The Wire 1:7 and 1:8

We’re smack dab in the middle of the season at this point, and that’s always a difficult spot to get through. You’ve got everything setup, and now you have to transition to the climax. Neither of these episodes are jaw droppers. but they’re consistently good television. On to the discussion:

Episode 1:7

One of the things that stands out to me from this episode is the whole idea of a “code” and the “game.” Omar brings this into focus (as is often the case), talking about what he will and won’t do. In one way, he means this quite literally: he doesn’t want to get arrested, and so he follows rules so that the police don’t begin to take too great of an interest in his actions. But at the same time, Omar also means it quite figuratively. There’s a code he lives by so that he can live with himself at night.

Contrast him with Wallace, for example. Wallace has been faced with the knowledge that he played a key role in Brandon’s death. It’s one thing to know about the game, but it’s quite another to see the effects of that game in action. And so Wallace turns to the only out he knows of: drugs. It’s incredibly sad, and outright depressing. It’s also (to tie this back into the On Our Minds book that started me on this series of episode reviews) a story that’s repeated all the time in the real world. Every addict has a history, and when you take the time to understand those histories, it’s hard to continue treating them as nothing more but numbers.

But then again, that’s also the way the police side of things handles the problem. Numbers. Statistics. Get too involved with people on an individual level, and you start caring too much. Instead. people like Rawls boil things down to simple digits, and they focus entirely on keeping those digits in the ranges they’re happy with. In other words, there’s a game the dealers are playing, and then a game the police play. Same board, but different pieces are important. (Kind of reminds you of chess vs. checkers, doesn’t it?)

The Wire never seems to miss a chance to remind us of actions and consequences. To force us to remember that these are supposed to be real people with real lives. Prez might be That Guy Who Likes Solving Puzzles, but he’s also That Guy Who Blinded the Kid. In a different show, they’d be too ready to let us forget about the blinding episode. Here, they go out of their way to remind us of it.

Doing this rewatch, I’m amazed at some characters being introduced that end up playing huge roles later on. The Narcotics Anonymous guy who gives the speech that Bubs connects with. Senator Clay Davis. If you’re watching these shows for the first time, keep an eye out for their return. I completely missed them the first time through. They seemed like bit parts. But again, as is the case with real life, people who end up playing a huge role in a story don’t always enter that story with a big set up and a fan fare.

8/10: a solid outing.

Episode 1:8

Speaking of games, this is our first glimpse of the dreadful world of politics. The team is ecstatic to nab $20,000 from the Barksdale crew, and is even more excited to see the carrier is someone related to a government official. But Burrell? He doesn’t see it that way. He sees the possibility that they might poke a sleeping bear of a politician, and he knows that if politicians suddenly take too much notice of what’s going on, then who knows what the side effects will be. (Remember this. It’ll be important late in the series.)

How is it phrased in the show? Keep your eyes on the drugs. Pay attention to the drugs, and you stay with drugs. Pay attention to the money, and you don’t know where you’ll end up. That becomes a continuing theme throughout the show. It’s also depressingly true. Even worse, without paying attention to the money, you’ll never be able to solve the problem of the drugs. The two are closely related, and the Wire will show us just how intertwined they are over its five seasons.

That’s what I love most about the show, I think. How it presents aspects of a greater whole, and only after seeing all the different facets in action can you really appreciate that whole for the dreadful mess that it is. It’s something that would be impossible to pull off in any other medium. But you don’t see that in this episode. You just see Burrell behaving like some coward. Too worried to go after anything important. I don’t blame you for having that reaction. At this point, we’re still liking McNulty. He’s the scrappy cop trying to bring down the bad guys.

He’s also the moronic father who endangers the life of his children on the off chance that he can get some more information on Stringer Bell.

Bunk sums this up at the end of the episode: “You’re no good for people,” he tells McNulty. Right now, we think he’s just drunk, but the more we get to know McNulty and see what he does, the more we see Bunk, who knows him best, might really be onto something. Protagonists are often far from perfect.

And at the same time, antagonists aren’t always evil. Here we have Stringer going to community college. Getting a business education. He’s living the American Dream, in a way that’s much more current than many would like to acknowledge. Put him in charge of something other than drugs, and he’d be considered an upstanding member of society, even if he still did awful, terrible things. (Again, keep this in mind for episodes to come. There are worse things in life than drug dealers. Or at least, equally bad things.)

Anyway. I’m out of time for the day. This was another 8/10 for me. Some solid episodes, but there’s more to come.

What do you think so far?

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