The Wire (Season 2, Episode 1): Ebb Tide – Warning: Contains Spoilers


“You know, sometimes people in West Baltimore say to me, about Season 2, “We know you tried to take our show white, but it didn’t work—then you came back to us.” And I have to say, “Dawg, no. The second season was the most watched season.” A lack of audience is not why we left it behind.”

Simon’s comments on season 2 of The Wire are telling in the sense that they once again reaffirm his utter disinterest in its viewership figures. Serving the purpose of the story was always his primary concern – a supposition that is confirmed by the consistent and prolonged nature of its vast storylines – narratives which often recur throughout the sixty episodes.

However, fans could be forgiven for being slightly taken aback by the early developments in the second season. Everything has changed rather drastically – most notably the version of the theme tune, which is now sung by Tom Waits.

Nonetheless just as the theme tune is the same song performed by a different musician in each season, the themes which dominated season 1 remain unmistakably prevalent thereafter, notwithstanding the array of new characters that suddenly feature.

The institutional corruption that characterises the police department is again underlined. In one of the very first scenes, Valchek assures his cousin – the virtuous but unerringly incompetent Officer Pryzbylewski – that he will secure the job of sergeant imminently “so long as he keeps his mouth shut”.

Prez, growing more dignified and admirable by the episode, rejects Valchek’s tempting offer, expressing a desire to engage purely in “working cases”. In other words, Prez is an anomaly in the world of Baltimore. Basically, he is someone who primarily pursues his passions; as opposed to simply being concerned with self-preservation and ascending the ranks of the institution – like most other characters in the show.

Prez’s situation also coincides to some extent (just like the circumstances facing D’Angelo and McNulty were ingeniously congruent in season one) with the scenario facing the dock worker Ziggy. As is the case with Prez, Ziggy is prone to idiocy. Moreover, his numerous inadequacies are also tolerated largely on account of nepotism.

The scene in which Ziggy is introduced illustrates how he is often indulged by others, because of his superior social standing. After committing one of his soon-to-be characteristic misdemeanours, Frank Sobotka lambasts Ziggy: “Don’t you ever come back, you hear me Ziggy. You’re fired!” When an onlooker expresses surprise at Ziggy’s apathy upon receiving this news, a fellow dock-worker explains the situation to him: “He ain’t fired man, that’s his father.” Unlike Prez though, Ziggy is more or less devoid of redeeming features.

Therefore, in the very first scene involving Ziggy, his essence is exquisitely captured. He is utterly feckless, presumably due to the fact that he has never struggled to earn a living. Everything has been handed to him by his father and thus, he evidently fails to appreciate such good fortune. He is the archetypal derisory figure of classic tragedy, á la Frado in The Godfather, whose lackadaisical and vacuous nature ultimately proves their undoing.

Yet the foremost purpose of Ziggy’s introductory scene is not to summarise his character, or even to underscore the parallels which exist between himself and Prez – though these factors are still important elements of what is being conveyed. The scene serves mainly to accentuate The Wire’s predominant underlying theme – the inherent corruption of all institutions.

Just like the Police Department ignores Prez’s considerable flaws on account of the whims of one self-serving individual (Valchek), the dock is continually plighted by Ziggy’s perpetual mishaps owing to his father’s tireless persistence with him. Consequently, just as he has shown with the Police Department – and as he will demonstrate with the schools, the newspapers and the political system – Simon portrays the docks in unflinchingly unfavourable light, constantly avowing the fraudulence of its machinations.

Simon also elucidates this aforementioned point when he states, in relation to the show’s writers, how: “In our heads we’re writing a Greek tragedy, but instead of the gods being petulant and jealous Olympians hurling lightning bolts down at our protagonists, it’s the postmodern institutions that are the gods. And they are gods. And no one is bigger.”

Hence in season 2 of The Wire, the more things change; the more they stay the same.


Random Facts:

  1. This is the first episode where William Rawls is referred to as a colonel.
  2. The song playing during the bar scene is “Sixteen Tons” by The Nighthawks.
  3. Along with retaining its principal cast from season 1, the first episode of season 2 introduces the viewer to a total of 26 new characters. No wonder some people complained that it was difficult to keep up with the show’s proceedings.
  4. The title of the episode, “Ebb Tide”, places an emphasis on how the fortunes of many of the programme’s characters – such as Kima and McNulty – have hit a low point.
  5.  The episode features the fourteenth occasion in which a murder, or in this case a series of murders, takes place.

Best Quote: A fellow officer asks McNulty: “Guess who I found puking his guts out this morning?” McNulty immediately responds: “Bunk Moreland!” The officer thus inquires how he managed to guess correctly. For long-term viewers of The Wire, the answer to the officer’s query needs no explanation.

Best Scene: The final scene when Beadie discovers the array of dead female bodies, before attracting the attentions of others. The show again unveils its cinematic qualities, as the scene is developed mainly through images and in particular, close-ups of various characters’ expressions, thereby eliminating the need for much dialogue. The acting, needless to say at this stage, is supremely consummate from all concerned.

New Characters: Far too many to mention, but Beadie, the Sobotkas and the Greek are among the most important ones.

WTF Moment: Amidst a rowdy, packed bar, the female bartender warns a drunken Ziggy: “You’re not taking your dick out here again.” Much to her (and the viewer’s) dismay, he ignores this reasonable request.