S1E13
“All in the game.”

Apologies for the huge delay between last essay and this one. It may be a while before I dive into the next season’s essays as well. I’m working on them though. And hey – if that three part monster doesn’t buy me some good will and time off, what the hell would?

Way back in the essay for S1E7, we talked a lot about codes: the moral belief system by which each person chooses to live his or her life. We could probably engage in a similar conversation for each episode of the show (and maybe for each episode of most shows – isn’t that, to some extent, all that you’re really following in any narrative? The choices a character makes about what matters most to him or her? But I digress.). While I’ll generally resist that temptation (because there’s so much else to discuss), S1E13 provides examples of several distinct approaches to code – shades of which probably define nearly every character on the show.

Kima (remember her? She was hardly mentioned in last episode’s monster essay, because, well, she wasn’t anywhere to be found in the episode) wakes up in her hospital bed, still in rough shape but clearly going to make it. Bunk and Santangelo are there, waiting for her to identify her shooters. It’s a formality, really; Bunk “helpfully” points out Little Man and Wee-Bey. They’ve got evidence on these guys. They know that they (or at least Bey) are major players in the Barksdale organization. Once Kima fingers Bey, the case is as good as in the black. You get the impression that if it was McNulty in that hospital bed, Bunk wouldn’t even bother with the photo array. He’d inform Jimmy as to the identity of his shooters over shots, and they’d railroad the case through the court, never once worrying about the cut corners. Kima is no McNulty though (understatement, I know). She didn’t see Wee-Bey. Period. She won’t – she can’t – say that she did.

So let’s call that Code Version 1.0: always do Right, even when a tiny little Wrong would help make that Right a whole lot easier to achieve. Admittedly (and maybe sadly), this is the least common version of code to be found in the world of The Wire. It’s often situational (even Kima veers off-course from time to time, as evidenced by her role in the S1E7 four-on-one police brutality beatdown of Bird), and it’s always open to interpretation (Brianna Barksdale, I’d imagine, would call herself an adherent of this code). It’s distinct though, and it’s a difficult choice to make in the face of so many systems that celebrate the end over the means.

Compare Kima to McNulty, whose code (and stubborn adherence to it) is, arguably, the reason the entire series exists. Actually, as I write this, I realize that Jimmy might describe himself as following Code Version One. He sees himself as on the trail of some larger Right, some ultimate Truth that deserves his complete attention, and he won’t pull back from that search for any reason. For McNulty, it’s the systems that are wrong, and if they don’t help him on his quest for justice, he’s got less than no use for them. Originally, I was going to call this Code Version 2.0, but I’m thinking it’s more like 1.1 – a variation on the theme: always campaign for Right, even at the expense of derailing that Right.

Let’s point to an example from this episode: the feds are intrigued and impressed by the work the detail has come up with, especially as it points to signs of political corruption (in the form of Clay Davis). Problem is, they need a direct link to that corruption before they can get involved, and all the detail has is D’Angelo Barksdale, hardly a player on the political level. Daniels (a student of the system) declines their help (which would possibly involve deals for Bell and Barksdale), handshakes are exchanged, and no bridges are burned, right? Wrong – Jimmy McNulty is in the room. He’s furious that the system doesn’t work and, more to the point, that he’s not getting his way. He badmouths everyone in the room, including his old buddy Fitz, who helped him get this far in the first place.

And you know what? I’m going to make this Code Version 2.0 after all, because I do think it’s entirely its own beast. Bear with me here as I try to work this out: somewhere in Jimmy’s mind, he knows that his quest for justice is ultimately futile. He can’t win whether he works inside or outside of the boundaries of the BPD (and the Federal government, for that matter), so why compromise his own beliefs for small scale justice via a system that rewards incompetence and political games? In McNulty’s world, the quest for justice is all that matters. In that, he’s the flip to Kima (and probably a lot more like Rawls and company than he’d like to admit): the end (justice) always justifies the means (pissing off anyone and everyone who helps him).

I’m going to move on, but let me say this first: the truth of that last paragraph is drilled home by his actions in Season Two. That paragraph also, and I’m not positive about this yet, may have just given me an entirely new view on damn near all of Season Five. Huh.

And one last note on Jimmy and his code: when he’s successful in his little campaigns, he’s rewarded, usually by the very same people who hate his guts for putting them through the entire ordeal in the first place. In this episode, Ronnie is so thrilled by the “career fucking case” that Jimmy has created for her that she goes ahead and has sex with him in the parking garage at headquarters. Everyone ends up encouraging Jimmy McNulty based on the results he gets, even if they hated him for starting the whole process. And if that’s the case, then why the hell not adhere to his own code? He gets to campaign for justice, make his own rules, and then reap the rewards if and when something good comes to pass.

It’s not only the cops who have codes, of course, which gives me an opportunity to spend a little time on one of my absolute favorite characters from the B&B Clan: Wee-Bey. He’s the star of this episode, in my opinion, handily beating out Brianna (and I’m not going to harp on how great she is again, although her code is probably worth breaking down – I’m over a thousand words already, and we’ve got to draw the lines somewhere), with no one else close.

Bey’s got one of my favorite lines from the whole series in this episode, telling the cops that they “didn’t have to fuck up my ride” as he’s being hauled off to jail for life. It’s a funny but telling moment: this guy’s got a completely different worldview than most (even the other criminals with whom he runs). It’s not that he’s unaware of the severity of his crimes. It’s not even that he’s a psychotic serial killer. He’s just got an altogether different code.

Wee-Bey’s code (let’s go ahead and call it Code Version 3.0) is illustrated clearly and kind of hilariously as he’s interrogated for murder (and attempted murder of a cop, although don’t quote me on that charge). He’s caught. He knows he’s caught. He’s been preparing for this moment for his whole life. He’s not like Avon, who (until this point) has never been to jail and never plans on going to jail. Wee-Bey’s story can only end with him dead or behind bars, and he knows it. Armed with the knowledge that he’s no longer got anything to lose, Wee-Bey owns up to all the murders he’s committed over the years (and probably several that were done by other Barksdale enforcers). He’s the ultimate solider in all this, ready to carry all the weight for as many crimes as it takes to protect the overall interests of the Barksdale army.

So all that said, here it is, Bey’s Code (stated perhaps in more morality-based terms than he’d cop to): stand firm and always accept the consequences that come from your actions. Maybe he wouldn’t say that what he’s doing is Right (the way McNulty might), but you know he’d stand behind his decisions, regardless of the fallout. And sure, Bey’s got a unique set of circumstances. It’s a lot easier to own up to a ton of murders when you’re already guaranteed to be in jail for life. So it’s not necessarily all that shocking for him to live up to the code.

But it sure doesn’t fit all that well on D’angelo. And that’s all I’ll say about that. Until S2.

I’m going to try to lay off the code talk for a while. We’ll probably at least reference it again during the “Sunday Truce” incident in S3, and we’ll definitely come back to it hard when Marlo comes into our world. I’ll probably attempt to hold the conversation about Marlo’s code back until S5, when…come on, now. You think I’m going to spoil that?

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