The Wire: The Detail   First Watch 
May 31, 2014 11:00 AM - Season 1, Episode 2 - Subscribe

McNulty feels the heat. Greggs is given the lay of the land regarding Avon Barksdale's key players. Herc, Carver and Prez find big-time trouble at the towers.

Still streaming on HBOGo and Amazon Prime, just like last week.

Just like last episode, I'll wholeheartedly recommend Alan Sepinwall's recaps for newbies and veterans.

Going forward, I'm going to make two The Wire posts a week, on days where there isn't a Mad Men rewatch post. Since nobody seemed to be clamoring to do this as a spoiler-proof "rewatch", and we have a lot of newbies watching for the first time, it's probably better to leave out anything from after this episode. Please let me know if I've drastically misjudged what people want to do.
posted by Sara C. (36 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Love this (regarding the dead witness):

McNulty: What are you going to tell the Major?
Bunk: That I caught a stone-fucking who-done-it.

posted by pjenks at 12:03 PM on May 31, 2014


I vote for permitting discussion of things that happen beyond just the current episode to prioritize richer discussion and analysis. This America, man.
posted by MoonOrb at 12:13 PM on May 31, 2014 [2 favorites]


I love that Bunk quote because it gets exactly to the heart of what we, the viewers, feel when that witness turns up dead. "Oh shit this just turned into a real mystery." That moment is the first real Cop Show moment in the series, and it's interesting that it doesn't happen until the very end of the previous episode, considering that, if this were Law & Order, or even a modern serialized pay cable version of Law & Order, that would have happened in the teaser to the pilot. And it would be assumed from the outset that it was obviously a murder, and obviously done in retaliation for fingering D'Angelo.

All this conflict and slow burn runs absolutely counter to the rules of how building drama in TV is supposed to work, and yet it's genius. By not starting in medias res, we meet these characters the way they're meeting each other, and we meet the drama like frogs in a hot bath. When the heat gets turned up later on, it's so much more powerful because of the slow burn.
posted by Sara C. at 12:20 PM on May 31, 2014 [6 favorites]


I've seen this episode maybe 4 times now, and the scene with Carver, Herc, and Prez at the towers still makes my skin crawl. I love how this show makes your sympathies turn on a dime. One minute you're despising those guys for being abusive dicks, and the next minute, you're scared for their lives.
posted by donajo at 1:26 PM on May 31, 2014 [2 favorites]


I love the way the show is taking its time introducing McNulty and Greggs to each other, who seem to be at the heart of each others' teams. I also appreciate seeing the remarkably detailed sets/scenes of people's home lives (especially McNulty's monastic lone room).

Really impressed with the D'Angelo character so far, the mix of vulnerability and bravado. Nothing about the show is easy, and you really do have to pay attention. For so long I've heard people say "The Wire" was the best show ever made for television. After seeing and loving such magnificence as "Deadwood," "Breaking Bad," "Mad Men" and "True Detective," I would think NAH. Now I'm starting to see their point.
posted by flyingsquirrel at 1:31 PM on May 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


There does seem to be a fair amount of cable (non-broadcast) stunt scenes, for the period some of the gender and f-word language seems for the shock value. (I'm a few episodes in and not all that good at tracking episode divisions).
posted by sammyo at 2:17 PM on May 31, 2014


Hah! Seppinwall's keeping track of Dominic West's worst line deliveries, this episode's being "nahco" instead of narco. Even better are the subtitles (we watch a lot of shows with subtitles so we catch everything, and it helps because there's a lot of mumbling in this show); they spelled it out as "knocko." Heh heh heh.
posted by flyingsquirrel at 2:19 PM on May 31, 2014


I actually for some reason spelled it as "knocko" too (maybe I had watched it with captioning?) and assumed this was sort of term of art for detectives who...knocked heads or knocked on doors or something. I never thought to attribute it to West's mangling of the accent!
posted by MoonOrb at 2:37 PM on May 31, 2014


I'm pretty sure other characters pronounce it that way, too. And, no, not the other British cast member, Idris Elba, whose accent is flawless and this is yet another reason he's the most perfect human being on the planet.

I'm of three minds about this:

- Sepinwall is wrong, and Baltimoreans would say it that way. (It sounds a little Boston-ish, to me.)

- Other cast members are saying "nahco" in homage to Dominic West or possibly to hide the fact that West is completely incapable of pronouncing "narco".

- It really is "knocko", and it has nothing at all to do with "narco". Especially since, isn't it supposed to be "narc"? When I hear "narco" I think of the Spanish term "narcotraficante". And narcs are usually referred to as CIs by the cops, anyway, while the project denizens usually say "snitch". "Knocko" is a term used by both the cops and the drug dealers.
posted by Sara C. at 2:46 PM on May 31, 2014


Urbandictionary has entries for knocko. But I'm not sure this isn't because of the narco/knocko homophony.

Either way, it seems to refer to narcotics police, undercover cops, or police specifically engaging in a sting, and not narcs, which are snitches.

Urban dictionary seems to think that a narco is a drug dealer (maybe even one with a specific connection to Latin America), not a drug cop. Or a snitch.
posted by Sara C. at 2:50 PM on May 31, 2014


Possibly relevant AskMe from ages ago, for anyone confused about the lingo. Knocko/Narco is not mentioned.
posted by Sara C. at 3:02 PM on May 31, 2014


My favorite lingo bit from that thread is about lake trout. Neither from a lake, nor trout. Ah, Baltimore.
posted by youcancallmeal at 7:04 PM on May 31, 2014 [2 favorites]


I've seen this episode maybe 4 times now, and the scene with Carver, Herc, and Prez at the towers still makes my skin crawl. I love how this show makes your sympathies turn on a dime. One minute you're despising those guys for being abusive dicks, and the next minute, you're scared for their lives.

And it's a reminder that there are institutions and counter-institutions at work, whether it's the towers becoming a counterweight to the police or the various elements within the BPD -- Valchek's politicking for his son-in-law, Daniels and the blue wall of silence, and Internal Affairs -- that are perfectly balanced to keep the larger game running with as little meaningful change and as few possibilities for justice as possible.
posted by kewb at 7:05 PM on May 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


When I was watching the first episode, McNulty's accent really threw me off - it didn't sound very Maryland to me. But it stopped bothering me by the second. In my imagination, he had a Irish nanny. My favorite part of this episode was seeing how charismatic Bubbles could be. Last episode he was just drugged up, and I didn't think he was going to be an important part of the show. Also, I had to look up his name in Wikipedia - it's hard to keep track of everyone. Which is also why I liked the part where Bubbles went through some of Barksdale's gang to help Kima figure out who all these people are. Neat plot device.

A friend gave me the DVDs of this show a while back, but I've only seen the first two episodes. It seemed too daunting to get through all 5 seasons, but it might be fun to follow along here. Will you mostly be posting at the end of the week, Sara C?
posted by bluefly at 1:37 PM on June 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


And it's a reminder that there are institutions and counter-institutions at work, whether it's the towers becoming a counterweight to the police or the various elements within the BPD -- Valchek's politicking for his son-in-law, Daniels and the blue wall of silence, and Internal Affairs -- that are perfectly balanced to keep the larger game running with as little meaningful change and as few possibilities for justice as possible.

Also interesting to observe Daniels's reaction to it: he tries to win the game by playing by the rules, so he's fully complicit in obscuring the harm done by people under his command. He knows that if he turns them in it makes him look bad, and he also knows that one of the rules of the game is that you never rat your people out to IID. He's a sort of counterpoint to McNulty, who tries to win by breaking the rules.

When Marla says "if don't play you can't lose," I'm not sure she's right about that. Daniels is probably correct that if he holds Prez, Carver, and Herc accountable for their actions then he's pretty much screwed himself--and that's losing, at least by his measure.
posted by MoonOrb at 1:47 PM on June 1, 2014


This episode is the one that really sold me on the show. In particular, it was Bubbles and his plan to ID the key players by hats. This was the first time, in my admittedly limited non-scifi/fantasy tv viewing, that I saw a heroin addict portrayed as anything other than a burn-out/corpse. Bubbles had agency and a good idea. I won't go so far to say there wasn't some coercion from Kima, because he is ultimately risking his life for very little, but he is clearly portrayed with personality and charm. And so I was hooked.

The whole scene at the the high rise though, from beginning to end, had me curled up on the couch in the fetal position first time I watched it. Wouldn't be the last time with this show.
posted by Hopeful and Cynical at 3:48 PM on June 1, 2014 [6 favorites]


If this episode had Bubble's hat trick, I'm pretty sure it also had one of my favorite moments of technical craft - On the street level you see one of those kids playing buckets, so when you hear that very distinct sound up on the roof, you just instinctively know the cops are in the same area without having to visually tie them in. That allows you to have the cops' function solely only their POV instead of having those visual angles have to do as much work to establish their geographic relationship to the drug dealers.
posted by mzurer at 5:20 PM on June 1, 2014 [4 favorites]


Bubbles is SUCH a great character! Just binged on episodes 3 and 4; once you're in, it's hard not to. And it just keeps getting better (inclduing West's accent; you just get used to it).
posted by flyingsquirrel at 7:16 PM on June 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


Just checking in as someone who was vaguely planning on doing a rewatch and was convinced to by these threads.

Bubbles had agency and a good idea. I won't go so far to say there wasn't some coercion from Kima, because he is ultimately risking his life for very little, but he is clearly portrayed with personality and charm. And so I was hooked.

I'm not sure there was much coercion from Kima - the Barksdale dealers beat Bubbles' friend and left him in intensive care. Bubbs offered to help Kima out of revenge (as seen when Kima tells McNulty that Bubbs is working for free).
posted by Pink Frost at 1:09 AM on June 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


Great writing and acting here. I liked Daniels spelling out for Prez just how to play the incident to IAD.

Interesting choice of partners by Daniels there — putting strong with strong (Griggs and Snyder) and weak with weak (Herc and Carver). I'm not sure strong/weak pairings wouldn't have been better. Perhaps it's just a matter of not breaking up existing partnerships.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:05 PM on June 2, 2014


weak with weak (Herc and Carver).

Am I the only person who is distracted by Carver as a "weak" cop because he's incredibly dreamy?

Yeah, I thought so.

Carry on.

(I believe in you, Carver!)
posted by Sara C. at 7:15 PM on June 2, 2014 [5 favorites]


weak with weak (Herc and Carver).

And useless with useless (Polk and Mahone). Fun fact: Pogue Mahone is Gaelic for 'Kiss My Ass' (I'm guessing that the writers were aware of this the same way as I am, from the Pogues' original name, seeing as the Pogues appear on the soundtrack at some point).

I read that as Daniels just hoping that Griggs and Snyder can get some work done without Herc and Carver holding them back too much, and that Herc and Carver can hopefully just stay out of trouble.
posted by Pink Frost at 9:21 PM on June 2, 2014


FWIW I wouldn't get too invested in who is whose partner. There are some people who tend to work together more often than not, but The Wire seems less invested in the partner concept than other shows in the genre.
posted by Sara C. at 9:37 PM on June 2, 2014


I like discussions of West's accent, because for me hailing for the UK I (unsurprisingly) can't detect it, while watching shows like Buffy the (rightly) praised "School Hard" never worked for me the first time round because the accents are just really bad.

One thing the Wire gets at in this (and all its episodes) is the idea that the competencies of different players vary so wildly. While comedies might play that for laughs, in most dramas the vast majority are competent, committed professionals. While Polk and Mahone are obviously chumps, even Herc and Carver aren't very useful outside of their comfort zone, and cause a major incident in this episode when they get bored. In the Wire people who know what they are doing are often in the minority.

I think the Wire could be (and has been!) critisised for being perhaps too cynical about institutions and the people within them, but it stands as a counterpoint to shows where characters like the ones in the Wire simply do not exist.

I think its also interesting that even smart, competent detectives like Greggs and McNulty have lots of basic failings. Greggs, for instance, is self confessed as not being much of a typist.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 3:29 AM on June 3, 2014 [3 favorites]


I wasn't distracted by West's accent so much as "Hey! He's Lysander from my favorite version of Midsummer Night's dream!" Even when I got over that, there was still some ogling.

I love the real, human vulnerable moments these characters have. I love the intelligent blending of scenes, as described with the drums above. I love the office environment. I think I may, in short, love this show.
posted by chatongriffes at 12:51 PM on June 3, 2014


Well chalk me down for another Wire Watcher. I watched the whole show maybe 8 years ago and really enjoyed it. What was said earlier is true: you really do have to Actually Watch to get the most out of it!
posted by rebent at 12:33 PM on June 4, 2014


On rewatch, it's kinda surprising how many characters who later on I think of as basically good people do things in these early episodes which are fairly bad. Not just morally grey, but, "That's just not right".

That said, through the weird prism of time, for some reason my image of the most absolutely bad people on the show are Polk and Mahoney. Which is weird, given the number of stone cold murders. Yet, for some reason, when I watch the show, I get the biggest revulsion shakes when they're on-screen.
posted by Bugbread at 8:01 AM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


Watching this show for the first time and the first episode was good, but what the actual hell was this - SO. INCREDIBLY. GOOD. I get it so sorry The Wire for denying you all these years. DAMMIT.


When I was watching the first episode, McNulty's accent really threw me off

yeah, I had to put subtitles on because I couldn't really understand anyone but especially McNulty.


Am I the only person who is distracted by Carver as a "weak" cop because he's incredibly dreamy?

Yeah, I thought so.

Carry on.


Not the only one! With you on this.
posted by sweetkid at 7:21 PM on June 5, 2014


%n: "Seppinwall's keeping track of Dominic West's worst line deliveries, this episode's being "nahco" instead of narco."

Since I read this comment first, I listened for the "nahco", and:

(15:03) Bodie: "Y'all Western nahcos come around here pickin shit up off the ground putting it on whoever you damn well please."
McNulty: "Do I know you? Let's understand each other. I'm not Western District. I'm not a nahco."

McNulty pronounces it in the exact same way Bodie did two seconds before. I think it's just that McNulty has enough weird deliveries that it becomes like the boy who cried wolf, where people think it's wrong even when it's right. Either that, or it's an inconsistency problem: Even within Baltimore, people have different pronunciations. Some folks elide their "r"s, some don't. Maybe he's generally not an "r" elider, so when he elided it here, it stuck out.

I thought the delivery by the recanting witness in episode 1 sounded odd in the same way:

(07:02) "A man, you know he was waiting fuh the elevator."

She totally elides the "r" in "for", but strongly pronounces the "r" in "elevator".

In her case, I doubt it's a "bad at hiding British pronunciation" thing, so maybe it's authentic. Can any Baltimoreans shed some light on this?
posted by Bugbread at 7:40 PM on June 5, 2014


I don't remember John Waters movies being this hard to understand. I figure it'll grow on me, like how I started thinking in Scottish dialect after reading a bunch of Irvine Welsh novels all in a row.
posted by sweetkid at 7:46 PM on June 5, 2014


Yeah, after a few episodes, you should be fine, without needing subtitles...until the character Snoop is introduced in Season 3.
posted by Bugbread at 8:02 PM on June 5, 2014 [4 favorites]


I watched another episode last night

the thing that I find most surprising is how *young* much of the cast looks. I remember these actors being *old* when i first watched it. Now they look positively spritely.

Maybe it's because my latest memories of them are from season 5, which is a bit older than the babies in season 1.
posted by rebent at 5:33 AM on June 6, 2014


Am I the only person who is distracted by Carver as a "weak" cop because he's incredibly dreamy?

Definitely not. Plus, he gets better.

I do vividly remember how on-the-fence I was after the first couple of episodes. I loved the cop-show stuff, I loved the characters, I loved the scope, but some of the on-the-nose dialogue was a big turn-off. As I recall, though, it mostly goes away after the first few eps.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 11:50 AM on June 10, 2014 [2 favorites]


It really is "knocko", and it has nothing at all to do with "narco". Especially since, isn't it supposed to be "narc"? When I hear "narco" I think of the Spanish term "narcotraficante". And narcs are usually referred to as CIs by the cops, anyway, while the project denizens usually say "snitch".

They're saying "narco" (in heavy accent) and it's specifically in reference to a police officer working in the narcotics division. "Narc" is indeed a street term for a confidential informant (CI), but it is distinct from the term "narco" which refers to the police division dedicated to solving narcotics crimes. The kid thinks McNulty is just another thug cop from a different part of town there to break up drug deals and confiscate their stash of drugs (and throw 'em up against the wall and take a few cheap shots), but he's happy to let them know he's there about "the bodies" not so much the drugs.
posted by carsonb at 11:17 AM on June 16, 2014


Just got done watching this episode...first time through the series for my wife and I. We were huge fans of "Homicide", so I'm not sure why it's taken so long for us to get to this.

My personal favorite moment, for no very good reason: the defense lawyer walking into the room bellowing "WHAAAAT THE FUCK! WHY ARE YOU WRITING?"
posted by Ipsifendus at 7:08 PM on June 30, 2014


Best line: "I mind you asking." Re-affirming that the show is just going to have people that are gay (or whatever) rather than using it as a after school special club to beat the idea of progressiveness of the show into our consciousness.

The first scene shows how politically savvy Bunk can be as he doesn't want to touch the "murdered witness" angle with an 11 foot pole.

>: "There does seem to be a fair amount of cable (non-broadcast) stunt scenes, for the period some of the gender and f-word language seems for the shock value. (I'm a few episodes in and not all that good at tracking episode divisions)."

I watched the first season over the course of a weekend and it was all I could do to not let nigger become part of my vocabulary. I think it's a way of separating the groups into cops and dealers. In episode one Brodie even refers to the white guy who gets beat down as nigger.

>: "I won't go so far to say there wasn't some coercion from Kima, because he is ultimately risking his life for very little, but he is clearly portrayed with personality and charm."

Bubbles is most definitely looking out for his partner (in the platonic sense). He even calls Kima down to the hospital to get the ball rolling. And he's obviously very smart; he's managed to piece together a big bit of the mystery org without even trying. Just like Kima isn't just "The Lesbian" Bubbles isn't just an Addict. It's one of the things that makes the show so great; so many of the characters are so deep and just regular people instead of a stereotype.

%n>"Interesting choice of partners by Daniels there — putting strong with strong (Griggs and Snyder) and weak with weak (Herc and Carver). I'm not sure strong/weak pairings wouldn't have been better. Perhaps it's just a matter of not breaking up existing partnerships."

I'm not sure there is any other way to play it from Daniels point of view. Pogue and Mchone are obviously totally useless so keep them paired up. Herc and Carver aren't any good for work more sophisticated than street level tough cop so might as well keep them together And throw Prez in there with them because though you don't know him what you do know (prez shooting up his own car) leads you to think he is either crazy or stupid or both. If he ends up shooting one of his partners better them than Kima. McNulty is the loose cannon that you are supposed to be suppressing so while you could maybe pair him with Kima as a baby sitter or Prez as a keep all your crazy eggs in one basket move you are better off leaving him alone. And the pawnshop guy is obviously a paper pushing bureaucrat.
posted by Mitheral at 5:15 PM on July 31, 2014


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