The Wire (Season 1, Episode 11): The Hunt – Warning: Contains Spoilers


“There’s a cynical bent to the political implications of the story. But as far as the story itself and the characters, I love these characters. I love the quote-end-quote bad guys, I love the quote-end-quote good guys. I love them for their flaws. I love them for their humour and their wit, for their ability to endure. I like to think of the show–and The Corner as well, and Homicide–as these humanist celebrations. They’re very much a celebration of the human spirit under pressure.”

Simon’s sentiments encapsulate one of the foremost reasons for the show’s enduring appeal. Regardless of their respective moral codes, characters such as McNulty, The Bunk and Stringer are ones which most viewers will grow to care about deeply.

“The Hunt” provides a series of intriguing insights into one of the most complex and fascinating relationships of the entire series – the unique dynamics perpetuated whenever Rawls and McNulty come into contact.

Up until this episode, Rawls comes across as one of the very few characters who seem to have no redeeming features whatsoever. He is an incredibly coarse and unsympathetic man who is largely concerned with preserving the dignity of the institution which he serves – an ideal which constantly comes at the expense of moral dignity.

However, Rawls reveals his compassionate side whilst consoling McNulty, who is utterly traumatised following Kima’s shooting. The scene in question contains the type of bravura dialogue for which The Wire is renowned. Its ingenuity lies in the fact that although Rawls is – for the first time ever in the series – showing due respect to the inconsolable McNulty (as opposed to lambasting him for his latest mishap), he perseveres in speaking to him in the manner that he normally would.

Rawls’ empathetic words are thus infused with his hilarious and inimitable brand of profanity which, Simon justifiably argues, contains a certain degree of poetry. In the course of delivering this speech, he assures McNulty that he should in no way accept any blame for what happened to Kima.

But rarely has cajolement been undercut with such thinly veiled contempt: “You, McNulty, are a gaping asshole,” he says. “We both know this. F*ck if everybody in CID doesn’t know it. But f*ck if I’m gonna stand here and say you did a single f*cking thing to get a police shot. You did not do this, you f*cking hear me? This is not on you.”

 Needless to say, any other TV show would not elect to let such an overtly virulent character act in this admirable manner. But this scene in many ways illuminates the crux of Rawls’ character. He is someone who has spent so long managing the type of heart-wrenching cases which police work often involves that he has become inherently cynical and virtually deadened emotionally.

Rawls is someone who is almost impervious to feeling. Consequently, he delivers his highly sensitive and understanding treatment of McNulty without being able to refrain from employing his customary caustic wit. His tendency to repress emotion is of course exacerbated by the later revelation that he is a closeted homosexual.

It is only natural that Rawls consistently clashes with McNulty, given that he conforms to his polar opposite in personality type. McNulty’s proclivity for wearing his heart on his sleeve is also emphasised during this episode – whether he is demonstrating his lack of respect for conniving, self-serving lawyers such as Maurice Levy, or drinking excessively while on duty, McNulty’s self-destructive, painfully human persona is rarely evinced more explicitly.

What’s also interesting is that McNulty never really attains complete respite from his inveterate alcoholism. In inferior shows, characters would either learn the error of their ways, or they would be punished for their weakness. McNulty merely continues to drink with abandon over the course of the five seasons, suffering from the demons which police work tends to elicit in him.

Yet, in conjunction with the aforementioned Simon quote, the viewer never ceases to care about the vulnerable McNulty, despite his infuriating failure to learn from his mistakes. There are several instances in “The Hunt” where he is either apoplectic or considerably depressed looking.

What’s being conveyed is the idea that McNulty is essentially too sensitive and emotional to be an entirely effective police officer, lacking the mental strength of a character such as Daniels. Therefore, he is unable to emotionally withstand the recurrent set backs and injustices that dominate police work. Yet his relentless drive and naive determination to somehow alleviate all of these ills are the facets which make him so ultimately compelling and engaging a character, so emblematic of “the human spirit under pressure”.

Random Facts:

  1. The actor who played commissioner Warren Frazier (Dick Stillwell) tragically died in a car accident soon after this episode was shot.
  2. This episode is the sixth time that McNulty is shown drunk.
  3. In David Simon’s original plans for the show, McNulty was called McArdle and Avon Barksdale was referred to as Aaron Barksdale, while Stringer Bell was known as Stringy Belly.
  4.  Furthermore, in the show’s original script, Simon actually planned to kill off Kima towards the end of season 1.
  5. Some have criticised the portrayal of Maurice Levy – the corrupt lawyer who features prominently in this episode – as anti-Semitic, given his overt Jewishness. Nonetheless, David Simon (who incidentally also happens to be Jewish) has defended the character, claiming that during his 13 years covering the drug trade as a reporter: “most of major drug lawyers were Jewish”.

Best Quote: “Little Man gotta go.” Stringer demonstrates his sheer ruthlessness when dealing with subordinates who have acted erroneously.  

Best Scene: Cheryl spots the mark left from the felt tip pen with which Kima accidentally smeared their couch and subsequently breaks down. The relevance of the scene in question from a few episodes back is thus placed in a new context, elegantly expressing how even the smallest details remind Cheryl of her comatose lover. Consequently, the shows’ intelligent plotting is once again accentuated.

New Characters: None

WTF Moment: Wee-Bey solemnly ordering D’Angelo to take care of his fish while he travels to Philadelphia.