What You Know Won’t Work


Really nothing on #52, then or now. Avon’s sitdown with Marlo was a hoot, and Wood Harris really showed us the no-man’s land between swagger and kookiness. Worth noting that there was more warmth between those two than in any of the times Avon and Stringer talked through glass. So you know, gangster recognize gangster.

But—and here’s where the #53 talk starts—that East/West acrimony Avon appealed to got me thinking. The Western has always been all that wrong, or at least hidebound, about policing. And while Prop Joe’s got overseas connects, means to expedite passports, and money laundering schemes, the Barksdales and now Marlo are decidedly local. I wrote before the season started that Marlo looking for the Greeks showed he was trying to become a real criminal. Not just some hood lord, but on the level with the “real” operations.

After #53, I’m realizing that Prop Joe’s already there. He’s the one with off-the-boat dope, and now the means to offer Marlo grown thug financial advice. Stringer might have thought he was changing the game, but his plan was to leave the drug game for the more legit pastures of real estate. Joe, on the other hand, is serious, ambituous, and collected as String, but stays in the realm of illegal. The very dichotomy of Avon/Stringer is a false one projected by the West Side’s mentality; across the highway, Joe’s bringing the best of both worlds together.

In Stringer’s utopia, territory was irrelevant and everyone’s product sold out wherever it was. Under Joe, the co-op’s become a way to consolidate purchase power and keep some major players from stepping on each other’s toes. Worth noting that the whole idea sprang up out of the pragmatic agreement that String and Joe reached in Season Two; given what the co-op’s become, and the fissures that are starting to emerge, you wonder if it’s more realistic tenets belong more to Joe’s knack for mutual agreeable arrangements than Stringer’s economic modeling.

When Joe quips that (inexact quote) “Marlo’s a hard one to civilize,” there’s a lot there beside the surface irony of the “civilized” criminal. Marlo took the West Side the West Side way: By employing exactly the same kind of tactics that Avon had used before him, the ones that Stringer frowned upon. Even if he’s part of the co-op, still he’s thinking in terms of murder and intimidation. Just not, for now, against those he’s in league with. He’ll offer his product to area crews, but only as a friendly alternative to them getting blown off the block. Stringer was West Side in the negative; Marlo, with his power moves, adversarial approach to meetings, and bloodlust, is “that other thing” chomping at the bit.

In some ways, Marlo is the show’s least “civilized” character. He makes Avon look like, well, Stringer. But here Marlo is, trying to make that leap that eluded Stringer because Russ was looking in the wrong direction. What remains to be seen is whether he’s recognizing that Prop Joe’s a mentor for this, or if Joe’s willingness to hold his temper, think calm, and not send out soldiers is construed as a weakness. I doubt Marlo wants to tone down his West Side ruggedness. Does that mean, then, that he thinks he can become Proposition Joe while still following in the footsteps of Avon?

Based on his weird trip to the Antilles, Marlo’s got a long way to go before he can conduct himself like a cosmopolitan pro. And this might have disastrous consequences for everyone involved. It’s like Bunny and the kids at dinner all over again.

P.S. I thought the last scene of #52 was retarded, but when Lester came out in support of it, I had to change my tune. Which I’m assuming was the appropriate reaction.

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26 Comments on “What You Know Won’t Work”

  1. John Peterson Says:

    Lester came out in support of it? What are you talking about? Are you talking about #53? I thought you were avoiding watching the episodes early and spoiling them for the rest of us? What the hell, man?

  2. Shoals Says:

    This site follow the OnDemand schedule, always has. That’s why, in the beginning of the post, I made it clear that “here’s where the #53 talk starts”. Sorry for the inconvenience.

  3. John Peterson Says:

    Aw, shit. Sorry to cause a fuss.

    I thought “here’s where the #53 talk starts” meant, here’s where we start talking about how #53 is going to be– you know, speculation. Damnit.

  4. OK, here’s what I don’t like about the newspaper room plot. I’m not a journalist, and I don’t write for TV or any print media. I do write for a baseball site and my own blog about baseball. So my complaints aren’t the same as those newspaper and magazine writers (Slate, The Atlantic, etc.) These things are NOT cliché to me. That’s not the problem.

    The problem is that to me, all newspaper writing is fabrication, so I don’t really give a shit about Mr. Ambitious No Ethics Man. To me, pretty much all newspaper writing is schlock and I’m not interested in it. To me, all newspaper stories are overly simplistic, so the conflict between Mr. The Word I’m Thinking of is Dickensian and Mr. You Need to Examine Context to Seriously Examine Anything is false.

    From my perspective, it seems that Simon thinks newspapers are more important than they are. Now, having worked in one he obviously has more knowledge of what kind of disputes/arguments really happen in a newsroom, so I’ll take his word for it that there are disputes between overly ambitious reporters and more diligent ones, and conflicts between prize-seeking simplifiers and context-examining societal watchdogs.

    But in the end, newspapers are an imposition on my consciousness that I can and do avoid. The very idea that there is enough news to fill a paper everyday is suspect. As is the suggestion that I as a citizen am bound by duty to “be informed” about “the issues” that fill the pages of newspapers.

    In the long view, a newspaper is a “journal,” it is “of the day,” ephemeral, short-lived. If The Wire will show us that newspapers and the media occupy an undeserved position as arbiters of what is important, but are just as flawed as institutions as the police and government, fine.

    But am I to lament the questionable ethics and shortsightedness of some reporters and editors I never knew? Then to hell with it. Because in my understanding, newspapers are in their very being ethically fucked up and eternally short-sighted. I hope The Wire doesn’t miss the point.

  5. anonymous Says:

    John, it’s building to something. I assume you haven’t seen #53 yet, because if you had, you’d see what this little shitheel’s quote fabricating has done to Daniels: he’s now in geniune danger of having Burrell air out his old dirty laundry simply because that cretin decided to make up a reaction quote. How you can say that’s not at the very least important to the plot of this season is beyond me, setting aside all your crap about newspaper’s being an “imposition” on your conciousness. God forbid people expect their fellow citizens to be informed about the events that connect us all.

    For Christ’s sake man, “It’s All Connected”? Hello?

  6. mike Says:

    53 was On OnDemand as of this morning. I stayed up ’till midnite to watch.

    I agree 100% with your feelings on McNulty and Freemen. I was really thrown a loop at the end of 52 and felt the same exact way. Makes me wonder why I trust Freemen more than McNulty even though the action they are both sponsering is the same? Over Bunk even? I started coming around when McNulty tried to link it to Marlo … but he didn’t bring that up to Lester. Was I imagining it?

    I think I’m starting to see parallel threads again – Marlo’s obsession over Omar (even Snoop was questioniong it) potentially derailing his focus on the business at hand, the managing editor’s focus on the quote and the flash overriding a potential for depth (which David hastalked about in interviews – the Maureen Ryan piece specifically), Bub’s continued focus on Sherrod’s death undermining his attempt to stay clean. Or maybe I’m reaching.

  7. Shoals Says:

    McNulty wasn’t being very clear about exactly why it would help. I’m thinking this might’ve been intentiaonl though–yes, you could pick it up eventually, but when Freemand jumped on board it was laid out as a rational proposition.

    We were all joking that McNulty had planned to frame Marlo as the Bum Strangler. At one point he/it seemed that unhinged.

  8. T.J. Otto Says:

    I think we have to remember that Bunk is the rational one. That’s why he’s the Bunk. Freeman and McNulty are both very similar, just in different stages in their life. The young Lester, who ended up getting sent to the pawn shop unit, was probably just like McNulty. Freeman has the wisdom of all these years, but a good case, by any means necessary will bring him back to his old “fuck the bosses” ways.

  9. kb Says:

    I had the same reaction with Freamon’s acceptance of McNulty’s plot, but something’s still not right. It’s been noted here and elsewhere that we’re potentially at the point where the viewership could finally match the critical plaudits for the show and developments thus far indicate that the writers’ heads have grown to match the buzz. Marlo in the Antilles, the construction of a serial killer; it’s all very cop-showy. What’s next? The amusement park scene stuck out from the rest of the episode because it seemed like the only moment in 53 that could have unfolded in the pre-existing structure of the Wireverse. Is McNulty intentionally being written into Mel Gibson? “They can fuck the numbers but they can never take our Freedom!!!!”

  10. Derms Says:

    Love the piece and the banter. I must also say that 53 is one of my favorite episodes. It was the first episode in a while that I loved every second of the first time I watched it. We will see if I love the next couple times I watch it. Just amazing, had it all. Can’t wait to see what happens, I am very giddy. Almost like a 14 year old girl with front row seats to a Backstreet Boys concert circa 1997

  11. Shoals Says:

    That Marlo trip was vintage Wire. The guy goes all the way to the Antilles just to make sure his money’s physically in a bank. Said all you needed to know about that character’s crazy focus and his provinciality.

  12. Ty Keenan Says:

    Love the analysis of Prop Joe and Stringer. Nothing to add — it just deserves plaudits.

    I’ve thought that the McNulty/serial killer plot made thematic, rational sense since I first saw it. Really, given the situations, this is no more crazy than Bunny’s Hamsterdam decision. That said, I think this plotline has been handled incredibly poorly (relatively, at least — it’s still The Wire) because there was little preparation for it. Hamsterdam didn’t really get running until Ep6 of that season, and the paper bag speech was at least somewhat cryptic at the time (Ep2, I think). That story had time to breathe; we were allowed to see it and think it over at a reasonable pace. This one is just moving way too quickly. Instead of experiencing the situation of the police dept, we got the basic signifiers like McNulty riding the bus (a great scene, of course) and had to extrapolate.

    I thought this episode did a great job of correcting that by having McNulty’s plan fail for the impulsive wreck that it was, but the same problem reappeared at the end when Lester jumped on board. I’m really supposed to believe that he’d decide to do this after giving the matter less thought than McNulty? I know Lester has that anti-authoritative mindset, but he’s at least supposed to be less impulsive than McNulty.

    I guess what I’m saying is that this season already seems like it could have used the extra two or three episodes.

  13. Francisco Says:

    Side note: in case anyone was wondering, the place where Omar and his boyfriend were shacking up was La Perla, Puerto Rico. BORICUA!!!

  14. Gary Says:

    “I guess what I’m saying is that this season already seems like it could have used the extra two or three episodes.”

    I’ve been thinking the same thing. Why HBO decided to cut this season too early is beyond me. It really feels like they need those 2-3 hours. Things need more time to build. You need more time to give the newspaper characters a chance to breathe. We need those moments that seem utterly useless in most shows, but on The Wire go far in giving the characters more depth and so they seem more real.

    Hopefully by the end of the season it won’t feel too forced.

  15. Megapickles Says:

    The red ribbon scheme achieved its poetic pinnacle in #53 when Whitting III stepped up on that chair with his bright red tie poppin’ off the screen at high contrast.

  16. pistol pete Says:

    Shoals, I think this episode is a confirmation of To Each His Vulcans. Either that, or you are working off a Unified Theory of The Wire and contorting each episode to your academic whims. I don’t know. Either way it’s good.

    How important was the amazing Erma Franklin scene in #52 to all of #5x? Piece of My Heart never seemed so dark and neurotic as it does now. Lester never missed a beat in the Box.

    Speaking of in the box, I’m not sure I’ve seen McNulty more proud of himself than when Bunk asked about the red ribbon.

  17. morewire Says:

    Agreed on the Hamsterdam/serial killer storylines. Hamsterdam was almost too over the top for me, and contributes pretty heavily to that being my least favorite season of the four. It holds up better on repeat viewings than I might have thought, though, so I’m willing to give this serial killer story the benefit of the doubt.

    It’s hard to watch this latest episode and not think Omar will be buying it by season’s end. Too much of a “one last ride/not knowing when to let go” vibe to it.

  18. Dan Says:

    I again will agree with this season feeling too rushed, I never thought I’d say a 10-hour masterpiece would feel like a hurried movie adaption. But the extra time to appreciate the plots really helped in previous seasons.
    I thought Marlo in Antilles was an awesome scene, just more evidence that despite his best efforts, he lives in a physical world.

  19. runner-runner Says:

    I agree there is a rushed feel to these first few eps, but I’m banking on that being the result of a conscious decision to move the ‘gaps’ necessitated by the shorter season to the front, so the middle and end can be of a quality more consistent with the previous seasons.

    I must say I disagree with your read on the Avon/Marlo encounter. It seemed clear to me that Avon was essentially crawling to Marlo – now that Marlo ‘wears the crown’ the old dog rolls over with nauseating eagerness. When Avon mentioned his influence in the prison it seemed as much like his way of maintaining some semblance of dignity as of proving his usefulness to the new master. The Westside/Eastside talk – all of it from Avon if I remember right – an effort to find common ground on a level other than that of old guard/new guard. Does Marlo care about the Westside? Surely no more than he does about the Eastside, or anything else – it’s all turf, all just there to be claimed and kept. This sprang to mind particularly in #53, with Marlo’s gift to Spiros echoing Avon’s servility. But I need to re-watch #51 + #52, so maybe your perspective on it will make more sense then.

    For me the most notable thing about #53 was that it was the first time Marlo said something that made me laugh, with his dismissal of Joe’s warning about letting sleeping dogs lie. I found it significant, too, maybe even portentous. Even as Joe frets about how tough it is ‘civilising’ him, Marlo may be coming to realise that Joe’s usefulness may have a limit in endurance as well as scope. After all, this is Baltimore – no-one lives forever.

  20. Shoals Says:

    There was something pathetic to Avon in that scene—I definitely saw everything you’re describing. But Avon does seem to be able to relate to Marlo; even his wanting prove his relevance (in a decidedly cheery, unintimidating fashion) makes me think that he sees Marlo as a kindred spirit, or at least the next in the lineage.

    Also, let’s not forget that Marlo did have to go through him to get to Sergei. It’s not like Avon is broke or without reputation.

  21. PJ Says:

    Anybody else get the feeling Avon is just playing Marlo? I thought maybe, with that whole “West Siiide” business, he was just playing the fool, so Marlo won’t see what’s coming (whatever that might be). That’s at least what I keep telling myself, anyway.

  22. I agree, PJ. I thought Avon was being over-the-top and sarcastic.

  23. dsl Says:

    This is great reading, thanks. It seems to me that the Marlo storyline is really just the same story that gets told over and over again on these streets (NOTE: I don’t mean this in a bad way). As I see it, we don’t know that Marlo’s approach is any different than Avon’s when he was coming up, do we? What about Joe? Maybe Joe and Avon each came up the same way, but took decidedly different approaches when they got to a certain level. Each will find a way to lose their power in the end (Avon by being too hard and stubborn, Joe perhaps from being too soft). Will Marlo be the one to combine both approaches? I think that’ll be interesting to see. I mean. he has always taken the Avon approach (violence, intimidation, etc), but now he’s taking it upon himself to also take the Joe/ Stringer approach.

  24. Tito Landrum Says:

    Certainly the first 2 episodes felt as though they were paced much more quickly then we are used to from The Wire. However, now knowing what McNulty has done and now reflecting on everything that has happended prior, particularly the bar conversation between Jimmy, Lester and Bunk (“this ain’t Aruba, bitch”) and everything that Jimmy and Lester talked about in episode 3, I think the writers have already proven they were right and can indeed pull off this ambitious piece of story. I’m all in. I’m totally behind Jimmy and Lester. Two dozen dead bodies in the vacants, the horrible clearance rate when it comes to homeless murders. Nobody does give a shit.

    Ofcourse, this being The Wire, once you start believeing in something it all turns to shit…

  25. lukeoneil47 Says:

    >>>>Is McNulty intentionally being written into Mel Gibson? “They can fuck the numbers but they can never take our Freedom!!!!”

    Haha. There is an element of that isn’t there? I personally am having a hard time swallowing Lester’s complicity, and i am worried about how far the tension between Bunk and McNulty will go. I do think that aspect of McNulty’s wild ride has been played out wonderfully. Obviously Bunk wouldn’t immediately rat out Jimmy, but as he himself has pointed out, he is gonna have a limit to the bullshit he will take.

    I think McNulty’s behavior is summed up nicely with a frequent Wire refrain: “This is some shameful shit.”

  26. Ashy Larry Says:

    Did everyone forget me?

    Focus, motherfucker! Focus!!!

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