The first four episodes were sent to reviewers at once, back when The Wire was just getting going on the air. It makes sense: four episodes are the minimum you need to really begin to get an idea about what this show is focused on and what its approach will be. Even by the end of these episodes, you’re still only seeing a little sliver of what’s at play. But enough with the introduction: on to the episodes!
Season 1, Episode 3
We’re still squarely in the “set up” phase of the show, but some things begin to rise to the surface. One of my favorites is the chess scene, with D explaining to his underlings how to play chess, contrasting the game with checkers. The Wire is chess. Law and Order is checkers, plain and simple.
I love the way characters are allowed to develop in this show. They aren’t presented with neat, tidy categories that they consistently follow week after week. Freamon, for example, comes across at first as just some lazy guy who likes to work on dollhouse furniture. But if you’re rewatching the show, you clearly see how the creators were dropping hints about who Freamon really is and what sort of a policeman he can be all along.
We also get to meet Omar for the first time, another character who’s just sort of dropped in there with no introduction, and it’s up the viewers to make sense of who he is and what his game is. During my first watch of the series, a whole ton of this just completely slipped by me. It wasn’t until halfway through the season, or the last half of the season, that things really began to come together and make sense. I don’t have that “aha” moment on this watch through, but I’m still having plenty of surprises as I see ways they set up things that come up again much later on.
But the episode, for the most part, still works on laying foundation. There are still elements that seem pure police procedural. Drug busts. Flash. The interesting thing is that those are the things the higher ups are calling for, because they know they’re the things the public want to see. Why does the public want to see them? Because that’s what’s portrayed in pop culture. So you have a show commenting on a type of show by playing to that show type while having characters in the show follow the show type to make the overall commentary on that show type.
That made a whole lot more sense in my head before I typed it out, but hopefully you get the point.
In the end, it’s not a stellar episode. There are some flashes of brilliance (like the chess scene), but little to really dig into.
Season 1, Episode 4
Ah, the infamous f-bomb episode. If you talk to people about The Wire, they inevitably remember this episode, and for good reason. It’s almost as if the writers decided to spoof what a stereotypical HBO cop show would be like. Nothing but f-bombs for the whole scene. But if that’s all the scene had going for it, I honestly don’t think most people would remember it. Instead, the scene is all about how two good policemen can go into a room months after a murder, armed with nothing but pictures and their own logic, and recreate a crime scene to the point that they can uncover significant new information.
One of the things I love about the scene, however, is how it’s understandable what happened. It’s not that McNulty and Bunk are geniuses. It’s that so many murders are going on in the city, and homicide is so overworked, that some murders don’t get the attention they deserve. The scene works because we’ve seen McNulty and Bunk’s coworkers, and it’s easy to picture how they would rush through a crime scene that “didn’t matter.” And because of that, it’s understandable and believable that once a couple of police show up and actually care and pay attention they can discover new things. The scene works because of the scenes that have come before it.
That sums up so much of what is at play in The Wire. As I said before, the show’s in it for the long game, and it expects a lot out of its viewers. So much that I’m surprised it got away with it when it came out. This was before the days of binge watching, when a tv show could assume its audience had just watched earlier episodes days if not hours before. The Wire gives very little in the way of explanations. There are so many characters and so much going on, that it’s easy to forget what’s happened and who’s who.
Payoffs begin to emerge already, though. The scene with McNulty bringing Bubbs with him to the soccer game, for example. These characters have lives that intersect and connect in surprising ways, and the writers aren’t afraid to put those characters out of their element and see how they respond. Bubbs is such a great character: one of the wisest people in the show so far, and yet the one who’s also a druggie. Not trying to read too much into this, but I couldn’t help think of Shakespeare’s fool when I rewatch Bubbs. Some of the best lines are given to him, and he has the freedom to make commentary on things that go on around him without fear of getting in hot water.
Overall, I really liked this episode. There are much greater to come, but this was a solid 8.5/10 for me.
I’m out of time for today’s post, so I’ll wrap this up, although there’s plenty more that I could discuss. Anything any of you saw in these that you wanted to discuss? I’d love to hear some other viewpoints. Comment here or on Facebook.