“Whether you’re a corner boy in West Baltimore, or a cop who knows his beat, or an Eastern European brought here for sex, your life is worthless. It’s the triumph of capitalism over human value. This country has embraced the idea that this is a viable domestic policy. It is. It’s viable for the few. But I don’t live in Westwood, L.A., or on the Upper West Side of New York. I live in Baltimore.”

Given the numerous interviews which David Simon has given following The Wire’s inception, in addition to the controversial quotes that frequently characterise them, one would assume that the said show would inevitably be didactic in tone. However, Simon’s political philosophy rarely manifests itself overtly during episodes. Instead, his intrinsic beliefs are consistently unveiled in an impressively subtle manner.

The first scene of ‘The Cost’ is a case in point due to its unassuming execution. Bubbles – looking characteristically haggard – observes the city’s various proceedings from a park bench. Everything he views appears decidedly humdrum: he watches an exchange of cash between two men (most likely involving drugs), a happy child blowing bubbles and two passers-by who greet him as they walk.

Nonetheless, most important of all are the voices that can be discerned from other people in the vicinity. A frustrated-sounding young mother can be heard telling her friend: “This is the second time this week we had to pay for a sitter.” Basically, she is struggling with the rigorous fiscal demands which her circumstances and ultimately, society in general, necessitates.   

Such a scene is not especially relevant in terms of the overall plotting of The Wire. Conversely though, it still manages to illuminate the show’s essence – namely, an insight into Baltimore and the flawed values it embraces (its unenviable economic situation and the toll which this takes on citizens et cetera).

As has been mentioned on several occasions already, it is not really a cops and robbers show, or at least not a traditional one. McNulty notwithstanding, there is no central lead character in the show – the main character is actually Baltimore itself. Therefore, the scene in question elegantly reinforces this concept, with its pithy presentation of the countless shapes and sounds – and more pertinently – the quandaries that constitute life in the area.

Furthermore, the scene exemplifies why the show is often regarded as novelistic. It is at once meticulously detailed, beautifully understated and possessing of the type of narrative richness which all other TV shows invariably lack. Moreover, barely a word of dialogue is spoken and yet so much is conveyed during the scene, thus simultaneously granting the show a cinematic quality for the umpteenth occasion.

In addition, while Simon may maintain his perception of humanity as disposable and self-serving owing to the rigidity of the capitalist system, there is no denying the highly humane and emotive overtones with which this episode culminates, perpetuated by the stark altruism that innumerable characters display.

The moment whereby Kima is shot, along with its immediate ramifications, is arguably one of the most heartfelt scenes in the show’s history. The reaction of utter dismay amongst all her fellow police officers is palpable upon their hearing of this unsavoury incident.

The expressions of disbelief and shock that Kima’s colleagues each exhibit emphasise how the event of a police officer getting shot is in fact generally perceived as a substantial anomaly. Even Daniels, who is emotionally impenetrable for the most part, is quite obviously taken aback by this occurrence.

Consequently, in dramatic terms, the portrayal of Kima’s shooting represents a crescendo to many of the tensions which have gradually been unfolding throughout the season. Namely, it is the first time in which one of the major characters has been significantly hurt.

David Simon often speaks of “having to earn” dramatic moments such as this one by ensuring that they do not occur excessively and indeed, Kima’s brush with death contrasts dramatically with the episodes low key tone. It is especially dissimilar to the aforementioned, deliberately unremarkable opening scene.

Perhaps it is also far from a coincidence that these scenes focus primarily on arguably the two most dignified characters on either of the street/police divide. Yet for all the virtuous elements of their respective personas, Kima and Bubbles are both portrayed in situations of immense struggle and hardship.

Bubbles is shown homeless and physically ravaged due to his relentless drug abuse, while Kima’s pain is obviously more immediate. Both are, in a certain sense, ultimately the victims of the harsh existence intrinsic to day-to-day life in Baltimore.

Nevertheless – unlike Kima – Bubbles is not exactly blameless with regards the problems he encounters. Yet in a subsequent scene he speaks poignantly to Walon about his background coming from a broken family comprising a dead mother and an absent father. Bubbles’ steady psychological descent following this adversity is another implicit indictment of the system and its failure to deal with this wayward youth. 

Similarly, most characters in The Wire are not wholly to blame for the misfortunes that befall them. They are merely victims, suffering from the countless inadequacies of Baltimorean society at large.

Random Facts:

  1. During one scene set in a bus station, McNulty asks Omar about New York City. Omar responds: “There must be something happening, it’s too big a town.” This line is taken directly from the Steve Earle song “New York City”.
  2. In this episode, Orlando becomes the seventh character in The Wire to be murdered.
  3. Along with ‘Middle Ground’, ‘The Cost’ is the highest rated episode of season 1 from voters on TV.com with a score 9.5/10 with 154 votes. It is also the joint second highest rated episode of The Wire ever. 
  4. Clayton LaBouef, who played Orlando, has consistently been a staple actor in Simon’s work having previously appeared in both Homicide and The Corner. He is also an established theatre actor and playwright.
  5. The episode fleetingly depicts Senator Clay Davis shown giving a political speech on a television set – he eventually develops into one of the most prominent character in later seasons. Simon insists he always intended for this to occur.

Best Quote: “Ms Pearlman, do you have a response you’d like to offer up here?” “Nope.” Having been coerced at the last minute into defending McNulty against charges that he is an unfit father, Rhonda is completely perplexed and out of her depth during the hearing. To her credit, she does not even attempt to conceal this fact from the judge.

Best Scene: The recurrent dialogues between Walon and Bubbles are seldom anything but harrowing and this episode proves to be no exception. The former character reveals, in heartbreaking fashion, the depth to which his drug addiction and ailments had once descended. He tells Bubbles: “I had the bug… Gave that shit to my old lady. Worried about passing it on to my baby girl. Now I spare her that at least.”  

New Characters: None

WTF Moment: The unashamedly friendly manner by which McNulty treats Omar as the latter character departs for New York.