(Another delay. Sorry. I was thinking I might write about this episode -- with its big closing reveal -- in tandem with next week's, which puts it in SOME context and which I've seen on demand, but I had too much I wanted to say about this one in particular, so here are some quick thoughts on this week's episode. I promise more contributions to this blog, but I've been busy. An explanatory post will occur at some point. -- ed.)
One of my favorite things on The Wire is when a bunch of the different worlds the show covers suddenly conflate into one, when we see all possible angles on the same story. When Snoop and the others closed in and killed the people in that house, the gun shots were horrifying, but the later moment when the police showed up to look at the crime scene (Kima leading the charge) and had to fend off Alma, that reporter we met last week, not only showed the awful aftermath of what Marlo's crew had done but also threw things we've seen a million times before into a new context. Of course it's the media's job to get in the way of these cops at a crime scene, even if it's only briefly when the cops are entering. It was still possible to sympathize with Kima resenting Alma's presence, but now that we know the person behind the blunt questioning, it's easier to see that in another situation, another world, maybe, Kima and Alma could be good friends, drinking buddies even.
Now, I'm not going to argue that some of this doesn't result in a little structural clumsiness. There are moments in the show when it seems as if David Simon and his writers are going to take compulsive pains to show that all institutions are similarly dehumanizing, that we all have to put up with the same stupid stuff, etc. Great pains are taken to draw these parallels, but the show's greatest success comes when it shows that these parallels don't always hold true. There was a great comment here last week about how the show is taking pains to show that something that might be a noble pursuit in journalism (bringing down a corrupt politician) can have a place in the world of the police but might not be as important as shutting down a serial murderer who's on a rampage among people no one can really bring themselves to care about.
There's one thing that Simon seems to care about at the expense of all else -- that those who have been put into the public trust do their best to be honest and do good work. When Gus wakes up in the wee morning hours in a panic about getting some small facts wrong in a story, his call to the copy desk to find out that he SHOULDN'T be panicked because he did, indeed, get the story right. Meanwhile, McNulty, a man we've been led to identify with in the past, invents a serial killer out of frustration, boredom and addiction (and probably in reverse order of that order), while a newspaper reporter appears to fabricate a story about a kid in a wheelchair who can't attend an Orioles game (we're never explicitly shown that the reporter makes it up, which strikes me as a master-stroke, placing us in the same head-space as Gus, who has to try to figure out a way to square his concerns with the fact that others are squarely in that reporter's corner). Neither lie is GOOD, exactly, but McNulty's comes from a place that I think Simon finds understandable, while the reporter's comes from a place that he finds rather odious. McNulty, ultimately, is trying to get people to care through a rather immoral fashion, while the reporter is just trying to get ahead. It's all about who you have in your head at the time. Even Bubbles is unwilling to own up to the extent of his addictions in the past, which dooms him to shamble through life, a ghost of himself.
Let's talk a little about McNulty's lie. I know it's caught a lot of guff (and it was why I wanted to delay this post), but I'm willing to ride with it and see where it goes. It's very obviously a plot device, and the truncated structure of the season means it comes out of nowhere much more than the show's other obvious plot devices (in other seasons, we'd have gotten a few more episodes of set-up, I think). Still, I think this could work, and it's always interesting to see McNulty trying to dance just ahead of those who would catch up with him. I'm willing to go with this for a little while, I think.
There's much more to talk about in this episode, including the return of Avon Barksdale, but I'm tired, and I'm trying not to get episode three mixed in here, so some broad thematic thoughts will have to do for now. Let's hash it out in comments, OK?