The Wire (Season 2, Episode 2): Collateral Damage – Warning: Contains Spoilers

“It’s one thing to recognize capitalism for the powerful economic tool it is and to acknowledge that, for better or for worse, we’re stuck with it and, hey, thank God we have it. There’s not a lot else that can produce mass wealth with the dexterity that capitalism can. But to mistake it for a social framework is an incredible intellectual corruption and it’s one that the West has accepted as a given since 1980 – since Reagan.”

The corruption to which David Simon refers permeates practically every scene of “Collateral Damage”. It is corruption which is evident in numerous forms, from an emotional standpoint to an institutional one. Officer Valchek, in particular, has a tendency to exhibit a strong level of moral ambiguity.

In one scene, Valchek and Frank Sobotka engage in verbal joust. Sobotka clearly triumphs in this heated exchange. He is angry at Valchek for impinging on his territory following the discovery of thirteen dead bodies in the docks.

Sobotka thus lambasts Valchek, affirming: “My old man always said you were a half-ass punk over at Holy-Redeemer as a kid. And my sister said you were a pain in the ass pest at all those CYO dances where none of the girls would even look at you… And sure enough you’ve been an official asshole every day since.”

Sobotka has made his argument with Valchek personal. And since it is Valchek who has the law on his side, there is bound to be only one winner. In a scene shortly thereafter, Valchek is shown instructing his men to go after Sobotka and “all his associates”. When asked for an explanation as to why he seeks to pursue this avenue, Valchek responds by admitting it is merely because he considers Sobotka to be “an asshole”. The scene illustrates Valchek’s distinct lack of professionalism. Yet given his prominence in the department, the officers obey this decision without protest.

The episode constitutes a stark example of why the show merits its bleak reputation. The sheer cynicism which greets the deaths of the thirteen women is palpable. In contrast with the clear shock that the inexperienced Beadie shows upon witnessing the deaths, one of her seasoned fellow officers drolly informs her: “All you’ve got here, Officer Russell, is a lot of paperwork.”

Similarly, the theme of such an overwhelming loss of human life being secondary to a character’s individual concerns is demonstrated by Sobotka’s reaction to the fatalities. “On my docks, this happened!” he shouts at the Greek, who apologises to him for this “mistake”. In other words, Sobotka only considers how the incident is detrimental to him personally. The fact that several young women have died is incidental.

Rawls’ reaction more or less mirrors Sobotka’s. His primary concern is where the actual deaths took place, showing little sensitivity for other details. He tries to claim they occurred outside the jurisdiction of Baltimore city, as they ostensibly happened at sea. Rawls only displays any hint of emotion when it is proven that the incident did indeed take place in his vicinity, thereby leaving him responsible for the ensuing investigation and ensuring an ample amount of paperwork must be taken care of.

Even McNulty, the show’s supposed hero, engages in some rather disreputable behavior. While viewers will at this stage be familiar with his incessant drinking and proclivity to ignore “the chain of command”, his treatment of Rhonda constitutes a new low.

After drunkenly spending the night with her, Rhonda inquires about the status of their relationship the following morning. McNulty responds by revealing that he is planning a reunion with his estranged wife. A shocked Rhonda dashes out of the room as a look of intense sadness permeates her features. McNulty, unaware of her pain and purely focused on alleviating his hangover, casually shouts: “You got any aspirin?”

Ironically, given his many personal failings and his tendency to engage in callous behavior –especially in his relationships with women – McNulty is one of the characters most impervious to institutional (if not personal) corruption. Thus, it is on such paradoxes that the show’s greatness lies.  

Random Facts:

  1. This episode suffered a 21% reduction in viewership figures from the season premiere.
  2. It is the first episode which focuses on Ervin Borrell’s promotion to acting commissioner.
  3. David Simon has explained that the Greek is one of few characters who appear entirely unsympathetic from the viewer’s perspective, as he represents “capitalism in its purest form”.
  4. Season 2 generally tends to be the most divisive among fans of The Wire, with many proclaiming it to be their favourite and others considering it to be the weakest of the five.
  5. The song which features in this episode is “Goodbye to Carolina” by Lyle Lovett.

Best Quote: “He f*cked with my fish though. He ain’t have to go there man.” Wee-Bey shows his child-like side, moaning about the police officer’s poor treatment of his beloved pet.

Best Scene: A Turkish character, who the Greek’s crew captures, admits to his involvement in the deaths of the thirteen women. Despite promises made to the contrary, he is brutally murdered once he imparts this vital information. His strangling is one of the most gruesome and vividly portrayed deaths in the show’s history. Moreover, the decision to end the episode on this scene once again emphasised the dearth of redemption which characterises the show.

New Characters: Mike McArdle, Andy Krawczyk, Officer Dwight Tilghman.

WTF Moment: “Careful, you’re giving me an erection.” So says McNulty to Bunk amid drunken joking, thus showing how drunken joking is normally quite unfunny and invariably lewd.