The Wire (Season 1, Episode 9): Game Day – Warning: Contains Spoilers

 
 

“If people didn’t realise after this many seasons of The Wire that they were watching a Greek tragedy, writ across a modern American city… And if they thought that there were going to be redemptions and [awarding] of the Fates, they need to get up with their Medea and Antigone and their Oedipus. I don’t know what else to say.”

As television goes, The Wire is just about as unflinchingly brutal as it is possible for a programme to become. While Simon’s determined pursuit of verisimilitude often renders entertainment secondary, the unique effect caused by the employment of its modus operandi means it is arguably the only show that can be regarded as genuinely polemical first and foremost.

The copious degree of ordinary life inherent to the show is probably what turned viewers off The Wire initially. Considerable patience is thus required in order for the audience to fully engage with this unique viewing experience.

However, while it is often merciless in its assessment of society and its unjust machinations, to such an extent that Simon admits that the real-life Mayor of Baltimore “hates his guts”  –like all great drama – the show is not entirely devoid of redemptive aspects either.

“Game Day” is a case in point whereby Shardene, the stripper with affections for D’Angelo, demonstrates considerable valour under incredibly taxing circumstances. After Greggs and Lester take her in for questioning, they express their surprise at her compliant nature.

Even more interestingly, when asked why she chooses to work in such a seedy environment and for such morally dubious employers, Shardene merely replies: “I need the money.” It is hard not to imagine Simon and his colleagues implicitly drawing parallels between the scenario facing her and the situation confronting some of those working within the Barksdale organisation, in addition to characters such as McNulty.

In other words, many of those on the police force know rightly that they represent an institution which is intrinsically corrupt, yet they persevere in working regardless of the relative indignity of being in this difficult position.  

Nevertheless, what characters such as Shardene convey is that such individuals are not necessarily bad people, despite often working for an ignominious agency. Ironically for someone who works in a strip club, her greatest flaw is in fact her naivety.

The wholesome aspect of Shardene’s personality corresponds with Simon’s self-professed determination to challenge the viewers’ perception. Therefore, just as Rawls – the hard-nosed detective – turns out to be gay, and Stringer – the fierce drug lord – has a predilection for economics, Shardene – the voluptuous stripper – is in reality “a sweetheart”, as Lester refers to her.

Consequently, when Kima and Lester show Shardene the dead body of another stripper who worked in Orlando’s strip club, she breaks down and subsequently gives them all the information they require, sincerely avowing to dump D’Angelo and leave her job in the process.    

In other words, for all the show’s anger and refusal to casually grant the viewer solace from its bleak meditations, characters such as Shardene demonstrate how humanity can prevail, albeit only occasionally.

Humanity of a different kind comes from another unlikely source – Avon. His character’s arc over the course of this episode encapsulates both the show’s preoccupation with nuance and ultimately, its genius.

In the majority of the scenes, Avon is shown as always to be a figure of complete and unchallenged authority. The intimidation which he provokes is acutely illustrated during one scene when he intensively harangues a terrified referee, who has unwisely elected to take charge of the annual street basketball game between the East and West side of Baltimore. Even more unwisely, he makes a questionable, game altering decision that incurs the wrath of Avon.

Yet the final scene constitutes an anomaly, as Avon is for once put in a position of extreme vulnerability. As he leaves Orlando’s strip club, Omar fires a shot in his direction and he instinctively dives for protection behind a nearby vehicle.

Although backup arrives immediately and the threat posed towards him is swiftly assuaged, a momentary flicker of terror can be discerned from his features. It reminds the viewer that in spite of the considerable power and intimidation that Avon perpetually emits, he is quintessentially human, for better or worse, like all great tragic characters.  

Random Facts:

  1. Along with Poot and Wee-Bey, Proposition Joe (who appears for the first time in this episode) is the only character from the drug trade to appear in all five seasons of The Wire.
  2. Although credited, many actors such as Deirdre Lovejoy (Rhonda) and Frankie Faison (Burrell) do not feature in this episode.
  3. By season 1, Simon and his writers had already decreed that the show would last for 5 seasons. An idea concerning the infiltration of Hispanics into the Baltimore community was discussed, but it was decided that this storyline was untenable, as it would require over two years of research according to Simon.
  4. The original plan was that the police force would pick a new target for each season, however Simon subsequently felt there was “more to say” about the Barksdale organisation after season 1.
  5. Interestingly, this was only the second episode of the first season for which neither David Simon nor Ed Burns contributed to the teleplay, which was written by David H. Melnick and Shamit Choksey.    

 

Best Quote: “He seemed like he was different.” Shardene makes the heartbreaking discovery that D’Angelo is inwardly just as cold-blooded as his associates.

Best Scene: Herc and Carver shamefully listening in on the phone sex between Poot and his girlfriend through the wire-tap.

New Characters: Proposition Joe.

WTF Moment: “I’m proud to be chasing this guy.” McNulty reveals he actually holds a soft spot for Stringer.  

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