The Wire’s ninth episode is called “Game Day,” but it’s always game day in Baltimore. The street side of the show revolves around the “game” metaphor (I am still waiting for “drapersayswhat” to do a supercut of characters in The Wire saying “it’s all in the game”), and while this metaphor is just as present in this episode as in any other, the title refers to a literal game as well: the Eastside vs. Westside basketball game, an annual contest for “bragging rights to the projects.”
A confession: I am a Philadelphia sports fan. I was too young to remember the 1983 Sixers, so the city’s epic 25-year title drought was pretty much my entire life as a sports fan (I won’t even go into my college team, a certain birthplace of college football that has experienced nothing but abject failure ever since). Then, finally, in 2008 the Phillies won the World Series, and the streak was over. It was pretty exciting.
I have always had mixed feelings abouth ESPN football/everything columnist Gregg Easterbrook, otherwise known as the Tuesday Morning Quarterback. If I am being totally honest, I haven’t read him in years, and I have probably never read an entire column of his from beginning to end (of course, that is more likely due to the fact that his columns often reach lengths rivaling that of major pieces of legislation). As with any writer who has extremely strong opinions, he tends to put people off, and I can’t say I agree with all of his viewpoints.
Episode 8, “Lessons” begins with McNulty finally enjoying some alone time with his sons, Sean and Michael. It starts out well, but in a flash, a nice weekend outing to the market becomes one of those edge-of-your-seat “is-this-really-happening?” moments. Of course, this really shouldn’t be too much of a surprise for the viewer. After all, there are so few scenes in The Wire involving the characters’ personal lives. The few scenes that do typically end up doing so to illustrate how consistently the game interferes with all aspects of the player’s life.
McNulty: I know. We will.
The scene in the morgue, where Omar says his final farewell to Brandon, is one of the most emotionally excruciating of the season. The scene parallels the earlier morgue scene from “The Detail”, especially as they both begin with a shot of the corpse appearing upside down. But this version is much more emotional and far more personal.
There is a funny moment in the middle of “The Wire” that shows just how many characters are reaching key turning points with the Barksdale investigation. It is nine in the morning and there is already a lot of action in the detail office. Freamon briefs Kima and McNulty on the results of the first day of listening in on the phone calls, when Polk stumbles in, “lit” possibly from the night before, possibly from this morning. McNulty gets a page from Bunk. Daniels sees how drunk Polk is and calls him into his office.
Bubbles: I’m not working for them, I’m working with em. They don’t give me the badge soon enough, I keep doing like I do.
Bubbles: What do you mean ‘why’? How you gonna ask me why? Why the fuck are you in here, man, with all these falling down motherfuckers? Why you passing shit through a bag? Why they beat you down? Why I couldn’t do nothing about it?
Johnny: It’s all part of the game, right? I mean, you taught me that.
“Chess is a metaphor for drug deals, Avon is the king and you’re the pawns.”–Larry Gillard Jr., reprising his role as D’Angelo Barksdale in The Wire: The Musical
The chess lesson from “The Buys” has become one of The Wire’s most iconic scenes. It is a brilliantly-scripted and -acted scene, one that actually serves as a double metaphor. D’Angelo uses the familiar world of the drug hierarchy to explain an alien and complex game to Bodie and Wallace. At the same time, Simon and Burns use this scene to explain the (presumably) alien drug game to their audience using the (presumably) familiar rules of chess. Call it a meta-metaphor.
“Get out of it.”—Marla
“How do I do that?”—Cedric
Throughout the first half of “The Details,” Daniels seems to be pretty pessimistic about the quality of his new group of detectives. When he negotiates with Cantrell for Sydnor, he says “I’ll carry Pryzbylewski for as long as I can.” By the end of the episode, it is clear that, if anything, Daniels was being optimistic. He may not even be able to carry the pistol-whipping Prez for more than a day. If anything, the riot is the easy part for Daniels. Managing the political and ethical considerations will be the real headache for this beleaguered commander.
“…two noble, selfless public servants.” Landsman
One of The Wire’s most distinctive structural features is its use of epigraphs to open each episode. At the end of the opening credits, a short quote from the episode appears on the screen. This sets up a simple game along the lines of Alfred Hitchcock’s cameos: find the epigraph in the episode. But the epigraph also enables The Wire to convey several things with the same line. This is because the line’s first appearance, set against a black screen, is completely decontextualized, and therefore invites a more abstract, conceptual interpretation (some more clear than others). It is only when the line comes up in the episode that it becomes a concrete piece of the plot.