Watching The Wire: Episode Two: The Detail

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You cannot lose, if you do not play.” – Marla Daniels

Teleplay by: David Simon

Story by: David Simon & Edward Burns

Directed by: Clark Johnson

Wendell Pierce (Detective William 'Bunk' Moreland), Andre Royo (Bubbles), Lance Reddick (Lt. Cedric Daniels), John Doman (Major William Rawls), Wood Harris (Avon Barksdale), Deirdrie Lovejoy (Rhonda 'Ronnie' Pearlman), Idris Elba (Russell 'Stringer' Bell), Sonja Sohn (Detective Shakima 'Kima' Greggs), Dominic West (Detective Jimmy McNulty), Larry Gillard Jr (D'Angelo Barksdale), Frankie Faison (Deputy Op Ervin Burrell)

Delany Williams (Sgt. Jay Landsman), Michael Kostroff (Maurice "Maury" Levy), Domenick Lombardozzi (Off. Thomas R. "Herc" Hauk), J.D. Williams (Preston "Bodie" Broadus), Hassan Johnson (Roland "Wee-Bey" Brice), Peter Gerety (Judge Daniel Phelan), Seth Gilliam (Det. Ellis Carver), Shamyl Brown (Donette), Michael B. Jordan (Wallace), Richard DeAngelis (Major Ray Foerster), Michael Salconi (Det. Michael Santangelo), Brandon Price (Anton "Stinkum" Artis), Tracy Chaney (Malik "Poot" Carr), Jim True-Frost (Off. Roland "Prez" Pryzbylewski), Corey Parker Robinson (Det. Leander Sydnor), Erik Todd Dellums (Dr. Randall Frazier), Maria Broom (Marla Daniels), Nat Benchley (Det. Augustus "Augie" Polk), Clarke Peters (Det. Lester Freamon), Christopher J. Clanton (Savino),Tom Quinn (Det. Patrick Mahone), Dave Trovato (Lt. Walter Cantrell), Micaiah Jones (Wintell "Little Man" Royce) Jarvis George (Ronnie Mo) and Robert F. Colesberry (Det. Ray Cole)

The Summary:

The witness who testified against D’Angelo winds up being a murder case for Detective “Bunk” Moreland. However, McNulty informs Bunk that, since the victim testified against D’Angelo, Avon Barksdale probably ordered this murder. McNulty and Bunk pick up D’Angelo for questioning and convince him to write an “Apology” to the victim’s family. Just as he’s about to start, D’Angelo’s attorney arrives and makes him leave.

Read about falling televisions, whipping and chicken McNuggets beyond the link...

The Recap:

The episode opens in Baltimore county morgue; McNulty and Bunk are discussing Bunk’s latest case. One William Gant, found dead on the streets of Baltimore at the end of the previous episode. Mr. Gant was a simple man who had little to show for his life, no family, no kids, he hadn’t done anything of note except testifying in court during D’Angelo Barksdale’s trial and now he’s on a slab in the morgue. There’s little evidence as to who’s killed the man, McNulty theorizes that it’s to send a message to anyone else who might think about speaking up against the Barksdales but Bunk isn’t keen to do so and warns McNulty that acting this way will have consequences.

It’s worth noting that the mortician in this scene is none other than Eric Dellums who previously portrayed Luthor Mahoney on Homicide: Life on the Street. This is not the first instance where this has happened in The Wire. Director Clark Johnson starred in the series as Detective Meldrick Lewis and Judge Phelan (Peter Gerety) played Stuart Gharty, it also won’t be the last time either.

After the credits have finished rolling the action moves to city hall where the detail are moving into their new headquarters, now a more traditional cop show would have had a bunch of sharp, attractive looking suits meet in an air conditioned meeting room that’s brightly lit and filled with state of the art technology. The Wire instead provides the members of the detail with a dingy basement that’s in ill repair which shows just how much the city and the police department cares about this job they’ve been assigned. Santangelo punctuates all their feelings by hanging up the ringing phone and exclaiming that the call was for McNulty. McNulty is the reason they’re all stuck in this basement for the duration and as such he’s got no easy friends down there.

McNulty himself is in Judge Phelan’s office complaining about the situation he put himself in. Phelan has no real sympathy for him, which is hardly surprising as McNulty put himself into this by mouthing off when he should have played dumb. So instead McNulty attempts to manipulate the situation by getting a change in personnel or a commitment from the department for the detail.

In the basement the detail are busy trying to clean the place up the best they can, when McNulty arrives to talk to Daniels. Daniels shows his displeasure and gears up to tear a strip off McNulty when they’re interrupted by a loud bang. It turns out that one of the new members of the detail – one Office Pryzbylewski (Prez) previously from Casualty section – has just discharged his firearm into the wall while demonstrating how sensitive his trigger is. While he has remembered to remove the clip he forgot about the bullet already in the chamber. It’s a light-hearted scene with a serious message about Prez; he’s a goof who doesn’t think things through before doing them.

Down in the Pit the boys are hanging out and eating some chicken nuggets, their conversation about the invention of the nugget shows some real intelligence amongst them. It’s a shrewd discussion about the truth behind innovation in a corporate society as Dee brings the truth home for Wallace and Poot. These boys are not a bunch of mindless thugs; they’re smart lads with drive and ability.

Daniels meets with Rhonda about the men he’s been assigned and discovers just how bad a seed Prez actually is. It turns out that he shot up his own car and attempted to cover up the truth. Only coming clean when ballistics matched the bullets to his off duty revolver, naturally Daniels is curious why Prez is still on the force after pulling a stunt like that but Rhonda doesn’t know why. Daniels then goes on to explain just how poor his team is and asks if Rhonda can help him out, he’s stuck with the dead wood and he can’t do anything about it. It’s a message from the Deputy to just get the job done, provide results and shut Phelan up, there’s no room for good police work, as it’s a case driven by political clout. Rhonda is unwilling to help clear out the problem cases and tells him to just “make lemonade.”

On a roof in the projects Kima, Hauk and Carver set up to take some mug shots of the various members in the Barksdale organization with the help of Bubbles. Hauk and Carver both screw around and show little interest in working on the job properly and it’s only Kima – who is one of the few handpicked by Daniels – who actually gets on with the job. Bubbles chats with Wee-Bey and his boys down in the street with a pitch about selling hats while Kima photographs them.

In the Pit McNulty and Bunk roll in to hassle Dee on the sofa, the boys are naturally defensive and hostile towards the cops. Bodie in particular is very cautious and refuses to provide them with even the smallest amount of detail, all he’s willing to say is that Gant got what was coming to him because that’s the game before leaving. Dee on the other hand is detained, which causes activity around Wee-Bey and gets him moving. Kima follows them leaving Carver to take over photographing. When Dee attempts to walk away from the questioning Bunk and McNulty search him, finding nothing apart from a pager, and then take him down the station when Wee-Bey, Stringer and company turn up after being contacted about what’s happening in the Pit. Kima sees McNulty and Bunk take Dee away and calls Daniels about it.
Daniels meanwhile is attempting to understand why Prez has been dumped on him and possibly get rid of him, but it turns out that Prez is Valchek’s son-in-law, and Valchek is a man with serious pull in the police department. Poke and Mahone are a pair of drunks and Lester Freamon is a man with no edges. But he does manage to score a small victory in the conversation, getting Sydnor who is both the right skin colour for surveillance and is also a good cop. He then heads into a meeting with Deputy Op Burrell, Major Rawls and Major Foerstor. Phelan has been complaining about Gant’s death and it is clear that McNulty is the source of the information; Rawls has had enough of his antics and attempts to wash his hands of him. But they’re stuck with the man because of the pull he has with Judge Phelan and they can’t afford a media leak.

Bunk and McNulty have Dee in the interrogation box but little else on him, they recognize that he’s a lot softer than most dealers and decide to work that angle, but an angry Daniels arrives with Kima in tow. Lance Reddick manages to seethe with barely controlled anger in this scene; he provides a real cool exterior that appears to be just in place but burns with an intensity that belays his demeanor. In interview room two Daniels lays down the law with McNulty and lets him know just how precarious his situation is. McNulty on the other hand shows his hand, revealing that he’d fall in line if Daniels decides to do the case properly, or at least in a manner which McNulty thinks is properly. Daniels leaves after this exchange, but not before telling McNulty that Kima will be present for the interview. McNulty hands over the plates for Wee-Bey and Stringer’s trucks to Kima but she demonstrates her competence, revealing that she already has those plates and she did it without even them spotting her.

McNulty and Bunk proceed to break Dee down by playing up Gant’s position in society, turning him from a single working man into a church deacon with a family. Wearing him down with their words while his pager goes off, and Dee’s still soft enough that this gets to him and he starts writing an apology letter to the man’s family. Dee’s not just some stereotypical, angry young punk who shoots a man and doesn’t think twice about it. He’s a smart, caring lad who’s been born into this life and that’s his lot. McNulty also voices a poignant opinion during this interview, asking why the selling of drugs has to break down into violence, everything else in America is sold without guns being involved but drugs always have to include them. The point being that really there’s no need for guns to be involved and the only reason they are involved is because once one person starts using them everyone else has to. He then recounts the true story of a young boy who was killed in a barbershop by a stray bullet and that breaks Dee and he comes close to a kind of confession.

But while Dee starts writing the letter Maurice Levy arrives and shuts the entire thing down. Maurice was present in ‘The Target’ as Dee’s defense lawyer but had very little to do because the witnesses had already been intimidated and Nakeisha recanted her testimony. Here he reveals that he’s a bit more than just a defense lawyer, as while he ushers Dee out of the police station he berates him and even hits him across the head while exclaiming “How many times do I have to tell you people the same f**king thing?” This piece of physical aggression combined with the racial connotations of his words show he’s an important feature in the Barksdale organization. He’s not just brought out for special occasions; he’s used a lot by them.

Back in the basement the detail’s first briefing is held, there’s a clear lack of interest from the team, Sydnor is watching Lester carve dollhouse furniture, Polk wanders in late from the john and the entire meeting is occasionally interrupted by workmen. Mahone and Polk both show where their loyalties and interests lie, the only questions they have in the briefing are one from Mahone’s about overtime and Polk’s more direct “A case goes from red to black by way of green”, while this is a comment about how important funding is for a successful investigation (that highlights again how unimportant this case is for the department), it also reveals exactly what Polk cares about here. The scene is very heavy in exposition, but it’s broken up with the workmen shouting to each other and the clear lack of interest from many members of the detail.

Daniels then meets with McNulty and Greggs over Dee’s letter, McNulty wants to use the letter to angle a real case with decent police working it. But Daniels just wants to do the job required and get out.

Dee heads down to meet up with his Uncle Avon who’s volunteering at a church hall. He’s brought along his son and girlfriend, Avon and Stringer both show their appreciation of the young lass and Stringer takes her off for some food while Dee and Avon talk.

Bubbles has arrived at the basement and is working with Kima to identify the people photographed the previous day. The reason behind the hats is now explained to McNulty and the viewer, Bubbles used the hats to identify the importance of the individual and signal they should be snapped. Anyone handed a red hat is a major player, anyone with any other hat is in the mix and anyone who doesn’t get a hat is just a solider. It’s based on the actions of the real life Bubbles, who pulled the same stunt to help out surveillance. There’s no charge for pulling this job, it’s all because Johnny got a whipping from Bodie, Poot and Wallace in the previous episode. If they hadn’t hospitalized the man then it’s probable that Bubbles might not have helped with this.

On the stairs in the church Dee reveals to Avon that the police seem to know a lot about the Barksdale organization while Avon attempts to school and harden his nephew. Avon lays down the line for Dee and lets him know that whatever happened to Gant, it’s none of his business.

Out on the streets Hauk, Carver and Prez are shooting a few beers while talking. These three together means nothing but trouble, Hauk and Carver are sloppy policemen at best and borderline thugs at worst while Prez has no impulse control. Sure enough they’re already impatient with the direction the detail is taking and when Hauk suggests going in balls out Prez is quick to agree, Carver takes a little longer but also goes along with them. They soon arrive at one of the towers and shake down a couple of residents who happened to be out there, they are very aggressive and when a young lad defies Prez by leaning on his car he gets pistol whipped. This proves to be the spark that ignites and next thing people start throwing bottles, electrical equipment down at them and even open fire on them. All of a sudden they’re three men alone without support facing an unseen group of assailants. Hauk is hit by breaking glass and they’re forced to hide out under Prez’s car.

The following morning McNulty is awoken in his hotel room (which is actually Dominic West’s hotel room from filming) by Bunk and told to look at the newspaper. Someone has leaked the shooting of Gant and now McNulty is in the skids because he’s the obvious suspect. Bunk has only one thing to say about this “You happy now, b**ch?”

Naturally Rawls is steamed over this and while shouting at Landsman he trashes the desk that he believes belongs to McNulty, but it turns out to be Crutchfield’s desk and Landsman is happy (but cautious) to point this out to Rawls. Landsman explains to Crutchfield just how badly McNulty is now screwed from this.

McNulty himself heads down to the towers to catch up with what’s happened to Prez, Hauk and Carver. Prez’s car has been torched and everything inside it ruined while Hauk has taken a mild injury to his head. Daniels dresses them down with a rather unusual reprimand considering the norm for TV, he explains to them that they need to get their story straight and provides Prez with the explanation to use when IID turn up. Hauk and Carver are sat on the end of the van with their hands in their pockets like naughty schoolboys throughout the scene. While he’s clearly angry he also realizes that he cannot afford to throw them to the lions because it will reflect badly on him and the detail.

McNulty goes to talk with Phelan about the newspaper leak, it hasn’t come from Phelan (or at least that’s what he claims) but at this point it’s too late for McNulty. He’s already managed to tar himself as a squealer and now he’s going to have to sleep in that bed.

Daniels sits down with his wife Marla and explains his decision to her over dinner. You don’t hand over your own men to IID and if he did it would reflect badly on the case. But she makes him realize that no matter what he does he’s likely to end up in the doghouse over this one. He’s stuck with an unwanted case, filled with a team that has people he either can’t trust or rely on and if anything goes wrong or not right enough then he’ll take the fall. So she tells him to get out.

McNulty on the other hand is spending his evening the way he spends most evenings, getting blind drunk and sleeping it off in his car. Life returns to normal in the towers, all Prez, Hauk and Carver have achieved is a fresh new victory for the residents and pushers who live there, along with a trophy to prove it – the burnt out car. It’s still business as usual. A bit later McNulty wakes up and interrupts an attempted car break in before slipping and landing in the mud with his badge. The irony of the situation is not lost on him and he starts laughing hysterically at how he’s both literally and figuratively in the muck.

Finally Daniels receives a phone call at home from the duty officer at University Hospital. It turns out that the lad who Prez pistol whipped is now blind in one eye…

The Themes:
Many of the themes from the previous episode are still in place here and a couple of others are highlighted, in part building on the previous episode’s events.

Wasted Youth” – The kids in this show are consistently portrayed as being intelligent but lacking in the chances that education could offer. It takes serious intelligence and business know how to successfully operate a drug ring, but unfortunately society has dropped them off in nowhere and they end up hindering not helping. The show asks you to consider how much potential for humanity is wasted because people are born in situations where they never have a chance to develop and excel.

"It ain't about right. It's about money" - In the conversation about the Chicken McNuggets Dee brings home one of the fundamental facts of "The Wire". Everything that happens here is influenced or driven by money, both institutions - Barksdales and the B.P.D - are driven by a need to either make money or operate within budget. They're just like any other institution.

The game is rigged” – Marla brings home the whole of this episode in her diner conversation with Daniels. He’s stuck performing an unwanted case that only exists to keep a politically powerful judge happy and he has to do it with poor equipment, little funds and a group of policemen that’s mostly humps, rejects and jerks. No matter what he does he’s likely to end up down the tubes and swimming in refuse. Marla advises him to walk away from it all before it ruins him.

The Catchphrase Count:
“What the f**k did I do?” x 2
“Happy now b**ch?” x 2

The Review:

The Detail is a very slow paced episode that continues to build and provide exposition, while attempts are made to break things up with comedic events it’s still not an easy ride for the viewer. There’s a lot going on and the show continues to ask you to follow an awful lot of characters, many of whom have just been introduced in this episode. Even having watched this episode multiple times now it’s still a struggle to hold all of the names of the characters, especially the ones who are not as strong in personality or who are just providing a few lines here and there.

There are some great and memorable moments as well, Prez provides a lot of the comedy in this episode with his carelessness, but it’s always with a hint of danger. Both times his actions had the potential to put other officers in danger, he only shot the wall in the basement but there could have easily been someone in the way. Likewise his impulsive temper caused him to lash out at a young lad who was just putting on a show for his mates. The boy didn’t deserve to be whipped like that and Prez was very unwise to do so, something he discovers far too late while pressed up against a wall with bottles and hard rain falling around Hauk and Carver. It’s also worth noting that the scene was very real, while the bottles were Hollywood glass the other stuff thrown wasn’t, so the actors had to be very careful in this scene, doubly so because it was filmed on location in a place where things like that happen all the time.

At this point many of the characters are mired in the mud and in serious danger of sinking. McNulty ends up quite literally there by the end of the episode but it’s Daniels who really ends up suffering from all this. Not only is he stuck undermanned with an impossible task, he also has McNulty acting up without any thought, Polk and Mahone uninterested in anything that involves effort plus Prez, Carver and Hauk going off and nearly getting themselves killed. To top it all off, after helping them cover their asses he gets bitten hard when it turns out that the boy who Prez brutalized has suffered permanent damage.

After just two episodes the police are sinking fast while the Barksdales are looking pretty and enjoying spending time with their family. Daniels and McNulty are starting to learn just how self interested the institution is and how bad things are going to end up for them if this doesn’t work out.

I really enjoy this episode and I feel that it holds up well to repeat watching, there’s a lot going on that you pick up on once you’ve seen it a few times. The performances from so many of the cast members are amazing, they appear so real, reacting in complex manners and shifting roles effortlessly from one situation to the next. The ease with which you can understand and appreciate the characters on both sides in this show after only two hours is a great testament to how well the show is written and performed.

[More screen caps will be added when I fix my DVD drive]


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