Burning Trace Evidence

McNulty: Hey Bunk, I’ll give you that burning trace evidence makes sense, but what the fuck did you plan to wear home?
Bunk: Huh? Aw, shit….Hey Jimmy, you know something? You’re no good for people, man. I mean, damn. Everybody around you…Christ.

One of The Wire’s most reliable sources of comedy is drunkenness, especially the champion barstool tag-team of McNulty and Bunk. They have many odd and hilarious drunken moments, but it is hard to get funnier than Bunk in a pink bathrobe (his second time wearing pink this episode), mumbling about “trace evidence” as McNulty tucks his barely-coherent partner into the same bunk bed he originally (and futilely) built for his sons.

Choking on Horseradish

He gives a fuck now!–D’Angelo

“Lessons” marks our first glimpse at D’Angelo as a member of a social group within the Barksdale organization. To this point, the focus has been to the older generation (Avon and Stringer) or the younger generation (the Pit boys). But when Stinkum, Wee-Bey, and Savino roll into the Pit and snatch D’Angelo to go an an unannounced “beef run,” we finally get a look at how the young Barksdale interacts with his peers. The episode features two social settings (the roast beef lunch and the party at Little Man’s later that night) that show how uneasy D’Angelo is in his social world. Then, the next day, there is one wrenching encounter where that discomfort transforms into a broader discomfort with his role in the drug game and the world into which he was born.

The Anarchist Hero and the Powerless Police

McNulty: Lester are we still cops?
Freamon: Technically, I suppose so.
McNulty: Okay, I was just checking.

When the Barksdales disconnect the payphones in the pit, Freamon responds calmly. He sees that type of disruption as an inevitable result of their arrest of Kevin Johnston. He simply responds by adapting, figuring out the new payphones that the crew will be using and devising other ways to get into the heart of the Barksdale’s communications. But when Freamon learns about Omar’s ambush on Stinkum, he becomes furious. “This fucks us,” he roars. Their jump-out on Kevin Johnston gave them a charge that they could put to Stinkum at any time. This means that Stinkum is more valuable to the investigation as a free man than he is in prison. In the morgue, Stinkum is utterly useless.

An Early Rift in the Barksdale Empire

Avon: So what you think, homes?
Stringer: I’m thinking this is the worst part of the game here, man. Best we do is break out even, right?
Avon: What?
Stringer: I’m saying, this shit got personal. Ain’t nothing else to it.
Avon: So you talking about letting it slide.
Stringer: For a time, maybe.

If the scene where Avon and Barksdale promote Stinkum illustrates how seamlessly the partners work together, the shocking murder of that same newly-minted executive provides the first hint of the possibility of a rift between the two. Avon’s response to the news is instantaneous and fierce. He gathers all of his muscle into the office at Orlando’s (interestingly, D’Angelo is not at this meeting, and he doesn’t learn of Stinkum’s death until the next day) and diverts all of his into the hunt for Omar.

The Omar Blitz

A-YO!–Omar

I have always had mixed feelings abouth ESPN football/everything columnist Gregg Easterbrook, otherwise known as the Tuesday Morning Quarterback. If I am being totally honest, I haven’t read him in years, and I have probably never read an entire column of his from beginning to end (of course, that is more likely due to the fact that his columns often reach lengths rivaling that of major pieces of legislation). As with any writer who has extremely strong opinions, he tends to put people off, and I can’t say I agree with all of his viewpoints.

Book Smarts, Street Smarts

More art than science–Freamon

I have already discussed several ways that “Lessons” explores the notion of how we learn and what we do with that knowledge, but the episode also addresses the issue of education from another perspective: the nature of intelligence. It is an old debate, one that echoes through the chambers of psychology departments and standardized testing companies. How do you measure a person’s intelligence? What skills or traits should we include in our definition of intelligence?

Stringer Goes to School

Teacher: Some key factors that affect the elasticity of demand are what? Mr. Bell.
Stringer: Desire, consumer need.
Teacher: Right, specifically the ability of a consumer to delay acquisition. What else?

First, McNulty almost loses his sons in his reckless pursuit of Stringer Bell. Then he tracks down the owner linked to the licence plate information they retrieved. Then he spends several days on a freelance stakeout. After all of this, McNulty ends up outside of a Macroeconomics class at Baltimore City Community College.

The Detail Gets a New Daddy

Phelan(on phone, to Burrell): Erv, it’s Phelan. Kiddo, you’re fucking with me here…yes, yes you are…Erv, listen..listen to me. The Circuit Court signed two orders for a total of 60 days of telephonic surveillance. Now, I’m looking at a copy of a memo from your office telling me I can’t have my 60 days…You’re not hearing me. The Circuit Court for Baltimore ordered 60 days on this tap. The Court wants its 60 days. Now, if you take this wire down on Friday, you’ll be in contempt of court on Monday. Understood?…And all the best to Arlene and the kids. (hangs up) Who’s your daddy now?

Falling from Babel

Once that tape starts rolling, who the hell knows what’s gonna be said?–Danels

This past Spring, David Simon sat down for a long, fascinating interview with Alan Sepinwall on how The Wire has been received in the four years since its finale. At the end of the interview, Sepinwall asked if there were any parts of the show that the audience did not properly understand, and Simon went right to the idea of corruption. He specifically mentioned Rawls and Burrell. These two bureaucratic titans consistently served as antagonists to the more independent-minded detectives like McNulty and Freamon. But that doesn’t make them corrupt.

Problems With Word Problems

What’s this about, here?–Sarah

Episod 8, “Lessons,” is one of The Wire’s most conceptually-focused episodes. As its title suggests, it’s all about learning. This makes it a sort of early blueprint for the school-centered Season Four. And while this episode does a lot to advance the plot as Season 1 builds to the dramatic, catastrophic events of its final few episodes, there is always half an eye on the title of the episode. It is the concept album of The Wire, where nearly every scene features people learning or refusing to learn some lesson or another.