The Wire (Season 1, Episode 2): The Detail – Warning: Contains Spoilers

 
 

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“For a good detective, it usually requires an act of professional vanity. He says: ‘I’m not gonna let (the criminal) beat me…’ It’s none of this protect and serve nonsense that unfortunately continues to exist on American television.”

David Simon’s promise to subvert the American cop show truly comes to fruition in episode 2, wherein the boundaries between cop and criminal are blurred irrevocably.

The centrepiece of the episode is undeniably D’Angelo’s confrontation with McNulty and The Bunk in the witness box, during which the former character’s humanity is elicited. As McNulty describes the family background of the witness who he suspects him of murdering, D’Angelo fails to hold back tears.

Once D’Angelo regains his composure, he agrees to write a letter to the victim’s son, commiserating with him in light of his loss. He begins this act, only for his lawyer to swiftly enter the room and intercede in his endeavour.

The portly, Jewish lawyer chastises D’Angelo for his willingness to comply with police requests, emitting a disreputable racial outburst in the process: “Don’t say anything. How many times do I have to tell you people the same f*ckin thing?” Therefore, the audience is invited to sympathise with D’Angelo’s flawed, but humane character, all the while being obliged to revile the more elite and well regarded member of society (the lawyer).

Similarly, Stringer Bell – despite his predilection for callous behaviour – demonstrates his human side when taking care of D’Angelo’s baby. It is even somewhat of a shock to witness Daniels relaxing at home with his wife, having spent the previous episode barking orders and exhibiting a perpetually intense demeanour.

Thus, it is characters such as Stringer and D’Angelo who evoke such tragedy. They consistently show evidence of stark intelligence and considerable sensitivity, yet they have still managed to waste their potential and dedicate themselves to a life of criminality. This could accordingly be interpreted as a surreptitious indictment of American society, given that these bright young individuals still cannot find a legitimate outlet for their undoubted intellect.

On the other hand, the previously jovial Herc and Carver (along with Prez, who makes his first appearance) show extreme fallibility by engaging in unnecessarily provocative behaviour. Frustrated at the limited responsibility which Daniels has afforded them, they elect to take matters into their own hands. After consuming several beers, they decide to visit the housing projects at 2am to inexplicably threaten its inhabitants.

Predictably, the trio’s lamentable behaviour results in undue disharmony, culminating in Prez’s striking of a fourteen year old boy who merely happens to be leaning on his car. This incident is then followed by a barrage of TVs and bottles being hurled at the officers from nearby apartments.

Daniel’s subsequent haranguing of the officers involved is one of the first times Lance Reddick’s bravura acting abilities are displayed. When the offending officers use the pitiful excuse that they were doing field work, Daniels angrily replies: “What valuable information did we acquire from conducting field interviews at 2am?”

In addition, Daniels’ ordering of Prez to lie and pretend he hit the fourteen year old in self-defence rather than annoyance reiterates the incredibly cynical and dishonest nature of the Baltimore Police Force. This serves in contrast with the alarming honesty and slight naivety which D’Angelo – the supposed bad-guy – demonstrated during the earlier interrogation scene.

But perhaps the most intriguing character in this episode is Prez. Ultimately, he comes across as oafish and patently unlikeable. This is curious considering his ensuing development in later seasons into one the most virtuous characters in the series.

Moreover, the later revelation that the boy he struck lost an eye amid the altercation reinforces the audience’s perception of him as unredeemable. Consequently, the fact that, in season 4, he becomes a schoolteacher and manfully strives to reach out to the city’s disillusioned teenagers is hardly coincidental. He is quite possibly compensating for his uncharacteristically malicious action towards the youth in this episode.

Therefore, it is the superbly crafted character development evinced by the likes of Prez which positively accentuate The Wire’s intellectual gravitas and verisimilitude. Such ingenious plotting also adds credence to claims in some quarters that it has much in common with the novels of Balzac as it does other TV series.

 

Random Facts:

  1. In one scene McNulty is awoken early by a telephone call following a late-night drinking session with The Bunk. Actor Dominic West was genuinely hung-over during the early morning filming of the scene, having deliberately drunk copiously the night before for the sake of adding extra authenticity to the moment.
  2. Random locals from the areas filmed were invariably asked to appear as minor characters on the series. A case in point is the scene where Bubbles tries to sell drugs to a group of people. “One or two of them probably are drug slingers,” admits the episode’s director, Clarke Johnson.
  3. During the scene in which McNulty interrogates D’Angelo, he purposefully turns the temperature up in the room. This is common practice during criminal investigation. Apparently, detectives apply the logic that if the suspect sweats he is innocent, as he has only just been caught and is startled and nervous. Conversely, if the suspect simply falls asleep, he did commit the crime, as he has had much time to think about and prepare for the prospect of interrogation.
  4. As is often the case in The Wire, the average age of street slingers in real life is believed to be about fourteen, due to their unsurprisingly high fatality rate.
  5. The housing projects depicted in the episode is an old folk’s home, as most of the real project houses in Baltimore were demolished, as happens with the fictitious projects in a later episode. 

 

Best Quote: After the story regarding the witnesses’ death is leaked to the press, Jay Landsman says of McNulty: “If he gets caught with his dick up the ass of the deputy’s wife, he’s still gonna have more of a career than if they find out he’s behind that story.” (He seems to have some weird obsession with dicks – see best quote for episode 1).

Best Scene: Prez’s accidental shooting of the wall. Daniels’ reaction is priceless.

New Characters: Prez, Rhonda Pearlman.

WTF Moment: Daniels’ patronising description of Lester as “a cuddly housecat”.

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