The Wire (Season 1, Episode 3): The Buys – Warning: Contains Spoilers

 
 

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“There are moments where (the characters) become essentially human in all facets. We were very conscious of doing that – giving them moments where they show that, aside from their priorities, they are completely capable of… being reasonable.”

How every character in The Wire demonstrates his or her humanity at some stage during the series is something which David Simon constantly speaks about. Accordingly, the theme of independent thought triumphing over institutional bureaucracy is thoroughly palpable in episode 3.

Almost inevitably, McNulty is one of the characters who refuses to bow to the whims of “the people upstairs” (namely Rawles and Borrell), conceivably jeopardising his job in the process. His department is asked to invade the projects and make a few quick-fire arrests in order to satisfy the judge, who is determined to make it seem as if the police are successfully combating the significant drug problem which exists in Baltimore.

However, McNulty realises that the arrests will, in all likelihood, be a temporary and ultimately ineffectual means of attempting to solve the persistent problems permeating the low rises. Therefore, he refuses to accede to Daniels’ orders, despite a fierce haranguing from his superior, and neglects to partake in the raid of the area.

Conversely, when Bunk is asked by the media to support Rawles knowingly contrived claims that the murder of the witness had nothing to do with D’Angelo’s case, he complies without hesitation. This scene consequently reinforces the fundamental difference between Bunk and McNulty. Essentially, McNulty consistently acts in a far more insubordinate manner than his partner.   

More surprising though is D’Angelo’s similarly idealistic predilections, given his criminal nature. He compels his drug-dealer associates to refrain from engaging in violence or deliberate deception while dealing. Additionally, his choice of words is illuminating, as it more or less mirrors what McNulty told him during the previous episodes’ interrogation scene: “Everything else in the world get sold without people scamming, lying, doing each other dirty… This shit can’t be done without people killing each other?”

The two aforementioned scenarios again underline David Simon’s affirmation that it is not a simplistic cop vs. robbers/good vs. evil type of show. It is instead more concerned with the influence (or lack thereof) of organisations on individuals, whether criminal or otherwise.

Another recurring idea which the above instances illustrate (as also depicted in episode 1) is the paralleling of McNulty and D’Angelo’s characters. The side of the law which they occupy is more or less incidental, given how they perpetually threaten and challenge the status quo of their respective worlds.

And in tandem with the virtuous qualities which they display in this episode, Simon again invites comparisons between D’Angelo and McNulty by tacitly highlighting the more lascivious and unsavoury elements of their personas.

McNulty invokes the audience’s ire when he reveals to Kima that he cheated on his wife in a decidedly unapologetic tone. Similarly, D’Angelo coerces the stripper into seducing him by shamelessly bragging that he is Avon’s “right hand man”. The stripper promptly enables their mutual affection to become physical, emphasising how in the world of The Wire, status is everything. 

The status theory is accentuated in what is perhaps the most powerful image of the first season – the shot depicting D’Angelo overlooking a chess set as Bodie and Wallace seemingly compete against one another.

In fact, Bodie and Wallace do not understand the rules of chess and D’Angelo explains the game to them, ingeniously portraying it as a metaphor for life on the streets. “The pawns, they be out the game early,” asserts D’Angelo. “Unless they be some smart ass pawns,” interjects Bodie wryly. Thus, the scene is executed with remarkable panache and it is infused with dialogue ostensibly more reminiscent of a Pulitzer Prize winning play than a humble cable television show.

Indeed, Fintan O’Toole, writing in his weekly Irish Times Arts column, has even made the claim that the burgeoning strength of the dialogue in televisions shows such as The Wire has had an overt impact on cinema: “From Wall-E to There Will Be Blood, it seems that at the leading edge of American cinema, dialogue is becoming dispensable,” he argues.

Yet it is unsurprising that The Wire’s writing is so masterful. After all, Simon spent years honing his hear and exposing himself to the uncouth poetry of the Baltimore streets, during his days as an investigative crime reporter.     

Random Facts:

  1. The writers initially planned to kill off the character of Omar Little (who first appears in episode 3) after seven episodes. Nonetheless, perhaps due to actor Michael K. Williams’ resplendent charisma and considerable onscreen presence, this outcome was delayed until season 5. Moreover, Williams only joined the starring cast in season 3.   
  2. The aforementioned chess analogy is used again in season 2 and season 4.
  3. Despite his name appearing on the credits, Wood Harris (who plays Avon Barksdale) does not appear in this episode.
  4. Michael B. Jordan, who features prominently in the first season as Wallace, originally auditioned for the role of Bodie, but was considered too young for the part.
  5. Various scenes in the episode incorporate the songs: “It Takes Two” by Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock and “2-Kool 2 Be 4-Gotten” by Lucinda Williams. 

Best Quote: “Hey Bubs, how come you got all this wisdom and your life’s so hard?” asks Kima. Her question is often also invoked by fans of The Wire, who are continually made to despair at the antics of the lovable, but irrevocably self-destructive Bubs. 

Best Scene: Following sex with McNulty, Rhonda sardonically states: “You’re an asshole McNulty.” His apoplectic response is hilarious. “What the fuck did I do?” he cries.

 New Characters: Omar Little, Major Bobby Reed, Major Stanislaus Valchek.

WTF Moment: After the elderly Detective Polk is punched by Bodie, one of his fellow officers immediately places a cigarette in Polks’ mouth as he lays hurt on the ground – an unusual form of medical attention if ever there was one. 

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