Burning Trace Evidence

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.

The scene gets set up earlier in the episode. McNulty is uncharacteristically not in the mood to drink after forcing Bunk to lie to Cole about Omar’s role in Stinkum’s murder. McNulty abandons Bunk at the bar with drinking money and the seductive looks of a woman from the other end of the bar.

A few hours later, McNulty wakes up to a ringing phone. It is the woman from the bar, giving McNulty a summons to retrieve this incoherent partner who set off the smoke detector twice after turning her bathtub into a firepit. When McNulty asks why he did something so absurd, Bunk says that he needed to destroy “trace evidence” that might get him in trouble with his wife. McNulty brings him home.

As McNulty hauls Bunk into bed, he points out the flaw in that plan (the flaw would be obvious to a sober person). The plan solves one problem, but it creates a much bigger one. Bunk may not have to explain to his wife how another woman’s hair and smell got onto his shirt, but instead he has to explain the shirt’s peculiar absence.

Bunk barely responds to McNulty’s criticism. Instead, he makes the conversation about McNulty, telling him “you’re no good for people.” It is a harsh criticism (and particularly thankless, since McNulty is presently taking care of him). Bunk seems to blame McNulty for his own irresponsible actions. That is clearly unfair, but in an indirect way, McNulty may be to blame. It’s like entrapment for philanderers. After all, he leaves Bunk alone and in a bad mood from the day’s events. McNulty justifies the decision to screw Cole out of a clearance on Stinkum’s murder, rationalizing one bad act by claiming that it is a necessary sacrifice for the greater good of taking down the Barksdale crew.

Bunk merely follows his buddy’s example. He asks McNulty to repay the favor by lying to Nadine for him, enabling him to pursue the woman at the bar. Now, Bunk’s reproach suggests how contagious such ethical hedges can be.

It is also a broader comment on McNulty’s entire approach to the case, not to mention his career. As bad as McNulty may be for other people, it is nowhere near as bad he is for himself. He is willing to go after what he sees as the greater good, even if it causes other problems. This is exactly what happened with Omar, and it is what threatens to happen with McNulty’s career. He will empower a killer like Omar, scrap his career, and take down anybody else, just as long as he gets to see Avon and Stringer in cuffs.

2 thoughts on “Burning Trace Evidence

  1. “McNulty justifies the decision to screw Cole out of a clearance on Stinkum’s murder, rationalizing one bad act by CLAIMING that it is a necessary sacrifice for the greater good of taking down the Barksdale crew.”

    This observation hints at one of the central ambiguities in The Wire – whether or not McNulty is serving a greater good or serving his own ego?

  2. It always ego with McNulty, and with everyone else in life that talk about doing stuff for the “greater good”. If I was any more cynical, I would say that even applies to Superman. Love this blog! Zip

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.