Welcome to the Inanimate Blog watchalong for The Wire. Every week all summer we’ll be watching two episodes and posting our thoughts. We’re not recapping each episode in detail; that’s what Wikipedia is for. This week is Season 1, Episodes 1 and 2.
Sam: Before watching episode 1 last Sunday, I knew all of three things about The Wire: 1) Everyone says it’s the greatest thing ever, 2) There are characters called Stringer Bell, McNulty, and Omar, and 3) It takes place in the city of Baltimore. And yet, when the show started and they said something happened on the “west side,” I instinctively wondered what city it was and whether that was a valid comment for a real city or if they’d fictionalized an existing city. And then I went OH. RIGHT. That’s this show. Got it.
Emily: Going in, I knew pretty much the same amount about The Wire as you did. The other major thing I knew about was that each season took a look at the problems and corruption in different institutions in Baltimore, and the first season focused on the police department.
Sam: Right! I had a vague notion that each season had a different topic, and that it was notoriously hard to follow. I will admit to watching the first episode with a kind of hyper-vigilance to make sure I was paying attention to everything that happened so I wouldn’t get lost. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it actually isn’t bad at all; they don’t spoon feed you anything, but it’s not hard to figure out what’s going on from the context. What a novel concept- plot development through what the characters actually do and say and who they do and say it with. Good job, David Simon!
Emily: Yes, even after two episodes, I’m still not solid on what everyone’s name is and there are a couple of characters who get interchanged in my mind, but I can generally tell what role a character is playing in any given situation and the story at large.
Sam: Agree. I’m terrible with both names and faces so I for sure don’t have everyone down, but I feel like I have a good handle on the structure of both sides and more or less what’s going on. Also, I got really excited in the first episode when they said Stringer Bell, cause I was like “OOH! I KNOW THAT NAME!”
Emily: And Idris Elba has become so much bigger since The Wire premiered. Also, on a purely shallow note, he should always wear suits.
Emily: What really stuck out was how dated the technology seemed for 2002. Sure, that was 12 years ago but they’re still using typewriters and pagers. The pagers I can justify since other professions still use them even today, and texting took a while to come to the US compared to many European countries, but the typewriters were really noticeable.
Sam: I really got stuck on the pagers. Maybe it’s because pagers for the general populace were so short-lived (compared to, say, for doctors), it felt dated even if it wasn’t. The other thing that bothered me from a dated perspective–or maybe I just wish it were more dated– was the classic use of a scene in a strip club where you have mostly-naked women in the background… just because. Because it’s HBO, I guess? This show has the defense of being 12 years old, as you mention, but True Detective did the same thing this year. Maybe this is a thing we can move past eventually.
Emily: I hope so and yet the term “sexposition” was invented for the extremely popular Game of Thrones, so HBO has very little motivation/incentive to do away with it. Speaking of things that were supposed to be shocking or ground-breaking, it seemed like Kima being a lesbian was written to come off that way and my reaction was more “Sure, that makes sense.”
Sam: I agree. I think that it probably was reasonably progressive for 2002, especially to have that in the first episode as an establishing kind of thing for her character instead of maybe a plot twist or something more dramatic and scandalous later.
Emily: True. Other than the initial “Surprise, Kima has a girlfriend!” of it all, that scene was more about how she has a home life and is also going to school while working a demanding job in order to better herself.
Sam: It was a great bit of characterization. The other big thing I really enjoyed in the first episode was a tiny snippet when D’Angelo goes back to work as a drug dealer in the less-prestigious projects and everyone in the yard asks him what he’s doing there, because didn’t he run a tower? They know what’s going on and they understand his place in the organziation. I’m completely fascinated by the logistics of organized crime. It’s the same in the Mafia as it is for big-time drug dealers as it is for gangs with branches across the country: you have to know who’s doing what and what’s going on at all times or you’re going to get screwed. Legitimate businesses fail because of lousy bookkeeping and supply-chain management, illicit enterprises are the same way. I don’t know why that surprises me every time, but I love it.
Emily: I’m totally rooting for the one kid who knew that Hamilton was never president. Also, you can draw parallels from the Barksdale gang to McNulty and the police force. McNulty can’t just go shooting his mouth off to his judge friend about how messed up it is that they lost a murder conviction due to witness tampering. There are consequences to that like there are consequences to actually shooting a man. Sure, a task force is set up to appease the judge but it’s entirely political and not meant to accomplish anything.
Sam: Oooooh, it’s like it’s the same on both sides! Almost as though we’re supposed to see things from multiple perspectives! Go you, David Simon, go you. And now, on to episode two!
Emily: In episode 2, we see that Kima is an efficient operator. McNulty and Bunk go around and talk to some people, and while that makes some progress, Kima goes out and gets some deep intel on big names in the Barksdale gang through her confidential informant, Bubbles.
Sam: I really enjoyed the part where Carver and Herc were complaining that Kima was ordering them around and that’s not fair and she doesn’t outrank them, blah blah blah. It’s pretty obvious that she should get to order those two around because she’s actually competent and gets stuff done. I also really enjoyed the slick trick with the hat code to mark out who is and isn’t important in the group.
Emily: Kima and Lieutenant Daniels are probably the most competent people on the task force. The lieutenant’s focus on someday getting promoted to major slows him down a bit, but is also a motivation to get as much out of the taskforce as he can.
Sam: Yeah, some of them don’t quite have the eye of the tiger in the same way. But getting drunk and going to taunt the population you’re supposed to be serving and protecting is always a good idea, right? (sigh)
Emily: The best idea! And your taskforce that the major didn’t want in the first place is going to be even more successful when one of the officers on it punches a 14 year-old hard enough to blind him in one eye.
Sam: Excellent policework, everybody. This episode fleshed out things a bit more and laid the groundwork for what I expect we’ll see in the rest of the season. I, for one, am looking forward to it.
Emily: I am very much looking forward to the rest of this season. So many corrupt practices and disappointing roadblocks to examine and only ten more episodes to do it in. See you next week?
Sam: See you next week!