Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Y'ALL CAN'T BE PLAYING NO CHECKERS ON NO CHESSBOARD: I have a feeling that one's opinion of The Wire's third episode, "The Buys," will rest upon whether D'Angelo's explanation of the rules of chess (and the drug trade) struck you as intelligent and gripping, or a bit anvil-heavy and too-clever-by half ...
Now, the king, he move one space any direction he damn choose, 'cause he's the king. Like this, this, this, a'ight? But 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 gotta do shit....
It wasn't just in that scene where I felt like the writers were underlining things a bit too heavily -- Stringer Bell's explanation of the new product; the unsuitability of some of the police officers at the scene of the raid; the frustrations of police bureaucracy.
These right here, these are the pawns. They like the soldiers. They move like this, one space forward only. Except when they fight, then it's like this. And they like the front lines, they be out in the field.
We get it, D. You're a pawn, hell, McNulty's a pawn too, and you both don't understand why the drug trade has to be so violent. ("Everything else in this country gets sold without people shooting each other behind it.") But Bubbles remains awesome.  And I still don't remember the names of 2/3 of the pawns.  I am still very much into the show, but I can't say that this episode lived up to its reputation.

administrative note: We've discussed whether folks are enjoying episodes so quickly that a deviation from the one-per-week recap format is justified.  I remain open to your suggestions.


  1. Andrea10:01 AM

    What I like about the scenes in the pit is how long they are.  Monitoring the drug trade is a lot of time spent sitting around.  So yes, the explanation of the chess pieces is heavy handed.  But I appreciated the writers, and the actors, taking their time, spinning it out.  It seems to fit their reality of spending time sitting and waiting and watching.

  2. I really like that the discussion is happening once-a-week.  It fits in my life better (and I didn't get a chance to watch this week so I'm a week behind.)  That being said, when things slow down and I watch 5 episodes in a row, I'll probably want to talk about them all at once.

  3. Chin Music10:16 AM

    The chess scene is heavy handed only if you think the point is for the writers to explain The Game to the viewers.  But, really, what this scene does so well is shows that the players, the pawns themselves, know exactly what they are and what their role in The Game is.  The scene also answers the question of why the drug trade is so violent.  The chess-based explanation is all about the efforts of rival teams to knock off the king.  The way these guys view The Game is all about protecting what is theirs; buying, selling, and customers aren't part of the analogy.   

  4. Honestly, it was the closest I've ever come to understanding how to play, and the appeal of, chess, so I'm all for the extended chess metaphor scene.

    The scene where Omar, was it? or one of his accomplices?, just flat out blew out the kid's knee (was it the Michael B. Jordan character?) with a shotgun blast, I involuntarily yelled, "Holy sh*t" at my tv. That was the moment I decided for sure I'd stick with the show.

  5. Gleemonex11:40 AM

    I liked the chess scene for that hint of sadness we get from D -- he's obviously smart, and in a lesser show, he'd be adopted by a white family and get a prep-school scholarship or some shit about the triumph of the human spirit and also America: Fuck Yeah!, but that's not reality and that's not the Wire, so he's a pawn. And even now, he knows that this is the worst, and he's stuck in it for life. 

    PS: Love what Andrea said about the whole-lotta-nothing that is the daily grind of the drug trade. Indeed. 

  6. The other important part of the scene is to show how deeply ingrained The Game is to the participants - that they understand everything, down to the rules of board games, by analogy back to The Game.  The point isn't to explain chess, but rather to show that in their world the rules of The Game are the constraints they form their worldview within.

  7. Paul Tabachneck1:07 PM

    I'm heavy into S3 right now.  For the record, I loved S2 way more the second time around.  I'd be happy if we went two-a-week, but I understand if the pace stays as-is.

    IMHO, the heavy-handed stuff early in the series is essential for setting the tone and the cultural shorthand of the series.  It seems slow and anvilly to us now because we can see the whole picture, but it wasn't that way on first air.  Also, it sets Bodie's entire story into play -- the pawn that thinks he can eventually be a king.

    It's McNuggets part 2, for sure -- they're having the same conversation over and over, in different ways -- but each time his mesage is sinking in further for his audience, and that's important.

  8. It's not just about the drug trade but it's about living in the projects.  Same stuff, day in, day out.  Understanding the slowness of life.  It's just like a small town in the middle of Iowa/Kansas/Nebraska- you might see the way out or want a way out, but you are unlikely to leave.  In this place, it's the drug business- elsewhere, it's being a farmer or working in the mill.

    Administratively speaking, I'd like to stick to one a week.

  9. Andrew1:32 PM

    That was Omar. He's usually wielding the sawed off shotgun. (And no, Wallace was not the hopper shot in the knee.)

  10. Marsha1:48 PM

    Yes. That. That's exactly what I wanted to say, only better expressed than I would have. So thank you.

    I"ll add that I think that it's not just showing that they know their place in The Game, but also that D'Angelo is expressing his frustration with that, and (I'm assuming) foreshadowing that he might not be so happy to stay in his place in it long term. It's interesting that we haven't yet seen a semi-typical trope of these sorts of shows - the idea that these guys live this life because they have to, but they don't want their little brother (or some relative) to get into it because he's smart and could make it out of here. Avon wants to keep D'Angelo in the business, and there's no evidence that any of these people (so far) want to do anything but this. Even D'Angelo so far seems to be mostly frustrated that he's stuck in the Pit with these losers and not back in the high rises where he thinks he belongs, or in a higher level management position where he doesn't have to be so close to the violence.

  11. Marsha1:52 PM

    Well, I can now say I'm starting to understand why the name Omar strikes such fear in pop culture geeks' hearts. He's got the crazy eyes.

  12. Marsha1:57 PM

    I'm really enjoying getting to know the cop side of the show as well. Freamon's work this week was fascinating - guess McNulty didn't get all humps after all.  Kima's got some fight in her, the upper brass seem to be completely clueless, and Bubbles, so far, is the most interesting character in the entire show.

    I have to get better about writing down my thoughts as I'm watching.

  13. Jenn.4:05 PM

    The fiance and I actually loved the chess analogy, for all of the reasons above.  It also goes a long way (in my mind) toward explaining why it is that Avon Barksdale doesn't seem as big a player as Stringer Bell, even though he's the head of the whole game.  Stringer may wield a lot of power, going more places such as to the courtroom to intimidate witnesses, but the king stays the king.

    We are two episodes into season three.  That said, I'm fine with doing the discussions once a week, as it means that more people can participate.

  14. Deanna10:16 PM

    Random thoughts on this episode:

    1. What struck me about the chess scene was that we get a glimpse into D'Angelo's mind-- he's got principles and rules; he's miffed at the bastardization of the chess board and pieces.

    2. My note-taking skills suck.

    3. I'm jarred every time I hear Michael B. Jordan swear. 

    4. I need to look up "buy-bust." (Set up a buy and then bust the seller?) 

    5. What does "I've got suction with you mean?" (Again, would have helped had I written down the context in my notes.)

  15. Marsha1:12 AM

    I'm taking "suction" to mean something akin to owing a favor, though it seems broader than that - more that I've got leverage of some sort, be it owing me one or nepotism or political sway.

    I am unhelpful on buy-bust.

  16. Buy-bust is the term that covers the standard operating procedure for drug policing (in the show's world view at least).  Set up several small time drug purchases with low level dealers (the kids like Wallace/Poot/Bodie that do the grunt work), get surveillance on those drug transactions (mainly pictures), and then arrest the "drug traffickers" which are just the low level dealers.

    If you notice, the pawns are the only ones that do the actual "drug dealing" so they are the only ones at risk to prosecution for a buy-bust type of case.

  17. Yes, and since arrest stats are what matters to the impatient higher-ups, the kind of large-scale investigation that our heroes are doing doesn't seem as useful as just busting the small guys.  There's also the idea that the low guys will then turn on their higher-ups, which shows a serious lack of knowledge about the Barksdale empire.

    The pawns are also somewhat protected, though, as the pawn who takes your money isn't the one who serves you.

  18. I took/take "suction" to mean something even broader.  Suction doesn't just refer to a specific kind of leverage or favor, but a general state of being influential with the other entity, for whatever reason:  Because they owe you a favor, because you hired their nephew, because you were college roommate, because they just like you, or whatever.  In DC, we sometimes use the term "juice" in the same way.  ("We should have Dave make the call; he has juice with the Deputy Director.")

  19. janet1:08 PM

    I've interpreted "suction" as the tendency to get pulled upward into better circumstances/positions/placement as the superior officer moves up the hierarchical chain. As in, if I do this for you, suction (you) will elevate me accordingly as you move into more influential positions.

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