The Wire: Collateral Damage
Season Two, Episode Two
Written By: David Simon, from a story by Simon and Ed Burns
Directed By: Ed Bianchi
Read out “The Wire” Project here. Read about the previous episode here, or click here to read the coverage of the series so far. Assume spoilers for the episode.
One of the major themes in the first season of The Wire was that from a top down perspective, the status quo was always much more important to continue than any social change. This often came with how Lieutenant Daniels was told to handle his detail: “Dope on the table.” Minor arrests at best. The detail was never formed to take down the Barksdale operation, just show the appearance that something was being done to fight the war on drugs without really any fight. Appearances are always better to keep.
In “Collateral Damage,” the plot heavy second episode that sets into motion a number of major through lines for the season, we really get that theme racing back. It begins right from our opening scene, as Officer Russell works with a group of detectives on the 13 Jane Does found in the cargo. When a forensics officer discovers they suffocated to death, everyone assumes it was an accidental, leaving Russell to herself. No murder, no problem.
But enter the world’s greatest asshole and activist for social change, McNulty. McNulty, after screwing over Rawls last week with the floater, jumps into the Jane Doe case, thinking there may be a connection between his gunned down girl and the 13 cargo girls. After careful examination, he finds that the cargo hold was indeed tampered with, meaning these girls were never meant to make it in America except in a morgue. But the question is who’s jurisdiction does it fall under? Rawls does everything he can to get the case out of his hands—he needs to keep his above 50% solve rate, and 13 murders will drop it to 39%—but finds himself in an impossible situation to get out, thanks again to the asshole detective work of McNulty. Unfortunately, the case falls right into the hands of Bunk and Freamon.
Frank Sobotka, our working class protagonist, is not happy about the girls either, and informs Spiros (Paul Ben-Victor), the second-in-command after “The Greek,” head of smuggling, that he wants to know when human cargo will be moving in. Spiros gives him reassurance the case was an accident, though their relationship is obviously not moving in the right direction.
Frank’s also being cornered by the other side, as he discovers none other than Carver putting parking tickets on the spot they’ve been parking for years. He learns this is the latest move by Major Stan Valcheck (Al Brown) over their fights of a certain stain glass window spot in the church he wants. Frank doesn’t nudge, telling Valcheck that if he wanted the spot, he could’ve come asked. Valcheck’s response? Use his power to create another detail to search into Frank, which includes a bunch of old timers, as well as Valcheck’s son-in-law, Prez. Whether Prez knows that this case is dirty is unknown, but what he could find is not good for the workingmen.
We also finally return to the story of D’Angleo, hit worst by the grand jury in season one for a count of 20 years. D’Angelo is trying to stay out of the business, but Avon needs to make sure he stays in. 20 years is a long time to stay inside, and can put a lot of interesting ideas into your head. Family is the only ally you can truly trust, and so Avon insists to both his sister and Stringer to bring in Donette, the mother of D’Angelo’s child.
“Collateral Damage” ends with the answers to what happened to the girls, at least from the side of the “villains.” The Greek (Bill Raymond) and Spiros track down a crew member, who admits to letting the other crew pay for sex. When one got killed and they threw the body overboard, the others saw, so the young crewman decided they all needed to go. The Greek and Spiros respond in turn by slicing his throat open and removing his face and fingerprints.
The question of how Bunk and Freamon, as well as Russell and McNulty, can solve this case seems to be stacking up against them. So much of this episode is dedicated to the jumping of the case, from Baltimore PD to Coast Guard to beyond. It’s another example of the collateral damage that it would be just better for everyone involved if the girls died of natural causes. David Simon always said The Wire was not really about police, but the death of an American city. What did these girls expect to find in America? Certainly not the fate they received, or even the worse one in their absence, where only a few good souls with fight to find their names.