“The Wire”: React Quotes

Posted by SH

Scott Templeton’s dilemma is laid out beautifully by a walk-on character, the guy who runs the homeless facility where Bubbles is still washing dishes. The newsman with Stephen Glass tendencies is on assignment to get reaction quotes from homeless men over the apparent serial killer stalking them on the streets of Baltimore. Only most of the men he talked to aren’t really homeless. They’re working poor. “That reporter the Baltimore Sun sent over,” the guy tells a nonresponsive Bubbles (more on that later). “Not exactly Bob Woodward.”

No, but he might make a good Elmore Leonard. Templeton proceeds to make up more quotes, this time at least attributing them to a real person, albeit a deranged homeless man who presumably won’t challenge their authenticity.

Templeton meets his match, though, when he tags along with Alma to a meeting with McNulty to discuss the serial killer. Much as I’ve come to loathe Templeton, seeing him with McNulty — both of them obviously aroused (probably literally as well as figuratively) at the notoriety their lies past, present and future will create — tempered my feelings a bit. Or maybe it just dragged McNulty down to the same level. The difference before was in their motivations. McNulty had his eye on the greater good, exploiting the public’s obsession with sensational crime to gain funding for big-time investigations, while Templeton was all about career advancement. But really, they’re both all about ambition. And I fear McNulty is going to drag a good man like Lester down with him. Templeton’s fall will be bad for the paper — OK, Gus may take a hit, too — but the only career ruined will be his own.

Damn the future, though, this game of liar’s poker was above all hilarious. When vague descriptions of sexual compulsion weren’t sexy enough for the reporters (Alma was curiously quiet during the encounter), the resourceful McNulty played the bite-marks card. You could see the gleam in Templeton’s eyes. Or maybe that was just McNulty’s eyes being reflected.

Meanwhile, some real police work was going on, by a former cop. Herc nosed his way into Levy’s Rolodex to fish out Marlo’s cell phone number. He promptly fed it to Carver, who gave it to a lustful Lester. That led to a nice moment of Lester confirming the number, breaking into a Richard Pryor-esque impersonation of street slang, asking if he’d reached a place where he could order chicken.

But Daniels didn’t bite on the cell phone lead leading to further speculation that he’s developing the same water-carrying ways of his predecessors. But here’s where Templeton’s chicanery comes in handy. He fakes a phone call from a pay phone to his cell, saying the serial killer has contacted him. Needless to say, this amuses the hell out of McNulty, who plays along beautifully during a sit-down with the editors at the paper. While he can’t resist probing Templeton’s story, he knows not to blow a hole in something that could benefit him. What do you think? Was that smirk in reaction to how McNulty knew he could spin this to his advantage, or in realizing that Templeton is full of BS? The upshot is, McNulty is granted a wiretap for the serial killer case, which he and Lester plan to use to get Marlo.

Meanwhile, Clay Davis muttered the longest-drawn out expletive in TV history while the powers that be were trying to persuade him to go quietly, like Burrell did. Nah. Davis is out defending his good name on the radio and on the steps of the courthouse, where a not-so-friendly chat with the former mayor tells him he better not give up the fight. This is all good for a few jabs at the political system, but it’s hard to feel that much is at stake here. The councilwoman laid it out pretty well: Davis may do a year in a minimum-security day camp, then be back in the system to his old tricks. Yawn.

Bubbles was afraid to take an AIDS test — though that term is never used; it’s just called “the bug” — so he enlists Walon to help him. Steve Earle’s sensitive performance is nice, but it in no way makes up for his butchering of the theme song each week. Bubbles’ test comes back negative, which seems to disappoint him. Talk about the ultimate in self-punishment. Sober or not, when you’re bummed out that you don’t have AIDS, you’re not in a good place. Hang in there, Bubs.

That wasn’t the saddest stuff the episode had to offer, though. That would be the further unraveling of McNulty’s personal life, and his unwillingness to do anything about it. Beadie tells Bunk she’s ready to kick the bum out, while McNulty’s ex tells him he’s ruining his life … again. Just as heartbreaking is McNulty’s attempt to reconnect with his kids, who pay as much attention to him as they would a gnat. A hopelessly uncool gnat, at that. The old fogy even has the gall to wonder why his kids don’t listen to the Ramones. While this kind of stuff is usually played for generation-gap laughs, here it’s just further evidence of how removed from reality McNulty is becoming.