The Wire (Season 1, Episode 8): Lessons – Warning: Contains Spoilers

 
 

blogwire

“I think [The Wire] will hold up, and I think it’ll hold up as a unified 60 episodes. But I could be wrong. Is anything really a masterpiece? Shit’s never finished; it’s just abandoned, I think Churchill said that about books. That’s true about everything.”

The extent of The Wire’s greatness or lack thereof has been debated relentlessly at this stage. As the above quote demonstrates, David Simon remains reluctant to jump to any heady conclusions about the show, while a significant number of people still consider it to be somewhat overrated.

Nonetheless, by around episode 8 it is becoming clear that The Wire is unquestionably laced with ingenious elements. The ever evolving characters serve to verify this assertion.

Take Stringer Bell for instance. ‘Lessons’ – the title of this episode – is clearly a reference to the indispensable business acumen that Stringer acquires during the economics college classes which he attends. The criminal overlord is subsequently shown lecturing his men on the necessities of adhering to the vital mechanisms outlined by the likes of Keynes, as they attempt to run a successful printing business.  

Such impressive attention to detail is ample proof of the immense richness and complexity of the show’s plotting. Inferior programmes tend to portray all criminals as inherently boorish and wholly uneducated. The Wire subscribes to a truer version of reality, purporting the unavoidable fact that many criminals are highly intelligent and thus, have the capabilities to run sophisticated operations. Stringer’s enlightened nature is also one of the facets that demonstrate why he is routinely regarded as being among the show’s most memorable characters.

Furthermore, the constant propensity of commentators to label the programme ‘a masterpiece’ is also because, like all great dramatic works, its underlying themes and motifs echo throughout each episode.

In ‘Lessons’ the corruption that mires the police force is outlined during three separate instances. Firstly, after a senatorial aide is arrested for taking $20,000 from the low rises, Burrell admonishes Daniels for permitting this action – clearly, he does not want to punish someone with such powerful connections. He thus forces Daniels’ crew to give the money back to this morally dubious individual and let him go without charge on the basis that, in Burrell’s words, they are “in people’s shit where they’re not supposed to be”.

Secondly, the episode examines the varying levels of seriousness with which the police officers treat certain tasks. Carver is essentially trying to be a model police officer – he patently studies hard for the exam which he is required to sit as part of his job. By contrast, Herc treats such challenges with apathy, preferring to sit around reading porno magazines and sarcastically commenting on the prospective exam questions that Carver studies.

But most telling of all is the scene in which McNulty and Kima (among others) sit and discuss the practicalities of their case with Omar – a figure whom they know full well to be a murderer and a drug-dealer.

The police force’s unabashed willingness to use Omar could, on the one hand, be viewed as being entirely disreputable from an ethical perspective. However, in another sense, the force’s behaviour is infinitely logical, as their pragmatism means they have a far greater chance of gaining vital information about the numerous criminals they covet – who also happen to be Omar’s arch nemeses.

Therefore, the show asks whether such unethical behaviour is ultimately unavoidable in order to make some headway when dealing with the world of criminality. Is it justifiable that the cops turn a blind eye to Omar’s misdemeanours for the sake of a greater good? Are murderers such as Omar – who conforms to a code which ostensibly ensures that innocent civilians remain unharmed amid these violent drug wars – somehow less ghastly than other less idealistic gangsters, who do not care a great deal about the loss of innocent lives?

While this blog has thus far highlighted David Simon’s contribution to the show’s creation, the vast majority of the pertinent questions stemming from the intricacies of its plot were – as Simon himself admits – the product of hours of discussion among the show’s stellar coterie of writers.

Nonetheless, though few would dispute Simon’s claim that the episodes are invariably “a team effort”, the lingering sense of cynicism which irrevocably arises from the show’s intensive scrutiny of Baltimore and its institutions is doubtless derived from the directive of one man – Simon.

The personal, visionary touches which permeate the show’s undeniably bitter inferences are what prompted one critic to describe Simon as “the angriest man in television” and are also perhaps the primary testament of The Wire’s greatness.  

Random Facts:

  1. In what is probably the most shameless piece of product placement/nepotism ever to occur in The Wire, Bunk is shown reading a Laura Lippman book at one point during this episode. To be specific, Lippman is a real-life novelist who just so happens to be the wife of David Simon.
  2. During the opening scene, McNulty is shown monitoring Stringer’s car which is on the same side of the road as his own car. In the following shot, the car is erroneously seen on the opposite side of the road.    
  3. The episode utilises the show’s umpteenth implicit chess analogy when Omar declares: “come at the king, you best not miss,” in what some also believe to be one of the show’s many apparent Shakespearean parallels.
  4. In this the eight episode, Stinkum becomes the sixth of the show’s characters to be killed.
  5. This is the only episode ever directed by Gloria Muzio, who has also directed programmes such as ER, Oz and Criminal Minds, along with doing several theatre productions.        

 

Best Quote: Frustrated by his colleagues’ inability to act professionally, Stringer lambasts them, shouting somewhat surreally: “You’re acting like we got an inelastic product, and we don’t!”  

Best Scene: D’Angelo’s discussion with Shardene succinctly evokes the moral ambivalence inherent in his character. He initially elicits the viewer’s sympathy when he reveals that there are times “when I can’t even f*ckin breathe,” as a result of the callous crimes which his colleagues relentlessly perpetrate. Yet he swiftly ignores these thoughts, instead complimenting Shardene on her beauty and tenderly embracing her – it is thus made clear that the latter character acts as a symbol of the temporarily luxurious, hedonism-fuelled lifestyle which a life of criminality undoubtedly offers.

New Characters: None.

WTF Moment: Bunk’s drunken decision to burn all his clothes in order to prevent his wife from ascertaining evidence of his marital infidelity from their pungent aroma.

Advertisements