Lost in the Movies: The Wire - "The Cost" (season 1, episode 10)

The Wire - "The Cost" (season 1, episode 10)

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 11, 2002/written by David Simon, story by David Simon & Ed Burns; directed by Brad Anderson): Despite Avon's beating and warning a few episodes ago, Orlando carries on with his planned score. But as he gets into the car and exchanges cash for cocaine, something is off. Is Orlando about to be robbed? Is the product he's receiving far worse than expected? Was this a fatal set-up by Avon to test his loyalty? None of the above, as it turns out, though the long-term consequences of this indiscretion will be dire, and widespread. The dealer, Troy Wiggins (Neko Parham), is an undercover state cop. Orlando lands in jail and quickly snitches on Avon, leading Wiggins to the Daniels detail and his old friend and colleague Greggs. It's unclear how much Orlando can really provide the investigation - they've just achieved more important progress in determining the location of the quiet stash house in the suburbs that supplies the low-rises and high-rises in the inner city. However, an impatient Burrell pressures the reluctant detectives to conduct a buy bust. Greggs will go undercover as one of Orlando's squeezes, ostensibly fronting half the money for a major purchase that could expose a higher-up in the organization.

Orlando is one of a growing web of informants in The Wire. This episode alone is thick with them. Wallace is picked up and McNulty easily flips him on Stringer and Wee-Bey, although the boy is hesitant to say anything bad about D'Angelo (outright denying his culpability for the Deidre Kresson case). Daniels drives Wallace, undergoing withdrawal, out to a relative in the countryside where the city kid is perplexed by the sound of crickets. Omar is also going away (to New York City), having established a fragile truce with the Barksdale crew. He wears a wire for a very public parlay in a mall with Stringer (who won't acknowledge his boss' name) and flees after his demand for $5,000 is accepted - at that point he knows they're just trying to lure him into being killed. Shardene attempts to spy for Freamon (in a sly moment after she ignores D'Angelo, he kicks over a stool and a pigeon flies across the screen). And a newly sober Bubbles asks for help from Greggs. The wry detective jokes that a clean informant isn't much use to her but agrees to get him some money.

As it turns out, Bubbles is one of many who will feel the aftermath of what happens that night. The set-up collapes when Avon's enforcer Savino Bartton (Chris Clanton) drives Orlando and Greggs to an unexpected area of town. They are left alone in the parked car and then sprayed with gunfire. By the time Greggs' desperate peers reach the crime scene, Orlando is long dead and a bloodied Greggs is dragged from the car, with McNulty trying to resuscitate her limp body amidst the ensuing chaos.

My Response:
When I saw that this episode was called "The Cost" and the highlighted picture on the DVD was of Shardene I wondered if the worries expressed at the end of my last review were about to come true. What I didn't suspect - although in retrospect, several scenes in this episode point towards it - was that Greggs would be the one paying the price. I'm not sure yet if she's dead although her situation really doesn't look good in the closing moments. Either way, this is a crucial turning point for the series. What still looked like a game, however high-stakes, is now an all-out war. And it's a war being fought between two diametrically opposed groups rather than a messy feud between overlapping forces, especially with Omar out of the picture (whatever he is to become in The Wire, his role so far has been that of the mid-season stopgap, sustaining a stretch of episodes so that the serialized narrative can delay its conclusion).

It's also hard to think of a character whose death (or - doubtful - removal as she recovers) could be more jarring for the ecosystem of the police (and informant) side of this war. Greggs was admired by everyone: the dour lieutenant, the rogue homicide detective, the immature narcotics squad, the turncoat hustlers. And despite its occasional emphasis on her violence, hers has been one of the show's more sympathetic portraits of a dutiful cop. The anxiety of the police cars racing toward the scene with sirens blaring, of her team panicking and freaking out as they see her condition, provies one of the most visceral life-and-death moments in the series so far. There's a sense that the investigation is coming out into the open now, no longer a matter of stealth maneuvers behind rooftop walls and tinted windows but rather the blunt use of brute force to annihilate an enemy.

Of course, if anything, the operation should go hard in the other direction: as McNulty has repeatedly observed, they will only acquire the evidence they need through patient application of audio surveillance. But the department, which never wanted this investigation in the first place, now has a very public disaster on its hands and it's hard to imagine them handling it with discretion. My guess is they'll want a big show, loading up on arrests with a lot of heat on the streets. They'll want someone to pay but won't particularly care if his name is Barksdale. Those closest to Greggs, on the other hand, are most likely to want the opposite.

(images added on 7/22)

Next: "The Hunt"Previous: "Game Day"


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