Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): The Wire - "The Detail" (season 1, episode 2)

Sunday, July 1, 2018

The Wire - "The Detail" (season 1, episode 2)


Welcome to my viewing diary for The Wire. Every day, except Saturday, I will offer a short review of another episode until I finish the first season. I have never seen this series before so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (aired on June 9, 2002/written by David Simon, story by David Simon & Ed Burns; directed by Clark Johnson): The whole crew assembles...and it isn't pretty. When Lt. Daniels gathers his detail together in the bleak basement room of some peripheral police-owned building (a solitary phone hilariously rings in the middle of the floor), he is surrounded by embarassments. Augustus Polk (Nat Benchley) and Patrick Mahon (Tom Quinn) are washed-up detectives known more for their boozing than their policing. Lester Freamon (Clarke Peters) is an anonymous veteran whose beat is more typically pawn shops than drug dens. And "Prez" (Jim True-Frost), well...what can't you say about the gawky, inordinately-too-confident Roland Pryzbyelewski? You certainly can't say he's good at job. Nor could you claim he knows his own limitations. We first get acquainted with Prez when he accidentally discharges his weapon in the cavernous cellar HQ, and we soon learn that he was nearly fired for shooting at his own car (family connections keep him working in the department, even as various officers try to pass him off onto other ones).

By the end of the episode, Prez has done much worse than that: encouraging a raid that had no reason to occur, beating the teenage Kevin Johnston (Jimmie Jelani Manners) until he's blinded in one eye, and provoking an attack on the police that makes headlines the following morning. The detective is an absolute disaster, although Herc and Ellis are no help either, enthusiastically accompanying him on his mission of brutalization. This is the central thread of "The Detail", but there are other important elements too. McNulty discovers the murdered witness, and manipulates his favorite/least favorite judge to pressure Baltimore PD into allowing him to investigate. Greggs leads a clever undercover op, utilizing Reginald "Bubbles"Cousins (Andre Royo) to identify leading members of the Barksdale gang. And D'Angelo gets played by the cops when they claim to show him a picture of dead witness Gant's kids (Moreland later chuckles, "those were my kids") and cajole him into writing a sympathy letter that stops just this side of being a confession. D'Angelo also takes his girlfriend Donette (Shamyl Brown) to meet his uncle Avon (Wood Harris), the leader of the entire crime syndicate, looking entirely innocuous as he hosts a family gathering for the neighborhood.

My Response:
"The Detail" offers a fascinating look - more than the first episode - at the ways in which the police are not merely indifferent to the public good, but actively hostile to it. Prez, Herc, and Ellis are bad enough, with their provocation of the projects. But perhaps worse is when Daniels, disgusted with their behavior, fully cognizant of the weight of what his underlings have done, advises them to sharpen their excuses and ensure that they're not held accountable for their brutal assault on an adolescent. Later we see Daniels and his wife Marla (Maria Bloom) eating dinner, discussing the situation in flustered but polite terms. For all of his frustrations with his team, Daniels ultimately takes their side to protect his own job in a highly politicized department. It is also pertinent that Daniels is black, like most of the victims of this police harassment and unlike two of its three perpetrators (including Herc, the one most responsible for it). We also see that he isn't so much blind to racism as he is hyper-aware of it: the explicit racism of his superiors (who casually drop the "n" word in the pilot), the casual racism of some of his underlings, and his own precarious place within this hierarchy. None of this has really come to the forefront yet, but I suspect it will. "You cannot lose if you do not play," Marla tells him in a statement that also appears as the epigraph for the episode, whose many implications remain to be unraveled.

Meanwhile, we seem to spend more time with the police than the dealers in this second episode, though there are certainly some memorable scenes in the projects. The "chicken nuggets" exchange is apparently one of the most celebrated moments in the series, as D'Angelo mocks a couple kids praising the inventor of that prized fast food item, telling them that there was no glory for this anonymous innovator - someone else made all the money off his brainstorm, and he's probably sweating away in a McDonald's kitchen somewhere, unappreciated. It's an amusingly cynical read, perhaps revealing of D'Angelo's own chip on his shoulder. It's one of the kids' stubborn response, though, that seals the deal and renders the exchange a classic: "He still had the idea though." That's Wallace, played by a very young (about fourteen years old) Michael B. Jordan, by the way. I also forgot to mention an actor I recognized in the previous entry: the white junkie who winds up in the hospital was Leo Fitzpatrick, who played Telly in Kids; you can almost imagine Telly moving to Baltimore in later years and ending up as this pathetic individual, in deep decline from the boastful brat in that film. With both actors these moments of recognition took a while to arrive but delighted me when they did. They also come as something of a shock because the world of The Wire feels so engrossing that it's hard to imagine these actors being anyone other than these characters.

Next: "The Buys" • Previous: "The Target"

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