The brilliant David Simon, who we all have much to thank for, because of all of the outstanding television he has brought us, and continues to bring us (The Corner, The Wire, Generation Kill, Treme), and for his vocal and intelligent stance as an opponent of the war on drugs and really, as a gleaming light post for contemporary reform, says the following in the forward of the director’s cut from season 1, episode 11, “The Hunt”:
So, you have to look at what the Baltimore Police Department was doing in the war on drugs. They were consumed by the idea of statistics. Of dope on the table. To this day, when a police department puts dope on the table or guns on the table, you know, ‘we did a raid yesterday and we seized these drugs and these guns’ and they call a press conference. The city is awash in heroin, cocaine, and guns. Any street cop can go out and make a gun case or certainly a drug case. It’s like the entire city is swimming and they’ve literally put a beeker of water on the table and gone, look, we’ve done police work. But dope on the table works. The cameras always come. The cameras always say ‘ah, they’re fighting the war on drugs’ and what they’re not doing is anything meaningful in the way of police work. They were locking up more people for drugs than ever before, the rates of violence went up, and their ability to solve those crimes of violence went down, because they had taught a whole generation of cops not how to do police work. They taught them how to go up on the corner and jack a guy up, go in his pockets, get a vial here, a vial there. To actually solve a string of robberies on your post, to actually solve a murder, to actually solve a string of rapes? That requires police work.”
While Simon’s words do ring especially true, his depiction of the above through the paradigm of West Baltimore that he created, probably made for the best television ever in the realism genre. Are you asking if I’m really going to do this? Am I really going to review a show that had it’s original air date in August of 2002?
No. I’m going to review parts of two Wire episodes (s1, e10, “The Cost”, s1, e11, “The Hunt”) because the masterful sequence in specific I’d like to discuss cuts off at the end of episode 10 and picks back up at the beginning of episode 11.
In “The Cost”, the episode is framed around a buy and bust. The police higher-ups, impatient that the bust-for-show they have demanded hasn’t come off yet, order Lieutenant Daniels (Lance Reddick), whose unit is up on a wire on West Baltimore’s most dangerous and successful drug gang, to arrange for a quick bust that they feel will make them look good. The squad concocts a plausible scenario–to them. Orlando (Clayon LeBouef), who has already been busted, is looking to buy weight from Avon’s (Wood Harris) crew, and will have his girlfriend along for the ride–Detective Greggs (Sonja Sohn) undercover.
Is that a good plan? Orlando already got busted, and is out. Any street person would be suspicious of that. You get busted, you don’t make bail in those parts. But Orlando is out, so obviously, he’s been snitching. If Orlando was going to make bail, it would have been Avon’s crew who bailed him out. But Avon only needed Orlando’s name on the liquor license at the strip joint he owned, and once his name got dirty, he no longer needed him. So this crew that owns West Baltimore is supposed to believe that Orlando, who got busted in the first place because he tried to step out and sell a package because he needed money, somehow got his bail arranged in some way that didn’t involve cooperating with the police.
They don’t believe it for a second. The police keep trying to convince themselves that it’s a good plan because they think it’s plausible that Orlando needs to go buy weight to make money to pay his legal fees. And they convince themselves that it’s also plausible that Kima be there too, playing the girlfriend that Savino (Chris Clanton), the dealer they are procuring from, doesn’t know and has never heard of, despite knowing Orlando very well. As a viewer, you are sitting there saying “I can’t believe the police are stupid enough to try this.”
But they are. And that’s the foundation for The Wire’s chilling platform of realism. The bureaucracies do not work well, and function nowhere near as effectively as the criminals. Over the course of The Wire’s full run, Simon and Ed Burns would expose the failings of Baltimore’s city government, courts, educational system, prisons, and newspapers as well. But for perhaps television’s best show ever, there were few moments that better illustrated the stark contrast between the effectiveness of the criminals and the ineptitude of the law.
From the moment that Kima gets in Orlando’s car, Simon plunges us into this vacuum of chaos that gets exponentially more intense with each second. Though there are detectives in cars just a few blocks away, they are unable to locate Orlando’s car because the drug dealers have turned all the street signs in order to “fuck with the cops.” Kima, who’s wired, is trying to give her location by rattling off street names from the back seat of Orlando’s car, but she doesn’t really have any idea where she really is, and even “foxtrot”, the B.P.D.’s helicopter unit can not locate them, as Savino has now made off with their money, and while Orlando and Greggs sit helplessly in the car waiting for their drugs like sitting ducks.
Gunmen take over from there. Orlando the snitch is dead, and Kima is officer down. Her squad, who were desperately and helplessly trying to find her, still can’t find her, and are all screaming “OFFICER DOWN!” into their radios frantically. These are cops–for all their faults–who operate essentially as rogues who are always looking to circumvent the chain of command, but who are all extremely dedicated to their detail and to each other. Incredible acting performances are turned in by Lance Reddick (Brooklyn holler!) , John Doman (Brooklyn holler!), Dominic West, Seth Gilliam, Clarke Peters (Treme), Dominick Lombardozzi, and Corey Parker Robinson.
Carver (Seth Gilliam) brings the news to Kima’s partner, and then brings her to the hospital, and asks D.C.O. Burrell (Frankie Faison) and Lt. Daniels if someone will say a word to her. The entire force was galvanized when one of their own went down, for sure, and Greggs’ heroism was appreciated. We know this because in a gripping exchange between Rawls (Doman) and McNulty (West), Rawls implores McNulty not to blame himself for the situation, that he “didn’t do one thing to get a police shot” and that the “only moral here is that she took 2 for the unit.” But when Burrell informs the commissioner, and the commissioner sees that Greggs has a lesbian partner, he declines to offer her his support.
After the shooting, it’s fascinating to hear the chatter over the wire regarding the shooting–clearly the police’s best resource, and maybe only real resource, when it comes to doing real police work, despite objections from the very top of the force over the wire’s expense and slow and deliberate way of delivering information.
I have zero interest in cop shows. The Wire has always been so much more than that. The Wire is by far the greatest show of its kind and has brought a much higher standard to realism in television and film. I know a lot of you missed it the first time around, and that’s shameful. But having forever missed it would be unforgiveable. Try to catch it. Season 1 is airing frequently on Directv’s channel 101, with episode 12 to come Sunday night.
Unless for some crazy reason, that’s not how you carry it.