Tuesday, November 01, 2011

The Wire - Hard Cases: American Dreamin'

The Wire: Hard Cases
Season Two, Episode 4
Directed By: Elodie Keene
Written By: Joy Lusco, from a story by David Simon and Lusco

            The Wire is a show primarily about those we barely notice, and “Hard Cases” is one of the best displays of that theme. There are people all around us that we barely notice as we go about our lives, and it is ever so easy to forget that these people have lives as well. It really shows that this is the first episode in which someone else besides David Simon and Ed Burns have gotten a story credit, that being Joy Lusco (who also wrote last season’s “The Hunt”). Ms. Lusco began her career doing a documentary with her husband Scott Kecken on produce vendors in Baltimore. This is a woman who isn’t just interested in the illegal activities, but the day to day activities. 

            The best story in tonight’s episode is thus the story of Nick, the nephew of Frank, who has sort of come off as a reasonable middle man character so far. Tonight, we get much more of his life. He lives with his parents, who don’t approve of his girlfriend, and maybe don’t even know he has a young daughter. He wants to provide the best for them, and early in the episode gets chastised by Frank for helping Ziggy sell the camera (Ziggy meanwhile continues to be a grating element of the season since he is simply so unlikeable). We get to see the life that Nick grew up, his now alcoholic father and just-barely-with-it mother, and thus decides to reach into some “pocket money.” Nick believes in the American dream, and like we learned in the first moment of The Wire, “This is America, man. You gotta let him play.”

            Meanwhile, the other stories start heading in quicker directions, and we finally get the “band gets back together” moment we’ve been waiting form. But Mr. Simon and Ms. Lusco let is play out in dramatic fashion as we get two cops, Daniels and Greggs, who can’t resist the adrenaline. As Greggs tells Daniels when he offers her a desk job in the Sobotka detail, she admits, “If I hear the music, I’m gonna dance.” We then cut to what feels like a Citizen Kane influenced montage where Greggs and Daniels each sit in silence with their respective spouses, each upset over their decision to get back in the game. Director Elodie Keene plays this through parallel shots cut back and forth between the angry couples. It feels a bit self-satisfied, but its much more effective than an angry dramatic scene where we know what the end result will end up anyways.

            Meanwhile, McNulty finally catches up with Bubbles, who is back on the rock in full force. McNulty gives him a job though—find Omar, or go to jail for their shoplifting. While often television allows characters to “reset” between seasons (think of pretty much every character on Dexter), Bubbles return to crack feels like the natural procession of his life. He can’t avoid it, the same way McNulty can’t help but use his schemes to get what he needs.

            In prison, Avon and his lawyer Maurice use the successful drug spike to negotiate a reduced sentence. Michael Kostroff hasn’t been mentioned by me yet, but he’s but absolutely exceptional as Maurice in his small scenes. He’s quiet, methodical, and never takes up screen presence, and uses it to his conniving and scheming side well. The plan is perfect too—not only does Avon get his sentence reduced, but also their fall guy is one of the rowdy prison guards who won’t play the game. But you have to play the game.

            While so much of The Wire is about crime, another small scene reminds us that every person has a life, and perhaps if we remember that, then it’s a start. McNulty has an Eastern European woman translate a letter found by one of the dead girls that she was going to send to her family. What becomes important to McNulty is that she has a name, which he finally learns (Nadia). It’s so easy to forget who these people are, that they have lives too.  

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