Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): The Wire - "Game Day" (season 1, episode 9)

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The Wire - "Game Day" (season 1, episode 9)


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 August 4, 2002/written by David H. Melnick & Shamit Choksey, story by David Simon & Ed Burns; directed by Milčo Mančevski): After several episodes in which The Wire's scope broadened, "Game Day" is tight and focused. The central event is a basketball game between Eastside and Westside, with the suit-clad Proposition Joe (Robert F. Chew) representing the east's Avon equivalent. The game - literal for once - provides Daniels' detail the opportunity to physically identify and follow Avon (who mocks their efforts, hiding his car between streets to lure Daniels out and then driving past the lieutenant while dramatically wagging his finger). This plot device also introduces Proposition Joe, who will help Omar out by the end of the episode, exchanging a stash of free drugs for information that lures Avon out of the strip club and nearly leads to his death (as Omar emerges from the shadows near the club, only Wee-Bey's out-of-the-blue intervention saves Avon).

The club is the locus of another subplot, as Freamon and Greggs pick up Shardene and find out she's as compliant and sensitive as they hoped. When they show her Keisha's body and describe how she was found - rolled up inside a rug in a dumpster - Shardene breaks, acknowledging she is D'Angelo's girlfriend and listening (but not yet, it seems, agreeing) to the detectives' request for collaboration. She bonds with Freamon, admiring his dollhouse furniture and even keeping one of the pieces (of a little baby), a sentimental gesture that may hurt her if anyone who has been inside the detail's cavern spots the connection. Herc and Carver, meanwhile, seize another bag of cash, leading Daniels to suspect they're holding out (Herc considered this option at one point, but the missing cash was actually lost inside the trunk of their car). All of the cops' action takes place close to the street; there are no scenes at the police headquarters and interdepartmental drama is mostly offscreen.

Indeed, Bubbles' storyline is the only one to exist entirely outside of the Barksdale investigation or Omar's quest for vengeance. After literally fishing a baggie of heroin (actually baking soda) for himself and Johnny, Bubbles begins to crack. He's already seen Walon down in the pit watching over for a family member and his NA vow is looking more and more enticing. So finally the scraggly user shows up at his skeptical sister's (Eisa Davis') door. She allows him to stay in her basement and try to go clean. Along with D'Angelo, Shardene, and Wallace (who is looking toward drugs rather than away from them), Bubbles is considering a way out of his current life. Some of these characters will undoubtedly be more successful than others but at least Bubbles has a potential mentor in Walon, someone who could actually have his own best interests at heart. I'm not sure we can say that about the others.

My Response:
I enjoyed the organization of episode 9, which was a bit closer to the big event/standalone model I initially expected back in episode 4. "Game Day" quite effectively showcases the tensions between Avon and, on one side, the police detail and, on the other, Omar. He wins the first battle of wits (amused rather than alarmed by his pursuers) but very nearly loses the second. On a show defined from the outset by two worlds, it makes sense that arguably the most successful character up to this point (Omar) can step into - and out of - both. Elsewhere "Game Day" emphasizes the gap between those worlds with one unforgettable image: Avon's slo-mo scolding of Daniels. Mančevski builds up to this brief interaction as if it's going to be a drive-by; of course, the only thing assassinated is the officer's pride. As recently noted, The Wire occasionally comes in for grumbling aesthetic criticism from cinephiles frustrated by the limitations even of prestige TV. The style can seem too functional at times. Nonetheless, the series features a number of iconic shots; only recently did I realize one of Twitter's most ubiquitous GIFs - a surprised man reacting as the camera glides past him - is actually an as-yet-unseen reaction shot of The Wire's own Wee-Bey.

The Shardene material is also strong. In a show full of selfish manipulators, including many of the ostensible heroes, she and Wallace are among the most vulnerable individuals. Her chemistry with Freamon is poignant, but this almost paternal bond only makes me suspect that things aren't going to end well for her character. D'Angelo's role in all of this is an aspect I'm particularly interested in - what happens if and when he finds out his (now ex-?) girlfriend is talking to the police? Aside from just sympathy for her character, I'm hoping that she isn't merely tossed off as a casualty of "the game," a convenient example of how ruthless it can be. There were several similar storylines in another HBO show of the same time, and while they worked in The Sopranos, at this point it would feel like a trope - even for a sixteen-year-old show.

(images updated on 7/22)

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