Wednesday, January 25, 2012

THIRTEEN YEARS AND FOUR MONTHS:  This week's Wire Wednesday episode, "Old Cases," is all about being Real Police. Unlike the first three episodes, it doesn't feel like there's an even split between police-side and street-side plots; there's much more focus on the police, and we finally get to see competence (even intelligence) all around.

The crescendo is what apparently's just referred to as the "fuck" scene (NSFW, but you know that by now, because it's used about 38 times), a symphony of language and Bunk & McNulty's intelligence perfectly set up by D'Angelo's prior narration of what happened—like an inner-city version of that opening computer graphics scene in Titanic which shows us exactly how the ship will sink. And we've also got Lester's figuring of D'Angelo's pager number, setting up the next stage of the investigation.

Sure, there's dumb law enforcement too -- Bodie's escape from Boys Village and all the insurance/pension scam stuff does not reflect well on Baltimore's Finest, nor does the titular shunting of real police like Lester into more than a decade of index card work. But for once, I feel like the police may actually have a chance to crack the Barksdale operation.

About that operation: they've got a problem other than the police, and his name is Omar. I have no idea how shocking his being gay came off at the time—this is one of those facts I absorbed from the culture about the show, so I expected it—but it's certainly unique, and unlike Vito Spatafore on The Sopranos not at all played for laughs. I would not want to be Avon Barksdale's top priority, and am intrigued to see what happens next.


  1. Maret9:38 AM

    This was the episode that fully hooked me on the Wire. I liked the previous ones, but this episode seemed to me to be a little less establishing the various characters and expository and just flowed. The "fuck" scene was just brilliant and I had a huge grin in my face as it went along. And this was the episode where, when it ended, I decided to just go ahead and watch another one right after because I didn't want to leave the world, as uncomfortable and tragic as it is, just yet. And then I watched another after that. Oops.

  2. Weighing in briefly as a veteran:  I'd forgotten that the "fuck" scene and the Freamon/McNulty bar scene were in the same episode.  And yes, all those years ago, this is when I got forever hooked.

    This may have been brought up elsewhere, but David Simon writes in the Homicide book about the constant use of the F-word by detectives, and the theory that soon the varying forms of it would evolve into their own language, nothing else needed to communicate.

  3. janet9:59 AM

    Me too. This episode. 

    And also the moment that I started to realize/believe that the extreme hype about this series wasn't hyperbole.

  4. Andrea10:10 AM

     You all have noted the weakness in other shows where you hear how good someone is at their job, but never see it. The F scene was an excellent demonstration of how well Bunk & McNulty are at their jobs.  Once again, I loved how long it continued, and how my laughter kept building with each successive exchange of word and glances.

  5. That's an exceptional point. I love The Good Wife, but that's usually portraying lucky or magical lawyering (and investigating) rather than just good lawyering. Homicide: Life on the Streets was more about dramatic interrogations than, perhaps, realistic ones -- though I enjoyed the drama immensely.

    Shows that I think did a great job of showing "our people our good at their jobs": ER, and The West Wing.

  6. Andrea10:28 AM

    Show that did not - Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.
    The question becomes, where will the new Sorkin show land?

  7. So, as a Wire vet and evangelist, I can't wait until you all find out just how important the 17th "fuck" in that scene really was, in the 4th episode of season 3.  [Kidding!  That was for you, Marsha!  :) ]

  8. I work with a lot of former DAs and former cops.  They and subsequently, we,  throw fuck around like it's going out of style.

    I really loved this scene and episode, though.  I am a big fan of good police work on tv.

  9. Geez, spoiler alert, maybe?  :)

  10. Adam C.1:39 PM

    Yes, yes, fuck yes.  This is the episode for which I think many (and maybe all) of us vets were anxious to see newbie reactions.

  11. Tosy and Cosh2:15 PM

    Did you read the script excerpt in Entertainment Weekly a week or two back? Could be a parody . . .

  12. Craig2:16 PM

    I have nothing more to add on the Fuck Scene, because, really, it was brilliant. Though I do want to nominate the Desk Scene for an honorable mention. To me, this distilled the previous three episodes briliantly. "In?"

    The only other observation I had was "Oh, look! Gratuitious nudity," mostly for the last scene. We've seen bits of this before, but it's HBO, so I assume it's contracturally required.

  13. Tosy and Cosh2:24 PM

    I don't know how close I am to violating THE RULE (and, to be fair, I am cribbing some from Alan Sepinwall's post here), but the bit with Bubbles seeing the suburban soccer life and then being dropped back off in the projects--"there's a "thin line 'tween heaven and here"--nicely illustrates for me one of my favorite aspects of the show, in that it doesn't pretend that the lives many of its characters lead as a simple matter of choices. Bubbles is an addict, but the show never condemns him for it, or pretends that he could change if he only just tried. Bodie isn't presented as evil as much of a product of his circumstances. It lets us see the horrors drugs produce without castigating the users, or, in some cases, the sellers. No wonder it wasn't a big hit - we like our villains vile in pop entertainment.

  14. From the Onion today, about Mad Men and The Sopranos but perhaps relevant here:  In defense of slow TV .

  15. Watts7:10 PM

    <span>Although, in the first episode, in my notes, I had "Wait, we're in a strip club and there's no ti**ies?  I thought this was HBO, not a CBS procedural."</span>

  16. Watts7:10 PM

    <span>I thought Bubbles at the soccer game was comedy gold and then it was great how it turned on a dime to be a serious reflection in that "heaven and here" line.</span>

  17. Watts7:24 PM

    I liked the "fuck" scene for what it did in establishing the credentials of Bunk and McNulty as good cops.  However, it didn't tickle my funny bone perhaps as much as it should've.  Somehow, to me, it felt too gimmicky, like the result of a dare in the writers' room.

    For me, the standout comedy scene was Landsman talking to his higher-up about McNulty.  The "one hand wrapped around a cold domestic beer" bit.  Every word in that yarn from Landsma was so perfectly chosen for maximum comedic effect that I was laughing out loud while applauding mentally.

    So, you add together Landsman's McNulty monologue, Bubbles at the soccer game, the McNulty/Freamon exchanges near the end of the episode, and the "fuck" scene and this is a pretty damn funny episode.  One of the reasons I'd never started The Wire was because it seemed like such broccoli tv - like you're not gonna like it but it's good for you so you'll like it. Simon himself described it as "a treatise on institutions and individuals" which, let me tell you, does not sound like how I want to unwind of an evening.  I wish instead of people selling me on how "important" or "real" it was they'd said, "Not right away, but this is going to be a show that will shock you [kid getting his knee shot off by crazy Omar] and make you laugh [well over half this episode]."

  18. Watts7:31 PM

    I didn't know much at all about The Wire going in - I knew there were characters named McNulty, Stringer Bell, and Omar, that it was set in Baltimore, and a rough idea of the season long focus/story arc for Season 4 - and I was shocked not only THAT Omar was gay but also HOW he was gay.  And by that I mean, it's not something he does despite himself or just as a way to provoke other people or whatever. He absolutely 100% embraces and exhibits his sexuality as it pleases him to do so.  Sepinwall talks about Omar in his review of this episode in a way to which I'd add, "Omar is one bad mofo but he's very much his own bad mofo."

  19. Marsha11:13 PM

    Fuck you, you little fucker. Fuck.

  20. Marsha11:17 PM

    The thing I liked about the fuck scene is that it just kept growing. I was completely unspoiled for it - had no idea such a scene existed - so at first it was just police talking. Then it was giggle inducing because there were a few in a row. Then I realized they weren't saying anything else - at all. Then I was laughing hysterically at the fact that it was still going. Then I stopped because I realized what they were figuring out, and having heard it described already, I knew where it was going. It was just the whole package - every second that it kept going on revealed more about these characters and their skills, brought more laughter and information, built more of an atmosphere. Fucking well done.

    Yes, funny episode over all, and brilliant too.

  21. Dan Suitor11:19 PM

    This is my favorite episode of The Wire so far, and it really isn't close. I think that has a lot to do with the humor of "Old Cases", but it also benefited from a lot of plot coming out (compared to the first three episodes), as well as the illustration of my favorite secondary character so far: Lester Freeman.

    Freeman's wry, bemused stares during the pre-credits vignette (with the desk in the doorway) and his origin story monologue to McNulty at the close of the episode turns a character who really hadn't done much so far into a well-drawn portrait. I'm sort of a sucker for the unorthodox, think-better-not-work-harder cop type you often get in shows, and Simon does a bang-up job of taking a worn trope and pulling it off with just the right levels of quirk and grit. It also helps to have someone as charismatic as Clarke Peters.

    Other than that, there were a few other details that stuck out.
    - In the scene at the gym with Avon and Stringer they pulled the classic sports movie move where, when the actor can't dunk, they cut from the actor driving to the basket to a close-up on the net of a set of hands dunking.

    -The vertigo shot on D'Angelo while he gives the speech about how he killed the girl was a little bit ham-fisted to me. I feel like they should've dialed it back 10 - 15%.

    - The quasi-softcore porn music in the scene at Kima's apartment was so very, very hokey.

    - The Fuck Scene helped clear up one of my biggest issues with the series so far, in that (to this point) Jimmy McNulty had been a victim of tell-not-show-itis. Seeing him do some stellar police work did a lot to soothe that nagging irritation for me.

    - Andre Royo is continuing his phenomenal work as Bubbles. The haunted look in his eyes as he delivered the line, <span>“Thin line between heaven and here," was absolutely perfect.</span>

  22. Charles Carmicheal3:37 AM

    Yup, the fuck scene is the thing that sealed my love for this show and put my butt on the couch for the whole run.

    What is particularly brilliant is the use of the bored landlord as a standin for the audience. He seemed to start with an attitude that these detectives were jackholes but as he observed them, came to respect their skills, well as much as he could understand.

    One of my favorite scenes of all time.

  23. Marsha dropping f-bombs is more fun than I would have imagined.  Maybe we can do Deadwood next?