Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Wire - Old Cases: Meditations in an Investigation

The Wire: Old Cases
Season One, Episode Four
Directed By: Clement Virgo
Written By: David Simon, from a story by Simon and Ed Burns

Read out “The Wire” Project here. Read about the previous episode here, or click here to see the total coverage Assume spoilers for the episode.

            After three rapid fire episodes of plot from David Simon’s The Wire, “Old Cases” gives us a slower tone and more character-based episode. As the title implies, “Old Cases” is not only about an old case that detective McNulty tracks down, but about the old cases that define many of the characters we’ve already grown to learn about. Everyone has a story to tell, and each of them has their own investigation that needs to happen.

            Unfortunately, this is the first time that I feel that Mr. Simon has started running over the same ground at a few points. Most notably is the very unmemorable opening where Herc (Domenick Lombardozzi) is attempting to get a desk through a jammed doorway. Each cop comes to help with no progress, until they realize Herc isn’t trying to get the desk out, but in. It’s a bang-your-head-against-the-wall metaphor for their police work, except the whole thing is kind of pointless and a silly gag. We’ve gotten the round-a-bout efforts of our heroes in this story numerous times already, and as compared to the other cold opens, the gag is simplistic.

            No worries, though—no baseball player bats 1000, and it’s the character details that really lead this narrative. The case that McNulty and Bunk Moreland hunt down seems like a wild goose chase, a murder of a college student in an upscale part of Baltimore where the killer may have been nicknamed “D,” which might be D’Angelo. I think the scene where they solve the murder is more than a bit self-indulgent (they only say variations on the word “fuck” throughout, cause, well, why not?), but still fun.

It turns out though that this was D’Angelo’s first murder, which he calming explains to his boys after one confronts him on being tough. I love the way that Larry Gillard Jr. gives this monologue. It’s halfway between sheer terror and nostalgic admiration, except he’s not sure which it is. D’Angelo has totally become the moral center of this show, or at least the most interesting to watch, because he’s totally unsure of what’s right, and can’t tell up from down. Watching him process these conflicted feelings and emotions, especially in this monologue, is pitch-perfect television.

            We also get the great backstory of Lester Freamon, who I praised so much in this last episode. I love how Lester is being set up not only as a wise old age, but now a cautionary tale to McNulty. He’s a veteran cop who decided to rock the boat, as McNulty has already done, and paid the price for being stuck on pawn shop detail for 10 years. “When they ask you what department you want to go,” Lester cautions, “don’t say anything.” McNulty may oblidge, but we don’t know what’s really in store for him. We see his sergeant from homicide Jay Landsman talking with Major Rawls to get him back on homicide as the cases are piling up and McNulty, whether he’s an egotistical asshole or not, is a damn good cop.

            I wish, however, we didn’t have to see the embarrassing scene where McNulty goes to his son’s soccer game. There is nothing wrong with this premise, but the scene plays out like every other scene you’ve seen of this type. The one interesting detail—Bubbles is with him—is kind of a non-factor too; unfortunate, as that could have been a great scene. As McNulty drops off Bubbles in a dark alley later, he declares, “There’s a fine line between heaven and hell.” Andre Royo continues to be the star of this show for me, and the way he carries himself confidently, despite how low he has fallen, is a character trait that I think few actors would know how to pull off. He also sets us up to learning more about the rising rival gang led by Omar Little. After only seeing him as a ruthless robber, we get a couple of character details about him in one strange scene. First, he’s willing to show kindness to a single mother by giving her some free crack, which is to say his idea of kindness is twisted beyond all logic. And secondly, we learn that he’s gay, a character trait I’ll reserve judgment on for now until I see how it plays in the narrative.

            There’s a lot still to learn about these characters, and some elements, such as Gregg’s desire to become a lawyer, that I didn’t talk about tonight. This is perhaps one of Mr. Simon’s greatest talents as a television writer. We know all these characters already, and not in a clich├ęd character way. And yet, there’s so much more to learn, and I really look forward to more episodes like “Old Buys,” that let the main investigation lay so Mr. Simon can do some personal investigations instead.

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