Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Wire - All Prologue: The Green Lights of Baltimore

The Wire – All Prologue

Season 2, Episode 6

Directed By: Steve Shill
Written By: David Simon, from a story by Ed Burns and Simon

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

            Why does David Simon identify with D’Angelo Barksdale more than any other character? Of all the members The Wire's sprawling cast, it is often D'Angelo who becomes a microphone for Mr. Simon’s themes. Mr. Simon never sold drugs or had a childhood that led him to prison. Sure, he spent a lot of time around drug culture (see: The Corner), but there is something truly unique about why he chooses D’Angelo; the man continues to hold onto the fact that he can escape. McNulty and the cops see that their efforts will have little effort. Stringer and the higher up drug family know they are tied to a certain life and cannot rise above it. And the port men see their livelihoods slowly fading out of existence. But D’Angelo still believes in the possibility of escape.

            But it is an impossibility, nonetheless. The highlight of “All Prologue” is a speech where D’Angelo explains The Great Gatsby to the prison book club. “There are no second acts in America,” someone quotes Fitzgerald, which inspires D’Angelo to explain that as much as we want to escape our past—our crimes, our passions, our family—we are inextricably linked to them. And many characters slowly realize in this episode that they are, in fact, tied to their past.

            Old business starts this episode, with Omar finally testifying against Bird for the shooting of William Gant, the witness killed all the way back in the show's pilot. It’s an amusing sequence, as Omar speaks bluntly about his criminal history without remorse, but providing the necessary details to the jury. When Maurice Levy tries to discredit him, Omar compares himself to Levy, “I got the shotgun—you got the briefcase.” And that’s evidence you can’t dismiss. McNulty asks Omar after the case whether he actually saw the shooting. “You really gonna ask me that?” Omar berates him.

            McNulty is coming to his own trouble because he would rather be back in his old life, referring to the ports as “retirement.” He visits Elena, hoping he can somehow spark their relationship again. After dinner and a fun night in bed, McNulty believes he may have something to hold onto. But she kicks him out as he attempting to eat breakfast and read the paper—McNulty’s past as a terrible husband and absent father can’t be redeemed, as much as he believes.

            The rest of the detail continue to track the union, hoping to find some sort of connection to make the case, as well as help Bunk with his fourteen Jane Does (Bunk is convinced the case is insolvable, and drinks himself into oblivion). Russell continues to make her past relevant, as she becomes the crucial link on how to read the computer system for potential smuggling cases as they come off the docks.

            Frank himself struggles to hold onto the union, the culture of his past. His campaign contributions seem to have little effect, and the members are beginning to grumble about the paltry results Frank has delivered. And while Frank wants to get out of the smuggling business, one member, Nat, is gunning for his position as union leader. Meanwhile, Ziggy continues to show off his money, and when Frank confronts him, Ziggy talks about his childhood at the docks, and 
how he has never known any other lifestyle. Frank can’t stop Ziggy; his past informs his future.

            Nick, though, continues to become our tragic hero of the season. Afraid for Ziggy’s life and still having wishes about his own possible future, Ziggy turns to the Greeks for help on the Ziggy case. He gets the money for the torched car, but now must work behind Frank’s back and help them smuggle drug shipments. When getting paid for his help, he’s given a choice: a small bit of cash, or drugs that can be sold for numerous times the profit. Nick hesitates: is a house, meaning a life outside the docks, maybe less of a dream than he saw? “Half cash, half drugs.”

            Nick has a green light in his future, or at least one he can see across the lake. But he’s not even living in the mansion yet, he’s still floating out as sea. And just getting out of the world you came from can be the hardest step to make. At the end of the episode, after refusing help from everyone else in the family business, D’Angelo is attacked in the library and murdered. It’s made to look like a suicide. I’m highly confident the attacker was working for Avon. Either way, D’Angelo can’t escape his past and dies trying to escape it.

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