The Wire: The Detail
Season One, Episode Two
Directed By: Clark Johnson
Written By: David Simon, from a story by Simon and Ed Burns
Read out “The Wire” Project here. Read about the last episode here. Assume spoilers for the episode.
The key moment in “The Detail,” the second episode of the HBO produced crime drama The Wire, is a discussion of Chicken McNuggets. D’Angelo and his two colleagues enjoy the fast food morsels, and one states the inventor must be rich. But D’Angelo is smarter than that—he tells the boys the inventor made nothing, and McDonalds reaped the profits. “He’s probably still in a basement making minimum wage,” he remarks. And in “The Detail,” we see the difference between those who make a difference and those who do not, and the treatment they get. The big moment we see this is when McNulty and Greggs (Sonja Sohn) bring in a heroin addict named Bubbles to help indentify key players. Bubbles asks for some money, and McNulty complies, while Greggs, the one who asked for Bubbles’ help refuses. Bubbles is the key player, the one doing the real work, but at the end of the day, he is still at the bottom of a chain of an abusive and destructive system.
The basement metaphor is literalized in the episode, when the narcotics team gets their new office in the basement of Baltimore’s Police Squadron. The squad gets some new members, all novice, idiotic, or close to retirement, most notably a new kid named Roland ‘Prez’ Pryzbylewski (Jim True-Frost), who accidentally shoots his gun in their new office. The message is clear—nobody wants them to “solve” anything, just smile and get a pat on the head. Although much of the focus remains on McNulty, we get much more of his new boss, Lieutenant Cedric Daniels, played by Lance Reddick. Mr. Reddick is perfect for this role—he’s lean, tall, and has a no-shit attitude about him. When McNulty is about to make a mistake, Daniels comes up to talk to him, and the camera pushes right into Daniels, almost shoving everyone else out of the way. It’s a really notable shot by director Clark Johnson, who otherwise plays the rest of the episode straight.
Daniels knows both angles—he wants to do right, but he knows he can’t actually start any fires. He tries to get help from the state attorney office, who laughs in his face (in a great directorial touch, she eats sushi). In a rare moment of casual conversation, we see Daniels having dinner with his wife. She tells him, “You cannot lose if you do not play,” chastising him for allowing him to take his crew in a different route. This is part to a raid that when horribly wrong, where three of his officers—Herc, Carver, and Prez—decided to intimate one of the towers. It’s a dumb move, and especially dumb by Prez who smacks a kid with his gun in the eye. “I got angry,” Prez confesses. But Daniels won’t have that in his force, and crafts him a tale about how he took precautionary measures as the kid reached for a bottle and his fellow officers were incapacitated. Despite what his wife says, Daniels knows he’ll need to play the game—it’s tough not to lay any cards down on the table.
Again though, the focus of this episode is McNulty trying to make a bold statement by doing the right thing, and seeing the negative consequences from within his department. At the end of the pilot, one of the witnesses to the murder by D’Angelo is murdered himself. But for what reason? D’Angelo got off, so there was no need for retribution. But McNulty can’t help himself, so he gives the tip off to his partner Moreland (Wendell Pierce), as well as the judge. McNulty justifies this that as long as it doesn’t go public, there’s no issue. But what can happen, will happen, and the story ends up on the front page, though no one knows who leaked it. McNulty thinks he gets a break when he brings in D’Angelo and gets him to write a letter apologizing to the family of the murdered witness, but it’s not enough. If I had to guess, I’m betting its Stringer Bell who leaked the story, and it’ll be interesting to see how this plays out.
If the stakes of The Wire seemed impossible last week, where the last drug unit was stuck fighting an impossible war in an era where focus had turned to terrorism, everything shifted seismically again. There’s no clean way to go about saving this city, and those who really want to make a difference are thrown in the basement.