The Wire: The Buys   First Watch 
June 6, 2014 7:10 PM - Season 1, Episode 3 - Subscribe

The early-morning 'field interviews' by Herc, Carver and Prez have consequences. On the other side of the law, D'Angelo teaches Wallace and Bodie how to play the game.

Streaming on HBOGo and Amazon Prime.

As always, Alan Sepinwall's recaps for Newbies and Veterans make a great companion.

Now that the mods have created official spoiler categories, we are in FIRST WATCH mode.
posted by Sara C. (46 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
The chess scene here is probably one of my favorite scenes in any kind of television show, ever.
posted by Sara C. at 7:27 PM on June 6, 2014 [3 favorites]


Scenes like the chess one (and the McNugget one, and the Snot Boogie one) always strike me as kind of stagey and flow-breaking, but then they're also some of the most memorable. David Simon often speaks about 'The Wire' in terms of Greek tragedy (and, later, Dickens), and scenes like these seem like part of what he means. (No disagreement intended--I was drafting this comment at the same time Sara C. was drafting the above one.)
posted by box at 7:28 PM on June 6, 2014 [1 favorite]


Spoiler request: to the guy ever learn how to play? ; -)
posted by sammyo at 7:29 PM on June 6, 2014 [1 favorite]


I think it's a stylized scene, sure, but it goes back to what I said about Snot Boogie:

The Wire is a fairly minimalist show, aesthetically speaking. There's not a ton to look at on screen. The locations are always the same. The sets are almost aggressively ugly. The costumes are from thrift stores. Everyone is ordinary looking. There is no non-diagetic music. While sometimes the camerawork is inventive (I love all the shots where we see characters from a great height or through a mirror or a window or part of a scene plays out via surveillance footage), the visual style is very straightforward.

This leaves a lot of room for experimentation in narrative and dialogue (and it's part of why the story itself can be so baroque). Since I'm not reeling from the wild outfit a character is wearing, or a beautiful setting, or the score, there's room on my plate to fool around with high concept moments like this, stylized dialogue, larger than life characters, and plotlines that need dissection well after the fact.
posted by Sara C. at 7:41 PM on June 6, 2014 [3 favorites]


GUYS I JUST REALIZED TODAY'S THE DAY YOU ALL MET OMAR

(In ascertaining this so as to avoid spoiling y'all, I got spoiled by Wikipedia. Everyone please stay away from the Wikipedia entries regarding any character on The Wire.)

Indeed.
posted by Sara C. at 7:43 PM on June 6, 2014 [2 favorites]


'Stylized' is a great word for the dialogue. I've watched the show a few times (and read a bunch of 'Wire' writers' books and listened to a bunch of hip-hop and etc.), so it kinda washes over me now, but there's a lot of attention paid to how people really talk, and it's one of the best things about the show.
posted by box at 7:48 PM on June 6, 2014


One of my ring tones is Omar whistling The Farmer in the Dell.

I have not thought deeply about this but Omar is surely in my top five most beloved television characters ever, and I didn't think there would be room for anyone not from The Simpsons in the top twenty five.
posted by MoonOrb at 8:01 PM on June 6, 2014 [4 favorites]


Barack Obama once said Omar was his favorite 'Wire' character.
posted by box at 8:03 PM on June 6, 2014 [1 favorite]


Omar is objectively the best 'Wire' character. It is known.
posted by Sara C. at 8:06 PM on June 6, 2014 [4 favorites]


This episode's visually artistic scene: 19:34, when Freamon opens the mysterious doors and you see a busy boxing gym on the other side.

New observations: So (without being spoilery), this is the start of Omar the legend, huh? In a later episode, it's stated that everybody knows Omar. But in this episode, when Omar's boyfriend says his name, Omar is pissed. So all of that fame started from this point on, huh.

Other stuff: Rewatching this from the start, I've gotta take back what I said about Daniels. He's not a corrupt cop, but, yeah, at the start, he's definitely a pure company man.
posted by Bugbread at 8:28 PM on June 6, 2014


If I had to pick a favorite character three episodes in, it'd probably be Bubs or Kima.
posted by box at 8:30 PM on June 6, 2014 [3 favorites]


Bugbread, thanks for reminding me of something.

This episode doesn't just bring Omar, it brings my other favorite character:

Freamon.

Sure, we've seen him before. But this is the episode where we realize he's no hump.

I might have a soft spot for Carver despite his idiocy, and Omar might be one of the most magnetic characters of all time, but Lester Freamon is the character in The Wire I think would be best to have as a friend.
posted by Sara C. at 8:37 PM on June 6, 2014 [5 favorites]


Yeah, Freamon's one of my favorites.
posted by box at 8:44 PM on June 6, 2014


The revelation that Lester is actually "natural police" might be the moment that I started to get why people loved The Wire.
posted by gladly at 9:01 PM on June 6, 2014 [4 favorites]


This was the episode that had me hopelessly hooked on this show.

I love the opening scene: you can see seeds of doubt have been planted in D'Angelo about the drug trade. He somewhat preaches the gospel that Bunk and McNulty were laying him on the interrogation room. Everything else in America is sold without people killing one another for it--why does the heroin trade have to be so violent?

Another great moment was at the end: for nearly three full episodes Greggs appears to be the one cop who is solid from her feet to her toes. Her police work is great, she loves the job, she's (grudgingly, sometimes) respected by her peers, she's tough. And when Mahone goes down and you see her fly over to the melee, don't you expect her to jump in and pull off the cops delivering the beatdown? Nope. Even a shitbird cop like Mahone is still a cop, and she pays out on Bodie just the same as everyone else.

Some of the writing was just so great--the scene with Bubbles schooling Sydnor on how to look like a junkie; the moment where McNulty's FBI contact pulls up next to him and McNulty says, "I see you've never been in patrol"; and the allegorical chess lesson. Heavy-handed or not, for years I've thought about Bodie saying, "So if I make it to the other end, I win."

Not to mention this is the episode that introduces us to Omar, pulls back the veil on Freamon, and clues us in on the darker truth to why Daniels is so determined to toe the line with Burrell.
posted by MoonOrb at 9:40 PM on June 6, 2014 [10 favorites]


MoonOrb, that moment with Kima was absolutely when I knew I was watching something different to anything I'd seen before - you're 100% expecting her to break up the fight, and then she just plows on in, BOOM.

Goddammit I might have to start rewatching with you all.
posted by ominous_paws at 1:27 AM on June 7, 2014 [2 favorites]


I love this quote about the chess scene from Sepinwall:

Bodie and Wallace using the chess board to play checkers -- a fine game, but a simpler one where it's easy to play in a relaxed, reactive fashion -- are standing in for every TV crime drama that preceded "The Wire." They had the same pieces at their disposal, but they chose to play an easier game with more instant gratification, where David Simon and company are in this for the long haul, setting up pieces for moves that we won't get to see for weeks or months or, in some cases, years. The pieces are not interchangeable; each one has its own unique role to play on the board, and each one's actions affect what happens to every other piece. And if you stick around for all those moves, it'll be clear that, as D'Angelo says, chess is the better game, yo.
posted by marsha56 at 12:17 PM on June 7, 2014 [6 favorites]


This might be because I've seen it before, but, seeing Kima running, baton in hand, I don't think she's going to break things up.
posted by box at 7:27 PM on June 7, 2014


Also, playing during McNulty's meeting with Fitzhugh: 'The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game.' McNulty loves oldies radio as much as I do.
posted by box at 7:30 PM on June 7, 2014


In a later episode, it's stated that everybody knows Omar. But in this episode, when Omar's boyfriend says his name, Omar is pissed. So all of that fame started from this point on, huh.

What I thought was interesting about Omar's reaction is that he's genuinely pissed, but he doesn't grandstand about it. Everyone else in the show is always playing to the crowd, and keeping their reputation in mind as much as anything. Daniels spent the whole episode carefully curating his reputation with his superiors. Omar doesn't *have* any superiors, doesn't seem to care about his reputation, and is pissed with his bf over the practical matter of his name getting said in the middle of a crime, and not over anything abstract or metaphorical or whatever.

Maybe Omar is like Freamon in that way? Focused on the practical, not all that interested in bullshit, a sort of free agent, and therefore capable of grace that some of the others who are going after more abstract stuff (reputation, power, chess) aren't? (Just spitballing, not sure).

The revelation that Lester is actually "natural police" might be the moment that I started to get why people loved The Wire.

I loved how natural and believable it is that Lester would inspect in the empty apartment and would notice the numbers -- of course he would, he notices and takes advantage of things that would usually be overlooked, like with his model furniture business. It's hard not to respect someone with a mind like that, so I'm not sure whether I like Lester yet (need to see more of his decision making to really know) but I do like how his mind works, and seeing it in action.

The chess scene was sort of meta and stylized, but in a good way, I thought. I don't mind scenes that are more about the themes of the show than the plot, even though they're not all that "realistic" per se. I think that they give the audience a lot of information about how to think about the show and the world that the characters are in.

Bodie was wrong, though, that he'd win if he got to the end. I felt bad that that's all he could imagine doing, just trying to hang on through the game. Just surviving until you don't isn't winning, I don't think?

D'Angelo is strange. How does he not know why the drug business is violent? It's because drugs are illegal and so martial law pretty much reigns. The cops just half blinded a *child* in the previous episode and were running into homes and beating the shit out of people and loading more children into a paddy wagon in this episode. It actually is a *war* on drugs, that's not just rhetoric.

That said, I loved the police "raid." The least glamorous raid in TV history, right down to Kima sprinting like all get out through the overgrown, patchy grass, just to kick some idiot who was already down.
posted by rue72 at 2:17 PM on June 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


Bodie was wrong, though, that he'd win if he got to the end. I felt bad that that's all he could imagine doing, just trying to hang on through the game. Just surviving until you don't isn't winning, I don't think?

I've often thought that Bodie was the only one who had this right. What else is winning if it's not survival? The king might stay the king, but you can't stay the king forever.
posted by MoonOrb at 2:26 PM on June 8, 2014


rue72: "D'Angelo is strange. How does he not know why the drug business is violent? It's because drugs are illegal and so martial law pretty much reigns."

Trying to avoid spoilers as much as possible through vagueness and obscurity: Martial law does not necessarily have to reign, and it is possible to reduce the amount of violence, at least if not permanently, for some time. (and I'm not talking about hamsters)

Or, in real life: Drugs are really illegal here in Japan, but the level of violence isn't even close to the level of violence in the US. Illegality does not automatically produce bodies on a weekly basis.
posted by Bugbread at 3:10 PM on June 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


The chess scene, like "Got to, this America, man" is one of the more on-the-nose scenes in the series, and on one hand, I sort of cringe with how it takes you out of the narrative.

But you know what I realised today (a little a propos of the discussion on the blue of musicals) is that the on-the-nose scenes are sort of like the soliloquies in Shakespeare; a little too direct, a little too jarring. But damn if they aren't some of the most notable and memorable takeaways of the whole piece.


And yeah, Kima, the best cop laying in the beats really stunned me and really sets the tone - if we were watching only the cop perspective, then it wouldn't seem like such a bad reaction, never mind that no other cop show would have a hack as pathetic as Mahone - most CSI type shows stop just short of the cops walking on water, and in the "realistic" modern cop shows, you might see a dirty cop, or a thuggish cop, but you'd never see a total hump like Mahone, just an empty shell going through the motions until pension, even though there are undoubtedly loads (like in any other workplace).

It's bits like that where I remember hearing that the short pitch for The Wire was something like "We want to expose what a fraud TV police procedurals are".
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 3:23 PM on June 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


Or, in real life: Drugs are really illegal here in Japan, but the level of violence isn't even close to the level of violence in the US. Illegality does not automatically produce bodies on a weekly basis.

You're right that it doesn't have to, but on the other hand, they didn't declare a *war* on drugs to *not* use violence. Within the show, the drugs (and their illegality) are maybe even just an excuse for the violence.

I've often thought that Bodie was the only one who had this right. What else is winning if it's not survival?

I thought the point is that there is no winning? You are what you are, and you just get moved around the board in the ways you're allowed and eventually you're knocked off and who even knows who the actual players (as opposed to pieces, including the king or queen or whoever) actually are or even if they exist.

I thought the point of the metaphor was reductive it is to see life as a big chess game. Though I don't think that's why D'Angelo was explaining the metaphor, that's just what I took away from it as an outsider/audience member.
posted by rue72 at 3:38 PM on June 8, 2014


I'd say that you can't stay in the game and survive, but as far as what constitutes winning, survival is a whole lot more like winning than reaching the top of the heroin-dealing organization is.

If you're going to be in the game either way I guess you might as well go for the top though, because there really is no winning.
posted by MoonOrb at 3:49 PM on June 8, 2014


"Some say a drug dealer's destiny is reachin the ki'/ I'd rather be the man behind the door, supplying the streets"--Ghostface Killah, 'Kilo'
posted by box at 4:06 PM on June 8, 2014


How does he not know why the drug business is violent? It's because drugs are illegal and so martial law pretty much reigns.

I don't think it's a nuts and bolts practical question.

It's a philosophical question. Why is "might makes right" the first impulse, for humans, when the law isn't involved? It's not just "you do what you have to do to defend yourself." See, for instance, Bubs' friend who gets beat half the death for scamming them out of ten dollars. The dealers didn't have to almost kill him. Sure, there's an element of "we have to make an example of him or everyone will start trying to pull this." But, like, really?

The answer is "human nature", probably. But like, why? Why is human nature like that?

So far the only answer presented by the show is

It America, man.

(Note also that there are plenty of other shady/illegal business models where the barest amount of dishonesty is met with extreme violence. If somebody pulled that with a weed dealer in the suburbs they'd probably just get cut off. Which should be plenty for a junkie, anyway.)
posted by Sara C. at 9:48 PM on June 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


But damn if they aren't some of the most notable and memorable takeaways of the whole piece.

This is why the tendency for people to sneer about something being "on the nose" is so obnoxious. It's almost never true, and it's almost always when what they mean is "this scene made me feel something."

Usually "on the nose" means unsubtle or lacking in subtext. All these scenes in "The Wire" that people tend to claim are on the nose are almost never actually "on the nose". Often they're the most subtextual scenes in the series.
posted by Sara C. at 9:52 PM on June 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


Sara C.: "Usually "on the nose" means unsubtle or lacking in subtext."

I think people when people say these scenes are on-the-nose, they're saying, "Sure, there's subtext, but it's really unsubtle."

Personally, though, this doesn't bug me because it's not like Dee is explaining chess, and it just happens to be like real life, and people in the show don't get it, but you as the viewer are going "Ok, I get it, gimme a fucking break!" Instead, when Dee is explaining chess, he's intentionally using examples from their real lives to explain it. That's neither "subtle" nor "unsubtle", it's just there.

Like, ok, imagine a movie. Imagine that there's a killer. And imagine that there are really goddamn subtle hints at who the killer is. That's "subtle".
Now imagine a movie, with a killer. And whenever a certain character appears, the music goes all ominous, and the character is lit weird. That's "unsubtle".
Now imagine a movie, which shows a character straight up murdering someone. That goes beyond "subtly" pointing out the killer, or "unsubtly" pointing out the killer. It's just plain showing the killer. That's what the chess scene feels like to me. It's not subtly paralleling, or unsubtly paralleling, it's having a guy straight up say what he's saying.
posted by Bugbread at 10:42 PM on June 8, 2014


it's not like Dee is explaining chess, and it just happens to be like real life, and people in the show don't get it,

Yeah, that would be on the nose.

The added layer of self-awareness makes it not on the nose.

On the nose is-

D'Angelo: Despite the fact that I, myself, have killed in the name of drug dealing, I wonder why this business needs to be so violent.

Wallace: Because in a Hobbesian system of might makes right, we have no recourse.

But you'd never actually see that scene in "The Wire". Because "The Wire" is not fucking On The Nose. The scenes people tend to think are On The Nose honestly could not be further from that if they tried.

As far as I can tell, "On The Nose" is almost never leveled against something that is actually on the nose, among non-screenwriters.
posted by Sara C. at 10:47 PM on June 8, 2014


Mostly people say "on the nose" when they mean "something that probably wouldn't happen in real life" or "self-referential"/"breaks the fourth wall".
posted by Sara C. at 10:51 PM on June 8, 2014


I do know of at least one person who dislikes the chess scene. I think its fine: the argument could be made that its a tad of an artificial set up to get the characters to have this conversation, and also that chess gets used as a metaphor all the time. I think the performance and the writing sells it fine, but different strokes I suppose.

Greggs fairly brutal attack on Bodie is a simple demonstration that these characters will not comply with the morality you expect. Police will stick together, especially when presented with an external force.

I'm interested in how first time viewers feel on the Daniels Vs McNulty conflict here. Is McNulty's stand noble, or pig headed?
posted by Cannon Fodder at 1:22 AM on June 9, 2014


Is McNulty's stand noble, or pig headed?

It came across as pretty pig-headed to this first-time viewer. Not that McNulty is wrong about the premature raid making it a lot harder to get at high-level players, but it's clear that the raid is going ahead with or without him, so nothing is gained by his refusing to go along.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:57 AM on June 9, 2014


Bugbread, I appreciate what you're saying, but just about everything relating to criminality and the law in Japan is so unbelievably hatstand bonkers different to the US that I'm not sure there's much to glean from this comparison? Not trying to be fighty, just thinking out loud...
posted by ominous_paws at 3:46 AM on June 9, 2014


Setting that aside, then, we still have...urg, so hard to discuss this without spoilers...ok, well, let's just reexamine this issue a few seasons from now.
posted by Bugbread at 5:18 AM on June 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


Yeah, DevilsAdvocate describes my feelings exactly. He came of as really petulant, to me.
posted by Sara C. at 9:07 AM on June 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


What really tweaks me about McNulty's skipping the raid isn't so much the principle of it, but his execution of it. He shows Daniels up, which is a terrible thing to do to a leader, especially a leader who by many other indications is trying to do a pretty decent job.

There are all kinds of ways he could have allowed Daniels to save some face in front of the newly-compiled team and he pretty much went nuclear with it.

So I suppose I'd describe McNulty's stand as somewhat principled but not noble. Also, of course, self-aggrandizing, because the marginal effect of participating in the raid would be nothing--as DevilsAdvocate points out. The raid was going down anyway. The best McNulty could have hoped for was...I don't know...to change Daniels's mind, or to have the raid postponed or canceled. That obviously wasn't going to happen, not with Daniels in Burrell's pocket. But that wasn't even where McNulty was going with it--this was more about him and his ego and sense of self-righteousness than it was about the principle that he claimed to care so much about.
posted by MoonOrb at 9:22 AM on June 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


MoonOrb I loved how mcnutty stood up against his CO and basically told *him* what was up. He does that a lot in this show. I'm thinking hard about if there's a parallel in the dealer's organization - if Omar worked for Barksdale, instead of against him, I'd say they were parallels.
posted by rebent at 10:20 AM on June 9, 2014


I love how you spell his name the way Bubbles pronounces it.

That's also a good question about whether there's a parallel truth-teller in the Barksdale organization. I don't think that there is--the organizations function in such different ways. The price for dissent in the Baltimore PD might be re-assignment to patrol or to the harbor unit, like Bunk, McNulty, and Landsman discussed in one of the first episodes. In Barksdale's organization the price for dissent could be death. So I don't think you get anyone standing up to the organization in a similar way that McNulty does, although you do see some of the Barksdale characters who are more willing than others to at least inquire about the status quo.

I always thought that Stringer was very real about what he saw, but he wasn't positioned like McNulty--he has the role of trusted advisor and high level executive in the enterprise, so he can be afford to be honest with Avon. When he's telling Avon the truth about how things are going, he's just doing his job. He's not like McNulty, who's running around giving everyone else the finger.
posted by MoonOrb at 12:01 PM on June 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


D'Angelo is the "parallel truth teller" in the Barksdale organization.

You don't get exactly parallel behavior, but then you never do on television as it would be extremely boring.

McNulty's parallel for wild irrational behavior is probably Omar.
posted by Sara C. at 12:13 PM on June 9, 2014


I think for a first time viewer there might be a tendancy to look for traditional roles like heros and villians, but The Wire is a lot more realistic than that. McNulty's psychology is...complicated...to say the least. He's kind of a fuckup, and some of the grandstanding seems like the result of his dysfunction rather than a principled stand.
posted by werkzeuger at 2:42 PM on June 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


MoonOrb: "He shows Daniels up, which is a terrible thing to do to a leader, especially a leader who by many other indications is trying to do a pretty decent job. "

I don't think it's really apparent yet that Daniels is trying to do a pretty decent job. All you can see at this point is that he's not as bad as Polk or Mahone.
posted by Bugbread at 2:51 PM on June 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I agree with Bugbread here. It isn't until after the raid that McNulty's friend at the FBI (Fitz) tells McNulty that he believes Daniels is dirty. But before the raid when McNulty and Kima meet with Fitz to pick up some equipment, when McNulty tells Fitz that Daniels is in charge of their case, Fitz looks startled, and Kima and McNulty exchange wtf glances, and possibly a seed of doubt about Daniels is planted with Jimmy then.
posted by marsha56 at 9:02 PM on June 9, 2014


One scene I hadn't paid much attention to before is when Sydnor and Bubbles check in with Kima after making the undercover buys. Thanks to Bubbles' schooling Sydnor really looks the part now, and he stays in character - bleary-eyed, chain-smoking, mumbling, and talking "street", sounding as though he really is impatient to go somewhere and "fire this stuff up". A little thing, but it really stood out after a couple of re-watches.
posted by El Brendano at 7:37 AM on June 10, 2014


Bodie was wrong, though, that he'd win if he got to the end.

I love how it doesn't even occur to him that he'd be something other than a pawn.
posted by carsonb at 11:44 AM on June 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


I remember thinking on first viewing that dealing is like being a mail carrier "Neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow ..."

This is the episode where McNulty starts trusting Kima. Shown with his "So you write everything down?" question. Santangelo not wanting to have anything to do with his nominal partner frees up McNulty to defacto partner up with Kima.

When Kima makes the prehistoric comment she's holding a Model M. But she still uses a _manual_ typewriter to fill in reports. Presumably because even though the BPD managed to wrangle some computers a decade ago the department form handling system is still paper based. Looks like there is a theme going here too: The police are operating on a shoe string budget and the dealers are pulling so much cash they are counting it by weighing it.

The contrast between the two surveillance vans is a nice parallel to the schooling that Bubbles gives Sydnor. The cop's van sticks out like a sore thumb in the neighbourhood and might as well have BPD logos on the door. Omar's van is a product of the street and blends in like red on brick. Also Omar's team spots the stash because of patience and the cops miss it.

Why is McNulty at the DAs home? Have they got a thing? Ah, no, it's just a police question. What's the matter, McNulty phone phobic? Ooh, they do have a thing. Wheels in wheels.

>: "This might be because I've seen it before, but, seeing Kima running, baton in hand, I don't think she's going to break things up."

Kima's weapon of choice is a big D Cell Kel-lite; the non-weapon weapon that Daniels speculates Prez's use of when he is "questioning" his subordinates after the 2AM tower visit in Episode 2.

Wow, turns out the drive by foreshadowing is strong in this series. I'd thought the GoT book/show spoiler debate was kind of silly but having re-watched and read the first three episodes back to back now holy guacamole it's tough not to comment with fore-knowledge. Flip side is reading all the first watcher comments is letting me live vicariously through those comments and I'm loving the second hand "whats going to happen" feel.
posted by Mitheral at 10:38 PM on July 31, 2014


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