From Wire to Wire / EPISODE 1: The Target
I've always admired people who take on enormous blog projects ("blog-jects" perhaps?) for no apparent reason; Nathan Rabin's awe-inspiring and recently concluded My Year of Flops for instance. But I've never really had a subject that seemed worthy of that much discussion (or good enough to actually motivate me to write). When I got my fiance hooked on season 4 of The Wire and she demanded I go back and rewatch the entire series with her, I saw my chance for my very own blogger boondoggle ("blog-doggle" perhaps?).
So I make no promises on scheduling or post length but I will make this solemn vow. Anytime we watch another episode of The Wire, I will write about it on Termite Art. At least until the Deputy Ops drags my ass into his office and chews me out over giving a fuck when it's not my turn to give a fuck.
And that brings us to...
Season 1, Episode 1
Directed by: Clark Johnson
Story by: David Simon & Ed Burns
Teleplay by: David Simon
"When it's not your turn." - McNulty
The dialogue in The Wire is so dense. I remember the first time I watched this pilot episode I got about twenty minutes in and I was barely hanging on. By its nature, the series refuses to explain itself to its audience. Exposition is about as rare on The Wire as a character doing something with altruistic motives. But when you watch it for the first time, as I did several years ago — on the recommendation of a friend with very little background info or warning — it's easy to get lost or confused. I was so convinced I had missed something I actually restarted "The Target" about 20 minutes in, and rewatched the whole thing over, just to make sure I hadn't spaced out and missed a crucial scene or two. I hadn't. I just wasn't used to paying that much attention.
Watching "The Target" again with my fiance (who has seen all of season 4) and my brother (who hasn't watched any of it, and is coming to the series on my recommendation, just as I came to it on someone else's) I was reminded how tough this show can be to watch. Wire creator David Simon's book Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets should practically be a prerequisite to watching, since it lays out the details of the Baltimore Police Department bureaucracy that the show does not. It assumes we understand why it's a big deal for Detective "Bunk" Moreland to answer the phone "when it's not his turn" or why Major Rawls is so steamed that Detective McNulty is dredging up cases from the previous calendar year.
In both instances, the reason is because working homicide in Baltimore (and, presumably, and most if not all major American cities) is a numbers game, and your success as a department is based on the number of arrests you make — which is directly related to the number of cases to take. The different homicide squads rotate being on call for periods of a few weeks at a time: when you're up, you go out and work crime scenes; when you're down, you try to solve the ones you've still got open. And each year's stats are their own entity; hence there is no reason for McNulty to be griping about something that happened last year. He should know that it bears no impact on how the department will rate his performance this year.
Anyway, all that technical stuff aside, this episode, like much of this season, and a good deal of the rest of the series, is about the parallels between the police and the drug dealers they're after. Most importantly and most obviously, the characters of McNulty (who's willing to talk out of school about a drug dealer that's been successfully beating cases in court by intimidating or buying witnesses) and D'Angelo Barksdale (one of these very dealers) are established as equivalents: both are disciplined by their superiors for doing something they weren't supposed to do, and both get stuck on shit details as a result. McNulty is tossed in with the group that will eventually come to be known on the show as the Major Crimes Unit, while D'Angelo gets demoted to running the drug operation in "The Pit," a big demotion from his previous gig working in "The Towers."
That much is obvious on a first viewing, but this time around, I was even more aware how writers Simon and Ed Burns were laying out the comparisons between the two factions. We see how both sides, for instance, react to who "snitch:" when McNulty blabs, everyone complains, but they also get off their ass and start to do their jobs a little. When a witness blabs about seeing D'Angelo murder someone, he gets murdered himself (the episode ends with the stark image of an angelic statue in the extreme foreground of a developing crime scene). "The Target"'s second-to-last scene kicks off a season-long thread about another kind of speech: when a junkie named Bubbles decides to turn confidential informant after the Barksdale gang beats up his friend.
Lastly, a brief mention of the first of The Wire's many beautiful metaphors. After a long night of drinking, Bunk and McNulty are trying to shake off their stupor down by the tracks before heading back to work. As McNulty declares that he will work the Barksdale detail properly — despite his orders not to — he defiantly pisses on the tracks, just as an oncoming train barrels down the line towards him. At the last minute, he zips up his fly, and stumbles out of the way.
Labels: The Wire