“The Wire”: The Dickensian Aspect

Posted by SH

It is the best of times, it is the worst of times for many of Baltimore’s players.

For Marlo’s gang, they got the drop on Omar, repelling his assassination attempt and forcing him to leap several stories to escape. The trouble for them is, he did escape, and now he’s making life hell for the drug king, burning his cash supplies and wounding his minions all over town. Marlo, too, is feeling good after asserting control over a meeting of the city’s drug dealers — even upping the price of a brick — but he knows Omar is still a problem, and that he missed a golden opportunity to get rid of him.

For Carcetti, he’s getting a major renovation of the waterfront under way, but his ribbon-cutting ceremony is crashed by some angry, disgruntled dockworkers led by Nick Sobotka (yes!) who shout obscenities and curse the upcoming yuppie-condo takeover of their beloved docks. More good news/bad news for the mayor: The national media is in town, but it’s to cover the homeless serial killings. Like any savvy politician, though, it looks like he’ll end up making it a positive, after delivering an impassioned speech to the likes of CNN, MSNBC (Was the Fox News microphone missing? Hmmmm) about the plight of the homeless and how it’s his job to protect them. His advisers say this is an issue he could ride to the governor’s mansion.

The man who gave him those murders is also on cloud nine. McNulty is so sure that he’s about to get unlimited resources to follow his faux killer that he starts boasting about how he’s going to spend them. You need a couple of detectives, Bunk, to work that 22-body case? No problem! Hey, Lester, you need some more surveillance teams? They’re yours!

Only the windfall isn’t quite what he expected. I have a little trouble with this development, since we’re told (and shown) that the case is top priority for the crime lab, and that any report of a homeless corpse brings significant police response. How is it that the department leaves the actual casework to McNulty and one other detective of his choosing? It seems a strange bit of contrivance for a show not known for it.

Lester is also riding high, because of the expected help coming from McNulty, and because he was able to bring Sydnor on board his illegal wiretap (though he told him nothing about the fake serial killer). But the wiretap is useless after Lester discovers Marlo & Co. aren’t talking business on the cell phones. Instead, they’re sending pictures. That requires a whole other technology — not to mention paperwork for the bureaucrats — that McNulty can’t begin to come up with. Their solution involves a complicated scheme using a random, obviously feeble homeless man and portraying him as the next victim. McNulty and Lester begin to wonder if they’ve gone too far, and we are uncertain by episode’s end if McNulty has the heart to go through with it. OK, he probably does, but at least he feels bad about it.

Still unburdened by his conscience is our intrepid reporter Scott Templeton, whose front-page account of his “conversation” with the serial killer makes him the darling of the newsroom and fodder for the national news channels. Seeing him gab about the nobility of journalism with Nancy Grace, who called him the Jimmy Breslin of Baltimore, was a highlight for me. Makes me wonder if Nancy had access to the whole script before she agreed to the cameo.

All editors not named Gus love their new golden boy, and ask Scott what he’s going to do for them next, a question his alarmingly blank face indicates he hadn’t thought of at all. Like, ever. B.S. artist that he is, though, he comes up with the idea of doing an overnight stay with the homeless, to see how they’re holding up with a fake serial killer on the loose. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed harder during the show’s history than when he pulled up to a homeless camp wearing his dorky Kansas City Star T-shirt. Man, what a tool.

Unbelievably, he comes out of it with an honest-to-goodness story, talking to an Iraq War vet for whom life has gone terribly wrong. Gus loves the story, praising Scott for not having overwritten it. For Gus, those dots gotta be getting closer together, especially after a complaint comes in from a past Scott story where he made stuff up. Unfazed, Scott makes up some more stuff to get out of it.

The thread of decency through it all is Bunk, who’s busy with his real police work. While he goes after the 22-murder case with a renewed enthusiasm for his profession, that’s quickly beat out of him by continuous dead ends and systematic incompetence. The lab is way behind on his DNA work, and they mislabeled the stuff they did complete. When he finally talks his way into some help, the tech assures him he’ll put it at the top of his list … right after McNulty’s serial killer.