In preparation for this semester’s #wire106, Paul Bond and I started having discussions about the various elements of storytelling in the first 3 episodes of Season 1 of The Wire. Paul has already blogged his reflections on the visual elements of episode 2, “The Detail.” You can listen to our conversation about episode 2 here, but, once again, I’m not totally satisfied with the quality of the Google Hangout archive. We’ll have a better solution for the videos before classes get going.
Picking up on my discussion of episode 1, “The Target,” and the focus on a surveillance society in The Wire, I thought it was worth pointing out that motif would be ongoing. The following clip has Daniels and his crew heading into police headquarters, the scene cuts to an overhead shot from the perspective of a security camera, then back again. This establishes the fact that the watchers are also watched. A reality that is ubiquitous, as Paul notes when pointing out Avon Barskdale and his crew also have cameras strategically placed outside their headquarters at Orlando’s.
Another consistent theme we discussed in episode one, that also continues throughout the series is the paralleling of scenes, language, and relationships. In the following clip McNulty tells the judge “You missed a spot,” an aside about the mustard he got on his tie that is reprieve from the discussion of power relations, the rules of the game, and “what’s done is done.” In the very next scene the veteran detective, Patrick Mahone—whose effectively been retired for years—tells Michael Santangelo “You missed a spot!” when he’s mopping the floor. And when Santangelo retorts “why don’t you f**king do it,” Mahone notes “Seniority.” The ongoing personal dynamics mediated by institutional hierarchies and power relations weigh heavy in episode two.
The ongoing ruminations on power relations are means limited to the police force. In fact many of the most profound existential explorations of power and money can be credited to D’Angelo Barksdale. He’s truly a remarkable character, and this episode marks the first of many conversations in the pit that explore these themes. In the following clip D’Angelo, Wallace, and Poot talk discuss the hypothetical fate of the inventor of McDonald’s chicken nuggets.
The constant reflection back on the relationship between wealth, power and possibility constantly re-emerges, and the ongoing refrain is the game is rigged for those with money and power. Ronald McDonald exploits the ideas of others for his own “clowny ass” profit! Can the writing get any better than this? You think it can’t, but it will.
A scene that hits very close to home given what’s still unfolding around the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri is when the three knucklehead cops Herc, Carver, and Prez go into the projects at 2 AM to “crack some skulls.” Their brutality results in the blinding of a 14 year old boy and an aerial war with the invisible residents of the towers. It’s a haunting scene.
What’s more, Audrey Watters pointed me to an open letter David Simon wrote to the Police captain in Ferguson titled “The Endgame for Civic Responsibility Part iii” that frame the loss of accountability and closing ranks that is what follows this scene when Daniels provides Prez with cover and a story. Yet, it haunts Daniels, as the final scene of the episode suggests. The epigraph for this episode, attributed to Daniels’ wife Marla, provides one of the best articulations of how the game is rigged and advice on how to avoid it: “You cannot lose, if you do not play.” With characterization and writing like this, it’s not arrogance for Simon to compare this series to Moby Dick. The literary power of this series is one clear example of why this isn’t a cop show.