Watching the Wire: Season Three: Episode One - "Time After Time"

"Don't matter how many times you get burnt, you just keep doin' the same."
-- Bodie

Teleplay by David Simon
Directed by Ed Bianchi

Dominic West as Det. James "Jimmy" McNulty, Jim True-Frost as Det. Roland "Prez" Pryzbylewski, Wendell Pierce as Det. William "Bunk" Moreland, Clarke Peters as Det. Lester Freamon, Sonja Sohn as Det. Shakima "Kima" Greggs, Lance Reddick as Lt. Cedric Daniels, Corey Parker Robinson as Det. Leander Sydnor, Frankie Faison as Police Comm. Ervin H. Burrell, Domenick Lombardozzi as Det. Thomas R. "Herc" Hauk, Andre Royo as Bubbles, J.D. Williams as Preston "Bodie" Broadus, Deirdre Lovejoy as Asst. States Attorney Rhonda Pearlman, John Doman as Deputy Ops. William A. Rawls, Wood Harris as Avon Barksdale, Idris Elba as Russell "Stringer" Bell, Aidan Gillen as Councilman Thomas "Tommy" Carcetti, and Robert Wisdom as Major Howard "Bunny" Colvin

Glynn Turman as Mayor Clarence Royce, Callie Thorne as Elena McNulty, Chad L. Coleman as Dennis "Cutty" Wise, Jamie Hector as Marlo Stanfield, Tray Chaney as Malik "Poot" Carr, Hassan Johnson as Roland "Wee-Bey" Brice, Method Man as Melvin "Cheese" Wagstaff, Maria Broom as Marla Daniels, Leo Fitzpatrick as Johnny, Joilet F. Harris as Officer Caroline Massey, Al Brown as Major Stanislaus Valchek, Jay Landsman as Lieutenant Dennis Mello, Ed Norris as Ed Norris, Richard Burton as Shaun "Shamrock" McGinty, Brandon Fobbs as Fruit, Anwan Glover as Slim Charles, De'Rodd Hearns as Puddin, DeJuan Anderson as Bunk Junior, Anthony Cordova as Sean McNulty, Eric G. Ryan as Michael McNulty, Tony D. Head as Major Bobby Reed, Benjamin Busch as Officer Anthony Colicchio, Christopher Mann as Councilman Tony Gray, Frederick Strother as State Delegate Odell Watkins, Cleo Reginald Pizana as Chief of Staff Coleman Parker, Justin Burley as Justin, Lee E. Cox as Aaron Castor, Richard DeAngelis as Colonel Raymond Foerster, Nakia Dillard as Lambert, Mustafa Harris as Lavell Mann, Derek Horton as Brian Baker, Barnett Lloyd as Major Marvin Taylor, Robert Neal Marshall as Comstat Police Major, Keith Moyer as Junk Man, Rick Otto as Kenneth Dozerman, Melvin T Russell as Jamal, Ryan Sands as Truck, Rico Sterling as Tyrell, Addison Switzer as Country, Rico Whelchel as Rico and Jonathan D. Wray as Tank

The Summary:

The Franklin Terrace public housing towers are razed, forcing the Barksdale drug crew to find a new home on the streets of West Baltimore. Stringer Bell sets up shop using a new sales strategy for Bodie, Poot, Puddin and the rest of the gang, as he awaits the return of Avon from prison. McNulty, Greggs and the detail look to make a case against Stringer with a wiretap on a drug ring run by his ally, Proposition Joe. Assigned to the Western District drug unit, Carver and Herc notch up the pressure on street dealers. Burrell is caught in a power play by First District Councilman Tommy Carcetti. Mayor Clarence Royce, facing re-election next year, puts Burrell on notice that murders must go down. Rawl's Comsat meetings begin to look like the McCarthy hearings. Daniels' promotion to major appears to be derailed because of his estranged wife's political ambitions. A rash of murders cuts short Bunk's day at the ballpark, as Bubbles and Johnny lose big in their latest caper for cash. On the eve of his parole, Cutty Wise is offered a new start on the outside by Avon, but after being released, he finds the drug life has changed.

Read about old friends, new faces and the evolution of the game beyond the link...

The Recap

Open with Boadie, Poot and Puddin walking down towards the Franklin Terrace housing, talking about the place while Mayor Royce gives his speech to an appreciative crowd about the planned improvements and residences which will replace the ill reputed Towers. The boys reminisce about the past while the politician talks of the future.

The biggest issue for the lads is the loss of territory, which is what this change represents and as the crowd count down we see the end of an era for Baltimore. An end heralded by a dust storm which for a brief moment makes the place look like the end of the world.

Cue the new credits. These credits depict the change in focus for the show, while the drugs and crime are still front and central there are also new elements, including drugs, property development, boxing, politics and a large slice of sex depicted alongside the crime and police themes.

Sydnor and McNulty are in a disused apartment, the place is a sty but it’s essential for their work. The target, one Cheese Wagstaff is outside. Elsewhere, in the new offices for the Major Crimes Unit (previously known as the Detail), Freamon and Prez are listening to an wiretap. Unlike the previous seasons, where the story took around six episodes before electronic surveillance was on the cards it’s here from the get go. It’s not just their offices which have improved, everything has. But some problems never change, one of which is the difficulty Prez and Freamon are having with the dialog recorded. (Ironically reflecting the difficulty some viewers, especially British ones, are reputed to have when watching the show. Of course, to watch it with subtitles is considered to be reducing the show from serious drama into comedy. And if you’re not sure, that’s scorn I’m heaping on George Pecalonos’s statement there) Fortunately for them they have the assistance of Caroline who translates for them both with clarity.

The phone rings again, there is a short conversation with Cheese’s number two and then Cheese heads off. While the phones help, the important information is kept in face to face conversations, as Freamon comments it’s been three months work and they haven’t yet heard Cheese’s voice on tape.

Herc and Carver are talking with some fellow officers, they discuss a plan for busting some hoppers, the most notable element is to ignore the runner and pick up everyone else instead. They’ve learnt from their time with Kima and the Detail previously, even if they weren’t happy with the way they were treated. Herc rolls out to the Shaft theme.

They arrive and the strains of the theme play out while the lads are arrested, Carver waves to the runner but his amused snark is cut short when the boy picks up a bag and runs. They realise he’s not just making a break for it to distract the cops, he’s running with the stash. Everyone scrambles, leaving the others standing, one lad picks up another bag. It seems that the runner is a decoy after all.

But Herc and Carver are unaware of this and as they head out (with Shaft blaring) it’s Herc who picks up the lad in his car while Carver runs on foot. Carver calls for back up and the black and whites arrive with helicopter support. Herc picks up Carver and they arrive at the block where the lad went to ground. Carver stands on the roof of the car and gives a long speech, posturing in an attempt to flush the lad out (and assert his authority). There’s no response and he’s left looking a little foolish.

At the funeral home Stringer is holding a meeting with his lieutenants, Boadie is keen to move on some territory but Stringer explains the game is now about product not location. The Barksdales have the best product and that means people will come to them. Slim Charles points out that without territory it’s going to be difficult to sell, you can’t sell if people can’t come to you. Stringer explains how things worked out when they gave up some of their territory in exchange for product with Prop Joe (see season two), they made more profit. But Boadie wants to know where they will stand, Stringer explains the plan is to bring the competition in by selling to the competition. The only issue (as pointed out by Slim Charles) is if the competition doesn’t want their product.

Poot is upset about this, but Stringer lays down the line, it’s time to start thinking like businessmen not hoods.

Sydnor and McNulty return to the Office, much to the amusement of Kima, Ronnie and Freamon they’re an absolute state. McNulty is resigned to the mocking amusement, he’s more frustrated about how hard it is to pin Cheese down to a phone. Ronnie and Daniels talk about closing down the wiretaps now and trying to roll up some of Cheese’s lieutenants.

They may have had good intel as a result of the port investigation, but it’s lead them almost nowhere. McNulty is convinced with a little more work they’ll hit Prop Joe and then reach Stringer. But Daniels points out that they have little time left.

Major Howard “Bunny” Colvin is in his office, he’s talking with two of his men about the importance of directions, he explains how the numbering of the city streets work and throws the pair some compasses before welcoming them to the west. As the two officers head out Carver and Herc rib them a little before Bunny comes out. They caught the runner, (and delivered the promised beatdown on him) but the boy didn’t have any drugs on him in the bag.

Bubs and Johnny are out on the street, they’re back collecting scrap, moving it in a shopping trolley. But suddenly it gets away from them and the stuff spills, hitting a car and seriously upsetting the owner of the car who produces a gun and puts it to Johnny’s head. A few moments later another man steps out and asks “what’s up”, the first explains to the second and he tells the guy to either do it or don’t. As the second, one Marlo climbs into the car his lieutenant demands some dime. Bubs and Johnny don’t have any money, so he takes their pants.

(Note: If you look carefully here you can see that Andre Royo [Bubs]’s legs are far too healthy and strong for his role as a perpetual drug addict, but the scene is kept short and he moves fast to try and conceal this fact.)

Burrell and Rawls are at city hall, they’re being grilled by one Tommy Carcetti over the increase in shootings during recent times. Burrell passes the issue to Rawls, who – as the stat obsessed individual he is – already has the answers. Carcetti closes the meeting and heads out to talk with Burrell in order to arrange a lunch meeting later today.

McNulty, Kima and Freamon are out in a car; they’re watching their last, best hope at getting a crack at Cheese, Prop Joe and Stringer. One Drac, the “talkingest motherfucker” Freamon has ever heard on a wiretap. He’s a small fish who re-ups from Lavell Mann, but if they eliminate Lavell from the equation it’s Drac who’s most likely to be promoted into the space.

In a scene which should be familiar to those of you who’ve watched the corner, Johnny and Bubs collect the money for their scrap metal. They’re reminded that they’re missing pants by the scrap collector. Neither man looks amused.

Carcetti and Burrell have lunch and Carcetti tells Burrell a story about Jimmy Carter and one Dominic DiPetro. Carcetti’s point is that he wants to be more than he is, and his problems are schools and crime. He offers his services to Burrell to help the man in any budget shortfalls. Burrell isn’t interested though, he’s determined to follow the chain of command rather than circumvent Mayor Royce and risk any backlash.

Wee-bay is in the prison yard, he’s meeting with one Dennis ‘Cutty’ Wise, a long term inmate who’s about to be released tomorrow. Avon walks across the baseball yard, prompting a time out from the prisoners, just another example of his power inside the jail. Avon joins Cutty and Wee-Bay and they talk about the changes outside, the changes and the things which have remained constant. Avon wants someone outside to be his man, he’s keen to have Cutty back in the game and sweetens the deal with a little ‘coming home gift’. Cutty heads off and Avon wonders if Cutty has been broken by his time in prison, Wee-Bay doubts it. Cutty was a hard soldier in his time.

Bubs and Johnny; a little short now they had to purchase replacement pants, attempt to pick up a pair of vials for sixteen, which is four dollars less than the street price. The hoppers aren’t having anything of it though and turn the duo down.

Burrell and Daniels are talking about where to go now on the Major Crimes Unit. Daniels explains the plan concerning Lavell and Drac. When Burrell asks why the dealers would promote the wrong man, a man who could endanger their institution, Daniels pauses for a moment before admitting “We do it all the time.” Burrell laughs and then talks about Daniels’ impending promotion, a promotion which is being held back because of Daniels’ wife. Daniels isn’t happy about the situation as their deal was for the Major Crimes Unit and promotion to Major. Burrell believes he’s honoured his part as far as he can.

Bunk and McNulty are at the ball game, talking about McNulty’s kids while looking after Bunks. McNulty spots his two sons with Elena and some guy, a man who’s clearly involved with Elena from his body language. The four people are sat in the front row of seats with an amazing view of the field. McNulty isn’t pleased about the suit, Bunk is amused.

Bubs and Johnny are in their den, talking about the failure of the day. Johnny is optimistic about tomorrow, Bubs is realistic. He’s tired about things, half a shot isn’t enough to get him high. Shots ring outside.

McNulty meets with his lads, Elena chats a little about her ‘friend’ Dennis. McNulty goes to take them both up to the mezzanine and the lads aren’t pleased about the idea of sitting there. Dennis arrives and attempts to integrate himself with McNulty, but of course Jimmy isn’t interested in making friends with the man who’s sleeping with his ex-wife and winning over his kids with his money. McNulty takes his two boys off, cut into silence by the situation.

In West Baltimore the shootings are on the rise, Detective Cole is supposed to be up, but he’s working a case off Belvedere. The shooting will either go to Crutchfield or Bunk, needless to say the Bunk man will not be happy if he’s called in on his off day.

Bunk himself is still enjoying the ball game, but McNulty is now engrossed in watching Elena and Dennis together and is barely paying attention. Bunk’s phone rings and its bad news. He’s up for the shooting and has to head in. So Bunk leaves his son in McNulty’s capable hands and heads off.

It’s the following day and Cutty is out walking, free at long last and just revelling in the sounds and sights of the world outside the walls. It’s clear he’s looking at places he used to remember, most of them now boarded up, but not the home of one E. Wise. Cutty’s mother.

Rawls and Burrell are in a meeting regarding the overview of police work in the city. Burrell is talking aside about Carcetti while Rawls roasts the officer (Marvin) over his decisions. The bottom line here is that all of the robberies are linked and the homicides are out of control. Stats, stats, stats.

Sydnor is strapping up, ready to head out with a wire. Ronnie heads in to talk with Daniels and realises that the man is living out of his office. Daniels dismisses his men, sending them out to sting Lavell in order to get Drac promoted. Ronnie looks at Daniels for a moment afterwards before the two part.

Sydnor talks with Lavell, getting the agreement on the deal before the rest of the force push in. Arresting Lavell and Sydnor together. Sydnor puts on a little show, shouting at Kima while he’s dragged off in cuffs.

Elsewhere in Baltimroe Cutty picks up a payphone and calls the number he was given. He arranges a meet at the Oxbow before hanging up, looks like Cutty is back in the game.

At the Major Crimes Office Drac is all over the wire, mouthing off about what’s happened to Lavell.

Cutty arrives at the Oxbow, he’s greeted by an SUV, the two rollers inside tell him to head over to the shorty and pick up a little help. When he’s ready for big action he’s to get back in touch with them. Cutty walks over to the lad who stands up and wals away, leaving behind a package. Cutty exclaims when he picks it up.

Daniels returns back to his home, his wife is having a meeting with Delegate Watkins about Marla’s run at her office. Daniels then heads upstairs.

Following morning, Burrell and Rawls arrive at city hall and they’re greeted by a host of camera men. The pair look concerned as they sit down in front of a stern looking Carcetti.

At the Major Crimes Unit it turns out that Cheese has been promoted into Lavell’s position, not Drac.

Carcetti opens up his broadside at Burrell and Rawls; he’s refusing any extra money for the police department. By bringing up the various expenses which are being incurred by the higher ups in the department, he humiliates the pair publicly and sends a strong message to Burrell.

Daniels is woken up by Marla from his nap on the sofa. Daniels is willing to help her out as best he can, he admits as much before leaving the house.

Burrell meets with Mayor Royce about Carcetti’s move, they’re not sure exactly what Carcetti’s planning, but they want Burrell to keep the murder rate down under 275 for the year. It’s at 232 right now, which means it’s going to be tough.

Cutty stares at the package, it’s filled with vials.

Burrell and Rawls pass on the good news to the Majors and Foerester is more than a little concerned about the number required. Rawls blasts him and then lays down the bottom line. Bunny speaks up, asking how to make bodies disappear. Rawls looks set to strangle him, but Burrell places a hand on the man and stands up. Reminding everyone about the precarious nature of their positions before leaving. Rawls eyeballs Bunny as he dismisses the men. Valchek is incredulous about Bunny’s outburst. Bunny explains he’s close to retirement and just doesn’t care.

Cutty sits on a stoop, watching a few young hoppers deal. Observing the process.

Ronnie wants to know if anyone has any more ideas now that the Drac angle has come up dry. McNulty suggests bugging a few corners. Daniels points out how weak and expensive the whole thing would be. It’s time to wrap things up. McNulty is not happy about this, revealing just how personal this is when he exclaims “We’re just gonna let that same son of a bitch [Stringer] beat me again?” McNulty is obsessed with Stringer, but that doesn’t mean he’s wrong. Stringer is the big fish in the pond here, but McNulty has once again offended his co-workers with his outbursts.

Cutty approaches one of the lads, the one who runs the corner. He offers to sell his goods to the lad. The guy offers an even split on the drugs, Cutty haggles to a 60-40 split and is told to hand on his goods.

The Western District troops are debriefed, Bunny is planning to head out and ride the district for a while. He’s seeking a solution to the problem of bodies. As he heads out he finds Herc and Carver with another batch of young lads – this time charged with loitering and being ‘assholes’.

McNulty is alone in the Major Crimes Unit, the wire blurts into life and he pulls out one of the old boxes containing the case file from the Barksdales.

Bunny drives out in the streets, watching the people on the stoops. He’s marked as an officer quickly.

Prez arrives at the MCUO and sees McNulty flicking through the old file. His look is enough and it’s Caroline who vocalises to McNulty. McNulty claims that it’s important to look at what went before. History doomed to repeat itself. He lingers on a picture of D’Angelo before heading to the computer to look him up. Lights out as he leaves.

Cutty heads up the corner and goes to meet with the lad he made the deal with. It turns out that the stash was snatched up. Cutty asks if the boy has a number for the police report. He knows he’s being sold a story, but there’s little he can do as the boy produces a pistol and shoves it in his face.

Cutty crosses the road in front of Bunny. He rolls up next to a group of lads and one of them attempts to sell him some drugs. Bunny puts on his cap, almost incredulous that the lad couldn’t identify him from the police radio and uniform. The boy's friends mock him and Bunny drives off…

The Review:

Well compared to the previous two seasons the third one hops up with quite a lot in full swing. There's a wiretap up, the Major Crimes Unit is up and running and compared to the first episode of both previous seasons it's almost filled with events and movement. It's also considerably expanded it's cast, bringing the political side of policing more to the front by encompassing City Hall in it's scope. This means that we get to see more of Burrell and Rawls than previously and also we get to meet the politicians who influence and effectively control the pair (Rawls now being promoted to Deputy of Operations thanks to his slavish devotion to stats).

There's also new faces in the game at street level, Marlo and his crew provide a lot of new people to keep a track of - which can be difficult when they're not mentioned by name too often, there's also Dennis 'Cutty' Wise returning to the streets and Major Colvin as well. So it's impressive that the show manages to bring so many new characters onto the screen without losing it's focus. The Wire is a show with a lot of characters already, but it's almost bursting at the seams now.

Still, all of this hustle and bustle - especially around the MCU - isn't all progress and light. In fact, as things unfold we've seen that the promising looking investigation into Prop Joe and Stringer is struggling. They can't even get as far as Cheese Wagstaff, let alone Prop Joe. So they're around four (or more) rungs away from reaching the key players they need.

This is because the dealers have learnt from their previous experiences, once bitten, twice shy. And this is something I appreciate about The Wire's scope and characterisation. The "villains" (and I use that term loosely) learn and evolve, they're not one dimensional cut-outs who are a single step away from wearing a cape and twiddling their moustaches. They're rounded, understandable individuals - they're human - at least, the ones we get to know are, but that paints the rest in a strong light also.

Much like Homicide, the police in The Wire are driven by statistics. While "the wall" (the whiteboard where names of homicide victims go up) isn't front and centre in The Wire - the bodies and their linked statistics are. They had a growing focus the second season - the sheer quantity of names up in red from those Jane Does just dominated a lot of conversations involving Rawls and Landsman. But the third season has taken the scope and widened it further - across the city now the stats need to show a drop of 5% in crime rates and no more than 275 bodies for the rest of the year.

Which if you think about it is an incredible idea, policing is not normally an excercise in preventation - it's about solving after the fact. Especially when you're talking about murders, the only way to directly prevent crime is by increasing police presence, but no city has enough police for an act like that - in part because of the cost and in part because of "police state" fears from the public. So what's being asked is nothing short of impossible, as Colvin himself notes in the episode - you can reclassify crimes to fix the stats, but how do you make bodies disappear? You can't and shouldn't, because the problem isn't caused by the police force - it's caused by society.

And that's the kicker.


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