Watching The Wire: Episode Three: The Buys

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The king stay the king” – D’Angelo

Teleplay by David Simon
Story by David Simon & Edward Burns
Directed by Peter Medak

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)

Brandon Price (Anton "Stinkum" Artis), Tony D. Head (Maj. Bobby Reed), Delaney Williams (Sgt. Jay Landsman), Michael Salconi (Det. Michael Santangelo), J.D. Williams (Preston "Bodie" Broadus), Corey Parker Robinson (Det. Leander Sydnor), Michael B. Jordan (Wallace), Hassan Johnson (Roland "Wee-Bey" Brice), Jim True-Frost (Off. Roland "Prez" Pryzbylewski), Clarke Peters (Det. Lester Freamon), Richard DeAngelis (Maj. Ray Foerster), Seth Gilliam (Det. Ellis Carver), Michael Kenneth Williams (Omar Little), Nat Benchley (Det. Augustus "Augie" Polk), Wendy Grantham (Shardene Innes), Doug Olear (FBI Special Agent Terrence "Fitz" Fitzhugh), Tray Chaney (Malik "Poot" Carr), Domenick Lombardozzi (Off. Thomas R. "Herc" Hauk), Al Brown (I) (Maj. Stanislaus "Stan" Valchek), Tom Quinn (Det. Patrick Mahone), Michael Kevin Darnall (Brandon Wright), Lance Williams (John Bailey), William F. Zorzi (Bill Zorzi), Curtis Montez (Sterling)

The Summary:

After early morning “field interviews” conducted by Herc, Carver and Prez lead to a minor riot and bad publicity for the police, the Deputy Commissioner calls in Daniels. McNulty sends Mahone and Polk to the terrace to get a photo of Avon Barksdale. They come up short, but soft-spoken Freamon comes through with an old photo from Barksdale’s boxing days. McNulty and Greggs get surveillance equipment from McNulty’s FBI contact.

Read about dead soldiers, chess and gloves that shine like gold beyond the link...

The Recap:

The episode opens down in the Pit, an addict hassles Dee and the boys seeking a fix, but the product hasn’t arrived yet so Bodie sends him packing with some harsh words. Dee takes Bodie to task for this and queries his ‘customer service’, echoing McNulty’s sentiment in the previous episode and asking why drugs can’t be sold the same way as everything else is. It’s clear that McNulty’s question got to him and he’s been wondering the same. He’s interrupted by Bubbles, who arrives with the hats and marks out both Dee and Bodie with a red hat – signalling to Kima that they’re persons of interest, Poot and Wallace both get other hats as well. In the Pit these four lads are the Barksdale organisation.

In Burrell’s office Daniels is meeting with Valchek, Foerstor and Burrell about Prez’s actions at the towers in the previous episode. Daniels wisely wants to have Prez placed on administrative duty; he can’t call for full suspension because Valchek is Prez’s father-in-law, as Prez is clearly and impulsive problem case. Valchek is against this but Burrells hands the decision to Major Bobby Reed who agrees with Daniels. Burrell then talks to Daniels with only Valchek present, wishing to know if Daniels authorised the presence of Herc, Prez and Carver in the towers. Daniels makes it clear he knows this is a loaded question and asks if Burrell really wants an answer. The silence that comes back in reply is answer enough and Daniels falsely admits that he sent them out there, which pleases Valchek and he provides some additional support to the detail in the form of unmarked surveillance vans and potential manpower. Daniels once demonstrates that he understands how the system works and shows that he’s willing to play ball for the big dogs. After Valchek leaves Burrell goes on to explain that Valchek is considered a necessary evil and Daniels attempts to use his suction in order to swing more resources. Burrell just lets him know all that’s needed is a few weeks of street work and Daniels will be fine. There is no need for a big win, Burrell will be happy with enough to make Phelan shut up.

While Rawls and Bunk are giving a press conference about William Gant, attempting to deflect any frenzy about the shooting of a State witness, McNulty watches them on the TV and exclaims his disgust at Bunk’s actions. Kima on the other hand defends Bunk’s as doing the right thing considering the situation and they walk over to the photo board. Avon’s picture is still noticeably absent from the gallery, demonstrating just how far removed he is from the street. So he sends Polk and Mahone out to try and find a photo in the housing department. They’re not keen to do anything other than sit on their backsides and read newspapers, but McNulty tells them they either get that photo or they do all the review work on the ten homicide cases. So they choose the easier option and go polariod hunting.

Down in the pit there’s a problem, they’re out of the good stuff so Bodie and Wallace are killing time playing checkers with chess pieces. Dee is bemused why they’re playing checkers when they have chess pieces and quickly cottons onto the fact that it’s because they don’t know how to play chess. He starts to teach them and while Bodie isn’t too keen, Wallace is interested to learn, so Dee explains the game in terms that the lads will understand. Linking the pieces to real life examples from the drug organisation; Avon as the king, Stringer as the queen etc. Bodie quickly fixates on the way that pawns can get promoted when they reach the opposing back rank and he associates this with himself; while he’s got no delusions of grandeur as he knows he’s a pawn but he’s keen to go places and get promoted.

Sydnor arrives in the detail with nagras to use in surveillance; this isn’t the first time that the poor state of equipment in the department has been noted. Sydnor isn’t keen to use this gear because it’s so bulky he’ll get made no problem. In a brief cut we see Santangelo in Rawls’s office asking to be returned to homicide but Rawls wants to keep him there in order to watch McNulty. Then the action moves back to following Daniels as he arrives in the basement, McNulty and Kima are busy typing while Freamon is making his dollhouse furniture and listening to jazz. Daniels informs Kima that she has Carver and Prez back (Herc is off due to injury) but Prez is confined to office work. McNulty speculates about what it’ll take to get thrown off the police force and Kima quips that he’ll find out if he carries on the way he does. Polk and Mahone arrive back with a picture of a middle aged Caucasian taken from his file. This prompts Kima to review just how little they know about Avon, he’s pretty much kept himself off the radar for everything. He doesn’t stick with one girlfriend, he’s avoided any trouble with the law, he works out, he used to box golden gloves and that’s just about it. Freamon asks Kima where she found out about the golden gloves and then leaves onto the streets. He arrives outside a boxing club and heads on up to talk with Mack the coach there.

Kima and McNulty meet with Agent Fitz to try and get more information on Avon, but Fitz reveals that he doesn’t know anything about the man before showing them footage of the final FBI bust (the same one he was working on in ‘The Target’). But that’s it for the FBI; they’re moving onto counter-terrorism now. McNulty requests some decent equipment from Fitz and when McNulty tells him who’s in charge of the case Fitz hesitates for a moment before carrying on. Kima and McNulty notice this but do not push any further.

It’s raining in the Pit when the new red-tops arrive and Bodie has the addicts line up for their stuff, but he’s being watched from a van by three men. They notice one of Dee’s lads head over to a house and the one with the scar speaks, this man is called Omar Little and we’ll learn more about him later. The three of them identify that the third house is where the stash is located and comment on how sloppy the operation is.

Bubbles is meeting with McNulty and Kima in the basement, they’re discussing McNulty’s custody issues. Bubs observes that McNulty must have cheated on her if she’s giving him that much hassle. McNulty concurs and muses why Bubs is so observant and intelligent if he lives the life he does. Bubs doesn’t have an answer himself. After McNulty inquires about Kima’s home life Bubs crudely begins to reveal that Kima is a lesbian, McNulty shows a lot of tolerance towards this and the pair of them settle that it doesn’t really make a difference.

Dee meets up with Stringer in Orlando’s (passing by Shardene on the way in) to hand in the days takings. He’s taken a lot of cash considering that he’s located in the low-rises and it’s noted. But Dee’s a little concerned about getting some new product; Stringer lays it on the line and reveals that the new stuff is the old stuff, just in new packaging. Dee notes that the current lot of heroin is very weak, but Stringer shrugs and says that they’ll just shift more; addicts will take whatever they need to get their high before handing him a bonus. On the way out Dee sits down with Shardene and buys her a drink before talking a little.

In the basement Kima is preparing to head out in the van when Freamon returns with a poster of Avon from his boxing days. He hands it over and heads off without saying a word before Sydnor walks in dressed ready to go out undercover. Bubbs is asked to provide his expert opinion on Sydnor’s disguise and he notes a few things that should be changed, especially the shoes. The soles of Sydnor’s shoes, while dirty, are too intact to look realistic, when walking around the projects you walk on what Bubbs calls ‘dead soldiers’ the discarded heroin vials and they cut up the soles.

A rough looking Sydnor heads out into the Pit with Bubbs and Kima gets some good shots of the hand outs, but it’s clear that the people out in the Pit, especially those who handle the product, are unimportant. As Kima leaves Omar and his boys are still watching the Pit. And back at the basement Kima, Sydnor and McNulty are sat around when Daniels returns from upstairs. They’ve got almost nothing, but the upstairs brass wants to make this disappear so they’d be content with just a few low level busts and some product on the table. Once these arrests have happened it’s all over, McNulty has had enough at this and walks out.

He arrives at Rhonda’s place to ask her how to clone a beeper. Hopefully you’ve noticed by now that Dee and the others all use pagers, antiquated technology for the time. He can get one cloned if he has probable cause, they’ve exhausted all other options and a supervisor signs off on it. This is also the first moment where we find out that Rhonda and McNulty know each other more than they’ve indicated. In all the professional encounters they’ve hardly spoken but it’s now revealed that she’s the woman who McNulty was cheating on his wife with (or at least one of them). The sex that follows highlights just how long they’ve been at it; they’re almost synchronised and routine in their sounds.

In the Pit Dee and Bodie are still waiting on the re-up and Dee heads off for food when Stinkum arrives with the gear. Suddenly the stash is hit by Omar and his boys and after shooting one of the guards in the leg they get the stuff hidden under the sink. But one of the stick up crew (Brandon) screws up and calls Omar by his name just before they withdraw. Poot pukes from the fear and Omar makes his get away by the time Dee returns. Bubbs sees the whole thing.

The following morning Daniels is briefing the detail in preparation to hit the stashes. McNulty is clearly being insubordinate by not suiting up in his Kevlar and Daniels takes him into his office. Daniels is once again very angry at McNulty and demands that he write this up as a sick day. McNulty refuses to play ball and walks out. As the rest of the detail role out Herc turns up and is allowed to join in despite being on medical. Prez is the only one left back at the office.

In the Pit Wee-bey is dressing down Dee for failing to be around when the stash was hit, while there’s little he could have done he’s still torn into for not being there. The only information Bodie and Dee can give Wee-bey is Omar’s name and a white van. Then the police arrive and hit the wrong door as Bodie switched up the location of the stash yesterday. Bodie hits Mahone during the arrest and Carver starts beating him down for it before Kima and others run over and join in (to make an example of Bodie) Freamon examines the now empty stash house and finds a number written on the wall with a D next to it. Outside the reporters offer to film whatever was pulled, but as Kima notes they “ain’t got s**t.”

McNulty meets up with Fitz in a car park and Fitz drops the bomb about Daniels, as his hesitation before suggested, there’s something wrong with Daniels, he’s dirty. The B.P.D. went to the FBI about Daniels in the previous year. It turns out that Daniels has more cash than he should have and Burrell did nothing about it…

The Themes:

Many themes continue from the previous two episodes.

There ain’t any real good guys” – Daniels has been portrayed so far as a straight laced by the book cop who’s willing to do what’s right for his men. But now we find out that there’s more to him than just this, at this point the only decent cops we’ve seen who remain mostly straight are Kima, Bunk and Sydnor. Just about everyone else is political, lazy, insubordinate or possibly corrupt.

The easy way out” – While it’s been clear from that get go that the Baltimore P.D. is only interested in an easy win here; this is the first major indication of how much they want that. Hitting the Pit was a huge error on their part. The place contains no high ranked members of the Barksdale organisation and it was even more unwise to strike the day after a C.I. informs them that the stash has been hit. How anyone could have expected to locate anything once the Barksdale organisation has been hit is a real question.

The Catchphrase Count:
“What the f**k did I do?” x3

The Review:

This episode is mostly a Pit orientated episode, which is to be expected considering the name. On the whole less punchy events happen in it when compared to either of the previous episodes, but there are some great moments still. The chess discussion is a just a fantastic example of subject based teaching and a superb analogy for the drug organisational structure. Likewise the dead soldiers moment with Bubbs is also a classic, Andre Royo is such a superb character actor that it’s impossible to see the Harvard graduate underneath the junkie he’s playing and the repeat of McNulty’s sentiments by Dee are also great, Larry Gillard Jr. is such an excellent actor and his portrayal of Dee is just fantastic, it’s a real question mark why he hasn’t been given something bigger in TV land yet.

Development-wise this episode is a huge set back for the Police Department; they still don’t appreciate just who they’re dealing with here. The assumption from the brass is that the Barksdales are just some punk dealers who’ll cave quickly and are nothing to roll up. But it’s clear that this is not the case, when you’ve got a kingpin who’s that far removed from anything it’s plain that you’re dealing with a highly effective business that’s built on the principles of trying to avoid attention. It’s quite likely that if Dee hadn’t shot the man in the lobby and thus garnered McNulty’s and Phelan’s attention the B.P.D. would still be completely oblivious to it all.

Of course, this is effectively the third chapter of the story and it’s still building up, there’s no sign of the titular wire, the police are still fumbling about and making assumptions. In fact there’s not a lot of evidence to reveal just how great the show becomes when it gets rolling. So I can see why people struggle to get past here, it’s all to easy to incorrectly judge the show at this point and assume it’s following the same rules as every other ordinary show. But when you look at it in the context of a novel a very different beast rears its head. This is the stage where the protagonists fail to understand exactly what they’re dealing with and rush in half cocked.

Over the next few episodes they’ll need to get their heads properly into the game, otherwise there’s no chance they’ll even get close to a sniff of Avon and Stringer.


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