In the morally-ambiguous world of The Wire, there are few truly-noble characters, but there is no doubt that Shardene, the stripper from the county, is one of them. From the beginning, she is presented to us as an honest soul in a world of players. She pays back one disgruntled customer even though she didn’t actually take his money, and later she reveals her blissful ignorance of her true employers and their business. Perhaps that is what keeps her noble–she exists outside of the game (even more so than the arguably-noble Omar). She lives by a simpler code of honesty, fairness, and simple human decency. As Freamon puts it “she’s a citizen.”
The Wire almost always restricts itself to a straightforward form of storytelling that gives it a sense of journalistic realism. As a result, the few scenes that do stray off the linear narrative trail stand out so much. There are the notable examples like the five montages that serve as season-ending epilogues. There are some other early anomalies, like D’Angelo’s brief flashback at the end of “The Target” or Avon’s slow-mo, soundtracked trip to the Pit in “The Wire.”
I have already discussed several ways that “Lessons” explores the notion of how we learn and what we do with that knowledge, but the episode also addresses the issue of education from another perspective: the nature of intelligence. It is an old debate, one that echoes through the chambers of psychology departments and standardized testing companies. How do you measure a person’s intelligence? What skills or traits should we include in our definition of intelligence?
One of the great pleasures of re-watching Season One of The Wire is tracking the way David Simon and company portray the parallel evolutions of Freamon and Prez, as they go from useless (possibly destructive) humps, to surprising contributors, to the very brains behind the developing case.
What makes this evolution so convincing is the way it unfolds so slowly, in bits and pieces. It starts with foreshadowing. Freamon silently works on his dollhouse miniatures, and Prez does his word-search puzzles. These hints are so subtle that a first-time viewer either doesn’t notice them, or takes them as evidence of femininity (for Freamon), childishness (for Prez) or detachment from the case (for both). They also contain a buried hint of deeper pockets of talent that have yet to be mined.
Season 1, Episode 6, “The Wire,” might be the most essential episode in The Wire. It’s not necessarily the best episode, or the most exciting. In fact, it is relatively slow, with the action primarily revolving around the nuanced politics of the crew and the detail. But it contains several things that are emblematic of the series’ most fundamental qualities. For one, the episode provides our first disturbing look into the home lives of the project children, and the practical and ethical challenges that they face every day. It also presents, in the form of the Rawls/Daniels conflict, a perfect example of the bureaucratic roadblocks to quality police work. The episode also features a circular structure, ending where it began just as the entire series does.
There is a great moment of recognition near the end of “Old Cases,” right after the detail finally convinces Daniels to back McNulty’s pager clone plan. Daniels, who seems almost convinced, asks a simple question. “Do we have a pager number?” Freamon, who has finally entered into the general discussions of the detail, looks over at McNulty, who looks like a kid who just got busted without his homework. McNulty looks helplessly at Kima, realizing that he worked so hard to convince Daniels to commit to a clone, only to forget the crucial detail of getting an actual pager number. Freamon lets him squirm for just a second before offering the information he had the whole time: D’Angelo’s pager number.
“His name’s on the form in the file”–Mahone
Episode 3, “The Buys,” picks up two weeks into the detail, but there has been little progress. The “Avon Barksdale” index card that sits pinned to the top of the corkboard shows that they finally got his date of birth (8/15/70–it is fitting that this king of the urban jungle is a Leo) but shows “No Known Addresses” and still has no photo. “It’s fucking embarrassing,” McNulty laments, so as a self-proclaimed “leader of men,” he decides to put the low-wattage manpower cluttering the office to work. “We need to know what he looks like,” he tells Mahone who barely looks up from his newspaper to dismiss the command.