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 3 and 4.
Emily: We get the fallout of the previous episode with almost no consequences because Pryzbylewski is married to the major’s daughter or something.
Sam: Yeah, that was pretty frustrating (as it was supposed to be). They can just blame it on the impoverished, disadvantaged people living in the towers and point the finger and say “They started it!” even though that’s total bullshit.
Emily: Fortunately, there are better things to follow. The kids in the courtyard owned this episode. Especially D’Angelo.
Sam: OMG, I love him so much. I have fears that something great and terrible will befall him because I like him so much. That said, I have to completely geek out for a moment about the chess scene. It does so many things at the same time: D’Angelo gets to set his little minions straight, reinforcing that he knows shit and they don’t, but that he will impart it to him. He gets to explain how the world is governed by more rules than they know, they get a lesson in chess. They draw unforced parallels between the king and Avon and the queen and Stringer (the “get shit done piece,” to quote D). The dialogue itself is so good. To whit: “The King, he ain’t got no hustle. But the rest of these motherfuckers on the team, they got his back. And they run so deep, he really ain’t got to do shit.” Succinct, accurate, and expertly worded. I love D’Angelo (and the writing) SO MUCH.
Emily: And if it wasn’t doing all of those things at once, it would have come off as heavy handed. I have seen too many heavy-handed chess metaphors to even count.
Sam: Right? It’s so good! It’s because they set it up as an actual lesson in chess with the apparent point being character development for the kids in the scene and only casually slip it in after a while that it’s like Avon and Stringer. It made me go OH OH OH OH I SEE WHAT YOU DID THERE. But in a triumphant way. In a less triumphant way is pretty much everything McNulty does. I believe it’s summarized best by saying that even when he’s right, he’s still a jackass.
Emily: Such a jackass. Don’t sleep with him, nice prosecutor lady!
Sam: Speaking of which, that was the most synchronized sex ever televised. It was impressively in unison. Which, uh, okay? In other one-off news, I was delighted to hear Ja Rule on the sound system at the strip club, because it is 2002 after all.
Emily: 2002! Hurray! Also, even in 2002, pagers were dated.
Sam: I’m glad they pointed that out.
Emily: It’s tricky not having a frame of reference for everything. Still, the series doesn’t feel as dated as it could considering it’s 12 years old.
Sam: No, outside of the actual pieces of technology involved, the story endures on its own. So the other two highlights of this episode, besides the chess sequence and McNulty being confirmed as more of an asshole than we realized (even when he cares! Which makes it even more frustrating!) are that first, we meet Omar, a name that I knew before the show, and second, Daniels is alleged to be dirty. Scandal!
Emily: Daniels being dirty made me sad because it’s clear that Kima, my most favorite cop so far, sees him as a mentor and he seemed to want a lot of the same things as McNulty without being such a jackass about it. I was so glad that we met Omar. I know too much about him for him not to show up sooner rather than later. Omar is the character I knew the most about before we started watching.
Sam: Me too. Which is still not much, fortunately. However, he does get a good bit more character development in very little screen time in…
Sam: I just finished watching this episode, so it’s fresh in my mind. Unfortunately, that means my lack of understanding all of the time is also fresh in my mind. During the first episode, I was paying super-close attention because I knew that this show was notoriously hard to follow. After four episodes, I still feel like I only know the broad strokes because I’m terrible at recognizing people and it’s hard to understand the context of people’s interactions when you’re not entirely sure who they are. It doesn’t help that there are 47 million characters. However, I can tell you things like: Look! Omar is back and he’s gay and he’s also nice to the less fortunate!
Emily: I already knew that he was gay. I know way too much about Omar. But he’s also incredibly smart. The Barksdale gang is so concerned about how he figured out where their stash was when all he did was follow some low-level kids and ta-da: Drugs!
Sam: Shhhhhhhh, don’t tell, but I knew he was gay too. But now we’re supposed to know, which we weren’t in the previous episode as he had about 30 seconds of screentime and it was in the context of the raid. I found it completely delightful that in one episode of a cop drama from 12 years ago there was both gay and lesbian affection/sex implied.
Emily: David Simon took such care to give us real people. Also, even though I already knew that Omar was gay, it was surprising to see this gang leader just cuddling up with another man out in the open, albeit in an area that he clearly controlled.
Sam: Right? I was similarly surprised and subsequently happy to see that he’s happy-gay, not angry-closeted-lashing-out-at-people kind of gay, which I didn’t know if he might not be given his socioeconomic position.
Emily: We still get the angry-closeted-lashing-out-at-people kind of gay as middle class characters in 2014 so it’s an extremely pleasant surprise to get from 2002 with this particular character.
Sam: Double right? Here’s a show from 12 years ago where there are characters of many sexualities and that’s not the important part about them. Omar and Kima both get to be normal, affectionate people. And also be a drug lord and a cop!
Emily: Besides getting character development for Omar, we also got a whole bunch for Lester Freamon. Move over, Kima! I think I have a new favorite cop and he has tiny doll furniture.
Sam: Kima is still my favorite due to her overwhelming competence and actually-getting-shit-done-ness, but Lester made a surprise move in this episode by also actually being competent. I get the sense that this pager-cloning thing is going to be important in the next episode(s); at least, they’re putting in a lot of groundwork for it now.
Emily: Lester also got them the picture of Avon Barksdale in his boxing days in the previous episode. He gets things done and still has time to make tiny furniture. The pager thing has to be important. This is one of those instances where The Wire is reflective of its time, though. It’s a tiny window where everyone is using cell phones yet burners haven’t become popular.
Sam: I was so pleased that everyone in the show said “Wait, pagers? Really?” too, because that does effectively situate it as happening in the time period it’s supposed to be happening. My other favorite goofy-type moment of this episode was how McNulty takes Bubbles off of Kima’s hands… and takes him with him to McNulty’s son’s soccer game. Hi, this is my druggie friend. No big deal.
Emily: It also shows exactly why Baltimore the city is in such disrepair. All of the money lives in the suburbs. Everything is so much nicer and cleaner there. “Leave It To Beaver”, as Bubbles calls it.
Sam: You know what else lives in the suburbs? Well, lived, in the suburbs? The shorty that D’Angelo killed. Boo, for him having killed people, cause I love him. Hooray for an excellent scene of detective work with exactly one central word of dialogue repeated and adjusted as necessary.
Emily: I went back and watched that scene two more times after the episode was over. McNulty and Bunk might as well have been doing a choreographed dance with a gun and a tape measure as props and the word fuck and a squeaky marker as their soundtrack.
Sam: It was lovely. The whole episode is lovely. The whole show is lovely, even when I can’t tell who’s doing what. I continue to be completely pleased we decided to do this watchalong. See you next week?
Emily: See you next week.