Sunday, February 17, 2008

From Wire to Wire / EPISODE 11-13: The Hunt, Cleaning Up, Sentencing

The Hunt
Directed by: Steve Shill
Story by: David Simon & Ed Burns
Teleplay by: Joy Lusco

"Dope on the damn table." - Daniels

Cleaning Up
Directed by: Clement Virgo
Story by: David Simon & Ed Burns
Teleplay by: George P. Pelecanos

"This is me, yo, right here." - Wallace

Directed by: Tim Van Patten
Written by: David Simon & Edward Burns

"All in the game." - Traditional West Baltimore

Some notes on the tremendous final act of The Wire's Season One:

-We've got two more great titles here. Both sides do stuff could be described as "cleaning up": by moving in on the Barksdale gang, the cops are cleaning up the streets (the eerie final shot of the episode shows the formerly bustling Pit totally devoid of activity); and the Barksdales, sensing that the end is near, clean up any loose ends, silencing anyone who can testify against them in court. "Sentencing," of course, refers to the judgments against several (but not all) the members of the Barksdale gang. But the word sentencing could also be a slang term for slinging together sentences, thus returning us to the theme of talking out of turn, something that is crucial to the episode, as D'Angelo has to decide whether to testify against his uncle in court or take the 20 years he's looking at after he's busted muling a new package from New York City.

-The game metaphors get played really hard through the finale as well; as you can see above, the quotation from "Sentencing" (also the final dialogue spoken on the episode, and thus the entire season) reminds us that it's "all in the game." Perhaps the most poignant and subtle use of the term comes as Bodie and Poott prepare to kill Wallace, the young boy who'd fingered Brandon in "Cleaning Up." The unsuspecting target returns home to the abandoned rowhouse he shares with Poot and a bunch of young children he watches over as a surrogate father. The house is empty because Bodie and Poot don't want the "young'uns" to see what they're about to do, but Wallace thinks they're playing hide and go seek and he starts wandering through the rooms looking for them. As Bodie and Poot exchange glances and nods in the foreground, we hear Wallace, off-camera and in the distance calling to the kids and eventually uttering the phrase "Game over!" to try to get them to come out. It's then that Bodie and Poot shoot Wallace, who gets shot in front of a poster of 2Pac, imagery that's certainly not unintentional.

A couple more I spotted: Kima refuses to let finger Wee Bay in Orlando's murder because she didn't clearly see him at the scene. When Bunk reminds her that an ID will play better in court she remarks, "Sometimes things gotta play hard." When Freamon gets a much deserved promotion back to homicide at the end of the episode Rawls, while laying out the unit's ground rules instructs him, "You do not play the game for yourself, you play it for us."

Further, the idea of letting the game play comes into pretty stark focus with the ultimate punishments for both D'Angelo and McNulty — the two characters who have been linked throughout the season. Both get sent up the river, one figuratively, one literally: with D' looking at 20 years on a drug charge and McNulty demoted to riding a boat in the marine unit. D'Angelo and Wallace's fates in particular show us how the game is rigged, how the pawns get sacrificed for the kings and queens: without Wallace to testify against him, Stringer can't be charged with Brandon's murder and while the kingpin Avon takes 7 years in jail, that's less than half of what D'Angelo gets, even though he's barely a lieutenant in the organization. Life ain't fair in West Baltimore.

-Dominic West really grows into the McNulty character during these final episodes. The last vestigial traces of his English accent all but disappear, and he stops looking like an actor playing a cop and more like a cop who just happens to look like an actor. The scene where he lays all his cards out on the table to Daniels is amazing -- finally the full truth about why he started the whole investigation (here's a hint: his motives ain't good). And now that his best friend in the detail is hooked up to a respirator he realizes: it wasn't worth it. All of a sudden his beloved catchphrase, "What the fuck did I do?" carries a bit more weight.



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