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.
After two episodes of getting high and hiding out in his room, Wallace finally reemerges at the start of “Game Day” to officially resign from his job in The Pit. Boss D’Angelo takes the news well. He doesn’t reprimand or threaten. He doesn’t try to convince Wallace to change his mind or stay on for a few extra days. He just listens and accepts. Instead, the scene plays out like a combination confessional and therapy session (Wallace even sits on a couch, albeit The Pit’s nasty orange couch).
The conversation begins with a discussion of Brandon’s murder, that horrific act that both Wallace and D’Angelo were a part of. The guilt has clearly been tearing Wallace up, but D’Angelo is forgiving. “It ain’t on you,” he says. “It ain’t on me neither.” Like Avon does with the Gant murder, D’Angelo evokes the rules of “the game” to justify the crime. This rationale seems to absolve the young hopper of his ethical lapse (which is convenient, because it simultaneously absolves D’Angelo). This argument shifts the responsibility back onto Brandon for his role in stealing the stash. He should have known what was at risk when he teamed up with Omar and took Avon’s stash.
But that is little consolation for Wallace. “I don’t want to play no more,” the he insists, and the choice of words is telling. He is not only playing off of the common use of the Game metaphor that dominates his world. He is also talking about growing up. It is finally time for him to put down his transformer toys and start living life like a man. The problem is that Wallace’s definition of what it means to be a “man” is not the same as the other players of the game like Bodie.
Bodie is a dedicated soldier, always faithful to the game. If the rules say he needs to beat a fiend down or tackle a cop, he will do so without question. In his eyes, fierceness is the measure of a man. Wallace, on the other hand, wants out of a game that defines manhood in such a way, a game where it is morally acceptable (even necessary) to torture another human being and leave his body out on display like an animal. Wallace wants to discover a new game witha new set of rules. He sees school as the only possible portal into that world. It offers salvation because it promises to measure him not by his fierceness but by his mind.
D’Angelo understands this intuitively, and while he teases Wallace about being too old for ninth grade, he approves of the move, first by giving money, and then by giving him encouragement. “Look here, man, you a smart little motherfucker…you likely to finish up at Harvard or some shit like that. Believe, B.” D’Angelo may not have the most realistic grasp of the college admission process, but his mention of Harvard is significant. It offers Wallace an idealized image of a possible future that replaces drugs and violence with learning and opportunity.
Then D’Angelo brings up another one of Wallace’s assets that the drug game treats as a liability. “And you got a good heart in there, too,” he says. “Not like the rest of these niggers.” D’Angelo recognizes that Wallace is different from Bodie, Wee-Bey and the rest. He intentionally reframes the meaning of “heart,” turning it from a perceived weakness into a potential advantage.
Perhaps one of the reasons D’Angelo is so eager to help Wallace get out is because he himself is trapped. The arrangement of the shot reinforces this. They sit on opposite sides of the frame, looking both at and beyond each other. Wallace is on the left, looking forward to an uncertain future that has to be better than his present world. D’Angelo looks to the left at a past version of himself, a version that could have taken a different path had he been born into a different family. It is no wonder that D’Angelo is so willing to help this boy. If he can save Wallace, he will also save a part of himself.