The Wire: "React Quotes"
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The Wire: "React Quotes"

And the plot thickens…

It was only a matter of time before the fantasies of Jimmy McNulty and Scott Templeton would collide, but for now their as-yet-unnamed homeless-biting, red-ribbon-tying phony serial killer isn’t a tragic blight on their respective institutions. No, their unwitting collaboration has fully entered the realm of irony and farce. Between Scott’s transparent careerism and McNulty’s self-destructive righteousness, a perfect storm of total bullshit has been created and there’s no indication yet that either party will have to pay for their sins, at least not imminently. For the time being, they’re free to divert attention and resources indefinitely, and spin their tall tales as far as they’ll go to suit their harmonious purposes.

That said, was I alone in needing to rewatch the newspaper conference room scene a few times just to figure out who knows what about whom? Let’s piece it all together: Scott received a fake cell phone call from the killer on a pay phone, which prompted the meeting with McNulty. McNulty, happy to see his story get some traction, overcomes his initial confusion and starts to play along. (Aside: It’s telling that Scott’s cooked stories are always loaded with clichés, from the kid on the wheelchair on Opening Day to the homeless father stroking his daughter’s hair. His notes on what the killer said seemed lifted from a serial-killer movie.) Scott mentions that the killer talked about 12 bodies; McNulty makes Scott do a double-take by mentioning a separate call from the same neighborhood that confirms the 12 bodies. So we know for sure that Scott knows McNulty is full of shit. And I think we can also conclude that McNulty knows that Scott is full of shit, because he’s reporting on a call from a killer who doesn’t exist.

The only point of confusion—and I trust you readers to help me sort this out—is the possibility that McNulty thinks Scott actually received a call from someone playing a hoax and that Scott is, therefore, a legitimate reporter.  In which case, Scott now knows that McNulty is making up a serial killer, which would be a pretty big scoop. But I don’t think that’s the case, or else McNulty wouldn’t have indulged the 12-bodies fantasy so readily. I feel like they’ve reached some kind of tacit agreement that perpetuating this phony story is mutually beneficial, and that both would be damaged if either ratted the other out. We’ll see how this evolves, but I’m thinking that these fabulists have formed an alliance for now and will let this story take on a life of its own. Whatever the case, it’s a brilliant piece of plotting: After the sheer devastation of Season Four, the show has here moved beyond tragedy and into an inspired form of dark, supremely cynical comedy. This has been a very funny season so far, even if some of the laughs stick in the throat.

Yet The Wire has completely lost its heart this year. David Simon may be a cynical bastard when it comes to society’s busted institutions, but he and his writers have enormous compassion for the individuals who are suffering under its thumb. This week, Bubbles returns for another wrenching episode. When he concedes reluctantly to his sponsor’s wish for him to get tested for HIV, it seems like a step in the right direction, like Bubs is finally looking after his own health and caring about his rehabilitation. Then the test comes out negative and it’s a crushing result for him: He’s shared so many needles, he can’t believe that he’s not infected. And worse, he feels like he deserves to be infected, as if it were a just consequence for the things he’s done wrong. At the end of last season, when Bubs was left devastated in a psych ward, it seems to me like the last time we’d see him. Now that he’s back, he’s like the walking dead, a cursed man forced to live as a sort of punishment. We pray he finds peace and redemption some day—perhaps just a shred of it before the series ends—but he’s got a long way to go.

The writers also extend some sympathy this week to Dukie, who doesn’t have a place in the streets’ Darwinian order. He found a purpose last season in Prez’s classroom, where his quiet intelligence was recognized and nurtured, but those skills are now completely useless. He’s the neighborhood laughingstock, mocked and beaten up by the kids on his old corner for basically becoming a nanny to Michael’s brother. Having Mike as a friend is his only trump card, but he knows he’s going to have to find his own way and perhaps defend himself if necessary. He’s hopeless as a sharpshooter and hopeless as a fighter, too, which Cutty (great to see him again, isn’t it?) recognizes pretty quickly. Dukie needs another Bunny Colvin to come along, adopt him, and give him a shot at a better life. For now, he wonders, “How do you get from here to the rest of the world?”  Cutty wants to help him, but he has no idea how.

Boy, how could I have gone this far without mentioning Omar? I feel like I’ve buried the lede. Controversy will no doubt rage over Omar’s Batman-like escape from certain death after getting ambushed by Chris, Snoop, and Michael. How in the world could he survive a three-story fall—after smashing through glass, no less—and slip away without a trace? Couldn’t the writers have strained credulity less by having him leap from, say, a second-story balcony instead? I know Wire fans cherish the show’s realism and verisimilitude, but I have no issue with Omar’s escape because he’s always been more of a mythic boogeyman-like figure than an ordinary flesh-and-bone mortal. There have been many times when we’ve seen him vulnerable emotionally, but never physically; partly that’s because he’s extremely cagey when going about his business, but for the most part, I think he really is something of a superhero (or super-anti-hero anyway) on the show. And if he’s going to walk away like Michael Myers from three-story fall, that just adds to the mythos.

And finally, there’s Marlo, claiming his prized connection with Vondas and “The Greek.” He can barely abide Vondas’ moment of reflection over Prop Joe’s demise (“Meanwhile, we go on”) and for the first time ever, he’s ready to celebrate victory, here by proposing a blowout in Atlantic City. But with Omar still hanging around, it’s back to business. It was great to see Marlo accept that cell phone from Vondas, but of course he’s not going to be as careless with it as his lawyer and the police might assume. (Love how the lawyer licks his chops: “If Marlo Stanfield is using his cell phone, it’s only a matter of time before we’re up to our asses in pre-trial motions.”) But the timing means that McNulty and Lester get their wire. Too bad about the weird fax-like interference sound, however: Does the iPhone (or Blackberry or whatever that was) have an anti-tapping feature on it? Apple has clearly thought of everything.

Grade: A

Stray observations:

• Marlo on Vondas: “The man overcame his grief.”

• Bill Zorzi, a former Sun editor and reporter who now works as a story editor and writer for The Wire (“Unconfirmed Reports,” this season’s second episode, was credited to him), is rapidly becoming my favorite bit player this year as the Sun’s court reporter. He’s just a lovably irascible crank, from last week’s line about sticking a broom up his ass to this week’s prickly treatment of the Clay Davis “perp walk” snub and his admonishment of the editors for looking over his shoulder (“At least let me turn in my copy before you stomp all over it.”)

• Exchange of the night: Scott: “Where am I going to find the homeless?” Gus: “Not at home, I’d imagine.”

• We get our first Clay Davis “sheeeeeeeett” of the season, and he makes it count. I would be shocked if he didn’t find a way out of this mess. That planned demonstration in front of the courthouse was masterful politicking.

• “What the…?” Nice cliffhanger. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to watch Episode Six. Like now.

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