Friday, September 09, 2011

The Wire - Game Day: Choice Moves

The Wire: Game Day
Season One, Episode Nine
Directed By: Miclo Mancevski
Written By: David Melnick and Shamit Choksey, from a story by David 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.

            Back in the days of classic Hollywood, every studio has something called “house style.” When you went to a film by MGM, you expected a big lavish production with soft lighting and grandiose sets. Warner Bros. took the opposite route—many of their films were gritty and realistic, and preferred to bring B-movie sensibilities to A-movie material. Whatever it studio it was, it wasn’t about the director, at least to audiences then. Sure, many broke out and became legends—Welles, Capra, Ford—and many others have been reconsidered since the birth of auteur theory. But for the most part, house style dictated everything.

            I bring this up because tonight’s episode is directed by Miclo Mancevski, a well-known Macedonian filmmaker who has received international acclaim for some of his works, including the Oscar nominated Before the Rain in 1996. However, you wouldn’t know that Mr. Mancevski directed this episode, nor would you really be able to tell tonight’s episode is written by David Melnick and Shamit Choksey. The same way you really can’t tell the difference between episodes of 30 Rock or Dexter (Breaking Bad and Mad Men are the exceptions, but that’s for another time). The Wire is all about David Simon’s vision, and while I’ve done my best to point out directorial touches when they’ve arrived, we really have no idea who is calling the shots behind the camera or in the editing room. Maybe we should give the talent to Uta Briesewitz, who hhas been the director of photography on every episode so far, responsible for the uneasing bright sunny days of the low rises, and the blue toned nights on the streets. If anything, Ms. Briesewitz has been responsible for the visual look that has defined this series, and many might call her the auteur. I’ll still keep my eye out for directorial talent, especially the six episodes directed by Do the Right Thing DP Ernest Dickerson when he takes over in season two.

            But instead, let’s talk about Herc and Carver, who of course have never had a story separate from each other, mostly because neither of them could support their own plotline. One reason why Parks & Recreation is one of my favorite television shows right now is that any member of the cast could have the “A story” (meaning main plot line) and I’d be excited to see that episode. Herc and Carver are always relegated to the C story, and their story is always the same. They contemplate doing something stupid, they attempt witty banter, they screw up and they learn lessons. While other characters grow—Prez has gone from the team’s village idiot to the na├»ve yet morally stable voice of reason—Mr. Simon and crew have yet to let these characters really grow. Tonight, Herc and Carver contemplate stealing money after they pull it off thugs off the wiretap. They decide not to, but some of the money goes missing anyways. It turns out, it just fell in the back of the trunk. This type of plot line is fine for character building, but we haven’t seen any new side to these characters since maybe the second or third episode. Let’s hope for a change in the coming weeks.

            Thematically, “Game Day” is all about moral choices, which is why we get the money stealing story. The most unique moral choice comes when Fremon and Greggs bring down Shardene, D’Angelo’s girlfriend, to the station. Shardene doesn’t know that her friend, the stripper killed last week, is dead. The two cops decide to do something almost malicious though, they bring her to the body, and describe in crucial detail about how she overdosed, the semen in every one of her orifices, and how she was rolled up and thrown in the garbage inside a rug. As Freamon relates these facts, he does it with the cold intensity we’ve become used to, but then we see his sympathetic side when he offers her one of his dollhouse miniatures, and Shardene decides to help the two be an inside ear. Sometimes doing something wrong, or at least inhumane, can be the most humane thing to do, Mr. Simon suggests.

            Bubbles also makes an important choice to get clean, after seeing a speaker from the Narcotics Anonymous meeting looking to score with a bunch of other peddlers. It turns out he is just watching his nephew, waiting for him to hit rock bottom. When Bubbles later steals a bag of new product, it turns out to be baking soda. The scene in which Bubbles then visits his sister’s house is the type that often Caucasian actors will win Emmys for (a subject I will talk about at length later), as Andre Royo plays the scene in which he asks his sister for forgiveness with both pride, pettiness, ambition, complete ambivalence, and deep sympathy. We can see the choice going through Bubbles’ head, thanks to Mr. Royo’s exquisite performance.

            Tonight’s episode ends with an assassination attempt, as Omar finally gets his chance to take out Avon Barksdale, after making a deal with a rival gang run by Proposition Joe. Omar botches it, and it will make for an interesting turn of events, as the episode opens with Stringer once again asking Avon to stand down. Avon tells him no, because the pride of the gang is too important. What is the moral choice here? Unfortunately on this side of the law, moral is not the question, it’s what will allow you to survive.

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