S1E12, Part Three
“This is me, yo, right here.”
The more you watch it, the more heartbreaking it gets. Wallace bounces up the stares, no clue was to what he’s walking into. He’s back with his best friends. He thinks his kids are playing hide and seek. He’s back home. And he’s doomed. Bodie’s a soldier, resigned to do what he’s got to do. Poot trudges up the stairs, absolutely trudges. Wallace calls after the kids: “Game over. When I find y’all, I’m beating y’all asses” — with absolutely no awareness of the irony. And their faces, the looks on their faces – Wallace can’t even play at tough, and Bodie and Poot can barely hold onto that exterior. Even in this moment, Bodie just wants Wallace to “be a man,” to take his inevitable death with dignity. But that’s impossible. For Bodie and Poot, this is being a man, or more accurately, this is becoming a man, becoming the soldier that Wallace never could have been. It’s the end of their childhood.
*The first line right after the shooting? “We’re looking for your son.” To Wallace’s mom. Who couldn’t care less.
*Important to mention: Lester discovers the Downtown Rehab Project via a story on the front page of the newspaper that Presbo was using for his crab leg lunch, and he starts to make the connection between the map of that project and the map of Avon’s illegal properties…and that’s all we get for now. It’s all set-up for seasons two and three, but because this is The Wire, the writers are patient, feeling no need to draw specific attention to it. We know that it’s important because everything is important on this show, but we aren’t going to get anymore about it until we need it.
*McNulty’s reaction to Wallace’s shooting: “That means Stringer’s out of the box.” The recurring theme of this season resurfaces: McNulty’s a dick.
*The relationship between Avon and his sister Brianna is absolutely fascinating to me. I’m hoping I find occasion to write more about Brianna later, because she (a) is one of those unique characters that simply doesn’t exist outside of The Wire, and (b) maybe the most well-rounded, multi-dimensional female character in the entire series (I honestly can’t think of anyone who even comes close). For now, let’s focus on just one moment in this episode: she tells Avon that he doesn’t have to worry about D’Angelo because “I raised that boy, and I raised him right.” And it’s true – she’s raised a smart young man with a strong moral code and sense of responsibility to his family and community. That family and community just happen to be inextricably steeped in the drug trade, and that’s what’s so off-the-charts amazing about Brianna – she’s raised her son to be a model citizen within the drug running world. The problem, it turns out, is that she may have raised her son too well; his conscience and clear sense of right and wrong make him all wrong for the game into which he’s been raised. In fact, it’s Brianna’s diligent, careful, and loving parenting (a complete rarity in this series – who else comes from a stable household?) that leads to this:
What you can’t tell if you’re cheating and just watching that scene out of context (meaning that you’re inevitably questioning why the youtube description calls it the “greatest scene in television history” and the clip ends with the “brilliant…fucking brilliant” supertitles): D is crumpling here because of what the cops have told him about Wallace, but not just because of what they’ve told him about Wallace, but also what they started with Gant and what they followed up on after his bust on the package pickup. D doesn’t want to believe them, but he’s just so damn susceptible, and it’s all because his mom raised him so damn well. This scene, like the Wallace shooting scene earlier, is the culmination of all the groundwork laid by the series in its first eleven episodes, and it comes together in such seamless, elegant, brutal fashion that you don’t even realize why it hurts so effing much.
(By the way, my notes, verbatim: “OH SNAP – this scene is in this ep too? Best ep?”)
*”The bug you didn’t brief me about” — this is all Burrell cares about here, even to the point of not celebrating the fact that that bug (and the months of complicated police work that went into it) actually managed to finally nab the otherwise uncatchable Avon Barksdale. Burrell doesn’t even seem to care about capturing one of the guys responsible for Kima’s shooting. His concern is that Daniels just stops following the money, and he’ll use anything he can (especially a disobeyed direct order) to shut the detail down.
*And after all the emotions of this episode, all the histrionics of the season, it all comes to an end with a anticlimactic whimper (for the characters, not for the audience), as Stringer and Avon patiently wait for the cops to show up at the now-empty Orlando’s to lock them both up. As the SWAT team assembles outside for what they know will be a massive fire fight with a criminal mastermind, Avon goes and has his safe opened up so as not to destroy it – and hell, we’ll just write off that hundred and fifty thousand dollars sitting in it as a cost of doing business. I’m fascinated here because this isn’t just about the Barksdales being a unique drug conglomerate; it’s about a whole new way of conducting, well, for lack of a better word, war. I’m reminded of the film Jarhead: at the heart of the movie (and the Anthony Swafford novel on which it was based) is the idea that (I’m oversimplifying insanely now) thanks largely to advances in technology, modern combat is an invariable anticlimax, filled with (in this case literal) armies of young men sitting around, waiting to fire their guns – and that opportunity almost never comes. In this case, it’s SWAT that’s finally told to stand down as McNulty and Daniels enter Orlando’s unarmed to find…Avon Barksdale, waiting with his hand down his pants.
*McNulty does get a nice parting shot in on Stringer, who expects to be captured right along with his partner. The cops don’t give him any information on why he’s staying out of jail; instead, McNulty just says “catch you later.” The double meaning of the line aside, it’s another way that The Wire sticks closer to real life than most shows of its kind – on this show, you don’t explain your master plan to your enemy, you just leave him to figure it out himself.
*”Best work I ever did. I never did a case like this. And it’s not enough.” That’s Sydnor, going back to auto crimes. It’s as close to a thesis statement as you’ll ever get on this show. No matter how well you do your job, you just can’t make difference. It might as well be a show about Sisyphus.
*Final shot: The pit is deserted. There are no drugs to be found. And hey: that’s all the cops wanted, right? The drug trade is stopped (temporarily halted, but you know, close enough). The dealers are out of work (for the day, I mean, and that’s something, right?). The success of the drug war can be measured in that one last image: the orange couch, sitting empty, no Bodie, no Poot, no D’Angelo…no Wallace. All of them, nowhere to be found.