Wednesday, March 21, 2012

WE EITHER STEP UP, OR WE STEP THE FUCK OFF. THAT'S THE GAME, YO. THAT'S THE FUCKIN' GAME:  "Cleaning Up," the penultimate episode of season one of The Wire (Sepinwall, Ariano), is all about stepping up -- choosing between obligations to colleagues, and doing what you know is right. The problem, of course, is that you might convince yourself you're doing the latter when you're actually doing the former, and the phrase "we take care of our own" means something different to every player in the game.

Lieutenant Daniels steps up in a big way. So does Shardene -- each of them choosing to do the right thing, and not what's expected - at great personal risk. Poot and Bodie, on the other hand, nervously lead each other in the opposite direction, convincing themselves they have to do what they know is wrong, but believe is necessary to stay in the game.  And then there's D'Angelo, who knows that he could have chosen a different path, could have warned his friend more strongly to keep him out of the game, and realizes too late the consequences of his silence.

Where's Wallace at? ... Where's the boy, String?... Where's Wallace? That's all I wanna know.

We can't do this without spoilers.

It's just so devastating watching Poot and Bodie with Wallace. The former are just kids playing a role, willing themselves into action by striking the gun-held-sideways poses and uttering the "tough" lines that they think are expected of them, and because Wallace doesn't play the role that they expect him to play in terms of "taking it like a man" it's feels all the more tragic for all three. And they know it.

Daniels steps up in a big way as McNulty acknowledges his ego and recedes to the background. Stands up for his men, stands up to Clay Davis, stands up for Kima. "If you were gonna do me," he tells Burrell, "I'd already be done. But there ain't nothing you fear more than a bad headline, now, is there? You'd rather live in shit than let the world see you work a shovel. You can order warrants, and I'll serve 'em. But as long as I have days left on those dead wires, this case goes on." This case goes on.

As for Dee ... look.  Even before United States v. Jones, you could place a GPS on a car with a warrant.  And then McNulty explains the vise he's caught in -- someone had to have fucked up for the police to know to pull him over, and if that's the case, Maury Levy's looking out for someone's interests other than Dee's.  And then it's the clincher:
Oh, by the way: your boy Wallace. Shot dead in the low rises. That's how y'all take care of your own, right?
Which leads to the jailhouse confrontation with Stringer and Levy, where Dee knows deep down the answer to the question, and just needs to hear them say it so he can crush his own heart that much more.

Had the season ended with that shot of the empty orange couch, dayenu.  I have no idea what's left to tell here, but we are in the hands of masters here.  So glad I'm watching.


  1. So glad I'm watching, too.  The loss of Wallace, and the way it happened, just crushed my own heart.  This kid embodied hope - getting out to the country, considering going back to school, getting out of the game, taking care of kids - and the way he died just felt like the loss of all hope, for all of these kids.

    And Daniels kicks ass.  What an amazing character. The fact that he's a stand-up, admirable guy never negates what he's done in his past.  Like everything on this show, it just adds another layer.

  2. I remain fascinated, of course, by the whole campaign finance report thing -- that in a pre-Internet era in which you had to go to government agencies to look at the papers, you can arouse a lot of interest once folks find out whose papers are being looked at.

  3. This episode devestated me. It was so incredibly painful on so many levels and so incredibly true. Wallace was that character that you just loved and hoped could get out, due to his youth and his role as caretaker, and his innocence. And yet there was always a feeling of dread for me throughout this season as we got to know him -- given the number of people who credit the Wire to be one of the best and most honest shows ever created -- that an honest portrayal of this world would not allow a character like Wallace to survive. He'd either die, or get further sucked into the world of drugs as an addict or dealer.

    In my pretend TV world, Wallace did make it out, and became either Vince on Friday Night Lights or Alex on Parenthood.

  4. Marsha12:12 PM

    I actually yelled at my TV. Out loud. With no one in the room.

    I think I've made my love for Wallace clear already. The way this episode just built up the sense of dread was incredibly impressive filmmaking and incredibly horrible to watch. the moment of the shooting wasn't in any way a surprise - you know exactly what's coming, and you know who it's coming from. When they walk into the building, and that long look is exchanged, it's torture to watch Wallace walk around calling out for the kids and to see Bodie and Poot telepathically communicating. Do it here? No, not yet. Here? Wait a minute. Wallace picks up the headphones and you see it cross both Bodie and Poot's faces - this is the moment. Brilliant acting, brilliant filmmaking, and damn, I hate them for it. Like Sue and Maret said - it's the death of hope, and even though it had to happen, and I knew it had to happen, it absolutely killed me.

    That said, there is still a little spark of hope, for the humanity of these people, at least. Dee isn't going to take this lying down, and maybe it'll help him find the courage to get out of the Game. I'm sure that's not the case, because this is The Wire, but wouldn't that be a little silver lining.

    Agree with everything said about Daniels and McNulty, and especialyl about that shot of the empty orange couch, but a bit too devastated by the whole thing to have much useful to say.

    I do have to say, though, that I think this may be the first show I've ever watched where we meet botht eh criminals and the cops and they're evenly matched. Sure, there are smart individual serial killers out there in TV Land, but in general, criminals are portrayed as stupid. In the Sopranos, law enforcement was somewhere between indiffierent, corrupt, and stupid, and the criminals didn't need to be all that smart to outmaneuver them. Here, Stringer has everything figured out - he knows how he's being tracked, he knows how to avoid it, he knows how to keep his boss safe, and he knows how to deal with his mistakes. It's all the more frightening to have smart cops up against a smart (but not insane) criminal. Stringer's not an evil genius - he's a guy who should be running a Fortune 500 company whose life took him elsewhere. I don't know if I've ever seen that before.

  5. Not quite: in the end, Stringer kept himself safe and not his boss. I'm trying to think of how he could have kept Avon safe without getting away from the game altogether.

  6. isaac_spaceman12:31 PM

    Yeah, that right there is the saddest death in all of TV.  "It ain't have to be like that!"  And it cemented for me the difference between Poot and Bodie.  Bodie seems harder, and he was going to do what he had to do, but he couldn't shut himself off like Poot did.  So I could retain some small shred of sympathy for Bodie, trapped in the game the same way Wallace was, but not for Poot.  But mainly Wallace.  Even watching Vince on FNL made me sad.  Mkchael B. Jordan was just an incredible find for them, so sympathetic, so vulnerable, so believably stuck. 

    And how hard was it to bite my tongue every time the last 11 weeks somebody said something like "I sure hope Wallace makes it," or something like that?  Oh, you poor, poor people. 

    Incidentally, there's a double-irony underlying the murder.  Wallace gets killed because everybody thinks that there must be an informant and he's a likely enough suspect to have to be killed.  What we know and they don't know is that it's the wire, not an informant, that is giving them the information they used, so the death seems pointless not just from a human perspective, but also from the Barksdale gang's perspective -- it didn't accomplish anything, because he wasn't the source.  But they weren't wrong.  D'Angelo was wrong with his faith in Wallace.  Wallace was an informant.  From Stringer, Bodie, and Poot's perspective, using their rules, they were right to kill Wallace. 

  7. Marsha1:00 PM

    I don't have the benefit of having seen what comes next, but having seen just this far, I'm not sure I'm willing to say there's no humanity left in Poot. Poot just wants it over with when he tells Bodie to do it - he knows it's going to happen and drawing it out isn't doing Wallace any favors. When he takes the gun from Bodie, he's showing some compassion for Bodie, but more importantly, firing those next two shots is an act of compassion for Wallace - Wallace is suffering (you can hear him moaning), and Poot ends that. He didn't have to do that - he certainly didn't have to put his own hands on that gun at all. His friendship with both of them is what made him do it.

  8. Marsha1:02 PM

    I'm not saying he doesn't place himself above everything else - I'm more referring back to last week when he talked to Avon about how they were rearranging to keep Avon's hands off of everything. So far, no one plays the Game better than Stringer.

  9. Jenn.2:11 PM

    I'm going to agree with Marsha here.  Yes, Poot showed himself to be tougher than Bodie in that moment, in a way that I didn't predict before this episode.  But Wallace was probably going to die after being shot the first time, even if Bodie and Poot had stopped there and run away---isolated in that place, injured, and not found for hours.  So, Poot did act mercifully, in a sense, because he made the death at least faster.

  10. Marsha2:26 PM

    And I think that was his intention, not just the result. He wasn't finishing the job to make 100% sure they fulfilled their task. He was putting Wallace out of his misery.

    This is a theme that's played out in crime drama over and over again, right? The guy you have to kill, but like or respect, you kill quickly and with as little pain as possible. The guy you hate, you cause him pain and make it linger.

  11. isaac_spaceman2:53 PM

    This is not based on anything else that happens at any point in the show, but I don't agree.  Look at Poot's eyes and the way he rolls his lower lip.  I'm not seeing the mercy.  Looks like determination to me.  I just think he's shut down, gone cold, doing his job.  Bodie is shaking, feels like he has to draw it out, turns the spigot on with his "be a man" machismo and has it all blow back onto him.  Poot is just professional. 

  12. Becca3:08 PM

    The thing that interests me in looking at the finance reports is how Ronnie didn't seem to understand what was going on there. Did she really not get they were following the money? Or was she just pissed she'd been left out? Was she really surprised they might actually INVESTIGATE all avenues? I don't know. That didn't make as much sense to me. 

    I think the part of Wallace's death that really upset me is what will happen to the kids he was taking care of. It's how the Game is self-perpetuating, I guess. Another generation of kids who are lost, and will do anything to eat and sleep. It's tragic that those involved, Bodie, Poot, etc, don't see how little they matter. There are TONS of kids to replace them, and they'll go so far as to kill their close friend, just to try and matter, and it just won't work. This is the only family they've ever known, and they have no idea how fucked up it is. It's not just the death of hope. It's the antithesis of hope.  

    Clearly, Wallace's grandmother cared about as much as his mom. 

    I'm curious to see the punishment for Daniels after standing up to the bosses, though I'm sure it won't appear immediately. Burrell and Davis' glee at putting Daniels in his place was unnerving. Do NOT do your job. Do NOT try to make this city safer, because it'll fuck things up for us. Don't you SEE that? How dare you not see that? By the end of this show, will ANYONE not be on the take? 

    And of course, I'm eager to see how the case gets extended. What does Barksdale do to force the department to leave these cats on the job? Can't be good. 

  13. Marsha4:05 PM

    It's all about interpreting body language, so I can't imagine there's a definitive answer here. But I just watched the whole sequence again (I have to avoid YouTube - there be serious spoilers in the titles of the related links!) and noticed that when Wallace, Poot, and Bodie are in having lunch, Poot doesn't touch his food. You can chalk that up to nervousness or moral dilemma, or what have you, but the kid isn't a stone cold professional - he can't calmly break bread with Wallace before doing the deed.

    I see the lip roll and the eyes, and what I see is compassion. He looks like he's going to cry right after he does it, and he lingers for an extra moment before following Bodie out. There's realy remorse there, along with acknowledgement that (in his mind) they had no choice.

  14. janet5:15 PM

    I remember having a different reaction to this scene the first time through the series -- Bodie having the initiative to do what he was assigned to do, and only after seeing Bodie take the first shot, did Poot have the nerve to fire too.

  15. isaac_spaceman8:38 PM

    Yeah, there are definitely two (or more) ways to read all of that.  And I certainly am influenced by the fact that I love Bodie and hate Poot. 

  16. Marsha9:09 PM

    Well, yes, I can see how that would influence your view!

  17. Also, bear in mind that the code required Poot to shoot also. He has to have has hands on the gun, to be a part of it. Bodie is already on a higher tier within the organization, and for Poot to stay and grow his role, he needs to be active in situations like this, not just be along for the ride.

    I too am a Bodie fan. It's interesting to note that for JD Williams, Bodie came after his stint as Kenny on OZ (almost every male character in The Wire was on OZ at some point; no, seriously, just about every single one. There was one OZ episdoe which had Herc, Carver, Daniels, Rawls, Bodie, and more!).

  18. I'm surprised no one in the comments has yet mentioned the appearance of De's mom. When we first see her drop of some food for De, it seems like just a passing thing, but that conversation with Avon? Wow. So far, Stringer has been the brains behind that operation, but Avon has had "IT," whatever it is that makes people want to follow (inherent leadership qualities, charisma, something). We haven't seen anyone talk to Avon like his aunt did there.

  19. Marsha10:06 AM

    I assumed that Dee's mom is Avon's sister, yes? Avon is Dee's uncle, I thought.

  20. Marsha -- you are absolutely right! Sorry, I got my generations mixed up. Still -- she was some strong presence in that conversation with Avon, no?

  21. Marsha10:32 AM

    Oh, absolutely. She is not to be messed with.