Saturday, October 01, 2011

The Wire - Ebb Tide: All Aboard

The Wire: Ebb Tide – All Aboard
Season Two, Episode One
Directed By: Ed Bianchi
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.

            Despite being considered by a number of television critics as the best show of the decade, The Wire was an infamous no show at the Emmys, especially considering it aired on HBO, which has won a ridiculous number of statuettes since the network started airing original programming. If David Simon’s epic look at Baltimore crime began airing now, in the spirit of morally complex shows like Breaking Bad, Mad Men, and Dexter, it would sure be a lock for many nominations. But what I worry about what would still be lost on the great black actor (Before anyone begins to yell at me for using “black,” Idris Elba is British). The Wire’s first season had a number of black actors performing at levels that rival some of the best film performances of all time. Andre Royo played the crack addict Bubbles with such convincing humility it was sometimes tough to watch because of the authenticity. Mr. Elba, who you wouldn’t know was British unless you’ve seen him in the BBC miniseries Luther, played a reserved and calm leader of a network with quiet understand and fierce will. Larry Gilliard Jr. constantly bended between moral lines by convincing us of his own lack of conviction, and his final sequence in the season one finale broke my heart. Why don’t these performances win Emmys? To get on a high horse for a minute, it’s cause when a voter sees a black man playing a drug dealer or addict, they don’t think it’s a stretch. When a white actor does it for a film, it’s a stretch beyond their ordinary life. Frankly, it’s all bullshit.

            So why have I started my discussion of season two with my praise for black actors? Part is this is it’s a topic I’ve been thinking about for a while and wanted to write on for a few episodes. But also, “Ebb Tide,” the season two opener, clearly takes us out of the world of the drug business and launches us not only into a different type of crime but a different world: the working white class. These guys are a different breed of criminal, though the same qualities we learned from the Barksdale gang—loyalty, family, organization—still apply.

            Why are we watching these guys? Well this is where McNulty is stationed now, after being thrown out of homicide by Major Rawls. In fact, as we slowly return to see a lot of our favorite characters, we see they are not exactly where they want to be. Daniels is banished to the evidence locker room under worse lighting than the detail’s basement. Greggs is at a desk job as demanded by her partner. Prez is having trouble finding meaningful work, being assigned to patrol suburban white neighborhoods. Even Stringer isn’t doing well; he’s finding business hard to come by since the hit on the Barksdale gang has put their validity at question.

            This is of course not a let’s get the band back together situation. Everyone is stuck in their current circumstances for now, and will have to fight slowly back to have what they truly want. And things aren’t looking better. Bunk visits McNulty to ask him to help on the trial against Bird for shooting the witness William Gant. Bunk has two issues: first, their star witness Omar has yet to resurface from New York, and second the evidence box has gone missing (or more likely, stolen).

            But the real action is our new set of criminals and heroes down on the docks where McNulty works, though his actions tonight are separated from the new set of characters we meet. From the start, Mr. Simon makes it clear that these guys are like the Barksdale crew in that they are doing what they do to get by. The operation, run by Frank Sobotka (Chris Bauer), is this: they bring in the shipping containers, and every once and a while, one container, and the product inside, goes missing.

            Frank, who is the treasury secretary for the boys at the docks, is not just a smuggler. He wants real change, as evidence by his pleas to a local priest to set up a meeting with their state senator. He really wants things to change for his boys, including his incompetent son Ziggy, who seems will be a catalyst for mistakes throughout this season. Ziggy, while accompanying his cousin Nick (Pablo Schreiber) to a meeting with “The Greek,” almost blows the deal of a new shipment that they want Frank and his boys to steal.

            Frank has to be careful though, as we meet our new do-gooder, Officer Beadie Russell, played by Amy Ryan, who is probably the biggest name to come out of The Wire (though Mr. Elba is now competing for that spot). While Frank and Beadie have a jovial relationship (“Whatcha stealing today, Frank?”), they are ultimately cat and mouse. Frank tells the boys to move the container to a better location and Beadie stumbles upon it anyways, finding all the televisions still there, but 12 young girls dead in the back.

            It’ll be interesting to see how Mr. Simon can tie these stories with the disparate stories we get about McNulty’s work, the continuing drug operation (including the rise of Bodie into D’Angelo’s old grounds), and the rest of the detail looking for something—anything—to bring the shame of the failed detail off their backs. For now, it’s out to sea. 

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