“The Pager” ends with the abduction of Omar’s boy Brandon. We never actually see the abduction itself, but it is suggested in Wee-Bey’s ominously-slow click of the handcuffs and the smirk of predatory anticipation on Bird’s face. It is confirmed in Stringer’s final phone call to D’Angelo, where he says “it’s done.” And while we never actually see the abduction or the murder, the chain of events that lead up to it and the results of those events will be impossible to ignore.
The seemingly-isolated murder of Diedre Kresson starts to pay major dividends in “The Pager.” First, there is the ballistics match to the two other Barksdale murders. Then Bunk finally tracks down a working phone number for Tywanda, the friend of Diedre who was the one who provided the key information that “Dee” visited Diedre on the night of the murder.
If the first four episodes of The Wire are intentionally stingy with details on Avon’s personal life, “The Pager” lets it all out. First, there is the opening scene which portrays Avon as a prisoner of his own paranoia. Then, near the end of the episode, we get a rare glimpse into the Kingpin’s psyche. What we see is a chilling portrait of the deeply-rooted existential crisis that dominates his life.
Landsman: Hey, McNulty, there’s something here that needs kissing!
McNulty: Yeah, speak again, oh toothless one.
Landsman: I guess you know now why I wear the stripes in the family.
McNulty: Good call Jay.
Landsman has a lot to gloat about in “The Pager.” The lab results come back from the shell casing that McNulty and Bunk pulled from the scene of Diedre Kresson’s murder, and as it turns out, it matches the gun used in two other drug murders that link to the Barksdales. Landsman is the one who saw the connection in the first place. McNulty fought him, claiming that the link to the name “Dee” was weak, so now he has to kiss some ass. The Bawdy Landsman is thrilled to cash in this, literally. He drops his pants and mocks McNulty, asserting that it is this ability to connect cases that justifies his venerable position as Sergeant.
For much of the first half of Season 1, the Barksdale crew is busy dodging police raids and fighting threats to their reputation like snitches and stickup artists. But the Barksdale crew is also a business, and as Dr. Suess says in The Lorax, “business is business, and business must grow!”
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is one of the clearest literary influences for The Wire. I teach literature, so I will grant that I am inclined to see correspondences with the books that I teach everywhere I look, but in this case, I can defend it pretty easily. The Gatsby connection informs the character arc of Season 3’s tragic hero, and it is explicitly discussed by another character in Season 2. But you can go all the way back to Season 1, Episode 5, “The Pager,” to see the first brilliant example of the way The Wire grapples with the fundamental challenges of the American dream that were introduced so compellingly in Gatsby.
McNulty: (on phone) Yeah, I got that…I did…I know…you don’t know, what do you mean you don’t know?…For chrissakes, Elena, I’m their father. You think I’d let them sleep on the floor?…Yes, I got them…Sheets, pillows, comforters, pillowcases, I fuckin got them…Color? What the fuck do you care what color they are? Hello?…(hangs up)…lost her.
Kima: I bet.
While on the seemingly-endless stakeout of Omar’s van, Kima squirms with discomfort as she listens to McNulty angrily bicker with his ex-wife Elena over an upcoming visit from his children. Any such divorce negotiation must be uncomfortable for all involved, especially when they are a captive audience like Kima or, for that matter, the show’s viewers.
At the heart of “The Pager,” there is a lengthy sequence that alternates between four unrelated storylines that all take place on a single Friday night in Baltimore. One is all business (Avon and Stringer’s plans to take over new territory) and one is all personal (McNulty’s ill-fated, drunken attempt at constructing a bunk bed for his sons). The other two scenes show the challenges of keeping the professional out of the personal (D’Angelo’s date night with Donette) and the personal out of the professional (Herc and Carver’s failed attempt to flip Bodie).
Bubbles: I’m not working for them, I’m working with em. They don’t give me the badge soon enough, I keep doing like I do.
Bubbles: What do you mean ‘why’? How you gonna ask me why? Why the fuck are you in here, man, with all these falling down motherfuckers? Why you passing shit through a bag? Why they beat you down? Why I couldn’t do nothing about it?
Johnny: It’s all part of the game, right? I mean, you taught me that.