“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 reasons for the murder are clear–the initial raid on the lowrise stash house, Brandon’s mistaken use of Omar’s name, Avon’s bounty, and the graphic way he envisions his revenge. But there are invisible causes as well. For example, the only reason Poot spots Brandon to begin with is that he turns around to eye two girls as they walk away. The camera follows his lustful glance, and when he looks up, he spots Brandon standing proud and majestic at the controls of a pinball machine.
And even before this, there is a scene that provides a miniature version of the Omar/Avon war that ensnares both Wallace and Brandon. Interestingly, this one also begins with Poot’s obsession with sex. It is our first visit to the Pit where D’Angelo listens to Poot and Bodie debate whether you can get HIV by receiving oral sex (The answer, by the way, is yes. In general, it is a good rule to disregard everything Poot says about sex). Bodie accidentally walks into a verbal trap when he says “Don’t nobody like sucking on rubber.” This provokes the easy, automatic response from D’Angelo “How would you know?”
It is a funny moment, just a couple of adolescent boys talking about sex and exchanging insults about homosexuality. But below the surface, this is another skirmish in the deepening conflict between D’Angelo and Bodie. From the beginning, it has been clear that Bodie respects D’Angelo’s title, but not his toughness. In this case, though, D’Angelo’s witty putdown is so forceful that even Poot has to laugh, and D’Angelo lets his eyes wander triumphantly around the pit.
This begins a quick, subtle exchange with explosive results. D’Angelo looks off to the side, where he notices Wallace sitting on a stool against the wall and holding a transformer-like toy. Wallace sits removed from the rowdy sex talk and lost in his own innocent revery. D’Angelo watches him and seems to imagine what is going through the young hopper’s mind. We see close-ups of Wallace, moving the toy’s arms, and moving his lips in mute fantasy dialogue. Here is a boy, 16-years-old at the most, taking a break from a life in the cutthroat world of men, trying to reclaim a little bit of the youth that he never really had. Or maybe he is trying to figure out how to transform the figure, an abstraction that he has to play out with a toy because he has no idea how to do it with the form of his own life.
D’Angelo watches this, maybe even thinking of his own childhood, or that of his son. Suddenly, Bodie looks up and notices that D’Angelo is watching something. As if he feels Bodie’s glance, D’Angelo tries to look away, but it is too late. Bodie sees Wallace, and this gives him the opportunity to indirectly act out on his hostility towards D’Angelo. He walks with a mission, glances pointedly back to D’Angelo, and then he picks up an empty 40 bottle. Wallace is too wrapped up in his private fantasy to notice the actual danger that rapidly approaches. Bodie throws the bottle. It shatters against the brick wall, just a few inches away from Wallace’s head. Wallace screams and drops the toy, and grasps at the spot just above his eye where the shards cut him.
D’Angelo steps to Bodie, and for a second it seems like they are about to fight, but D’Angelo gets saved from a no-win confrontation when a beep comes to his pager, giving him the opportunity to step away without losing face. With the exception of the wound above Wallace’s eye, the incident passes as if it never happened.
But when Poot spots Brandon at the pinball machine at the end of the episode, it follows the exact same pattern. The war between Avon and Omar plays out exactly like the skirmish between Bodie and D’Angelo. Both the Avon and Bodie have their egos bruised by an enemy, and they both respond by acting out violently against a third party, a kid who has the enemy’s favor. This analogy links Wallace and Brandon conceptually, long before they become fatefully linked in actuality.
This episode marks the beginning of Wallace’s transformation. The explosion of the bottle snaps him out of his fantasy world and awakens him to the violent world around him (it is fitting that Bodie holds Wallace’s childish behavior responsible for the stickup). The scene in the Greeks begins with Wallace bragging about how he got D’Angelo to let go of some money for him and Poot after he withheld pay from the Pit crew. He has already begun to grow up.
So when Poot spots Brandon, it is Wallace who grabs his friend by the jacket and pulls him outside, and he is the one who makes the call. There is a chilling piece of irony as they pass Brandon, who says “I’m the king of this shit.” We know that this pinball king is about to experience real pain at the hands of a real king.
In the end, Brandon’s crime is the same as Wallace’s. Both of them were too focused on their toys to notice the bigger game they were playing in. As The Who sing in “Pinball Wizard,” “Ain’t got no distractions/can’t hear no buzzers or bells.” This is particularly dangerous and naive in Brandon’s case, since he just learned that the Barksdales killed Bailey. Both Wallace and Brandon suffer because their focus on the wrong, childish game makes them blind to the threats quickly sneaking up on them, whether these threats bear glass bottles or handcuffs.
In this sense, it is also fitting that both boys suffer from wounds inflicted on their eyes. Brandon ends up getting one of his eyes gouged out. Wallace gets off much easier–he retains his vision, perhaps enough to start to see the world that he is in for the first time, through the cold eyes of an adult.
Wallace and Brandon aren’t the only two to be blind to their surroundings. The incredible final sequence of the episode follows the chain of information as it passes from Wallace to D’Angelo to Stringer back to D’Angelo back to Wallace, and finally, after Stringer and company join up with Wallace and Poot at the Greeks, that one final call from Stringer to D’Angelo.
As these calls bounce back and forth like the ball in the final pinball game of Brandon’s life, we see the raw information, the numbers and the duration, playing out on the unmonitored computers in the detail’s empty basement office. Here, they have the most powerful type of information possible, the details of a murder from beginning to end. But they are a little slow, a little late, and without the capability to hear voices, all they have are mute numbers.
After Stringer reports back to D’Angelo for the final notification, there is a moment where D’Angelo hesitates. The phone hovers just above the cradle before he hangs up. Who knows what is going through his mind in that one second. Maybe he thinks about Brandon and what Stringer and the rest of the muscle will do to him. Or maybe he thinks about Wallace, wondering why he started this chain of events that he would be powerless to stop, and how that one phone call will change the boy.
Whatever he thinks at that moment, it is enough to turn a six-second call to a seven-second call. It is just as insignificant in the realm of time as it is significant in the human realm. But in the half-blind eyes of the detail, it is just a meaningless second in a meaningless phone call.