Lost in the Movies: The Wire - "The Pager" (season 1, episode 5)

The Wire - "The Pager" (season 1, episode 5)

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 30, 2002/written by Ed Burns, story by David Simon & Ed Burns; directed by Clark Johnson): Prez - of all people - cracks the pager code, which involves diagonal/cross-numbers on pay phone keypads. Nonetheless, even if they can now recognize the numbers calling in, the cops still can't hear the actual messages. Freamon stresses this point: without wiretaps on the payphones they're not going to get anywhere. Indeed, as the episode ends Brandon is about to get hit (Bailey already has been) and the police have no way of knowing, even as the computers dutifully log every number and call time. Meanwhile, with Avon's crew taking down the thieves one by one, Omar's position becomes more untenable. Brandon's death in particular is going to sting - he's not just a partner but a lover. How will Omar react? Earlier in the episode, we see McNulty and Greggs gently confront Omar, trying to woo him into becoming a snitch, but he declines as a point of honor - although he drops the name of the witness' killer from the first episode, so that honor may not extend so far. Now that his back's against the wall and he's been hit in a personal way, will he change his mind even further? Since he's not directly part of the drug business, I've wondered what Omar's role would be. Perhaps this will be it: someone not only on the street, but also the police side. While Omar considers his options, Carver and Herc arrest Bodie, beating, threatening, and attempting to bribe him to no avail. By the end of the night, they're all playing pool - they mock the prisoner for thinking he could hustle them...but in a way he already has, hasn't he?

My Response:
I was curious to see how Bodie's escape from juvie, McNulty's and Bunk's cracking of the Deidre Kresson case (which leads them to Avon's stripclub in this episode), and D'Angelo's reckless admission of murder would all intersect. Now I have an idea - perhaps Bodie's arrest will snitchjacket him once the police pursue the murder case on D'Angelo. In a tragic irony, Bodie's refusal to turn on his employers won't even matter; it will seem obvious that he's the one who put the cops onto this obscure case (who could believe the far more miraculous truth?). Omar's life may hinge on the same question in an opposite direction. It's certainly no coincidence that he meets with McNulty and Greggs in a cemetery. Even knowing very little about the show, it's clear that Omar is a figure of some importance. But the Barksdale gang threatens this importance as they move in on him. A decision has to be made; either he strikes back on his own or he sides with the only institution that can stand up to the forces trying to snuff him out. This is no small decision; it may be a "game" but even those on the perpetually losing end don't feel comfortable bending its rules. This is clear when Bubbles visits Johnny in a hospice center, discovering that the recovering young man is in Narcotics Anonymous, has HIV, and, when he gets out, still wants to score. But the patient/prisoner seems disturbed when Bubbles reveals he's a snitch, despite the claim to be doing it to avenge Johnny. "I'm not working for the police," Bubbles claims, "They're working with me." But even someone as low on the totem pole as Johnny knows that's not exactly how it works.

Next: "The Wire" • Previous: "Old Cases"


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