Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): The Wire - "The Hunt" (season 1, episode 11)

Thursday, July 12, 2018

The Wire - "The Hunt" (season 1, episode 11)


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 18, 2002/written by Joy Lusco, story by David Simon & Ed Burns; directed by Steve Shill): Greggs is alive, but in critical condition. A furious but contained Rawls quickly dominates the bustling scene, insisting that everyone not under the direct command of a homicide detective - Narcotics, DEA, state cops, and others - clear the location immediately. He also memorably chews out an agonized McNulty at the hospital, shortly after playing the audiotape of Greggs' last moments of consciousness. "You, McNulty, are a gaping asshole," he growls. "...But fuck if I'm going to stand here and say you did a single fucking thing to get a police shot. You did not do this, you fucking hear me? This is not on you." It's the memorable cap to a tour-de-force extended opening sequence, balances out the negative portrait of Rawls that The Wire has been delivering all season (though I suspect we'll tilt back soon enough).

Daniels' detail is forced to bust up the main stash house so the department can stage a photo op with lots of captured narcotics; with the police so busy this episode, the street perspective takes a back seat. What we do witness is a growing panic: Stringer in particular seems broken, while Little Man (Micaiah Jones) - the shooter - is now marked for death and Wee-Bey is shaken by his own role in the incident (the show finally unveils that infamous Wee-Bey reaction shot, as he realizes Greggs was a cop). The core of the gang scatters to the wind, fleeing to Philadelphia or hiding out locally until the storm blows over (if it's going to). Savino surrenders himself after McNulty pressures the Barksdale lawyer Maurice Levy (Michael Kostroff), but he cops only to a small charge of trying to defraud Orlando rather than to any role in the shooting. He'll get three years which is extremely frustrating to McNulty but there's an even more anxious question hovering in the background. Is this all he and the others who've invested so much in this operation are going to accomplish?

My Response:
Despite its clear preoccupation with drugs, The Wire has a particular fascination - indeed, it seems, a deep-seated affection - for the homicide unit. Obviously, the main character hails from that side of the police department and despite McNulty's temporary transfer, characters like Bunk and the cheerfully vulgar Detective Jay Landsman (Delaney Williams) continue to frequent the narratives. And Rawls looms over the action as a constant threatening presence, a belligerant boil ready to pop, even as "The Hunt" establishes him as a harbinger of no-nonsense focus and order. Simon, who not only created The Wire but inspired the earlier network classic Homicide: Life on the Street clearly relishes any opportunity to delve into this particular culture: the sharp, fast-talking suited middle-aged men in plastic gloves buzzing about a crime scene and organizing its chaotic detail into a narrative that makes sense. Episode 11 makes the most of this opportunity, ostensibly provided by Orlando's death but animated much more by the near-death of Greggs.

Indeed, as frustrated as they are by the tragedies they face, setbacks they experience, and compromises they're forced to make, there's a sense that the police are winning. Certainly the criminals are in defensive mode. But that sense isn't just dramatic; in a series carefully balanced between the worlds of the cops and the street, the police characters are really beginning to dominate as the climax approaches. That said, one of the most effective sequencees illustrates D'Angelo's growing anxiety as a sketchy Wee-Bey encourages him to enter a dark house - his certainty about his own imminent slaying is depicted with suffocating dread and unease (relieved, if not quite resolved, when it turns out Wee-Bey just wants someone to feed his fish). Despite his involvement of the death of two quasi-civilians (one by his own hand), the character remains one of the most sympathetic in the Barksdale organization, thanks to both the writing and Gilliard's excellent performance.

With just two episodes to go, I'm guessing that the following entry will include the climax of the season-long investigation, with the one after that tying up any loose ends (save, of course, those which will unwind at a more leisurely pace over the years). This leads me to wonder: will the climax be an anticlimax? Will Simon and his team, rather than satisfy the audience with the cathartic success of the ragtag detail, allow the project to peter out just as the police bureaucracy wants it to, resulting in a few indictments as well as a clean getaway for Avon (unless Omar makes a surprise return to take care of him on his own)? As a Sopranos fan at the time these episodes were airing, I recall my disappointment with that show's unwillingness to come to big conclusions, something the film buff in me desired but which an ongoing series isn't necessary able to deliver without putting itself out of business.

The Wire, with the potential for many different angles and narrative trajectories within a wider ensemble, could tease and withhold dramatic catharsis for a slightly different reason: to make a point about the way Baltimore city politics - and so much more - can't comply with those tidy frameworks.

I accidentally returned one of my Wire discs before I made any screenshots. As a result, I had to Google random images to use for  episode 9 through 11. When I get the disc back, I will replace these with my own chosen shots.

Next: "Cleaning Up" • Previous: "The Cost"

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