Santangelo’s Big Adventure

Santangelo: Madame fucking LaRue? I gotta thank you Jaybird, you saved my fucking life here.The only thing I can’t figure is I asked for help on the Lindsey case, not this one.
Landsman: Hey Mike, fuck the gypsy shit. These are the guys that saved your ass right here.

One of my favorite movies growing up was Pee Wee’s Big Adventure (which, as I recently discovered, marked the directorial debut of Tim Burton). In that film, the hapless Pee Wee goes on a quest to track down his stolen beloved bicycle. He starts by consulting a fortune teller. She is a hack, but her client wants answers, so she looks out the window and pulls some names from the nearby stores. Al, Moe…The Alamo. She tells him that the bike is in the basement of that famous landmark, and off he goes on his journey. When he arrives in San Antonio, he learns in humiliating fashion that the Alamo has no basement, and he has been duped. But he continues on his adventure, and eventually finds his bicycle (of course).

I always think of this movie when I watch poor, clueless Santangelo stumble through an old murder case in “One Arrest.” The episode begins with Rawls berating him for a low clearance rate and generally poor work. Rawls offers Santangelo two ways out of the doghouse: bring him incriminating information on McNulty, or solve a murder. “There’s no third option.” Santangelo chooses option two, but gets quickly lost in his old case files. Finally, the supreme ballbuster Landsman comes to the rescue, giggling as he hands Santangelo a business card for Madame Larue. “Better men than you have turned to this lucky lady in their dark night of desperation.”

So Santangelo goes on his own big adventure, visiting the mysterious Madame Larue (who can’t tell Italian from Irish, has questionable knowledge of the Saints, and doesn’t clean up her kid’s toys). He follows her instructions, burying a statue at the victim’s grave, and then putting it under his pillow. Like magic, his phone rings, and a solved murder falls right into his lap.

Except that it’s the wrong murder. Santangelo is amazed that Larue worked, but a suddenly-serious Landsman brings Santangelo back to reality. McNulty and Bunk are the ones who got the information and solved the case for him. This is the problem with the supernatural approach. It puts faith in spirits and saints and angels, and ignores the real, painstaking work that is required to make things happen.

But at the same time, there is always a little doubt, a little voice that suggests: maybe it wasn’t a coincidence. Perhaps there was a certain synchronicity between Santangelo’s quest and the solution he received, as if the very intention, the hour spent at the cemetery and the night of sleep with St. Anthony under the pillow, were enough to shift an unknowable chain of events in his favor.  Just as Pee Wee’s quest to the Alamo led him to his bicycle, however indirectly, Santangelo ended up with a clearance on the same day he visited Madame Larue. It would be almost impossible to prove such supernatural connections, but it is always fun to imagine their possibility.

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