Watching The Wire: Episode Eight: Lessons

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“Come at the king, you best not miss.” – Omar Little

Teleplay by David Simon
Story by David Simon & Ed Burns
Directed by Gloria Muzio

Wendell Pierce (Det. William "Bunk" Moreland), Deirdre Lovejoy (Asst. States Attorney Rhonda Pearlman), Wood Harris (Avon Barksdale), John Doman (Maj. William A. Rawls), Lance Reddick (Lt. Cedric Daniels), Andre Royo (Bubbles), Idris Elba (Russell "Stringer" Bell), Frankie Faison (Deputy Comm. Ervin H. Burrell), Larry Gilliard Jr. (D'Angelo Barksdale), Dominic West (Det. James "Jimmy" McNulty) and Sonja Sohn (Det. Shakima "Kima" Greggs)

Clarke Peters (Det. Lester Freamon), Domenick Lombardozzi (Off. Thomas R. "Herc" Hauk), Seth Gilliam (Det. Ellis Carver), Peter Gerety (Judge Daniel Phelan), Antonio Cordova (Sean McNulty), Brandon Price (Anton "Stinkum" Artis), Hassan Johnson (Roland "Wee-Bey" Brice), Corey Parker Robinson (Det. Leander Sydnor), Maria Broom (Marla Daniels), Michael Kenneth Williams (Omar Little), Tray Chaney (Malik "Poot" Carr), Michael B. Jordan (Wallace), Wendy Grantham (Shardene Innes), Eric Ryan (Michael McNulty), Jim True-Frost (Off. Roland "Prez" Pryzbylewski), Tony D. Head (Maj. Bobby Reed), Clayton LeBouef (Wendell "Orlando" Blocker), Donnell Rawlings (Damien Lavelle "Day-Day" Price), Micaiah Jones (Wintell "Little Man" Royce) and Christopher J. Clanton (Savino)

The Summary:
McNulty has his sons play the game of “front and follow” with Stringer Bell as the target, and they get Bell’s license plate number for their efforts. Greggs and Carver bust a driver for picking up a large amount of cash from the towers, only they’re forced to return the money on orders from the Deputy Commissioner. Avon finds out about Orlando’s inquiries to branch out into “dirty” business, and makes it clear to Orlando that that’s not the plan.

Read about front-and-follow, a desceased smell and sixty days beyond the link…

The Recap:

McNulty at the market with his two sons Mikey and Sean when he notices Stringer Bell in the place and tells his lads that it’s time to play ‘The Spy Game’. It’s clear that this is a ‘game’ McNulty has taught his boys a long time ago and one they’ve played many times. But it seems that this is the first time he’s ever stooped to send them after a genuine criminal. While they follow an oblivious Stringer his pager goes off and he heads outside. McNulty signals that he’ll get the car, leaving his children following Stringer unsupervised.

Now it might seem very careless of McNulty to send his boys off following Stringer unsupervised, but there are a couple of things you have to bare in mind here. McNulty is a man driven, obsessed with catching Avon and Stringer, so much so that it interferes with his ability to be a good father. It’s also worth noting that his lads are experienced with this game and more importantly Stringer doesn’t know what McNulty’s two kids look like (or even if McNulty has children) so he’s not going to pay attention to them. Now in another TV show you might have seen an abduction moment happen here, but The Wire isn’t just another TV show, even if Stringer did know who these boys are there’s no way he would ever harm them personally, especially not in a public place, so for the most part these boys are quite safe.

It’s still an irresponsible act for a parent mind you…

McNulty is delayed in the car park by other people’s cars while his sons continue to ‘front and follow’ Stringer who has turned and gone back into the market. McNulty arrives outside and is immediately concerned that he can’t see his boys because they’ve followed Stringer back out of a different exit to his car. Mikey gets a little closer and writes down Stringer’s license plate (Maryland: JLY 488 if you’re curious) before he drives off. By now McNulty is concerned and has spoken to security and an announcement is put across the market speakers. Cue credits…

Back in the basement Freamon, Prez and Greggs are discussing the two payphones that were torn out at the same time. They’re not entirely sure why both payphones from the Pit have been torn out, but they suspect (rightly) it’s because they’ve spooked the Barksdales somehow. Kima and Prez point out that they still have both the Tower phones and Stringer’s pager but Lester reminds them that this is a prime example on how cautious this organisation is. It’s something they need to keep in mind at all times, remember the Barksdales operated for a long time without drawing any attention to themselves and if it hadn’t been for D’Angelo’s misstep and McNulty’s ranting in the first episode they might still have been under the radar.

In the main part of the basement Herc and Carver are chatting about the sergeant’s test they both plan to take when Prez asks them to follow some of the Pit crew to the new payphones they’re using. Naturally Herc and Carver are less than interested in performing this, in part because of their test and in part because they’re straight up lazy. So instead of getting up and heading out as Prez requested they lay into him and remind him just what a screw up he is then Kima heads out and tells them the same thing.

Elsewhere in the city Wee-bey and his boys have broken into Omar’s apartment and are tossing it over, they find some close photos of Omar and his now deceased boyfriend Brandon. Omar himself is over the road with the young mother who asked him for money previously and watches calmly as they torch his white van.

In homicide a jovial McNulty rolls in and immediately starts ripping into Bunk’s choice of shirt colour - Frankly I agree with McNulty on this one, any man who comes into the office wearing pink is asking for a friendly roasting – before sitting down and looking up the license plate Stringer was using. He proudly tells the story of his boys down the supermarket while Bunk listens with a mixture of concern and amusement. But despite Bunks disapproval McNulty now has the license plate of a car driven by Stringer, a car that belongs to a woman, not Stringer.

Wallace is woken up in his room by Sarah, one of the kids he looks after to help with homework, the homework is simple addition and subtraction involving passengers on a bus, he tells the girl to ‘do it in yer head and attempts to go back to sleep. Almost immediately Poot walks in, Wallace’s absence in the Pit has been noted and Poot’s been covering for Wallace but that’s not going to cut it for much longer. Wallace isn’t interested, his part in ‘s beating, murder and dumping has affected him hard, so he tells Poot he’ll be down later and asks for a loan. I love the term used here, “let me hold $10”, it’s a great piece of dialog. Poot leaves and Sarah continues to guess the answer out loud. Wallace sighs and reframes the question in a manner she’ll understand. He runs through the numbers but uses vials and re-ups instead of passengers and pick ups; Sarah gets right it immediately and Wallace is slightly amazed that she can do that version but not the other. Sarah explains “Count be wrong, they’ll #&@% you up.” It’s very much a matter of personal relevance, being a bus driver is an abstract concept without any risks, but dealing in vials is something real and dangerous to Sarah.

In the basement Lester, Kima and Sydnor are listening to Stringer talking with someone down in the towers via the tower wiretap. Little Man is rolling out of the 221 in about thirty minutes with twenty something to hand on to someone called Day. They speculate about why product would be leaving the towers - normally it’s an import market there - and then head on out to intercept.

At the Pit sofa Poot is talking with Dee about Wallace, he’s concerned and feels that Dee should talk to Wallace. Dee on the other hand isn’t that concerned, as he says it’s not like anyone has a gun to Wallace’s head, he can do what he likes. But Poot knows that Wallace doesn’t have any other life or way to earn money, so Dee agrees to talk to Wallace if he comes to see him just as an SUV arrives.

On the rooftops near the tower Sydnor and Herc are undertaking surveillance; Herc is running through a list of ‘what if ____ doesn’t happen?’ But Sydnor tells him to shut up in an appropriate manner.

The SUV in the Pit contained Wee-Bey and Stinkum; they tell Dee to come with them on a beef run, so he leaves Poot in charge. Needless to say Poot’s pleased with the authority. Back at the towers a Lincon arrives to make the pick up and Kima moves out to follow him, while Wee-Bey, Dee and Stinkum are celebrating Stinkum’s earning on points. Wee makes it clear to Dee that if he carries on doing well that he’ll start earning points on his packages as well and Dee then mentions Orlando’s proposition. Wee and Stink both tell Dee that he should talk to Avon before he does anything and the guys plan a celebratory night out at Orlando’s.

Kima and Carver have pulled over the driver and then after questioning him they take the bag out from the car and arrest him. McNulty meanwhile is stat outside 4117 Howwell Road, scoping the place out when he is paged and heads back into homicide where Carver and Kima are looking as pleased as a pair of Punches. The driver turns out to be one Damien Lavell Price, a legislative aide and when Daniels arrives they explain that they caught him picking up twenty thousand dollars in cash from the tower. They expected drugs but they got money instead. Daniels explains that he knows Damien, he was the man who bragged about cracking cribs in the fundraiser party Daniels attended in episode . Damien requests his lawyer and Daniels leaves to explain a little about what he knows to Carver, McNulty and Kima. As Damien hasn’t claimed the cash is his Daniels plans to keep the money and provide a receipt, it’s unlikely that Damien will be able to explain why he has that much money in cash so it will keep the moolah from returning to the Barksdales. Suddenly the celebratory atmosphere is broken by the arrival of Major Reeds, IID. A man described by Daniels as the angel of death…

In the back room of Orlando’s Avon has a serious talk with Orlando over his proposed drug connect. Avon needs Orlando to remain clean, he’s the front for the business and Avon won’t risk him getting dirty and bringing the attention of the police to the place. He makes sure that Orlando gets the point and then kicks him out onto the floor infront of Shardene and some of the other girls who work in the club.

Daniels is in a meeting with the Deputy Ops Burrell and Reeds about Damien, he explains that Damien has a criminal history, is now working for Senator Clay Davies and has been caught leaving the towers with drug money. Daniels plans to keep the money on civil forfeiture but Burrell notes that they have no criminal charge and tells him to hand the money back. Daniels is understandably upset about this, the money is drug money, they have it bang to rights but Burrell orders him to hand the money back and write it up as an unwarranted stop. He then goes on to tell Daniels how displeased he is with this entire operation and how it’s a) gotten out of control and too expensive and b) gone places it’s not supposed to go by chasing after a senatorial aide. Now there is something to pay careful attention to here, Burrell is very well informed about this and it tells you two things. First, someone inside the detail has been keeping Burrell informed on the detail’s operations and second, whoever it is was involved in today’s operation.

A disgruntled Kima returns the money to Damien and then demands to know what happened. So McNulty heads out after Daniels and finds out. McNulty explains that the Senator hasn’t complained, that it’s clearly drug money and he doesn’t understand why Daniels would even make a peep about this to Burrell. Daniels attempts to explain it as following the chain of command and McNulty calls him on that particular piece of b***s***. Daniels has skipped out the chain of command in this and McNulty knows it. McNulty even goes as far as suggesting (correctly) that Burrell has something on him.

Dee is ‘enjoying’ Stink’s party, there’s women and product everywhere but he’s mostly disturbed with what he sees. The Barksdale rules are no using, but Stink claims it’s a ‘special occasion’. Dee then catches Orlando’s eye, but Dee is clearly not Orlando’s favourite person right now, so he attempts to talk to Wee-Bey. But is ignored as Wee-Bey has got something else on his mind and is busy ushering a young lady into the bedroom.

Daniels on the other hand is sat at home in silence when his wife comes in to talk with him about his problem. She tells him he should try and explain to Burrell and he lays it out, he just can’t, the case is far bigger than Daniels thought. But Burrell knew where it would go. Daniels has finally realised just how bad this case is for him and his career, it goes everywhere and dips into everything. It’s already out of his control and it’s going to ruin him.

Back in the house with Dee things have wound down by the time he’s returned from a booze run. Dee notices that the girl Wee was with is now still and after he checks he realises that she’s dead. He turns to Wee and says his name and the silence that comes in response says it all.

Down in the courthouse McNulty and Kima arrive at Judge Phelan’s office, he wants to know why the operation is shutting down, McNulty and Kima lay out the situation and explain how little they have. They then go on to explain that they’re being shut down because they arrested one of Clay Davies’ aides with the money and the higher ups are not pleased with this turn of events. Phelan lays it out; he calls up Burrell and strips into him. He explains that there are sixty days of surveillance and the court will have its sixty days or he’ll pull Burrell up on charges. “Who’s your Daddy now?”

McNulty is back at 4117 when he receives another pager call from Daniels, it’s clear that McNulty is following up this lead with a lot of personal surveillance from this shot. Daniels wants to know what’s happened and is sure that McNulty engineered this; McNulty tells him that it was entirely Phelan and Daniels can talk to Kima if he doesn’t believe that. Just as he says this Stringer arrives in a taxi, McNulty’s perseverance has paid off. Stringer does use the car regularly. In the basement Daniels tells Kima to get things back up and running and asks her to confirm how this happened. She tells him “This time the judge.” McNulty follows Stringers in his car.

Herc and Carver are sat talking about the sergeant’s test, Herc is confident that the job is common sense and demands that Carver ask him a question, any question. Carver immediately throws him by using the numbers and codes; it’s a multiple choice question about a sexual harassment charge against a theoretical partner. Herc plumps for none of the options and puts forward an exceptionally dumb one of his own. All Carver can do is look incredulous.

McNulty successfully follows Stringer, to BCC, that’s Baltimore County College, where Stringer is taking a class in business, specifically an ‘Introduction to Macroeconomics.” Herc and Carver themselves are involved in a familiar educational scene of their own, they’re taking the test. Carver is very serious about it while Herc is joking about.

We’re taken next to a new location, Fell’s Point Copy Cat, where Stringer is talking with his staff about a lack of copying work orders being filled. The guys he’s got working for him are corner boys and aren’t interested in doing the job but Stringer isn’t happy with that. He fills them in on the nature of elastic and inelastic products and draws the line. This place is not just a front; it’s to work like a real business.

Later that day Stink and Wee-Bey are setting up a shooting, clearing out Stink’s new territory and just as it’s all about to go down Omar rolls out of an alley and guns down Stink, injuring Wee-Bey as well. Wee-Bey has to flee before the police arrive. Lester hears the entire thing and is less than pleased with this, as Stink was one of the links in their case. In a simulacrum situation, Avon is also less than pleased and increases the bounty in value and opens the reward up to anyone. After everyone else rolls out Stringer expresses his opinion, he feels that Avon shouldn’t go out for blood making things personal, he should cool it down and pretend that he’s looking for a truce then cap him later.

Kima and McNulty head on over to the remains of Omar’s van and leave a message for him. He then heads over the basement and claims innocence on the entire thing. Omar runs through what he feels the rules are, no mistakes, no taxpayers killed, no bystanders watching. Lester notes that losing the gun afterwards as well would be a rule and Omar agrees. McNulty and Kima then explain just how bad it is for them that Omar killed Stink, so they ask him to hang back and he explains that he can’t.

At Dee’s Shardene talks to him about Keisha, the girl who died at Stink’s party; and all Dee has to say about it is how he should possibly get out of this game. Once again he repeats the sentiment that McNulty voiced to him back in that interview room. Shardene mentions how she wants to get out of her job as she won’t be pretty forever, but Dee tells her that she’s pretty now. They are interrupted by the phone and the answering machine informs them that Stink has been got.

In homicide McNulty informs a deflated Bunk that Omar is the shooter. McNulty lays the land out for him, either they scupper the Gant case by prosecuting the witness – Omar – on a murder charge of his own or they string Cole out with an empty promise. In short Cole’s going to have Stink’s name in red forever. Bunk is the one who has to do this as well because McNulty can’t afford to offend Rawls again. So Bunk heads over and talks with Cole then McNulty and Bunk go out for drinks. After talking a little about how badly they’ve had to screw Cole McNulty heads off, Bunk on the other hand has seen a pretty woman who’s interested in him and asks McNulty to cover for him with the wife.

In the basement Kima heads into the computer room to talk with Lester about how she feels she may have screwed up earlier in the investigation. She’s not sure if Omar is lying about being a witness or not, but Lester feels that the gun matches and Omar’s testimony is consistent with the other witness so it’s not a huge mistake. He then explains a little about how difficult interrogations can be, there’s no real hard and fast rules to how they’re performed. He then shows her the dancers from Orlando’s club and asks which girl Kima would try to turn. Kima picks Shardene, because she has no record and is a likable citizen.

McNulty is woken up in his room with a phone call from the woman Bunk picked up. Apparently he’s blind drunk and McNulty finds him asleep on the toilet in a pink dressing gown, he’s been burning his clothes to destroy the trace evidence of his indiscretion. Bunk is hilarious.

Outside Orlando’s Orlando leaves the club while Omar watches.

Finally McNulty takes Bunk back to McNulty’s and sticks him in the bottom bunk. Before turning the light out Bunk tells him that “he’s no good for people.”

The Review:

Lessons is an episode where many previous moments set up begin to pay off, you may have wondered why we were shown the scene in episode, where Daniels went to a fundraising party had Senator Clay Davies pointed out to him and had a conversation with the ex-con turned aide Damien Price. Now you know there was more to it than the throw away joke reveal at the end of the scene. This is one of the hallmarks of The Wire, all the pieces matter, things become clearer on the re-watch and the devil is in the details. Likewise there is the dawning realisation that there is a mole in the detail who is feeding direct to Burrell, this is the point where we have clear evidence of it in action, Burrell didn’t get the full picture about this arrest until it all went down and as such he was forced to swing in a very heavy handed manner to try and recover ground. But it’s more than possible to miss this fact, you could watch the first season without realising that there is someone leaking in the detail. It’s an exceptionally subtle thing and you’re left all by yourself to spot it and work out whom. I’m not going to tell you who it is here, you can wait for a bit on that (or Google if you’re not afraid of wading through future events or possible spoilers).

The performances in this show are just so staggeringly brilliant that it’s unbelievable that more of the cast haven’t been picked up for shows. But The Wire has had a pervasive influence on the world of television; more and more members of the cast are being picked up and used in other shows. Character actors every one of them and each is skilled with sheer brilliance.

As I’ve said before many times, The Wire is a show that rewards the dedicated viewer. It has gifts for the observant; it leaves you to make your own inferences and understanding of the situations. You may actually disagree with my interpretation of certain events and you’d be right. This show really leaves you to breathe your own reality into the events and hopefully by getting this far you’ve show that you’re dedicated and intelligent enough to appreciate what this show is doing.

Don’t be afraid, you’ll be rewarded for watching in full many times over before this season is done and then thousands of times more as the four seasons after it grow, bloom and depart.


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