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.”
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?
There are times when Bubbles seems like the show’s best detective. This is especially the case when Kima tracks Omar’s van to the most remote corners of Baltimore based on Bubbles’ eagle-eyed scope. A little later on, McNulty describes a similar power in the hands and eyes of a good CI when he reminisces about a former snitch of his named Reuben Terry. “Saw the street like we wish we could.” These fiends live on the street, and that unique perspective gives them an observational superiority over even the best detectives.
“Old Cases” ends with a scene that seems out of place with the rest of the show: an intimate look into the home life of Kima and her partner Cheryl. To be fair, all scenes dealing with the characters’ personal lives feel out of place in a show like The Wire, a show which puts most of its emphasis on the professional. And yet, the truth is that for these police, the job is so all-encompassing that there is no personal life, and even the scenes that seem to be personal are really there to illustrate how the professional seeps into every aspect of their lives. This all plays out in the subtle, complex politics of Kima’s relationship with Cheryl.
“I know I look like I could go either way.”—Kima
One of the most interesting topics that David Simon talked about in his recent interview with The Wire superfan and sports writer Jason Whitlock is the way the show handled sexuality. Whitlock admitted that the character of Omar went a long way towards changing his view of homosexuality, and asked why Simon decided to make the badass stickup artist gay. Simon gave a pragmatic response–there was no way for a man to be openly gay in either of the show’s ultra-masculine hierarchies, so the only man who could be gay (openly, that is) had to be one of the few characters who functions outside of these systems (it is worth noting that there are at least two more systems where it is incredibly difficult to be openly gay–sports and politics, both worlds which, like the police department and the corner, revolve around the perception of power).
“Yeah, I could tell”—Kima
“The Detail” follows the eponymous squad through its infancy stage, and up to its first clumsy steps (as well as its first time falling on its face). All of the foundational elements are there: they get their home, they lock down the full roster of personnel (for better or worse) and they have their first organizational meeting, complete with a division into pairs of partners and a basic investigation strategy. This is all accompanied by the perhaps-too-appropriate sounds of flushing toilets and confused maintenance men.
“…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.