The Theory of Code Relativity

You gonna at least give me a fair chance, right?–Bird

“One Arrest” begins with an illustration of literal codes and ends with a meditation of metaphorical codes. In the opening scene, Prez and Freamon walk us through the power of language to serve as a unifying force, both on a macro and micro level. Codes enable two or more people to communicate through the medium of (openly or tacitly) agreed upon meanings for certain words. So, when one person says the word “turtle,” it is generally accepted that any hearer will understand those letters or sounds to mean “a slow-moving reptile protected by a large shell on its back” (assuming the hearer speaks the same macro-language as the speaker).

The One Arrest Riddle

…step, shorty.–Bodie

Out of all of the episode titles from throughout The Wire’s run, “One Arrest” is undoubtedly the most puzzling. It suggests a decisive moment when, after months of painstaking labor, the detail finally takes down one of the players in the Barksdale crew. This should be the moment where the wiretaps finally start yielding tangible results. The problem is that there are clearly two arrests in the episode: Kevin Johnston and Bird.

Heisenberg Visits The Pit

Service Interrupt–Computer message

When I was in high school, I spent my summers working in a kitchen at a summer camp. It was grueling work, long hours making three meals a day for several hundred hungry campers and counselors, but the worst days were the ones where we got inspected by the Department of Health.

It only happened once or twice a summer, but it always set the entire kitchen into a frenzy. We usually got a call from the front office, where they could stall the inspector for as much as a half hour. In that time, we would race around, cleaning and polishing everything that we could, making sure all of the food was properly marked and wrapped and stored. We were terrified of what would happen if we failed.

A Company Man, Alone At The Party


Who are you driving for?–Day Day

There are few social experiences more uncomfortable than being at a party where you don’t know anybody. Everybody else looks so at ease, so happy to be in the presence of others just like them. Everybody just belongs. But for that poor, abandoned party-goer, the perceived sense that others belong only exacerbates the feeling that they don’t, that they have been left out of the club.

Wallace Falls into Darkness

Poot: Wallace been fucked up. Since they got that stickup boy, you know? Put him on the car like that. Wallace all quiet and shit. Don’t even come out his room some days.

Wallace is arguably the central figure in Episode 6, “The Wire, but he is virtually absent from Episode 7. Before we even see him, we hear about him in a short conversation between Bodie and Poot. From Poot’s description, Wallace’s inability to leave his room sounds like a symptom of depression or PTSD, but the more direct term “fucked up” seems to work well too. His friends are concerned about his absence, although each one is concerned for a different reason. Poot is worried about the well-being of his friend and roommate while Bodie seems to be more suspicious of a perceived weakness.

Orlando’s Indecent Proposal

D’Angelo: Let me think on it, all right?

Orlando: Finally get some ends for us, you see what I’m saying?

Orlando has always been one of my least favorite characters from The Wire. I’m not sure if it’s the hair, the way he tries to worm in on the Barksdale business, or the way he plays off of D’Angelo’s insecurities about his place in the corporate hierarchy. Or maybe it is the fact that he is responsible for one, if not both, of the season’s great tragedies. He just feels like a phony, a weak man who is trying to become a player in a game he doesn’t understand.

Nicknames Out Here

Omar: Bird not in the mix today.
Kima: Well if we had more than a street name, maybe we could come up with an address.
Omar: What can I say? Out here, Bird just Bird.

The Wire almost overflows with characters who bear interesting street names. Some, like “Dee” are about brevity and informality. Others, like “Snotboogie” are unfortunate tags that follow the bearer for life. Then, there are the names like “Stinkum” and “Wee-Bey” that convey a certain humor and even poetry.

The God of Bubbles’ Understanding


Keep coming back!–NA regulars

Kurt Vonnegut opens his novel Mother Night with some tricky advice: “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” This advice warns against pretense, suggesting that it quickly and imperceptibly creeps into reality. That can be problematic, particularly for people who trade in pretense, like actors or con-artists. But there is another way to look at this process, and it is embodied in the common expression “fake it till you make it.” In this version, pretense is a first step towards the active creation of a new reality. This is probably why Vonnegut uses the phrase “be careful.” There is great power in pretense.