The Wire 1:5 and 1:6

I’ve been busy enough that I’ve really had to make time to watch this week’s episodes. Good thing is such an incredible series. This is also where I feel like the show begins to really dig in. It’s through introducing new characters (for now) and conflicts, and it turns its attention to advancing the story and putting these characters through the grinder. On to the episode reviews!

Episode 1:5

The Wire isn’t a show you can just sit back and consume. It demands attention from its viewers. That’s something that was clear right at the beginning, and it’s still on display as the show moves forward. In a lighter show, we’d have important moments highlighted and emphasized for us. There’d be dramatic music, or special effort to make sure the audience was paying attention ahead of time. In The Wire, these moments come and go, and if you’re not with it, you miss it.

A few cases in point: the lead up to Brandon getting killed is clear as crystal if you know what you’re looking for, but it’s something I really missed during the first watch. Details are dropped throughout the episode: mentions of the other shooter in Kevlar getting killed come up multiple times, Barksdale already put out the bounty on these guys, the hit is mentioned on both sides of the fight (cops and drug dealers). If you’ve been paying attention, you know that Omar’s buddy had been killed violently, and you know that he and Brandon are in danger.

But none of that comes in-scene. We don’t have a closeup of the guy getting shot. We don’t even see a dead body. It’s all bits and pieces, and we’re expected to connect the dots.

Another example: Avon and his brother. We get a huge insight into Avon. Why he is the way he is, what he wants from life. But all it is is him sitting there with his comatose brother. It’s another scene. A scene that doesn’t even seem to advance the plot any. This is the first time we see his brother, and as I remember, we don’t see him again after this. There’s nothing to show why this is an important bit to watch, other than knowing that this show doesn’t put unimportant things on the screen. If they’re showing it, it’s important. It’s something to think about. Why are they showing it? I really like that scene with his brother. It makes Avon a more real character, for one thing, And it provides important back story elements.

Then you’ve got things like Prez moving from being a complete moron to a person who actually does something worthwhile. I love watching this evolution of Prez over the course of the show. They’d been showing him doing word searches in the past few episodes, and here we have the pay off. He likes puzzles, and so this wire really appeals to him in a way normal police work couldn’t.

I like that this show has smart and not-so-smart people on both sides of the line. Avon and Stringer have their share of imbeciles just like McNulty and Kima have theirs. And then you have Omar, a man so smart that he seems to know everything going on everywhere. (Though he can’t magically protect his own from getting injured. Even Omar has limits.)

It’s a strong episode, with more I don’t have time to discuss. Total for me? A 9/10. The tricky thing with The Wire is that sometimes the episodes are all so good, you feel the need to grade them next to each other, and not to TV as a whole. But great TV is great TV, plain and simple.

Episode 1:6

Once again, we have a lot of important things happen off screen that would be garishly displayed on screen in different shows. Brandon’s capture, torture, and death being the prime example. Instead of seeing all of that, we just start the episode (and end the episode) with a close up of his tortured body. From there, we see Wallace, and discover he isn’t just some drug dealing underling. He takes care of a whole group of children.

He’s also responsible for Brandon’s death, even if indirectly. And the way that weighs on him throughout the episode is really well done. For me, so much of The Wire is successful for what it doesn’t say as much as for what it does.

The episode also has McNulty at his McNulty-est: berating Daniels for not being a better cop, all while being too blind to his own weaknesses. The thing is, as an audience, we’ve been conditioned to root for the McNultys of a show. They’re supposed to be the ones who are frustrated by the red tape. Who are only kept down because all their superiors are inferior. We’re trained to sympathize with them. And McNulty is smart, you have to grant him that. But as the show goes on, we start to like him almost in spite of who he is. He does so many things wrong, and causes problems for so many people by making those blunders . . .

Not trying to give Daniels an out here, of course. He has a bit of a different problem: trying to work from within the system to get good things done, although the system at times feels set up to be anything but efficient. Anytime someone wants to put too much focus on numbers and end results, I feel like maybe they should watch The Wire to see where that ends up.

A character I’m liking a lot more through this rewatch is Jay, McNulty’s homicide superior. The first time I watched the show, I just thought he was a random suck-up. Someone to do Rawls’ bidding. But as I watch it again, he seems much more: he’s trying to get good things done from within a broken system. He knows McNulty is a good cop, and he wants his help in the department. So he comes up with a way to have Rawls take him back. Jay is crude and very much limited in what he can and can’t do, but he is able to navigate those waters so much more successfully than other people. McNulty could learn a thing or two from him.

So by the end of the episode, we’ve got everything up and running. The wire is on, they’re getting information, and the game is afoot. Another strong episode for me. 9/10

What have you been thinking?

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