“The Buys” ends with a small joke that reflects a common dilemma. It a moment where a character accidentally reveals a lapse in his understanding of a foreign world. The episode already has several examples of this, like Polk and Mahone’s attempt to get Avon’s picture, or Sydnor’s half-assed undercover disguise. But in the final scene, the lapse of understanding parallels the conflict that lies at the very heart of the detail.
There is a long history of classic literary heroes getting introduced a good way into the work. In The Great Gatsby, for example, the hero is mentioned in the title, and constantly throughout the first few chapters, but we don’t lay eyes on him until he appears without warning in the middle of chapter three. Similarly, Moby Dick’s Captain Ahab doesn’t appear until the Pequod is on the open sea, even if his spirit haunts the book from page one.
The moment has finally arrived. After two weeks, the members of Daniels’ detail are finally ready to make some controlled buys, the first half of Burrell’s oft-repeated mantra “buy/bust.” This is also the moment that will determine the future course of the detail. McNulty tells Kima that he isn’t going with them because he thinks it is a waste. “Touts and children, that’s all you’re gonna get.” Of course he hopes the buys fail, because that failure would confirm the view he expressed in the first episode, when he told Daniels that the Barksdales are too deep and organized to be taken down with traditional street rips. If this turns out to be the case, then Daniels will have to look into other strategies, strategies which are much more in line with McNulty’s own vision for the detail.
“This shit right here, Dee, it’s forever.” Stringer
We get our first look at the Barksdale office in Orlando’s through the eyes of D’Angelo, who comes bearing a brown paper bag filled with a day’s worth of drug sales from the Pit. He walks up a flight of neon-lit stairs (where Stinkum stands guard and calls “Dee coming up”) and passes through the strippers’ dressing room into the heart of the Barksdale crew’s operations.
“I know I look like I could go either way.”—Kima
One of the most interesting topics that David Simon talked about in his recent interview with The Wire superfan and sports writer Jason Whitlock is the way the show handled sexuality. Whitlock admitted that the character of Omar went a long way towards changing his view of homosexuality, and asked why Simon decided to make the badass stickup artist gay. Simon gave a pragmatic response–there was no way for a man to be openly gay in either of the show’s ultra-masculine hierarchies, so the only man who could be gay (openly, that is) had to be one of the few characters who functions outside of these systems (it is worth noting that there are at least two more systems where it is incredibly difficult to be openly gay–sports and politics, both worlds which, like the police department and the corner, revolve around the perception of power).
“Chess is a metaphor for drug deals, Avon is the king and you’re the pawns.”–Larry Gillard Jr., reprising his role as D’Angelo Barksdale in The Wire: The Musical
The chess lesson from “The Buys” has become one of The Wire’s most iconic scenes. It is a brilliantly-scripted and -acted scene, one that actually serves as a double metaphor. D’Angelo uses the familiar world of the drug hierarchy to explain an alien and complex game to Bodie and Wallace. At the same time, Simon and Burns use this scene to explain the (presumably) alien drug game to their audience using the (presumably) familiar rules of chess. Call it a meta-metaphor.
6. Weak Stomachs
Poot: Yo, he go for food?
Poot: Why you ain’t tell me, my stomach growling like a motherfucker
Bodie: Starve, nigger
Daniels: Give me a 95 on why you are physically unable to participate in today’s action.
McNulty: What, I’m gonna lie so you can save face?
Daniels: Come on, write it up. “I can’t jump out with the rest of my unit because my tummy hurts.”
“His name’s on the form in the file”–Mahone
Episode 3, “The Buys,” picks up two weeks into the detail, but there has been little progress. The “Avon Barksdale” index card that sits pinned to the top of the corkboard shows that they finally got his date of birth (8/15/70–it is fitting that this king of the urban jungle is a Leo) but shows “No Known Addresses” and still has no photo. “It’s fucking embarrassing,” McNulty laments, so as a self-proclaimed “leader of men,” he decides to put the low-wattage manpower cluttering the office to work. “We need to know what he looks like,” he tells Mahone who barely looks up from his newspaper to dismiss the command.
“What, the customer is always right?”—Bodie
The Pit is the nucleus in the atomic structure of The Wire’s first season. It is the world around which all other worlds revolve: the junkies come here to cop, the cops come here to take that first step up the investigative ladder, and the crew bosses come here to oversee their domain. Most importantly, the four central members of the Pit crew–conflicted leader D’Angelo, Bodie the “smart-ass pawn,” childlike Wallace and sex-crazed Poot–serve as the Greek chorus, commenting on the events that swirl around them. In the middle of the the low-rise courtyard, they sit on milk crates, utility boxes, and that immortal orange couch and debate the ethics and hierarchy of the drug game. These are some of the funniest and smartest scenes in Season One, most notably the chicken nugget scene from Episode Two and the chess scene that comes later on in Episode Three. So it is appropriate that the one opening scene with all four of the Pit Boys serves to highlight the connectivity of The Wire’s many worlds.