The Wire: The Target   First Watch 
May 28, 2014 10:09 PM - Season 1, Episode 1 - Subscribe

In the pilot, Baltimore homicide detective Jimmy McNulty gets into hot water and winds up assigned to a detail of narcotics outcasts charged with investigating drug lord Avon Barksdale and his powerful operation in Franklin Terrace. Meanwhile, Avon's nephew D'Angelo is fresh off beating a murder rap.

Streaming at HBOGo and Amazon Prime.

I can't recommend Alan Sepinwall's invaluable recaps enough: available in "newbie" and "veteran" editions!

A note about spoilers: personally, I'm a new viewer and was kind of hoping this could be more of a "start from scratch" kind of thing. However if there are more veterans who want to re-watch and discuss from the standpoint of having seen the full series, that's OK by me if it's OK with the mods. Also, right now I'm taking episode descriptions from HBO's site (edited to be extra inscrutable!), but would be happy to do without or go with something more cryptic.
posted by Sara C. (88 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
So jealous that you get to watch it for the first time. I can never see The Wire for the first time again. So sad.
posted by MoonOrb at 11:38 PM on May 28, 2014 [11 favorites]


I watched the entire first season over the course of three days.
posted by Sara C. at 12:01 AM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


I am totally up for newb Wire topics. Would not be able to watch the show fast enough to participate in spoilery ones.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 3:41 AM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


As someone who has seen the series 3 times, I'd be happy to volunteer my services as a question answerer in case anything is confusing in context.

If only I had time to rewatch this and MadsMens at the same time.

Also for those seeing this for the first time, what did you think of the first scene? Did it seem over the top to you? Like in a staged drama way? It did when I first saw it. Now I just find it perfect, but maybe that's only in retrospect.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:45 AM on May 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


Oh, this is great. I bought the box set a while ago and have only gotten through two eps so far--mainly because I found it really hard to casually dive in, with the manymany characters being introduced all at once. Would love to have this be newb-friendly, to answer all my what-the-hell questions and not be spoilery.
posted by psoas at 6:54 AM on May 29, 2014


Also for those seeing this for the first time, what did you think of the first scene? Did it seem over the top to you? Like in a staged drama way? It did when I first saw it. Now I just find it perfect, but maybe that's only in retrospect.

No, I felt the same way when I watched it the first time. I came to the series late -- when it was already in the 4th season -- so I'd heard all the praise. I think I just expected it to be different. When I rewatched a couple of years ago, it felt like a good prologue, but still not quite a part of the series.
posted by gladly at 7:11 AM on May 29, 2014


Also for those seeing this for the first time, what did you think of the first scene? Did it seem over the top to you? Like in a staged drama way? It did when I first saw it. Now I just find it perfect, but maybe that's only in retrospect.

If The Wire has any flaws — eh, screw that, it has a bundle — one of the more glaring ones is its need to add these quippy moralistic scenes at points that are just so damn on-the-nose and which (I feel) sometimes distract from the development of the show's characters. The opening scene still strikes me as especially off-putting for that reason.
posted by Rory Marinich at 8:11 AM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


I thought the first scene's dialogue was stylized, but I mean it's a TV show, not my living room. If characters in season 1 only ever talked the way real cops and real projects kids really talked it would be dull as fuck.

Also, I think the stylized dialogue stands in contrast to the almost cinema verite art direction/visual style. Again, if there was nothing much to look at and nothing much to listen to, people would change the channel pretty quickly.
posted by Sara C. at 8:35 AM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


Also, I'll bite with the first newb question. I'm not sure this comes up in the very first episode, but it's ubiquitous throughout the first season and definitely not a spoiler in any way.

So the drug dealers in Avon's crew are mostly selling cocaine and heroin, right? So then why are they handing out stuff that looks like pills? Am I wrong about what the drugs actually are? Are those drugs typically put into caplets for sale on the street? Or is Avon's gang no better than some suburban high school kids selling their adderall?
posted by Sara C. at 8:39 AM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


The opening scene is self-aware in a way that the majority of the rest of The Wire isn't; it very much has a "We're making a TV show, here, people!" vibe going on.

I still get a distinct "Homicide - Life on the Street" feel from it, like David Simon was still shaking off that show (and I have a lot of warmth for Homicide, but it was a network police procedural in the 90's, so you know, problems and issues there). It works to set up the notion of the game, and that everyone is playing regardless of who they are ("Got to. It's America, man.") as well as the consequences for trying to play the game differently from expected.

I wish it didn't feel so self-aware, like McNulty is somehow mugging for the audience, but there it is. It's all in the game, yo.
posted by nubs at 8:41 AM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


nubs I felt the exact same way about the first scene The Wire and wondered if it came straight out of something Simon had written about in Homicide. The first scene really didn't impress me much, but I didn't find it wholly inconsistent with the rest of the series and it does exactly what you say about this being a game that everyone's in at some level or another because, "It's America, man."
posted by MoonOrb at 8:46 AM on May 29, 2014


So then why are they handing out stuff that looks like pills? Am I wrong about what the drugs actually are? Are those drugs typically put into caplets for sale on the street? Or is Avon's gang no better than some suburban high school kids selling their adderall?

I believe the Barksdale crew sells heroin; I am no expert, but I believe it tends to come in a powder/rock type form that is dissolved in water, heated, and injected. So the packaging could be anything from a baggie to a caplet, depending on how the crew wants to make it happen.

What would distinguish the Barksdale crew from high school students is that they are able to get large quantities of heroin (a drug not available with or without a prescription), cut it, package it, and sell it in several pieces of territory. I don't want to get too far into it, because later episodes and seasons get far more into the structure of the enterprise and the business element.
posted by nubs at 8:49 AM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


This is America, man!

To be honest, my recollection of the 1st episode is that it didn't wow me, it reminded me of the police procedurals that Mr. Motion loves but I didn't have much patience for. And McNulty seemed like kind of a dick. I persevered because others had told me how good the show got, and I don't think it's a spoiler to say that I'm glad that I did.
posted by sparklemotion at 8:49 AM on May 29, 2014


What would distinguish the Barksdale crew from high school students is...

My point about bringing up well off high school students is that, from what the drugs actually look like (pills/caplets), it seems like they're selling pharmaceuticals, not hard street drugs. Though from the context of the show, it's pretty clear that these pills/caplets are street drugs and not adderall or vicodin or whatever.

I guess I just expected to see more baggies? Or... to be honest I have no idea what heroin looks like in its street form.
posted by Sara C. at 8:58 AM on May 29, 2014


it seems like they're selling pharmaceuticals, not hard street drugs.

Yes, it does look to some extent like a product of a legitimate business, doesn't it? I also don't know what heroin looks like when bought on the street, but I am assuming that the fact that it can be sold in pills/caplet form is accurate (because the show seems to work pretty hard to capture the reality of the street drug trade) and also because of some of the themes the show goes on to explore.
posted by nubs at 9:30 AM on May 29, 2014


I'm also watching The Wire for the first time and I'm so excited about it. I'm like 4 episodes in and I already think it's just gorgeously written.
posted by chatongriffes at 10:39 AM on May 29, 2014


They're handing off glass vials. There's a brief (and oblique) mention of them a few episodes in.
posted by stefanie at 11:43 AM on May 29, 2014 [5 favorites]


My wife and I were raised in Baltimore and that first scene of the first episode completely hooked us. Hon, it felt so like Baltimore, I just don't know.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:09 PM on May 29, 2014 [6 favorites]


I watched the whole series (for the third time, essentially) a couple months ago. It's still excellent. The first scene about Snot Boogie does come straight out of Simon's book Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets. Think of it as a miniature play to introduce the themes.
posted by mzurer at 2:43 PM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


What really struck my on this latest watching is that you have to watch. If you are not looking at the screen, you will miss things that are presented only visually. If you're not paying attention from one scene to the next you'll miss that characters are lying, or that things they present as facts are incorrect, but make sense for them to believe given the information they have at the time. And if you do pay attention you'll see how non-visual clues are used to advance the story telling. The point of view and physical locations are strengthened through the sound design. If the cops are on a roof you'll hear things from the street that will help you tie their location to activities below them, things they may not even be able to see.

The symbolism may be hamfisted but it fills me with joy: At the end of episode one, as he tells Bunk he's going to pursue the case, McNulty steps into the path of a speeding train, unzips his pants, and pisses in the wind.
posted by mzurer at 2:54 PM on May 29, 2014 [13 favorites]


I guess I just expected to see more baggies? Or... to be honest I have no idea what heroin looks like in its street form.

Baggies are fine if you have a couple of grams of bud that you can easily pluck out, but otherwise a gram or two of powder is just going to stick all over the inside of the bag. There are those teeny, tiny plastic bags, but I associate those with cocaine. This is my personal experience, but is at least 25-years old and happened on the west coast:

Powdered heroin (which can be white or tan brown) is usually sold in little paper envelopes called bindles or in (uninflated!) tiny balloons; tar heroin is usually wrapped in a very small piece of plastic wrap. I've never seen heroin sold in vials, but sometimes cocaine is so maybe vials of heroin are an east coast or newer thing. When I think of vials, though, I think of crack.

Are those drugs typically put into caplets for sale on the street?

No, the reason for the balloons is so you can swallow them if the cops show up without worrying about ODing and then you can poop them out and sell or use them as planned. You could swallow vials, of course, but balloons would be easier going in and coming out. Also, capsules would be too fragile to withstand sweaty palms and stuff for too long.
posted by Room 641-A at 3:02 PM on May 29, 2014 [5 favorites]


Clune’s prose, in turn, mimics the drug’s procession of endless dawns with a clever profusion of tenses: “Dope never gets old for addicts. It never looks old. It never looks like something I’ve seen before. It always looks like nothing I’ve ever seen.” It is, necessarily, white.

“White Out” ’s presiding metaphor is this whiteness. At first, and most prosaically, it’s the whiteness of the first “white top” vial he encountered; it was the first heroin “brand” he used. But the white is a protean white, an invitational white, the omnivorously accepting white of the white whale. It is the space between the original whiteness of the past and the new, vital whiteness of the future.


-- from the New Yorker's review of Michael Clune's memoir White Out, about his days as a heroin addict in Baltimore.
posted by kewb at 3:29 PM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


the first “white top” vial he encountered; it was the first heroin “brand” he used.

Aaaaaah, OK. This is all starting to make a lot more sense.
posted by Sara C. at 4:09 PM on May 29, 2014


The Snot Boogie scene is not the only one that simultaneously seems kind of theatrical and came directly out of Simon's Homicide book.

(Homicide, by the way, is highly recommended for any Wire fan.)
posted by box at 5:29 PM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


God, such a great show. I introduced my girlfriend to it, and we went back and watched it as a couple recently (we took a break between 4 and 5 to watch S1 of Orphan Black, because I needed a break and want to be close to current in something). It was at least my 3rd time all the way through, and it really grows with multiple viewings. Not only you can tell who everybody is and what they want now, but there's so many little things and foreshadowing and so on. How you see all the characters and what they become over the course of the series.

I love the first scene, myself. It's such a great statement of purpose (including that we see a dead guy - McNulty's case - and never give a fuck about him again). Simon gets on-the-nose from time to time, but when you view the show as notionally a cops-n-robbers drama but simultaneously a polemic about the state of urban America, you can sort of forgive it.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 5:36 PM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


Think of it as a miniature play to introduce the themes.

The first scene of each season serves in this fashion, as I recall. To be as non-spoilery as I can with an example: the second season deals with the gap between the rich and the blue collars, and begins with a couple of working-class cops pressed into degrading service for some oblivious and unappreciative one-percenters.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:07 PM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'd been thinking of watching this at some point, not sure I'll keep up or have anything profound to contribute, but right off the bat my first thought/derail was "cool, this'll be interesting backstory for Broyles", now how does he decide to transfer to the FBI?
posted by sammyo at 8:06 PM on May 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


This first episode told me, right away, that this was not your standard police procedural show. I loved the way it is shot and directed but more than that it combined that sort of faux docudrama feel with an extremely structured story that telegraphed what the series would be focusing on.

For example, off the top of my head (I haven't seen it in years) there is a direct parallel, very explicitly made, between the police and dealers (Avon's organization in this case). Both D'Angelo and McNulty are called before their bosses for "fucking things up" or basically, making their lives more complicated. Both D'Angelo and McNulty have stirred things up that they didn't need to (from an organizational viewpoint, not that McNulty was wrong to want to actually do real police work). It is, of course, the action of one organization, Avon's, getting D'Angelo off, that spurs the action of the other, McNultly, in getting the police to investigate Avon (and of course, to be even aware of him). There are quite a few other examples in this first episode but I'd have to watch it again to recall. Basically, it was loaded from episode 1 and I was not surprised to see it remain loaded throughout the entire run of the season.

These organizations, and later more organizations are compared and contrasted throughout the series. Not only that, very often specific characters within different organizations are compared and contrasted, often saying very similar things though within different contexts. The depth of these comparisons is generally greater than in standard network dramas.
posted by juiceCake at 8:43 PM on May 29, 2014 [4 favorites]


not sure I'll keep up

I was thinking of doing an episode a week (though I'm open to suggestions on that).

My advice, though, if you're not sure if you'll stick with it, is to watch the first four episodes in quick succession. By then, you'll be hooked.
posted by Sara C. at 8:59 PM on May 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


The first scene did a lot of work, I thought -- it set up the relationship between the cops/criminals/civilians in a way that showed how those groups are all virtually the same people doing the same things, and that they have been doing them forever and will keep on doing them forever, and the weird kind of camaraderie that they all have for each other because of that. It reinforced the futility of it all (*every* Friday they all play, and *every* Friday Snot steals the money, and *every* Friday they beat him down and they *all* know the rules), but the show's version of futility has a sort of humane, nonchalant spin. I don't like that scene for itself, but I like it for the kind of relationships and tone it sets up for the show.

Also, as soon as the show started playing, my heart lifted because BALTIMORE. It really does look and sound* like Baltimore. I first watched this show on my first Christmas alone in LA and it felt like being home again, I would have loved it just for that.

*Except for McNulty. I really wish someone else had been cast, because he's a fine actor and all but he sounds and acts just so obviously out of place in that part, and not in a meta way, in a mis-casting way. His presence threatens to break the spell every time.

I was thinking of doing an episode a week (though I'm open to suggestions on that).

Personally, I'd prefer to do two episodes per week, on a schedule either on the off-days for the Mad Men re-watch or on the same days for it. It seems a lot easier to keep track that way. Also, it seems like it would be easier to build momentum if we do the re-watch-ing over the course of a month or so rather than the whole summer, especially since then after June people start vacationing, etc. But whatever works for everybody else.
posted by rue72 at 11:29 PM on May 29, 2014


Really is the greatest show ever. Love coming back to it.

But I've always been a little perplexed by the first scene. "This is America", and therefore, can't tell Snot Boogie not to play? Or "This is America", and therefore we can't escape the patterns that we've established? I dunno, that line never worked for me, but the series sure fucking does.
posted by So You're Saying These Are Pants? at 6:38 AM on May 30, 2014


I'd be psyched about a one episode/week pace. I watched the first episode again last night. Man, is this show terrific.
posted by MoonOrb at 6:45 AM on May 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


I always read it as, like, 'This is America--everybody gets a chance to play.'
posted by box at 7:49 AM on May 30, 2014 [4 favorites]


"This is America", and therefore, can't tell Snot Boogie not to play? Or "This is America", and therefore we can't escape the patterns that we've established?

I think it's a bit of both; the series continually reinforces the fact that the pattern is set - those people who try to step outside the pattern will be hammered back into place (with very few exceptions); and the sense that "This is America" in that everyone is expected to/has a right to "play the game" in the sense of having that opportunity to make themselves better, make some cash, do the hustle kind of thing.

I think it's an attempt at a comment on the state of the American dream, in the sense that everyone has a chance to play, but that you can only play within the larger set of unwritten rules and expectations and that deviating from those usually ends in disaster. McNulty is asking the larger thematic question of "wtf, why is no one stopping to look at the whole premise of the game we've set up"?

In short, don't look at this scene as involving individuals (in which case, yeah, Snot Boogie would not be welcome at the game after the first time); I'm starting to think of it as a Greek chorus coming in to make a meta-comment. (which, given that Simon in some interview or another about The Wire talks about Greek drama, and how we've moved away from that style, starts to make more and more sense).
posted by nubs at 8:19 AM on May 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


And found the quote I was thinking of:
Much of our modern theater seems rooted in the Shakespearean discovery of the modern mind. We’re stealing instead from an earlier, less-traveled construct—the Greeks—lifting our thematic stance wholesale from Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides to create doomed and fated protagonists who confront a rigged game and their own mortality. The modern mind—particularly those of us in the West—finds such fatalism ancient and discomfiting, I think. We are a pretty self-actualized, self-worshipping crowd of postmoderns and the idea that for all of our wherewithal and discretionary income and leisure, we’re still fated by indifferent gods, feels to us antiquated and superstitious. We don’t accept our gods on such terms anymore; by and large, with the exception of the fundamentalists among us, we don’t even grant Yahweh himself that kind of unbridled, interventionist authority.

But instead of the old gods, The Wire is a Greek tragedy in which the postmodern institutions are the Olympian forces. 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...Greek tragedy for the new millennium, so to speak. Because so much of television is about providing catharsis and redemption and the triumph of character, a drama in which postmodern institutions trump individuality and morality and justice seems different in some ways, I think.
Full interview here - Fair warning I have not screened for spoilers for the rest of the series.
posted by nubs at 8:23 AM on May 30, 2014 [8 favorites]


Time for a rewatch!
posted by jeather at 9:03 AM on May 30, 2014


I think I'll make another post tomorrow. If we want to always do "not Mad Men" days, maybe going forward I'll do posts on Tuesdays and Saturdays? Thoughts?
posted by Sara C. at 9:13 AM on May 30, 2014


I kinda dig the idea of letting the posts breathe a little by having at least a week between them. I think the rewatch threads have such awesome potential for deeper and more interesting discussion that is realized best when slightly more time passes between threads, giving more people opportunities to weigh in and let discussion develop. I don't think that 2 or 3 episodes a week is some manic awful viewing pace, but since in my view the value of the rewatch threads is in the richness of the discussion, I'd say that a week strikes the perfect balance. So I'm advocating for a week in between, but I'm gonna watch it again no matter when the threads go up.
posted by MoonOrb at 10:30 AM on May 30, 2014 [5 favorites]


OMG the timing of this post is pure awesome. We just watched the first episode for the first time (thank you, Amazon Prime), and already we're hooked. I've spent some time in Baltimore, and I love that aspect of it (the row-house architecture alone is SO unique to this city). The only thing that's bugging me is that I can hear Dominic West's accent. His boss calls him Irish; are we supposed to hear his accent? Or is the actor just not that good at doing an American accent? Compare to Idris Elba, whom I first discovered via "Luther." His accent so far is spot-on.

I've been thinking lately, what the hell am I as a MeFite going to do when Mad Men ends? Thank you, Sara C., for solving that problem. We'll probably do a few episodes at a time, but the flow should be whatever works for you and everyone.
posted by flyingsquirrel at 11:41 AM on May 30, 2014


Aw, Wallace. He knows who Alexander Hamilton was. And he goes on to play for the East Dillon Lions. ♥
posted by donajo at 12:02 PM on May 30, 2014 [9 favorites]


I always felt that the "Got to. This America, man" line was meant to be hugely symbolic and meaningful given its position in the show. But I could never decide what exactly it was meant to symbolize.
posted by philipy at 12:13 PM on May 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


The only thing that's bugging me is that I can hear Dominic West's accent. His boss calls him Irish; are we supposed to hear his accent? Or is the actor just not that good at doing an American accent?

He's only Irish in that his last name is McNulty and that he drinks Jameson's. (Originally written as McArdle, which is terrible somehow.) He's nth generation Irish-American, the same way that people talk about Polacks in the second series, etc. Dominic West's accent is pretty rough in the first couple of episodes; it never becomes Idris Elba or even Aiden Gillen good, but it gets good enough that (to me) it isn't an ongoing distraction.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 12:26 PM on May 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


They're handing off glass vials. There's a brief (and oblique) mention of them a few episodes in.
And a shot of them getting crushed in the opening credits...
posted by pjenks at 1:57 PM on May 30, 2014


I dropped off somewhere perhaps around the end of season 2, and I really wanted to get caught back up again at some point in my life. I'm glad you started this kick, Sara C.
posted by oceanjesse at 4:44 PM on May 30, 2014


Re Dominic West's accent, it took a long time for me to hear the badness. There was just so much going on early in the show in terms of learning how to watch it, I didn't have time to scrutinize on that level.

Now that I've watched the whole first season, though, I can hear it and it drives me CRAZY.

I think he's fine as McNulty, and I wouldn't go as far as to say "miscast", but it does fascinate me that somebody was so excited about casting that guy as the lead actor in a series like this. I mean, from what I can tell with a quick glance at his IMDB page, he hadn't really done anything before this role. He certainly wasn't on the level of someone like James Gandolfini or Ian McShane, and his performance isn't so great that I'm willing to overlook either his terrible accent or his overall look, which I also feel is wrong for the part. (His mannerisms and the way he carries himself are way too British-looking; his way of being a brash jock is to sort of do a cheeky footballer thing rather than someone I'd buy as blue collar east coast.)
posted by Sara C. at 5:46 PM on May 30, 2014 [4 favorites]


First-time viewer here. I won't say I'm completely hooked yet, but it's interested me enough to give it a few more episodes. (Someone mentioned upthread something about sticking with it at least through S1E04, so I'll at least go that far.)

I liked the opening scene, FWIW. I really liked the parallel being drawn between D'Angelo and McNulty, as juiceCake mentioned above. A clear dichotomy was drawn between the low-tech Baltimore PD (still using typewriters!) and the high-tech FBI — it will be interesting to see how that plays out.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:40 PM on May 30, 2014


Ah, you know, I posted my comment above b/c Sara said she had finished watching S1, so I thought it was ok to post something from a later episode. I now realize that it was not cool as there are others who may not have seen all of S1.

I flagged my comment for deletion and encourage everyone else to do so as well. Sorry, people.
posted by mlis at 10:39 PM on May 30, 2014


[deleted!]
posted by taz at 10:49 PM on May 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


<insert eight paragraph wall of text rant on the silliness of the post-0ughts obsession with "spoilers">
posted by sammyo at 8:04 AM on May 31, 2014


Eh, assuming mlis posted something that gave away major first season plot points, I'm fine with her flagging her own stuff as problematic. Though now I'm dying to know what it was.

There were a couple of fairly surprising moments in season 1 where something important happened, I hadn't seen it coming, (or at least not till the show wanted me to see it coming), and I was so moved I actually said, "noooooooo" to my TV. The Wire is pretty heavy stuff, even 12 years later, and while some things aren't a very big deal to know*, there are some surprises in store that it wouldn't be very nice to ruin for others.

*There are actually a few places in Sepinwall's newbie recaps where he's clearly forgotten whether a scene took place in one episode or the following episode, so you get a little more insight into character motivations a little bit before you were technically supposed to know that information.
posted by Sara C. at 8:39 AM on May 31, 2014


Homicide, by the way, is highly recommended for any Wire fan.

As are The Corner (which Simon co-wrote with Edward Burns) and Richard Price's Clockers.
posted by asterix at 8:53 AM on May 31, 2014


I posted my comment ... I now realize that it was not cool

I tried to find out what the rules of the road were for posting in this thread, but could not see them. There's Sara C's opening remark along the lines of "I was thinking X, but if folks prefer Y, it's ok with me." There doesn't seem to be any clear cut statement of what the resulting consensus was, at least anyplace obvious to me.

Can anyone clarify?
posted by philipy at 9:04 AM on May 31, 2014


I've been operating under the assumption that we're sticking to the idea that people in this thread may only have seen this episode. There was no clear consensus, but nobody really came out in favor of All Spoilers All The Time, so I feel like less spoilers is probably the way to go out of respect for the folks who said they were new to the show.

Be cool, I guess? I think that's always a good way to go on the subject of spoilers.
posted by Sara C. at 9:15 AM on May 31, 2014 [3 favorites]


We just watched episode 2. Jonesing for a new thread! Heh.
posted by flyingsquirrel at 10:24 AM on May 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


Well, you're about to get your wish, because the question I wanted to pose to AskMe today has already been handily answered with loads of "previouslies". Episode 2 coming right up...
posted by Sara C. at 10:38 AM on May 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


"Got to. This America, man"

The exact phrasing and delivery of this line was hugely compelling to me for some reason. It's not "This is America," it's not "It's America,: it's "This America, man.

(This is the only episode of the Wire I've seen, but I'm going to try to keep up with the rewatch threads. It's really nice out in NYC though).
posted by sweetkid at 11:44 AM on May 31, 2014 [2 favorites]


Comparing the organizations is interesting to the extent it reveals how much more competent Barksdale's organization is at its top levels. The police, on the other hand, have their best people much closer to the bottom: Griggs, McNulty, Bunk, Freamon, Sydnor; Daniels is probably the most senior competent law enforcement officer. Everyone higher up is primarily concerned with petty politics and other chickenshit details. In Barksdale's crew, advancement is based primarily on production and competence. Even Dee, Barksdale's own family, has to work his way up from the bottom. It's a meritocracy. Not so with the Baltimore PD, where advancement depends on trading favors, kissing the right asses, and making sure you don't make the wrong people look bad.
posted by MoonOrb at 12:10 PM on May 31, 2014 [4 favorites]


I clicked on FanFare randomly having just watched episode 1 today, having never seen The Wire. I watched most of episode 1 once before, but wasn't getting into it at all. It seems to have clicked this time.
posted by hoyland at 3:03 PM on May 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


Thanks to digging around trying to find a clear answer to the Episode 2 thread's narco/knocko slang question, I finally cracked the code on vials vs. caplets and why all these street drugs are often seen on the show in pill form.

Per this Wall Street Journal article on Baltimore street/drug slang, it turns out that heroin is packaged in caplets, while cocaine is sold in vials. Baggies are also referred to, but again I'll say that I've seen surprisingly few baggies in the drug props in the first few episodes.
posted by Sara C. at 3:15 PM on May 31, 2014


Even Dee, Barksdale's own family, has to work his way up from the bottom

Dee didn't start at the bottom. He was higher up before the series began, probably above his level of competence, and got kicked down back to running the Pit after his trial because he'd screwed up. Even that is not the bottom of the organization though.

And there is a definite limit to how far a foot soldier can go in the Barskdale organisation, but we'll be hearing more about that in a couple of episodes time.
posted by philipy at 3:36 PM on May 31, 2014


Yes the Barksdale organization is run much better than the police in terms of competence getting rewarded, but then again, they have to be much more careful because if they aren't, they get their asses handed to them. In the police, you seem to get your ass handed to you if you're competent, so it's all about playing politics instead of police work (this is something I'm sure we've all run into). It's to easy to spoil the future but this point comes up repeatedly and it's a very interesting contrast. The major incompetence of D'Angelo triggers the investigation into the organization and it would be interesting to see if the Barksdale organization would have gone quite so far in defending D'Angelo if he wasn't himself, blood.

Solutions on both sides on how to stay under the radar take fascinating directions later in the show, and the culture of each organization encourages ineffective rather than effective solutions down the road.
posted by juiceCake at 5:13 PM on May 31, 2014


it would be interesting to see if the Barksdale organization would have gone quite so far in defending D'Angelo if he wasn't himself, blood.

Isn't there an angle on this in the scene in the club between Avon and D'Angelo, where D'Angelo is pissed that he's getting demoted to the Pit, and Avon is like (not a literal quote) "just be glad you're family, it could've gone a lot worse for you". I may be conflating a few different scenes in the episode, though.
posted by Sara C. at 5:21 PM on May 31, 2014


Thanks for starting this, Sara. I've never seen The Wire and part of the reason Is because everyone's already seen it and it's not as fun to watch without someone to discuss things with. I'll definitely be following along.
posted by triggerfinger at 9:30 PM on May 31, 2014 [4 favorites]


I KNOW THIS IS SO FUN RIGHT

THANKS SARA C!!!
posted by sweetkid at 9:33 PM on May 31, 2014 [4 favorites]


I watched the opening scene three or four times and just couldn't get into it. Once I managed to get past that, four episodes in and I was hooked. I've watched the whole thing end to end five times now (it's probably the only DVD box set I've that I watched more than twice). I'm not sure I'm up for a sixth viewing but I'll be following the threads and probably get sucked in at some point.
posted by The Hamms Bear at 5:43 PM on June 1, 2014


Ahhh! I'm so excited. It's time to watch it again... it'll be my second or third viewing..

I'm on the same wavelength as moonorb and think we should go with an episode or 2 (no more!) a week. It's 60 episodes... so 2/week will take us 5-6 months..
posted by fizzix at 7:53 PM on June 1, 2014


This will be my...lemme see...my third or fourth viewing of the series. So excited!
posted by Bugbread at 1:40 AM on June 5, 2014


Ok, observations on rewatch:

McNulty really does not orchestrate that meeting with the judge which sets the whole thing in progress. It was my initial impression that he did, but on rewatching, he's called back by the judge's aide as he's leaving the building. The whole thing actually is somewhat coincidental.

How is it that Lt. Daniels and Kima don't know about Avon? I mean, sure, Herc and Carver are fuck-ups, but Kima and Daniels are smart. How is it they don't know Avon but McNulty does?
posted by Bugbread at 6:37 AM on June 5, 2014


Well remember that nobody can even find a picture of Avon later on, so I've always taken that as evidence of just how well-entrenched Avon's crew is before people start looking specifically at them.

IIRC, Kima is skeptical that Avon is so important, if she hasn't heard of him.
posted by So You're Saying These Are Pants? at 7:01 AM on June 5, 2014


I guess I should rephrase: why does McNulty know? I mean, it isn't like he found out at the trial itself. He already knew, before even going to trial, about both Avon and Stringer.
posted by Bugbread at 8:36 AM on June 5, 2014


The cops were such fools to get plastered and try to strut their stuff over at the Tower. I was glad when people started throwing TVs and shit at them. I mean COME ON.

Are they six years old? Don't they know how things are done? Of course they had to get put back in their places. Hassling the guys outside the building was one thing, but pistol whipping some smart-ass kid with his potato chip bag? Dumbasses.

The nice thing about this show, though, is that I think they did learn their lesson, at least a realistic amount. They reminded me of some sixth graders thinking they're hot shit on the first day of middle school until the eighth graders get some sense into them. Just like Wallace and his buddies learning from D'Angelo, just like D'Angelo learning from his uncles and the older crowd. They'll all do better next time.

My favorite scene was when D'Angelo and his gf and kid went to visit his family. I liked watching coo over the baby and be friendly while showing off and still trying to act proud and tough. Very well-written scene. On the one hand, it was so naturalistic, but on the other hand, it was beautifully constructed and complex.

This show reminds me of ballet -- the art is in making the performance seem effortless. That's how it casts its spell.
posted by rue72 at 8:47 AM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


I guess I should rephrase: why does McNulty know? I mean, it isn't like he found out at the trial itself. He already knew, before even going to trial, about both Avon and Stringer.

I attributed this to dysfunction within the police department: there's little incentive to share information, and the priority of the narcotics division isn't to orchestrate enterprise-level investigations. As a result, someone like McNulty might know because he hears the whispers that Barksdale's crew has been responsible for murders, but Greggs and Daniels don't know because (1) no one shares this information with them and (2) the work in narcotics doesn't extend much beyond busting the guys at the street level. It's these street-level arrests that I think give them the numbers they need to make it look like their division is doing its job, so they don't worry about anyone up the chain. It's just more work with little likelihood of payoff (payoff being having good metrics that Baltimore PD higher ups use to measure success).

There's not much of a similar incentive in homicide, either, where the metric looks like "cleared cases," but McNulty doesn't play the game the way everyone else does. He's actually interested in the bigger picture. So if anyone would know and ask about it, it would be McNulty.

Having said all that, it does seem a little strange that no one in narcotics has even heard of this dude, but I suppose that this was a dramatic premise that supports the show's narrative, and even if it's somewhat improbable I at least find it consistent with how the Baltimore PD functionality is portrayed.
posted by MoonOrb at 9:03 AM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


Just to clarify a few things about McNulty and what he knew/why he knew it:

1. McNulty starts out the series in Homicide, not Narcotics.

2. He knows about D'Angelo Barksdale because he's had a peripheral involvement with that homicide case.

3. He knows the basic details of that case: D'Angelo is a low level guy in his uncle's drug ring.

4. By sitting in that courtroom when he happened to be sitting in that courtroom, he is uniquely placed (as someone who knows the details of the case and actually gives a shit) to realize that Avon Barksdale is bigger than anyone had thought, because at this point he has the power to get witnesses in a murder trial to change their testimony. Which is bigger than just dealing a little heroin here and there. This is how McNulty knows that Avon Barksdale is a big deal. There's no reason that anyone from Narcotics would be in that room to know that this went down, or frankly to even care, because Narcotics cops just care about drug stuff, not witness tampering in murder trials.

Now the real question is, how does Narcotics not already know about this guy? I could see Kima not knowing about him if she'd been assigned to other cases in other parts of town, but it seems weird to me that someone like Daniels wouldn't have a general sense of who the important drug lords in town are.
posted by Sara C. at 9:43 AM on June 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


Also, IIRC, McNulty has caught a few other homicides over time that lead back to the Barksdale organization in some way. So he seems to be uniquely positioned to realize that there is a major organization running drugs.

how does Narcotics not already know about this guy?

By and large, I think it's because of how they are doing business at the start of the series - which is something season 1 spends some time unraveling, so I won't get into it right now (and the priorities of Narcotics are maybe not what they should be). But basically, they operate in a way that attracts very little notice - I mean, it's obvious that drug trafficking is going on - but they don't do many of the things that really attract attention, nor is it readily apparent from the outside that this is a large, organized outfit.
posted by nubs at 2:51 PM on June 5, 2014


The opening scene is self-aware in a way that the majority of the rest of The Wire isn't; it very much has a "We're making a TV show, here, people!" vibe going on.

I didn't feel that, but I very much did feel that about the (forthcoming) 'fuck^100' scene. There's a careful line to walk between clever and good, and mostly this show toes it nice and proper.
posted by Sebmojo at 4:18 PM on June 5, 2014


Yeah, the "Fuck" scene stood out like a sore thumb to me, far more than anything else in the series.
posted by Bugbread at 4:33 PM on June 5, 2014


But otoh a lot of people cite it as their favourite and most awesome thing; sometimes breaking the rules is the right thing to do.
posted by Sebmojo at 5:20 PM on June 5, 2014


Chess.
posted by box at 6:19 PM on June 5, 2014


How does Narcotics not already know about this guy?

Narcotics is measured by statistics the same way Homicide is. In their case, though, the unit of measurement is not clearance rate, but street value seized.
posted by box at 6:22 PM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


Chess.

The king stay the king.
posted by MoonOrb at 6:33 PM on June 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


Yeah, but consider McNulty: He's homicide, so he should only care about clearance rate, but he gives a shit when it isn't his turn. Hence he knows Avon. Lt. Daniels is real po-lice. He's the kinda guy who gives a shit when it isn't his turn. So it's a little surprising that he hasn't heard anything from his subordinates.

But, OK, if his subords are all Hercs and Carvers, then, sure. But what about Kima? She's real po-lice, and she's got a great CI in Bubs. You'd figure when she was trying to get some good stats, she'd ask him for info, and he'd say something like, "Lately Avon's boys been sellin' some new shit, WMDs. They been givin' out a ton of samplers, so they must be sittin' on a big pile right now" or something.

But, honestly, this is the kind of nit-picking stuff that is only coming up on multiple rewatches. It doesn't actually bother me, it's more like noticing tiny continuity gaffes.
posted by Bugbread at 7:53 PM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


True, but the difference between Daniels and McNulty is that Daniels is playing the game to get ahead in the department and McNulty's not.
posted by MoonOrb at 7:56 PM on June 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


And Kima is a careerist too, when it comes down to it. I don't say that as a dis--I'm also somebody who wants to do good work, but I'm still looking out for that next promotion.

One of the great things about 'The Wire,' I think, is the notion that institutions are the same everywhere--I work in public libraries, but this show makes me relate to people who work in big-city police departments, and drug gangs (and unions and government and schools and newspapers).
posted by box at 8:41 PM on June 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


I just saw the post for the 3rd episode on the FF front page. I didn't realize this was goin' on. I love this show with all my heart. Hold on. I've got to get to re-watching so I can get re-caught up with y'all. Thanks so much for doing this Sara C. !!
posted by marsha56 at 5:19 AM on June 7, 2014


re: How do they package the drugs? I just noticed someone wearing green rubber gloves shoving some light brown granular stuff (crack or heroin?) into little glass vials during the opening credits.
posted by marsha56 at 5:43 AM on June 7, 2014


I am so jealous of anyone watching this show for the first time. Oh! To think about the days that television wasn't ruined for me because this is the greatest and it sets the bar too high! To fall in love with Omar again!
posted by the_royal_we at 9:31 PM on June 23, 2014


Oh man, I missed that we were talking about The Wire; hopefully my comments aren't coming to late. I love this show; must have watched half a dozen times (and again for the discussion here to not unwittingly spoil); the first time the entire series in less than a month.

The first scene sets McNulty apart as someone who will actually talk to people involved with crime rather than just interrogate them. Makes him a good cop because he gleans threads to weave into the big picture.

I love how Kima's introduction makes it obvious she is a much better cop than the people she is working with. A strong signal that the show is going to veer away from tokenism.

> "I guess I should rephrase: why does McNulty know? I mean, it isn't like he found out at the trial itself. He already knew, before even going to trial, about both Avon and Stringer."

Besides being competent and good police McNulty seems to actually care about the big picture. You see that when Rawls calls him out on stirring up cases from the previous year and he all eye-rolly jaded. Also that he is watching the Barksdale case in contrast to Barlow whose case it was. Everyone else is just trying to avoid work.

I agree that Daniels should know but I only caught it on the rewatch. Avon has most of the towers and the low rises. Unless he's running some kind of super ninja fake out the drug people should know. It's kind of hand wavy pilot/first episode introductory exposition hanger.

Balancing that is how focused and disciplined the Barksdale crew is as shown by the "no talking in the car" rule is enforced both strongly and immediately. And also by how it seems Avon never talked to D'Angelo about the case until after he is released. Even when D'Angelo is talking to Shardene he says he works for Stringer rather than claiming to work for Avon who Shardene is going to know owns the place.

>: "McNulty really does not orchestrate that meeting with the judge which sets the whole thing in progress. It was my initial impression that he did, but on rewatching, he's called back by the judge's aide as he's leaving the building. The whole thing actually is somewhat coincidental."

The judge is also quite incredulous about the unexpected witness testimony during the trial.

Is it typical for a hostess at a club like Avon's to work only for tips?
posted by Mitheral at 4:00 PM on July 31, 2014


Sorry to show up so late, just now finally made good on my promise to myself that I would eventually watch The Wire at some point.

I'm here mainly to tell you that my introduction to Idris Elba was in the series Luther of all things, so in the opening scenes of this episode when I saw him in the courtroom I assumed he was a detective or officer or something. Couldn't for the life of me figure out why he was giving McNulty shit, but eventually everything got worked out and now I get what's what.

Oh hey also Prez, man. I had such an immediate and visceral distaste for the guy and couldn't figure out why ... until I remembered "Hiya, buddy! My name's Buzz, I got the fuzz, I make the elevator do what she does!"
posted by komara at 9:13 PM on September 27, 2015


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