Wednesday, May 2, 2012

HE QUITS OR HE DROWNS. THAT'S THE ONLY TWO THINGS GETTING HIM OFF THE FUCKING BOAT, SO HELP ME GOD: Taken as a pair, the Wire season two episodes "Hard Cases" and "Undertow" get us as close as we've been to the world of the first season -- the police team is all back together under one roof, Bubbs is back, Avon and Stringer and especially Maury Levy remain one step ahead of the authorities ... and yet most of it felt unsatisfying to me.

Unlike the daring way in which the season started, with the police scattered to the four corners of the city, the reunions felt a bit indulgent, taking us away from the (what-we-believe-to-be) realism which otherwise marks the series. Two moments in particular felt off -- the parallel dinner montage of Griggs and Daniels explaining to their spouses why they're abandoning the law to be police again, and Stringer's return to economics class (as student, and then as teacher).  Both just felt like artificial crowd-pleasing devices in ways that I didn't think The Wire operated.

So what grabbed me these episodes?  The Sobotkas. Completely wrenching seeing all three of them stuck (and in Ziggy's case, stupid) in a 21st-Century Baltimore which no longer values what they can provide, and in which all the choices seem like bad ones.  It's a Springsteen album without the uplifting music to counterbalance the depressing lyrics, and when Frank Sobotka unleashes on Bunk and Beadie with regards to the grand jury, it didn't feel like histrionics at all:

SOBOTKA: We didn't know shit, goddamnit! You want us to dance with a grand jury, we will! What do you say, Johnny? What do you say to any question?
SPAMANATO: I take the fifth commandment.
SOBOTKA: And if they offer you immunity to testify against your union brothers?
SPAMANATO: I don't remember.
SOBOTKA: Don't remember what?
SOBOTKA: What you're forgetting, Detective, is that every I.B.S. local on the East Coast has had its ass in front of a federal grand jury two or three times already. You want to throw your summonses, throw 'em! You want to subpoena our records? Shit, you don't even need a subpoena no more. Our books have been open to the Justice Department for eight years. We're here through Bobby Kennedy, Tricky Dick Nixon, Ronnie "The Unionbuster" Reagan and half a dozen other sons-a-bitches. We'll be here through your weak bullshit, no problem! 


  1. Marsha10:15 AM

    Having watched Hard Cases a week ago, and Undertow just last night, I'm absolutely shocked that this post didn't reference Omar and McNulty on a shopping expedition, which may be the loudest I've ever laughed at something on this show so far. "It's a thing." "No, it isn't." And the later, "or maybe I'll be at the club with Muffy." Frickin' hilarious.

    (And no, Isaac, Omar still cannot babysit my kids.)

    Yes, I do feel that this set of episodes has been a little more contrived - if you want to get the band back together, you have to engineer that somehow. and I forgive them that, because there's no way that in 13 episodes we were going to follow all these characters pursuing different cases. And I think the machinations that led to them all being together made perfect sense - it wasn't coincidence, Daniels got assigned and asked for the rest, as we'd expect he would. (Though I thought Carver's inclusion stretched credulity too far.)

    I have more to say, but I have to run to a meeting, so it'll have to wait until later.

  2. I've said this before here, but Frank Sobotka is one of my all-time favorite tv characters.  Not that I'd love to be his friend, but he's an amazingly realized character.

  3. I have to admit, I actually loved the Daniels/Griggs dinner montage.

    Frank's a good character.  Ziggy's awful.

  4. Jordan11:01 AM

    What a lot of people don't know about the Wire is how screamingly funny it can be.  And the payoff from that scene, which happens next episode, is my favorite thing to ever happen on my favorite show.  Sure it's a dark and depressing show, but that's only part of it.  I think Omar has to be my favorite TV character of all time.

  5. David Simon disapproves of your having a favorite character.

  6. I'd like to amend that.  Ziggy is awful.  That said, you get this sense that the awfulness comes from the place that he is trapped in a life for which he is patently not suited.  Send Ziggy to college to study, say, computer science, and maybe he becomes a somewhat-eccentric software engineer who feels no need to do anything overly wacky.

  7. Tosy and Cosh12:06 PM

    One of the joys of The Wire for me is seeing character actors I knew from elsewhere do such great work here. This season it's Chris Bauer as Sobotka. I only knew him from True Blood, where he's somewhat cartoonish and not remotely anyone I would have pointed to as a great actor. Here he's just brilliant. The moments of anger and desperation, as noted above, are great, but I also love him in his playful moments - in the scene where he explains how the computer system works to Bunk and Beadie, for example. Just a wonderfully realized character. Also, I only knew Paul Ben Victor from In Plain Sight, where he does what he can with a relatively pro-forma boss role. Here, he' just amazing as this quiet, cloe-to-the vest second-in-command.

    As far as these episodes go, the return of Bubbles (sorry David Simon, but he's my favorite character) is the highlight for me. Him and McNulty on the boat is just a delightful scene hinting, once again, what a smart, amazing person he is, and how much potential the addiction has wasted. I'm also much more invested in Ziggy this time around, and find him just such a sad and lonely character.  Ziggy playing at drug dealer is amongst the funniest/saddest tnings the show's done.

  8. Maggie1:41 PM

    I too love Chris Bauer's performance.  I've stopped watching The Office, but he was in the commercial for this week's episode, so I may have to tune in again.

  9. The scene you posted is so wonderful, and in typical Wire fashion it contains so much.  Frank's indignation at the cops, his added resentment that Beadie is there, and his fury that his integrity is being questioned.  There's also a clear demonstration of the distrust and disrespect of law enforcement, which we've seen from the "criminals" but not really so far from this side of the populace.

    And you can completely see how Frank Sobotka became a leader in the union.  He's a mesmerizing speaker, and will fight for his members to the end.

  10. Celendra9:36 AM

    I just get this terrible sinking feeling when I watch Nick and Frank get farther into crime - that these will be the fall guys, that the Greek and his men, BECAUSE they are professionals, will have their own Maury Levy, their own plan to spin this shit should police get involved. That the only people whose lives are going to be ruined are those dead girls and the people whose underlying worldview was invalidated by the massive shift away from industry in America.

  11. Marsha9:47 AM

    I completely agree with that sinking feeling. I spent all of season 1 sure that the end result would be that the heads of the Barksdale organization would skate by unscathed (which turned out not to entirely be right) but this season I have this tremendous sense of dread surrounding Frank, and especially Nick. The Greek is not going to be the one to suffer for all of these crimes.

  12. isaac_spaceman3:42 PM

    Is this the episode where Omar was on the stand?  Just pure awesome. 

  13. isaac_spaceman3:44 PM

    His character in Generation Kill was essentially Ziggy in speech, attitude, and mannerisms, yet somehow not in fuckedupness, and felt completely different.  Likeable, even. 

  14. No; the second of the two episodes has Omar and McNulty shopping for clothing, however.<span> </span>