Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Wire - The Cost: Showtime

The Wire: The Cost
Season One, Episode Ten
Directed By: Brad Anderson
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.

            When shows like The Sopranos and later The Wire came along, it’s easy to forget they really attempted to do something that was seen as insane in the television world: tell stories. Now I don’t want to say that shows from beforehand didn’t attempt to do that—Buffy the Vampire Slayer had an intricate cast of characters and a complex plot, and of course Twin Peaks really changed everything and then some—but it was HBO that really pioneered the idea that television could tell stories like cinema, and not waste a minute. There’s no place for “drug dealer of the week” on The Wire, and I’d be surprised if we ever get a bottle episode.

            And in “The Cost,” we really get the ball rolling on the numerous plot developments this season. I’m not sure whether David Simon knew he was going onto four more seasons, or for that matter one, so much of this episode is set up for the final three hours. But what an intense hour it is! “The Cost” opens in perfect bliss, and ends in total ugliness and shock. Much of the tone of this thrill ride comes from director Brad Anderson, a no name in 2002 who has gone on to make some great thrillers like The Machinist and Transsiberian.

            Just watch that near silent opening, as Bubbles takes in his new freedom from crack. Mr. Anderson shoots in bright light the details of the world, and he immediately conveys the joys that Bubbles feels. But that quiet moment is the only one of the episode. So let’s run down the individual plots, shall we?

            Omar and Avon attempt to call truce: I’ve been fascinated by the relationship between Avon and Stringer, and in “The Cost,” the attempt on Avon’s life has rattled him that he takes all the advice that Stringer has, putting him essentially on lock down. So…what does Avon do actually? Perhaps Stringer has always been in charge? Avon doesn’t even bother to meet with Omar, and Stringer parlays with him, offering him a truce and $5000 if he comes down to their place. Omar gets it immediately—truce would really mean your life is your reward. Five big ones means you’re still a dead man. So Omar is off to New York, most likely for the rest of the season.

            Wallace comes clean: Wallace has been a ticking time bomb in this season, and it’s fascinating to see him from the perspective of the cops instead of the dealers. This kid is 16, and he’s already knee deep in crack. But his ghosts outweigh his desires, and as McNulty says, the details spill right out of him. But Wallace still has his loyalties—he won’t give up D’Angelo. Loyalty doesn’t come cheap, and D’Angelo has earned his with Wallace, though he himself is more confused than ever since Shardene found out about his involvement with a murder. Mr. Anderson uses two amazing shots to convey his inner psychology. In the first, he’s with his girlfriend and son who can’t stop talking, and the camera just slightly pushes in as he stares into oblivion. Later, when he attempts to speak with Shardene, Mr. Anderson keeps the camera pulled back, and the music from the club overwhelms their dialogue.

            The crew finds the stash: On the latest string of wire taps, Freamon, Carver, and Snydor follow a new phone and follow one of the players to a house covered with security cameras but not a single phone line. Freamon, once again being the wise sage, explains to the younglings that the last thing they will do is get a search warrant. By following the drugs in and out of the place, they can paint the full picture of the Barksdale organization.

            Orlando gets arrested: Still attempting to run his own side organization, Orlando runs into a drug bust and gets picked up. Stringer sends a lawyer—not to help him, but to get his name off the lease for the club. The crew picks up Orlando from the police and begins to form a case to actually pinch these guys when the higher ups call upon Daniels. The hammer comes down—no need to make a giant bust or get the big guys, says the top men, just take the small bust. Reluctantly, they set up a sting with Orlando and Greggs posing as his girlfriend. But the Barksdale already know the score; they shoot Orlando and Greggs (an inevitable trope of television I always enjoy: Greggs gives a speech earlier in the episode explaining why she wanted to become a cop, which is basically the equivalent of putting an X on your head). During the sequence, as the cops rush to her aide, Mr. Anderson uses the sound of helicopters and sirens to say everything, no need for music. We are left in devastation.

            “The Cost” doesn’t really have a central theme in the way I’ve often talked about other episodes, and the plot is much more focused. Mr. Simon doesn’t need to resolve every loose end by the end of the season, but when you never know if you’ll be coming back, it sure doesn’t help. There are a number of great character moments that I didn’t get a chance to talk about—McNulty’s conversation with his wife, Shardene’s glasses, Prez’s moment with Freamon—but the ball is rolling, and the stakes have been raised. 

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