example.

  10. Mal Says:

    Ok, just seen s5e1, and while the neon comments are right, as is the bit about ‘obvious’ journalese, I think as a start to a series, it’s at least as successful as 1, 2 or 4. I only miss 3 from that as the continuing Barksdale plot meant less need to introduce new characters.

  11. Drew Says:

    Speaking of “real,” a lot of times this show — and many other well done shows — will portray an inappropriate joke or scene, whether it’s racist, sexist or homophobic, to, yes, be real but to also demonstrate to the viewer that the characters are flawed. And to point out how idiotic and pig-headed those jokes and situations can look to the outside observer. If you recall, McNulty’s sexual encounter with the sex slaves was on the heels of the one correct sexual encounter he didn’t have. After Beadie invites McNulty into her house and gives him a beer, we all expect the two to have meaningless, cheap sex. When McNulty thinks better of it (after seeing evidence of her children), we think McNulty is turning the moral corner. But like most “real” people, McNulty is a flawed man. And a few episodes later, he’s doing something obnoxious like having sex during a raid. Was this played for jokes? Among the men of the Baltimore Police Department it was. Because too often that’s exactly how men act.
    The look on Pearlman’s face as she read his report, however, demonstrated the woman’s point of view. While there were some humorous aspects to the entire scene, I did not find that scene to be a joke. I found it uncomfortable and disappointing, but that’s what we’ve come to expect from McNulty and guys like him, right?

  12. alena Says:

    I am so thrilled that David Simon has now been made aware of my critique of the sex slaves sex scene, it makes me as giddy as McNulty was while he was getting double teamed!

  13. alena Says:

    ps Drew- I think the problem with the scene was not the way McNulty or the other members of the police dept responded to the incident, but the fact that the show itself never gave any of us the opportunity to get to know any of those girls as human beings. Therefore they never rose above the level of “human cargo” for us, and they were basically used as props in that scene to make the character points about McNulty that you correctly identify.

    If the show has the capacity to find the humanity in so many people from so many walks of life (both good and bad), why couldn’t we have gotten to know at least one of those women over the course of season 2? It’s not as if their story wouldn’t have been totally fascinating! They were shipped across the ocean in a box for gods sake. That’s not sexy… but it’s deep.

  14. John Peterson Says:

    My elder siblings grew up in a poor black neighborhood in Baltimore (near Greenmount) and this (drug dealing, street talk, dead bodies) was their world. The shit’s real, yo.

  15. Mal Says:

    Alena – it’s a fair point, but maybe not giving any personal contact with the prostitutes is perhaps more realistic? We may say that Jimmy going to the brothel and using/being used by these women without any emotional or personal side to them being shown is unfair to them, but surely this is more realistic? I can’t imagine many customers stopping to chat to them, and we are told that if any of the women are seen to be getting too close to the johns, they are moved on.

    Also, there is a scene where Jimmy talks to the women in Jail to try and find more info about the dead girl, and they make it quite clear they want nothing to do with him. This was fairly important plot wise, and I worry that any attempt to reveal a personal side to them may have contradicted this.

    I guess what i’m trying to say is that one of the most distressing things about their situation was the lack of personal contact they had – there was no one to ask for help. I can’t think of any way they could have told their story while keeping that sense of helplessness intact.

  16. Tom Clancy Says:

    I took the scene about McNulty and the prostitute to be shorthand for indicating the other cop is a clown: he bothers to dig in an old case file to validate a dirty story he heard and then relates it using the word “blowed” twice. It’s also a good synecdoche for how seductive the life of drinking and hanging out with the boys can be for someone as bright as McNulty: if he hangs around with guys like that (and like Bunk, unfortunately), he gets to be a king, hero of everyones’ stories. If he stays cleaned up, he has to face every unhappy day sober and alone with his thoughts.

    I’d still prefer he stick with the latter approach.

  17. […] heavy-handed and not a bit light on industry speak — was nearly unbearable. (Also noted on Heaven And Here, the blog about The Wire done by some friends of ours.) Not least among the echoes, though, was the […]

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