“It’s the police department, or the drug economy, or the political structures, or the school administration, or the macroeconomic forces that are throwing the lightning bolts and hitting people in the ass for no decent reason.”

David Simon’s has always been obsessed with the indignity of bureaucratic institutions. In this episode, Major Rawles exemplifies all of the shortcomings of these power-craving entities. The entire episode consequently plays like a symbolic boxing match between Rawles and McNulty, with Daniels as referee.

Naturally in the corrupt world of the Baltimore police department, the virtuous and individualistic McNulty is the clear underdog. In one of their habitual confrontations, Rawles repudiates McNulty, before endeavoring to put him on the dreaded night shift.

“I’m a reasonable man,” Rawles argues unconvincingly, before threatening to turn “unreasonable” if McNulty continues to defy his orders. Meanwhile, Jay Landsman adds comic effect to the scene (as he never fails to do) by lavishing praise on Rawles – in a knowingly exaggerated fashion – for his apparently considerate attitude.

However, perhaps Daniels’ dilemma is the most interesting of the characters. He is torn between his ideals and the necessity of aligning himself with the men in power, especially given his well established aspirations to rise to the position of lieutenant. Yet Daniels is an honorable person and thus he elects to sympathise with McNulty’s side of the argument.

At the same time McNulty grows increasingly indignant as the season progresses. His frustration is expressed outwardly when he discovers that the department missed a vital opportunity to secure evidence against Barksdale’s crew, as they neglected to put anyone on watch when a payphone in the low rises was used to order the killing of Brandon. McNulty consequently accuses Daniels of ineptitude, due to his failure to capitalise on this scenario. “In this case, we’re never where we need to be,” McNulty declares angrily.

Daniels obviously feels guilty about the mishap, as he manfully tries to dissuade Rawles from charging members of Barksdale’s crew based on extremely flimsy evidence. “You charge those cases – my investigation folds,” he argues. “And what’s more, not one of those cases is strong enough for court and you know that.”

Daniels accusatory tone is offset by Borrell’s claims that their wire-tapping methods are ineffectual. But he also conceivably reveals the real reason as to why he is reluctant to persevere with the investigation. Tellingly, he complains to Daniels that the scheme is “costing me 2,000 dollars a day”. Therefore, once again we see a character who appears more interested in finance and self-preservation than acting morally.

Borrell’s ignorance of the fact that the evidence they possess is decidedly insubstantial is mirrored by D’Angelo’s ignorance of his own hypocrisy. During one scene, Wallace essentially confides in him when he admits that he was haunted by the image of Brandon’s dead body. Upon learning about Wallace’s reservations, D’Angelo chooses to respond with considerable apathy in relation to Brandon’s murder.

D’Angelo, in conversation with his younger counterpart, simply uses the by the now well worn cliché that “it’s all in the game”. Yet Wallace persists with his questioning attitude, reminding D’Angelo of the speech he gave in episode 3 concerning the futility of killing for drugs. Interestingly, D’Angelo can only provide a decidedly half-hearted response, telling him: “just don’t think about it”.

Another illuminating moment occurs when D’Angelo implores Wallace to get a girlfriend with the 500 dollars that he has just earned. He then makes the rather cynical mark that: “pussy ain’t come for free”. If ever there was a line that summed up the motivations of the majority of the characters as well as the theme of the show, this statement stands as the perfect example. It also provides another link between the criminal and police worlds in light of the previously mentioned greed induced comment expressed by Borrell (with regard to the department’s finances).

The episode then culminates with two vital scenes. The tension between McNulty and Daniels is mitigated somewhat, as the former thanks the latter for successfully convincing Rawles against prosecuting Barksdale’s crew, at least temporarily.

Simultaneously, Rawles discusses McNulty with Detective Santangelo. Rawles tries to think of a way to debilitate McNulty, but Santangelo postulates that this may be a difficult proposition. “The man’s an asshole,” states Santangelo. “But he doesn’t do much other than work. He’s got this f*ckin case in his gut like its cancer.”

It is clear Simon and his fellow writers identify strongly with McNulty’s cause, yet the ensuing treatment he will encounter at the hands of the department demonstrates that in The Wire, the good guys rarely triumph.

Random Facts:

  1. Apart from in the ubiquitous end-of-season montages, this episode is the only instance whereby the show makes use of non-diegetic music (i.e. music that does not come from an onscreen source).
  2. The episode begins and ends with a variation on the same image – Brandon’s dead body. This could be construed as another journalistic parallel, as articles often use repetition at their beginning and end.
  3. The epigraph for this episode is a quote from Lester where he speaks to Prez in relation to the case, asserting that “all the pieces matter”. Simon has admitted that this serves as a double entendre, also referring to the importance of constantly following the show’s plot. 
  4. The episode was the first of four to be directed by Ed Bianchi, whose credits also include Deadwood (another HBO series) and the 1981 thriller, The Fan.
  5. The actor playing Brandon (Michael Darnall) is clearly breathing when you see his corpse at the beginning of the episode.     

Best Quote: “Omar don’t scare.” Omar’s response when Kima asks him if he would be worried about testifying against Barksdale’s crew. He is the only character I can think of capable of referring to himself in the third person without sounding utterly pretentious. 

 Best Scene: The Bunk again demonstrates the ultra macho humour which the show specialises in producing. When one of the detectives states the reason he is looking fresh is because he “got laid last night”, the Bunk responds: “Oh yeah? Your asshole still hurting?”

New Characters: Sean McNulty, detectives Ed Norris and Vernon Holley.

 WTF Moment: “The juvenile system in this country is a big f*ckin joke.” Even young offenders such as Bodie realise they can exploit justice at will.