Monday, September 11, 2006
The Wire No. 38: Boys of Summer
By Edward Copeland
An original episode of The Wire last aired Dec. 19, 2004, but thankfully we have what arguably has become the best drama on television for at least one more season. Unlike The Sopranos, whose delays and hiatuses breed impatience and contempt, each season of The Wire plays like a self-contained unit, so fans could be satisfied in case the show didn't return. Fortunately, it has returned and as in previous seasons, it keeps upping the stakes by adding layers to its complicated Baltimore universe.
Season 1 focused on the Barksdale drug crew. Season 2 added the investigation of union activities at the port. Season 3, with the port story resolved, delved into politics and a drug legalization idea implemented by a police officer nearing retirement. With Season 4, the decimated Barksdale gang has been replaced by that of rising drug kingpin Marlo Stansfield, the political campaign continues and, if that weren't enough, The Wire delves into the state of public schools. The Wire is not a show for casual viewers, but for those who pay attention the rewards are as great as a fine novel. In some ways, the show almost carries a Dickensian tone.
Since this is my first episode recap, I guess this should be the point where I warn everyone that spoilers might lie ahead if they haven't seen the episode in question yet. OK — you've been warned. Since by now the cast has grown so large, I figured before I delve into the episode itself, I'd offer brief updates on the main characters who do manage to get squeezed into the premiere — though many don't show up until later.
McNulty (Dominic West): He's still back in dress blues, working a radio car in the Western District, despite pleas from his new boss to get back to detective work because he's wasting his talents.
Cedric Daniels (Lance Reddick): Speaking of McNulty's new boss, he's the same as his old boss as Daniels has inherited command of the Western District upon Bunny Colvin's retirement.
Detectives Kima Greggs and Lester Freamon (Sonja Sohn, Clarke Peters): They are holding down the fort at the Major Crimes Unit with Sydnor (Corey Parker Robinson), Caroline (Joliet F. Harris) and a disinterested new boss who is more worried about post-retirement construction plans than any cases.
Detective Bunk Moreland (Wendell Pierce): Still as smooth as ever and picking up cases in the homicide division.
Carver and Herc (Seth Gilliam, Domenick Lombardozzi): The Laurel and Hardy of street police teams have split up, with Carver still working the streets and Herc getting a cushy job on Mayor Royce's security detail.
Roland "Prez" Pryzbylewski (Jim True-Frost): Discharged from the force after one screwup too many, Prez is beginning a career as a math teacher in a Baltimore public school.
Assistant State's Attorney Rhonda Pearlman (Deirdre Lovejoy): Still working with the MCU, she's bristling at Lester's plan to issue subpoenas on the eve of the mayoral primary.
Bodie (JD Williams): Pretty much the last man standing from the Barksdale crew, Brodie is trying to make ends meet as an independent dealer on one of the few corners that Marlo hasn't taken.
Marlo Stansfield (Jamie Hector): With the dissolution of the Barksdale crew, Marlo has cemented his hold on large segments of Baltimore drug territory.
Councilman Tommy Carcetti (Aidan Gillen): Carcetti continues his uphill climb in the mayoral race, but finds himself growing more pessimistic about his chances.
Mayor Clarence Royce (Glynn Turman): The incumbent is wielding his power as he seeks re-election, denying Carcetti access to services for his constituents.
As for the fourth season premiere itself, it's definitely setting the season's theme of education with everyone going back to school, even though we're still in the waning days of summer in the first episode. As usual, The Wire excels at contrasting the similarities between different worlds, in this case with a sequence where Prez and his new fellow teachers receive instructions on how to control their classes while Western District officers get a lecture on how to deal with possible terror threats. When a bored Officer Santangelo (Michael Salconi) dumps his binder on terror tips into the trash, McNulty immediately retrieves it, not so he can read up on the procedures but so he can pass along the binder to his kid for school. The first episode also introduces us to some of the new characters whom the bulk of the season will focus on — the kids. You can't have a school storyline without students now, can you? There's Namond (Julito McCullum), who is working as a runner for Bodie, though not to Bodie's satisfaction. "Young'uns don't have a scrap of work ethic," Bodie complains. Randy Wagstaff (Maestro Harrell) is a budding entrepreneur, planning to make some money selling snacks to kids returning to school — though he learns an important lesson when he's unwittingly used for nefarious purposes. The other two kids, Michael (Tristan Wilds) and Dukie (Jermaine Crawford), aren't fleshed out as well in the premiere, though Dukie definitely is the group's preferred target of abuse — until someone outside their group is doing the abusing.
On the streets, Carver continues to keep an eye on Bodie, though his new partner seems ready to pounce on what he perceives as disrespect from the dealer. "You bust every head, who are you going to talk to when shit happens?" Carver asks. Back at the Major Crimes Unit, Lester and Kima are in pursuit of Marlo, who they describe as a "babe in the woods" as far as telephone communications are concerned, but who also is puzzling the detectives with a lack of bodies usually associated with a drug territory takeover. Suddenly though a murder does come their way, only it's one of Marlo's men who takes the bullet and Bunk gets assigned the case.
Lester and Kima also aren't through with the Barksdale investigation, much to Assistant State's Attorney Pearlman's chagrin, as they trick their preoccupied boss into signing off on subpoenas of political figures in the midst of campaign season to solve the riddles of the Barksdale money trail. Pearlman urges them to wait because of the election, which Lester feigns ignorance of even knowing is occurring.
Then again, maybe Lester really is in the dark, if the seniors that Carcetti makes a campaign speech to are any indication. Carcetti's frustration with his campaign is growing, thanks to Royce shutting down his ability to help the constituents in his council district and a lack of money. In fact, Carcetti and Bodie both are sharing similar shortfalls in cash.
Finally, each season of The Wire seems to have a breakout character — Omar in Season 1, Frank and Ziggy Sobotka in Season 2, Bunny Colvin in Season 3. We meet who stands to be the most fascinating creation in the fourth season's very first scene — Snoop (Felicia Pearson, who a close-eyed Wire watcher at The House Next Door pointed out actually did appear in Season 3, though I didn't notice her). Snoop, as we meet her in Season 4, is looking for a better nail gun at a hardware store. It's only later that we realize she works for Marlo as part of his hit team. Snoop looks and sounds like no other character in The Wire's universe and it's interesting to see one that could develop into a rare strong female villain on the show. She — as well as the students — also exemplify what The Wire does so well — it respects its audience by letting them figure out how characters fit in without awkward introductions and exposition. It's good to have the show back and this season (at least what I've seen of it so far) promises to raise the already-great drama to yet another higher level.