Watching The Wire: Season Two: Episode One – Ebb Tide

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“Ain’t never gonna be what it was.”
-- Little Big Roy

Teleplay by David Simon
Directed by Ed Bianchi

Dominic West (Officer Jimmy McNulty), Lance Reddick (Lieutenant Cedric Daniels), Sonja Sohn (Sergeant Kima Greggs), Wood Harris (Avon Barksdale), Idris Elba (Stringer Bell), John Doman (Colonel William Rawls), Wendell Pierce (Bunk Moreland), Paul Ben Victor (Spiros "Vondas" Vondopoulos), Clarke Peters (Lester Fremon), Amy Ryan (Beatrice "Beadie" Russell) and Chris Bauer (Frank Sobotka) and J.D Williams (Bodie)

Domenick Lombardozzi (Detective Thomas "Herc" Hauk), Jim True-Frost as (Detective Roland "Prez" Pryzbylewski), James Ransone (Ziggy Sobotka), Pablo Schreiber (Nick Sobotka), Al Brown (Major Stan Valchek), Melanie Nicholls-King (Cheryl), J. D. Williams (Preston "Boadie" Broadus), Delaney Williams (Sergeant Jay Landsman) Chris Ashworth (Sergei "Serge/Boris" Malatov), Luray Cooper (Nat Coxson), Jeffrey Fugitt (Claude Diggins), Bill Raymond (Old Man), Ted Feldman (George "Double G" Glekas), l Monks (Father Jerome Lewandowski), The Nighthawks (Musical appearance), Elisabeth Noone (Joan Sobotka), Charley Scalies (Thomas "Horseface" Pakusa), Jill Redding (Delores), J. Valenteen Gregg (Chess), Harold L. Able, Sr. (Moonshot), Stan Stewart (New Charles), Richard Pelzman (Little Big Roy), Kelvin Davis (La La), Bus Howard (Ott), Doug Lory (Big Roy), Jeffrey Pratt Gordon (Johnny "Fifty" Spamanto), Robert F. Colesberry (Detective Ray Cole), Jeffrey Coleman (Coast Guard Officer) Richard Burton (Shaun "Shamrock" McGinty), De'Rodd Hearns (Puddin), Addison Switzer (Country), Perry Blackmon (Perry), Rico Whelchel (Rico) and Jonathan D. Wray (Tank)

The Summary:

Detective Jimmy McNulty finds the body of a woman floating in the water while carrying out his new assignment of “Harbor Patrol.” Major Valchek has his gift to a local parish trumped by Frank Sobotka, his rival in the local stevedores union. And on the waterfront, a shipping container destined for “The Greek” bakes in the sun with perishable cargo.

Read about stained glass windows, messing about in boats and passing the buck beyond the link…

The Recap:

A New Case Begins..

The second season opens with Baltimore Harbour; Jimmy McNulty is stuck on Harbour Patrol, exactly the place he didn’t want to be sent too. He was warned by Lester Fremon not to tell the bosses where he didn’t want to go, so there is a bit of a question as to how he got there. Its winter, they’re cold and they’re called in to deal with a distress call from a stranded boat. The harbour is a bleak place, closed down shipyards, debris dumped on the banks and so forth; much evidence of neglect and decay.

McNulty and Claude board the “Capitol Gains”, a party boat with the revellers in full swing. McNulty isn’t mechanically inclined at all, so the best they can offer is a tow to Hendersons. One of the party goers, assumedly the man who organised this asks if McNulty and Claude could hold off towing them back, but they’re in a shipping lane. So the man offers McNulty a little bonus to tow them somewhere out of the way until the party ends. It’s dark by the time they start back to harbour.

Roll Credits.

It’s worth writing about the credits here; they’ve changed when compared to the previous season. The theme “Way Down in the Hole” is still present, but instead of The Blind Boys of Alabama’s rendition we now have the original version from Tom Waits. This is a darker and gloomier version; its tonal quality echoes much of the nautical and blue collar themes of the season. The images used have also changed, showing many scenes from the docks mixed with the occasional shot of drugs being dealt and the classic shot of Bodie smashing the CCTV camera (from season one). This brings home the change in focus for the show, while also possibly teasing a little about the technology to be used later on in the season...

In Valchek’s office, Roland “Prez” Pryzbylewski is talking with Major Valchek; his father-in-law about how the previous wiretap case has changed him, how it gave him a drive to do something. Valchek seems more concerned with the model of the stained glass window and the crates which the real thing have arrived in. Prez is used to Valchek and continues to push his point; he’s seeking a meaningful transfer into something similar to the work he performed in last season’s detail. You can see just how much he’s grown here, he even checks him self when he almost mentions how Valchek was part of the people who shut down the case prematurely. Of course, he does actually say it – and then quickly corrects himself, this is Prez of course and he’s not grown that much. But fortunately Valchek is more concerned with the dove from his window to notice. Unfortunately Valchek has other plans in mind, he’s planning to move Prez up the ranks and keep him safe. He wants to groom Prez into something like himself.

Bodie is in a van, heading out of Baltimore. They’re far enough out that they’re losing the radio station; they quickly cycle through some stations before reaching Philadelphia. Bodie heads out of the van and into a car park, picking up a car – noting the mileage and then heading out. They’re observed doing this and continue to be followed unnoticed by the second car.

McNulty is in dock, struggling to tie up the patrol boat when Bunk rolls around. The Gant case is coming up and Bunk needs to find Omar as he’s a key witness. Also reminds McNulty about the ten dollars he owes Landsman – if you recall Landsman bet McNulty ten dollars that he’d wind up on a boat. Jimmy surmises that Landsman probably told Rawls exactly where he didn’t want to end up; screwing with him and winning the bet at the same time. Bunk just admits (in his own way) that he misses working with McNulty.

Next we meet Frank Sobotka, head of the stevedores union and the “kingpin” of this season. He’s seeking to get the canal dredged in order to bring business, but he’s not got the full support of his other union leaders in this, Nat Coxson wants the grain pier pushed, it won’t add as many jobs but he feels it’s actually achievable and if it isn’t done soon it’ll become condos.

Frank walks out into the docks where hundreds of storage canisters are stacked up, being loaded, moved and unloaded. He stops for a cigarette when his nephew Nicky comes up to talk to him. They need to meet with “The Greek” the following day. He’s then told that Ziggy is ‘all over the place’ – once they arrive we see Ziggy, and he’s lost a hot box somewhere “in the stacks”. Frank fires him, but Ziggy isn’t concerned. Frank is his father.

Bunk arrives in evidence control, he’s looking to get the evidence for the Bird/Gant trial and prep it. He’s met by Cedric Daniels, who has been posted down here as punishment for not following orders and allowing the Barksdale case to drag on and balloon out of control (in the eyes of command). The two wax lyrical a little before the evidence clerk returns and lets Bunk know the evidence is lost.

Bodie arrives at his destination (a garage) with both other vehicles in suit. Meanwhile Frank also arrives at his local church with a donation and to see the window he had put in. It’s a beautiful piece which pictures the local stevedores in the process of unloading a ship. The priest is of course grateful, and Frank needs a favour; he wants some face time with Senator Barbara Mikulski. Frank begins to tell Father Lewandowski how tough things are, but with confessions Father Lewandowski is already aware of the situation and he would have helped even without the window. The priest notes the Frank has given a lot of money to the church and implies that he suspects Frank isn’t working entirely on the level for that cash.

In the garage Bodie and the other fellers are freaking out, the drugs which were supposed to be located in the now stripped car (normally in the car door) are missing. They’re concerned that they’re going to get blamed for this and that Stringer is going to be angry. Mirrored back at the station, Bunk and Daniels are tossing down the evidence room, looking for the mislaid evidence bag for the Gant trial.

Kima is working in an office in the Forfeiture Department, she’s clearly not cut out for desk work, both uncomfortable and lacking the skills needed. Kima is a born street cop; she’s at her best out there working cases, not sat behind a desk pushing paper – but she promised Cheryl she’d stop taking risks after her shooting last season. Herc comes in, he’s amazed how bad the white dealers are, compared to the Barksdales they are sloppy and very easy to catch. He suggests they’re so bad that they should get affirmative action to make up for their lack of street smarts and intelligence. Herc is looking to get her to fill out the paperwork on the raids, but she’s not willing to cover for him anymore, he then asks if she’d like to join him on raids. She’s tempted, but refuses due to her promise after being shot. Herc informs her she’s whipped and leaves.

In the bar McNulty and Bunk are having a few drinks and trying to figure out how to find Omar. While Bodie is travelling back to Baltimore with everyone, they end up waiting in the funeral home Stringer decided to use as a front at the end of the previous season. Stringer himself is watching the money being counted when one of his boys comes in and confirms that they’re sticking to their story. Stringer heads out to talk with the man watching over the mechanics, next he talks with the second drive before finally talking to Bodie himself. Apparently Bodie is three tenths of a mile out on his drive, Stringer confers with his men and then asks if Bodie had to take a detour and hurt his foot when kicking the jack. Bodie realises that this means Stringer had them followed.

Ziggy and Nick are in Delores’s Bar, Ziggy is keen to meet with The Greek when Nick goes to see him; Nick is a little reticent about that. The other stevedores are reminiscing about old times, so Nick and Ziggy roast them for it. A series of wisecracks and friendly jokes which are capped by Ziggy flopping his johnson out just before The Nighthawks breaks out into song. Cue a quick montage with the stevedores having a great time spliced with shots of the dock while The Nighthawks perform "Sixteen Tons.”

"Oh yes, that's exactly what you fear it is!"

The following morning McNulty and Claude are out on the water, McNulty is out on the back fishing the body of a young woman. The plan is to hook her and then tow her to the dock, if they bring her on board she might well break apart. Her legs are broken and Claude surmises that she’s a jumper from the bridge.

Nick wakes up looking a little worse for wear from the night before. He turns on “Search and Destroy” (by The Stooges) and heads up to try waking Ziggy and after failing he talks a bit with his mother. Nick partakes in a little hair of the dog and goes to get cleaned up. A bit later he heads out.

In the church Major Valchek has arrived with the window and a generous donation for the church. It’s a memorial to the Polish American policemen and fire fighters. He wants it put up in the nave, but Sobotka’s window is already up. Valchek offers to match their donations in order to take the nave spot, but it’s clear they offered more money than Valchek is willing to donate – over four thousand dollars. This makes Valchek smell a rat, he can’t understand how they donated so much and is planning to do something about this.

Ray Cole meets with McNulty over the jumper, after talking a little about the girl they mention Bunk. Who’s somewhat worse for the wear after last night’s drinking with Jimmy.

In the penitentiary Avon meets with Stringer about the problems with the connect; Avon thinks Stringer should head up and sort it out personally. Avon’s taken to prison life – he’s sold to doing his time and is holding up well.

Nick meets about getting some work; but hours are tight and he can’t get more than half a day. Ziggy arrives, seeking to meet with The Greek at the same time as Nick, he reluctantly agrees to let him come along, but warns him to keep quiet when they meet with the man.

Stringer is at the station while Nick and Ziggy arrive at a small dingy diner. They meet with Spiros and Nick introduces Ziggy to him. Ziggy shakes his hand and says “You must be The Greek”, to which Spiros shrugs and replies “Well, I’m Greek, anyway.” They sit at the table and Ziggy jokes, calling one of the men “Boris” in reference to his Russian appearance. The man corrects him, his name is Sergei and he is from the Ukraine. Ziggy continues to mouth off until Nick tells him to be quiet. So he goes and sits at the counter next to an elderly man reading a paper. Spiros hands Nick the details of the can and they settle on details. Boris/Sergei will be driving. After they leave Spiros shrugs about Ziggy’s attitude while outside Nick and Ziggy argue briefly about Ziggy’s conduct.

Frank sits in his office reading the paper, he enquires after Nick. While out in the docks Beadie (played by the lovely, lovely Amy Ryan) is on patrol. She drives up and chats a little with Frank. They joke about the stevedore’s reputation for theft before she drives away. Ziggy and Nick arrive with ‘My Sharona’ (What else would you expect from Ziggy?) blazing on the stereo, they hand the details to Frank and head off.

In homicide McNulty arrives, he briefly chats with Winona then heads in to talk with Landsman who admits he’s responsible for sending McNulty to the docks. McNulty enquires after the girl, turns out she was dead before she hit the water, but McNulty continues to show his detective chops aren’t dulled by asking a few pertinent questions. In part about the defence wounds on her hands, but also about her losing both her coat and shoes. As he turns to leave, Landsman informs McNulty that they’ve dumped the case onto Baltimore County; drifters are pretty difficult cases at the best of times. Especially ones like this, and statistics are what matters, easy to clear cases are what the command are interested in and because she was found east of the bridge she’s Baltimore County, not city.

Frank watches nervously from his office while the can for The Greek is left for Boris/Sergi to pick up. While Stringer meets with a lawyer about Roberto’s failure to deliver the goods, apparently Roberto’s operation has taken a serious hit so they’re unwilling to deal right now. Stringer thinks they should just get back in, but it’s hinted that Roberto feels Stringer and Avon might be responsible for the trouble. Especially considering how light Avon’s sentence was in the end.

In Frank’s office he and Horse face talk a little about the can (shipping canister), it hasn’t been picked up yet, Boris-Sergei’s sat waiting and not picking it up. He receives a phone call and then leaves without collecting the can. Frank decides to bury the can in the stacks in order to avoid risk as the customs seal on the canister is breached.

McNulty heads over to the computers and is checking out the currents, tides and the location of the body. He figures out that she hit the water in the City jurisdiction and begins to compose a letter.

Kima arrives back at her home and is greeted by her girlfriend Cheryl, she’s trying to get pregnant and they’re attempting to sort out a donor. Meanwhile Jimmy faxes the letter to Baltimore County - getting his own back on Rawls in a simple but ultimately clever fashion.

And of course Rawls is less than pleased the following morning when it’s clear someone in the Marine Unit faxed them a report about tides and wind currents.He and Landsman immediately know it’s McNulty behind this, but there’s little they can do about it. They screwed him and now he’s screwing them back as best he can.

Bodie is down on the street dealing, they’re concerned that there’s not much product left to sell. He passes on a little of the wisdom he learnt from Dee previously, and expresses his confidence in Stringer’s ability to handle things fine.

In homicide, the poor floater is back and goes up onto the board as a Jane Doe. Meanwhile, Beadie is on patrol in the docks again, just routine business until she spots a crate with a broken seal. She gets out and heads over to check it out. Upon opening the door she finds it almost filled with TVs but there is a corridor of space inside leading to a second back door which is bolted shut. She opens this and finds inside women, dead.

In Frank’s office the stevedores are relaxing when the sound of sirens cuts in from the background. The canister filled with girls has been called in and every single girl in there is deceased…

The Review:

Of course, the title of the episode “ebb tide” is a construct loaded with meaning; naturally it has the connections with the waterside setting of the season – describing a tide at its lowest point. But it also describes the positions of several of the characters; McNulty, Kima and Daniels are all in something of an ebb tide, their fortunes are down having all lost out at the end of the previous season. Likewise the Barksdales are in something of an ebb; both in their position on screen – as they are now more of a sideline story and are forced to share time with the stevedores – and in their business, product is running low, and previous suppliers are unwilling to deal with them.

Of course the first episode of The Wire's second season is quite a shock for viewers who are used to the familiar conventions of television. Not only has the focus of the show apparently shifted, moving away from the familar high and low rises of the western districts, but a huge wealth of characters are introduced for the first time. Many of them without names or any real indication as to who's important and who's not. You're left to discover these facts as time passes and the show's plot follows them. It's not quite as mammoth an effort as trying to watch the first few episodes of the first season is, but it's still quite disconcerting and as such you can understand why people may struggle. The Wire doesn't hold your hand here, it expects you to swim and swim well. Which, if you've watched the first season - you should be able to do.

There are quite a few parallels which can be drawn between the opening episode of this season and the previous one, both of them belong to the same slow build style of story telling, but close with a strong evocative image of death. The first season was Gant's murder, this season is the death of all these young women. It's a pretty powerful tool for hooking the viewer in and it does leave one thinking "Who were these girls, why are they dead? What's going to happen next?"

And that's what you want from an opening episode.


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