Sunday, March 02, 2008

Waiting for Zeus' Thunderbolt

Like Lucy with that damn football, The Wire has consistently allowed the audience moments to run with the belief, even for a second, that things are going to turn out good. But even Charlie Brown knows by now that this isn't Hollywood. As David Simon has pointed out, instead this is more like a Greek tragedy, and it may as well be Aeschylus (or, A-see-lee-us, as Senator Davis calls him,) holding the football. The Gods, or, in this case, the institutions, send their thunderbolts upon both the righteous and the wicked alike, without giving thought to what's 'just.'

To that point, I find it interesting that the two characters with cartoon names, Snoop and Bunny, deliver the lines that best describe how the series, and our decaying cities, fall into this mold of Greek tragedy:

Deserve got nuthin to do with it - Snoop
I guess there's nothing to be done - Bunny

Snoop's line is pulled from the great modern western The Unforgiven, a line that Clint Eastwood's Will Munny character delivers to a groveling Little Bill (Gene Hackman). Writer George Pelecanos, who's been brought in every season to write the crucial penultimate episode, is fond of Westerns and their thematic twist on good vs bad (see season 3's great Brother Mouzone high noon showdown versus Omar,) so when I saw The Unforgiven line was the episode's epitaph, I had the unpleasant vision of Snoop as Munny and Michael as Little Bill. The fact that the roles were reversed was a nice touch, turning expectation on it's ear. After the ceremonious-less drop of Omar last week, it was somehow comforting to see Snoop taken down gently by Michael, with her taking refuge for the first time in her femininity, asking "how do my hair look?" Backed by T-Pain's (nearly) romantic "Bartender," it was a touching scene that was reminiscent of the almost touching moment when Marlo took out Prop Joe. "You look good, girl." Pop. Whoops, now you don't. [Read this morning's TV Guide's interview with actor Tristan Wilds (Michael)]

Of course, in order to set up the tragedies, there has to be some elation, and the unraveling of Marlo's enterprise and even the 'dope on the table' moment, does just the trick. Lester's on cloud nine, showing Marlo what he knows by taking his phone and the clock with a knowing look. Musically, it's worth pointing out that fellow Wu-Tang alumn Ghostface Killah has his song "Be Easy" blasting from the car that Cheese and Monk drive in on, a subtle acknowledgement of fellow Wu-Tang'er Method Man in his portrayal of Cheese. Apparently, music supervisor Blake Leyh wanted to use Wu-Tang Clan's "Take it Back" but ran into licensing issues and at the 11th hour, went this route to say the same thing.

This of course leads to actor Jamie Hector's finest moment in the series, taking the cold and emotionless Marlo up several notches of rage as he finds out Omar's been calling him out. His rage lets us know that Omar's seemingly desperate call out to Marlo would've worked, if not for the wise restraint of Chris and Snoop. Marlo's vanity overflows, yelling "my name is my name," reminding us of a line from his supplier, Vondas, from the second season: "My name is not my name." It illustrates a key difference between the two camps, that ultimately keeps the Greek(s) out of trouble. I think there's something here that metaphorically speaks to the importance of brand name to retail, but that's a tangent I can ill afford to follow.

Speaking of names, Bubbles finally let's his (Reginald) out, and it serves as a new beginning for our favorite junkie informant. "Ain't no shame in holding onto grief, as long as you make room for other things, too," he says, which says a lot about the series as well. In the midst of all this heavy and trying drama, moments like Bubbles' coming to terms with his own grief are like daisies growing through cracks in the pavement. Bubbles Reginald gets to this moment by remembering an innocent summer day as a young man, when he could watch girls and smoke some herb without a care. Similarly, Dukie remembers a summer past, a scene where the boys of season four were introduced, bonding together to throw piss balloons and eating ice cream off the truck. For me, the most tragic thing in the series is that Michael can't (or won't) remember it. Not even memories of his youth remain, only the cold dark reality of his current frightening setting.

So much happened in this episode, and while a lot of it was setting up for the finale, it also introduced a theme of betrayal (and perceived betrayal). Marlo, after conferring with Chris and Levy, reluctantly believes Michael snitched, leading to Michael having to betray his mentor Snoop to stay alive, which, in turn, leads to him have to betray his family, Bug and Dukie. Marlo, also feels betrayed by Chris and Snoop for not telling him about being called out. Meanwhile, Kima, in the biggest betrayal, rats out McNulty to Daniels and Pearlman. There's a lot of 'how could Kima do that' out there, but it fits a character who plays by the rules, even saying of the hunt for the person who shot her, "sometimes things just got to play hard." Also, in the 'potentially leading to Marlo's release' is Herc's betrayal of his old cop buddies, giving Levy just enough legal wiggle room to get Marlo off the hook. Fittingly, when Herc tries to get Carver to talk, Tom Petty's "Refugee" plays in the background, speaking to Herc's cop status.

So how's it all going to end? Knowing that it's a Greek tragedy, it's easy to assume that Marlo gets off and McNulty gets blamed, but then Templeton would have to go down too, right? I've gotten the feeling all season that Simon's going to have Templeton survive and end up as a Pulitzer nominee, with Gus getting Zeus' lightening bolt. Well, we know one thing, as Journey sang in The Sopranos' infamous ending, "some will win, some will lose... some were born to sing the blues." But we won't be cutting to black.

Playlist: The Wire - Episode 5.09
1. "Idris Song" - Donald Harrison - Haynes & Ruby talk in coffee shop
2. "Be Easy" - Ghostface Killah - Detectives watch Monk & Cheese
3. "Refugee" - Tom Petty - Herc drinks with Carver
4. "The 'In' Crowd" - Ramsey Lewis - Freamon & Clay Davis talk in club
5. "Jailbreak" - Thin Lizzy - Haynes meets Wiley at veterans hospital
6. "So Fresh" - Bossman - Michael stakes out Snoop
7. "Bartender" featuring Akon - T-Pain - Michael & Snoop in SUV
HBO track and scene info

More: Are you enjoying the continuing parade of ghosts from Wire seasons past as much as I am? Even if it's sometimes distracting, I'm all for it, and the only one's that I see missing from this season so far are appearances from Brother Mouzone, Wee-Bay and Prez -- who, if you saw the previews for next week, is name we'll be able to cross off.

Previously: Eulogizing Omar (Episode 5.08)

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