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 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?
Herc: What if Little Man ain’t working in the 221 today? What if this Day guy don’t come? What if he came already and we just missed the pickup?
Sydnor: Yo, Herc, what if your mother and father never met?
The Wire does a great job of showing the funny challenge detectives face when fighting the maddening boredom of a stakeout. During Season 1, these stakeouts usually involve a lot of time sitting on rooftops holding cameras or binoculars and watching handoffs and payphones. Sometimes they watch hats, too. They look at pictures, rub their eyes, and eat a lot. Then, in a flash, it is there: the person, the transaction, the phone call that they have been waiting for. But in between the occasional, sudden bursts of recognition, the sightings that promise to contribute (even minutely) to the slowly-building case, there are long hours where nothing happens.
Poot: (on wire) Them two is freaks, yo. Stash-finding motherfuckers popped the package from nowhere.
Girl: Who you talking?
Poot: Skinny Black motherfucker and that ass-ugly knocko. The white boy with the ballcap.
Girl: The ones who jumped Bodie?
Poot: Batman and Robin, yo.
When stone-faced Freamon summons Herc and Carver into the control room, they think they are either about to get chastised for something or given another menial task. Instead, they get a surprise that makes their day: a recording of a phone call from Poot where he elevates the clownish duo to the modern-mythic level of Superheros.
At the heart of “The Pager,” there is a lengthy sequence that alternates between four unrelated storylines that all take place on a single Friday night in Baltimore. One is all business (Avon and Stringer’s plans to take over new territory) and one is all personal (McNulty’s ill-fated, drunken attempt at constructing a bunk bed for his sons). The other two scenes show the challenges of keeping the professional out of the personal (D’Angelo’s date night with Donette) and the personal out of the professional (Herc and Carver’s failed attempt to flip Bodie).
One of The Wire’s most effective visual techniques is the way it cuts between scenes. By placing a certain image or piece of dialogue next to a related on in the next scene, they subtly reinforce a connection between different subplots or characters. One of my favorite such cuts takes place in the beginning of “Old Cases,” right in the heart of the jaw-dropping sequence where Bodie escapes from Boys’ Village.
The scene begins with a disorienting shot, a fuzzy, decontextualized look at some institutional ceiling. It slowly comes into focus before the camera cuts to reveal Bodie, just coming to from the asskicking that Herc, Carver, and Kima put on him in retribution for punching Mahone.
“It ain’t right…you think it’s right?” —Herc
Last week, I tweeted the following:
An hour or so later, Domenick Lombardozzi wrote the following response: “U fing jakel!”
I wasn’t sure how to take that. It isn’t always the easiest thing to detect tone in short-form digital communications like texts and tweets, so I just assumed he was joking around. But as those fierce eyes stared out at me from his Twitter avatar, I started to fear that I had angered him, and I have seen what an angry Herc is capable of.
“…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.