The Wire almost always restricts itself to a straightforward form of storytelling that gives it a sense of journalistic realism. As a result, the few scenes that do stray off the linear narrative trail stand out so much. There are the notable examples like the five montages that serve as season-ending epilogues. There are some other early anomalies, like D’Angelo’s brief flashback at the end of “The Target” or Avon’s slow-mo, soundtracked trip to the Pit in “The Wire.”
Wallace: I just don’t wanna play. I don’t wanna play no more, alright? I was thinking about going to school, over at Edmonson, ask if they’ll let me back in at the end of the semester.
D’Angelo: What grade?
D’Angelo: Ninth? Shit, you how old?
D’Angelo: 16, damn man, you supposed to be a junior by now.
“Game Day,” The Wire’s ninth episode, begins with a short series of quick shots of a basketball scrimmage. It is the second time this season that the cameras have taken us inside a gym to watch basketball practice, but there are some big differences this time. The first scene was less of a practice than a strategy session, with Avon holding court (literally and metaphorically) and setting a bounty on Omar and his crew. In that scene, the basketball is more of a pretense, an excuse for Avon to meet with his inner circle in a private setting. Nobody plays defence, no picks are set. Avon is the only one who shoots the ball.
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.
“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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.