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.

My mind always goes to the scene in The Great Gatsby where Nick goes to his first Gatsby party, only to realize that he doesn’t know anybody. “I slunk off in the direction of the cocktail table–the only place in the garden where a single man could linger without looking purposeless and alone.” Nick is the perpetual outsider, and that feeling of being “purposeless” is only emphasized by the sense that these other people exist on a higher social strata. He doesn’t belong because he is not good enough.

This same awkward sense must be buzzing in Daniels’ head in “One Arrest” when he shows up at a major fundraiser on the arms of his wife, Marla. While he paid for his $500 plate just like everybody else, it is clear that this is not his world. The social conflict that he feels throughout the scene provides a telling counterpoint to his ongoing professional struggles.

Daniels’ career sits in a precarious position after he violated the chain-of-command and challenged Major Rawls in the previous episode. This short sequence reveals just how much his identity seems to be flickering, constantly shifting before his eyes. This may be due to the fact that parties themselves are like social crucibles, forcing various interactions, each one demanding that we adopt subtly different roles. In the context of the fundraiser, Daniels confronts several possible versions of himself that force him to consider where it is that he really stands in life. The answer is not a comforting one.

The mood of the party gets set up the beginning of the scene. It begins with a long shot of the mansion, shot at a low angle to make it seem domineering. The first cut inside finds the place buzzing with well-dressed, well-connected people, sipping on cocktails and making small-talk. On the left, there is a piano, just like the one in the restaurant that D’Angelo goes to, but nobody is playing this one. In many ways, this scene mirrors D’Angelo’s misadventures in the restaurant from “The Pager.” In both cases, the “company man” finds himself in a social situation where they feel out of their depth. This forces Daniels and D’Angelo to question the hierarchy they have always taken for granted, and their motives for wanting to rise in that system.

We see Daniels emerge momentarily from out of the crowd before disappearing behind carefully-sculpted heads of hair and then reappearing again as he gets shepherded in by Marla. He looks uncomfortable in this setting, as uneasy as Marla is at ease. That discomfort only grows when Marla introduces him to one of her fellow GBC Downtown Redevelopment committee members. As he shakes hands with her, he tries to force a smile, but it is really more of a grimace. Marla quickly launches into a spirited political discussion with that woman. They talk about how dry and boring the meetings are while their male escorts stand in a carefully-guarded silence. Daniels lets his eyes wander, and who would blame him. If there is one thing worse than sitting through a tedious meeting, it is hearing other people talk about a tedious meeting.

Suddenly his face lights up as he spots the familiar face of somebody from his world: Ervin Burrell. Daniels is quick to ask Marla for permission to leave, and she is even quicker to let him go so she can continue talking about this year’s candidates, “the best ticket in years.” Daniels may have had problems with Burrell in the office, but here is an opportunity to talk to him on a personal level outside of the customary context of the Department. He escapes the uncomfortable role as Marla’s political prop and trades it for the role of a riser in the police force.

And while Burrell is friendly, the conversation progresses with a thinly-veiled hostility. Burrell begins with some mockery of the event itself. “$500-a-plate fundraiser for a police Lieutenant? Even in this city, that constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.” It seems to be a sympathetic acknowledgement of the event’s absurd excess, but it really carries a second meaning. It is a jab at Daniels’ rank, and a comment on the fact that a lowly Lieutenant doesn’t belong in this strata of society, no matter how ambitious he may be. In this world, there is a strong connection between rank and social standing. Since Burrell is Deputy Ops, he belongs here. A lowly Lieutenant like Daniels doesn’t.

Burrell goes on to prod Daniels, both testing him and mocking his political ignorance. “And which member of the ticket has so energized you? The mayor? Council president? The Registrar of Wills, maybe.” Daniels admits that he doesn’t know this world, saying “The mayor I might recognize if I saw him. For the rest, I’d pretty much need B of I photos.” Daniels is not initiated into the world of Baltimore politics, so he tries to bring the discussion back to the one world that he does know: the world of law enforcement.

Burrell, who straddles both of these worlds, builds on Daniels’ metaphor. “You’re not wrong, Lieutenant,” he says. “In this state, it’s a thin line between campaign posters and photo arrays.” Burrell openly acknowledges the corruption endemic to the political world. It is interesting that he frames this with the identical grammatical structure of Bubbles’ “Thin line between heaven and here.” But the thin line also suggests that each person has to keep careful track of the “heaven” of how they want to present themselves to the world, and the “here” of their real flaws and shortcomings. Once again, we have a sense that identity is always shifting and hard to perceive, and that the very people elected to serve might be the biggest criminals of all.

As if on cue, they are interrupted by the sound of giddy laughter. “Pop quiz,” Burrell tests, looking at the man holding court in the corner. Daniels doesn’t know, and for the first time, both he and we get introduced to State Senator Clay Davis. Burrell responds with a line that is either a joke or a threat. “You’ll never make major at this rate.” He laughs, but for Daniels, who hears his boss mock the possibility of the promotion he longs for, it is no joke. In the higher levels of the department, Burrell seems to say, it is more about politics than police work.

It is the first real look into the world that hovers above the police hierarchy. Burrell may strike fear and terror in the hearts of thousands of members of the police force, but here he is just another peon. “Excuse me while I do my duty and kiss some senatorial haunches,” he says and leaves Daniels to sip his champagne alone as he slips across the thin line to join the crowd of political-ass-kissers.

When we return to the party a little later, we Daniels has finally found a place where he feels at home: the kitchen. Here, among waiters stocking trays with hors d’ouvres and champagne flutes, he finds a group of limo drivers sitting around a table, drinking coffee and watching the Orioles game. In the world of the elite, there is no middle ground. If Daniels isn’t comfortable running with the political players, then he has no choice but to sit with the servants.

For the first time all night, he seems to be at ease. He falls into some friendly conversation with the men, complaining about an inevitable Yankees comeback and their faith in the Orioles Bullpen. “Who are you driving for?” one man asks. “Marla Daniels.” It is a biting comment on the Daniels marriage, a statement that is equally true and false. It is a subtle nod to the true power structure of the marriage, where Cedric is responsible for ushering his wife to these types of events and smiling in his role of supportive husband. Maybe he is only comfortable in the kitchen because his identity as a servant is the closest one to his real state of affairs.

And so he plays along when the other driver, Day-Day, begins to discuss the possibility robbing this mansion. He has the plan all figured out, from how to break in (“Pull the truck up, bust through those French doors, shoop”) to where to fence the stolen items. Daniels acts the part of the co-conspirator, asking how the man will deal with the alarm and then adding “that’ll work.” He is having a little fun as he lets Day-Day talk about a crime. He finally feels at home, and when he introduces himself, he states his proper title: “I’m Cedric Daniels, but I mostly go by…Lieutenant.” He gets genuine pleasure out of watching Day-Day squirm, but the pleasure might really lie in the fact that he is in the role that presently suits him best. Not that of political prop, not that of would-be major, but simply Lieutenant.

Unfortunately, there are other pressures in life, and as soon as he reaches a level of comfort, in comes Marla. “There you are. There’s somebody I need you to meet.” It is like Daniels is a kid who keeps wandering off, trying to hide. And of course, that is exactly what he is doing. Marla may need him to meet “somebody” important, but those are not Daniels’ needs. The struggle to find the thin line between his own needs with the needs of his wife and his job will continue throughout the series.

When we first met Daniels in Episode One, he is described by Bunk as a “company man,” an ambitious young supervisor with his aim set squarely for the top of the ladder. He is in the running for the next open spot for Major, and from there, the sky (or Burrell’s office) is the limit. His early management of the case seemed to confirm that view of his motives, as he tried to do whatever he could to appease the needs of his superiors.

But after his costly confrontation with Rawls and then this uncomfortable appearance at the fundraiser, we have to question Daniels’ motives, just as he is beginning to. So often, when it comes to hierarchy, the question is how high a person can rise, when the questions should really be how high a person should rise, and why they want to.

This scene offers a possible answer to this. From Daniels gritting his teeth as Marla’s arm candy to Burrell’s teasing and pandering, it becomes clear that this is not the world for Daniels. In fact, it is likely that the ambition is not even his–it is Marla’s. She is a climber, and she wants him to climb with her, when all he wants to do is go to the kitchen and watch the Orioles with the other drivers. Or maybe the game is just a cover for his general discomfort, a way to form a social connection at a party where he is otherwise an outsider.

The Barksdale case forces Daniels to challenge his superiors, and in the process, it also forces him to challenge his own ideas of where he wants to go within the force. If the party is any indication, it looks like he is starting to step away from the role of the company man. The company doesn’t want him, and he doesn’t belong to the company. At the same time, this awareness allows him to more deeply embrace the role of Lieutenant, a role that may not be glamorous, but it is the one that suits him most comfortably.

 

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