Heisenberg Visits The Pit

Service Interrupt–Computer message

When I was in high school, I spent my summers working in a kitchen at a summer camp. It was grueling work, long hours making three meals a day for several hundred hungry campers and counselors, but the worst days were the ones where we got inspected by the Department of Health.

It only happened once or twice a summer, but it always set the entire kitchen into a frenzy. We usually got a call from the front office, where they could stall the inspector for as much as a half hour. In that time, we would race around, cleaning and polishing everything that we could, making sure all of the food was properly marked and wrapped and stored. We were terrified of what would happen if we failed.

Bodie Takes Down a Camera

D’Angelo: You’re never gonna hit it, man.
Bodie: Bomb! Housing must think we just dumb.

There is a constant use of surveillance camera shots throughout the The Wire. Taken together, they create the unsettling feeling that we are always being watched. Big Brother is alive and well in Baltimore. So one of the series’ most satisfying and enduring images is the one where Bodie uses a rock to take down a camera set up by the Housing Department to monitor the lowrise courtyard. It is an iconic shot, one that earned a spot in the opening credits for all five seasons of The Wire. We watch from the perspective of the camera, powerless to stop that rock from shattering the lens and destroying its recording capabilities.

1.4: The Accidental Snitch

Poot: How did he know where the stash at? The knockos don’t know, but he do? Because some nigger’s snitching.
D’Angelo: Man, ain’t nobody got to be snitching for Omar or one of his boys to creep by and see where the stash at.

The pit boys are still licking their wounds over the stickup from a couple of nights earlier, and they are not the only ones who are want answers. A few scenes earlier, Avon and Stringer discuss the very same thing, and they conclude that D’Angelo might “have a problem he doesn’t know about.” In this scene, Poot states it even more clearly. “Some nigger’s snitching.” The idea of the snitch seems to be the go-to answer in the projects, a suspicion that arises whenever something goes inexplicably wrong.

1.3: Chess as a Metaphor for Everything

By Peter Honig

“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.

1.3: Customer Service in the Pit

By Peter Honig

What, the customer is always right?”—Bodie

The Pit is the nucleus in the atomic structure of The Wire’s first season. It is the world around which all other worlds revolve: the junkies come here to cop, the cops come here to take that first step up the investigative ladder, and the crew bosses come here to oversee their domain. Most importantly, the four central members of the Pit crew–conflicted leader D’Angelo, Bodie the “smart-ass pawn,” childlike Wallace and sex-crazed Poot–serve as the Greek chorus, commenting on the events that swirl around them. In the middle of the the low-rise courtyard, they sit on milk crates, utility boxes, and that immortal orange couch and debate the ethics and hierarchy of the drug game. These are some of the funniest and smartest scenes in Season One, most notably the chicken nugget scene from Episode Two and the chess scene that comes later on in Episode Three. So it is appropriate that the one opening scene with all four of the Pit Boys serves to highlight the connectivity of The Wire’s many worlds.

1.2: Underground Nuggets

By Peter Honig

“Just some sadass down in the basement…”—D’Angelo

While McNulty is busy digging himself deeper into the case by stoking Judge Phelan’s interest in the Barksdales, the other members of the ragtag newly-formed detail move into their new home, and it’s not pretty. With Daniels in the lead, Kima, Carver, Herc and Santangelo follow like a row of ducklings. He opens the door that leads to a basement. We see a low angle shot, looking up a darkened stairway at a group of peons whose relocation to this murky subterranean world should remind Office Space fans of squirrely Milton’s slow stuttering descent into Storage B.

1.1: D’Angelo’s Demotion

By Peter Honig

“You the man in the lowrises”–Stringer

One of the best ways to understand the characters on The Wire is to look at what happens when they move up or down within their hierarchical system. “The Target” spends a lot of time following D’Angelo as he encounters a major change in his status within the crew. The challenges he faces as he adjusts to a lower altitude of power reveals a lot, not only about D’Angelo, but also the nature of rank in any hierarchy.