Hot off "The Wire"

Join Salon staff as we discuss Episode 4 of "The Wire."


Salon Staff
January 28, 2008 4:32PM (UTC)

Much of Salon's staff is obsessed with HBO's "The Wire" -- and we know many of you are, too. So we'll host a little debriefing session starting directly after each episode ends, continuing through the series finale. Our East Coast contributors will kick it off and our West Coasters will finish it, though we hope you'll have the final say in our letters thread, which we'll be reading and spotlighting the best posts throughout the following Monday.

Salon contributors will include: Heather Havrilesky, TV critic; Sarah Hepola, Life deputy editor; Alex Koppelman, staff writer; Kerry Lauerman, New York editorial director; Farhad Manjoo, senior writer; Laura Miller, senior writer; Joan Walsh, editor in chief.

BEWARE: Spoilers ahead!

Havrilesky: "Close your eyes, it won't hurt none. Yeah, there now. Joe, relax. Breathe easy." -- Marlo Stanfield

Ah, Marlo. The loving assassin. Has there ever been a more soulless character on TV? Somehow, instead of coming across as merciful, his last words to Proposition Joe were just infuriating.

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Those of you who were disappointed with last week's episode couldn't possibly have a problem with this one, could you? There were so many great scenes: Kima Greggs watching that poor traumatized kid refusing to interact with a social worker, then going home to see her son and charming him into playing with her; Herc's exchange with Prop Joe in that scumbag lawyer's office ("Ervin [Burrell] was a year before me at Dunbar. He was in the Glee Club." "You're killin' me, I gotta ask..." "Stone stupid."); McNulty's unforeseen difficulty in investigating a serial killer that he himself invented; Beadie angrily confronting McNulty after a night of drinking.

And there were so many uncomfortable exchanges! Nerese Campbell telling Burrell to go quietly or else; Daniels and Burrell pretending they're pals at a press conference while Burrell hisses threats under his breath; Clay Davis pausing to steady himself outside the courtroom after being confronted on the witness stand. And how about Burrell's scathing words to Rawls while cleaning out his office? "You might think it'll be different when you get here, but it won't. You will eat their shit. Daniels, too, when he gets here."

Then there was poor Prop Joe, who brought some order to the chaos of the streets and of course paid the price for it. It's amazing that Marlo could learn the ins and outs of dealing with the Greeks from Prop Joe, only to kill Prop Joe and take over. But as hateful as Marlo is, you really have to loathe the Greeks, who are pure pragmatists and don't give a damn about displacing a longtime business associate who's made them loads of money.

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Meanwhile, I don't find McNulty's serial-killer scheme hard to believe at all. Clearly the big idea here is that the system is so corrupt that it can transform the straightest arrow into either a self-interested careerist jerk like Burrell or a reckless renegade like McNulty. After spending time in this twisted world for four incredible seasons, Freamon's and McNulty's actions strike me as not just believable, but completely understandable.

When Proposition Joe quotes Isaiah 5:20 on his flower arrangement for Butchie's funeral, "Woe to them that call evil good and good evil," he hints at one of the central themes that David Simon revisits time and time again: Slog through this corrupt mire long enough and eventually you'll completely lose your ability to distinguish good from evil.

Manjoo: I'm going to steal from Alex's eulogy of Butchie: Poor Prop Joe. I'll miss him. We've been warming to him all series -- his cleverness, his pragmatism, his cool -- but this week they devote the show to him.

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It's a worthy send-off. I agree, Heather, among the many great bits, that scene between Herc and Joe is fantastic. Their colloquy made me smile, but note too how Joe asks Herc permission to read the newspaper. That's Joe: Moves slowly, carefully, thinks about the consequences of every action.

Which is why it's such a shock how he's done in. Sure, we could see Marlo was moving around Joe, that their interests were beginning to clash -- but did anyone else see this happening? Not me.

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And I can't see how this helps Marlo. He upsets the New Day Co-Op at the same time that Omar's coming for him. I think the kid's going to come to regret not heeding Joe's advice: "You need to focus a bit more on what can be gained by working with people. That's just a thought now."

One other scene I'll add to Heather's line-up: Burrel's farewell speech to Rawls. Without getting preachy, he gives a neat precis of the problem of policing a big city: "You might think it'll be different when you sit here, but it won't. You will eat their shit."

Stone stupid, but at least, eventually, he realized the impossibility of his job.

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Hey, a question: Was I imagining things, or was one of the homeless guys in the camp one of the port-workers from Season 2? If so -- and I like to think so -- it was a nice reference.

Koppelman: No, Heather, you're right -- I had no problems with this episode, except that by now I've moved from being exasperated and in disbelief at the McNulty/Freamon create a serial killer plot to just being bored with it. (And yes, Farhad, that was in fact Horse from Season 2 in the camp, or at least I'm pretty sure it was.) Actually, I thought this was plainly a great episode, and I doubt it was a coincidence that Ed Burns was a co-writer for this one.

But I'm not sure how to feel about the final scene, especially Marlo's final admonition to Joe. The first time I watched the episode, it felt almost like torture, the wait Marlo put Joe through, but the second time it did feel a little less sinister. But the look on Marlo's face; that's pure evil there, isn't it? Genuine enjoyment in Joe's death. Jamie Hector, who plays Marlo, is quite an actor.

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I though the scene where Omar gets the drop on Slim Charles was especially good, a confrontation between the only two men in the game with some honor (and, really, a sense of tradition) left now that Joe's dead. And speaking of men with honor, as always, I gotta love just how much Carv has changed over the years. He was a real asshole to start off, but becomes a better cop with every episode. Good for Herc, too, for growing up and coming around to see his old partner's side.

Lauerman: Wow, you guys are good. Welcome back, Horse! (Correction: Reader John N. has immediately pointed out that the returning dockworker is John "Johnny Fifty" Spamanto, played by Jeffrey Pratt Gordon. Thanks! Welcome back Johnny Fifty!)

First off, you'll all be pleased to hear that, this very morning, the dashing Clark Johnson sat down in my cafe to read his paper. No, I didn't pester him (no one did), but I did glance over at his table after he left to see that he had been reading the New York Post. Grizzled, Mencken-quoting newsman Gus Haynes passes over the Times and Daily News for his Sunday read in favor of the dark lord Murdoch's bloody tab. It really is a bad time for newspapers.

On episode 4: Not much to add about poor Joe. I agree that Hector is amazing, Alex. That very last shot of the episode, with Marlo studying Joe after Chris fires the final shot, could've easily been too much, over the top. But the way Hector plays it -- cool and curious -- it's just chilling. But I wonder if you're right that Joe's murder will screw-up the co-op, Farhad. The Greeks, bless them, are incredibly tough to read.

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The other two bold moves this week -- Cheese turning on poor Joe, and Carv turning on his lunatic beat cop -- were fascinating, but sure to be punished severely. The show's abiding logic holds that any extreme move that upset the status quo -- for good or bad -- brings a swift correction. I think I'll enjoy seeing Method Man's Cheese face a bitter end, preferably at the hands of Omar (and how unsettling was that scene in the garage, discretely ending just as Cheese was about to unload on a shackled, hysterical Hungry Man?). I'll be sad to see Carver get chewed up by the machine, though. He's seen an awful lot at this point, and probably, sadly, should've known better than to do the right thing.

My favorite moment came when Clay Davis was ambushed by the press after his grand jury meltdown. He had a look of utter dread before he forced up a plastic grin and shifted into spin mode. It was great, small move. Isiah Whitlock Jr. has played Davis this season like an angry gopher who's slowly realizing that someone's gone around and filled up all his holes. He's going to go out with a bang, somehow, but how?

Finally: Poor Beadie Russell. What a sad arc for her character. The diligent patrol officer helps break a big case, finds love, changes her man, settles down. . . and then it all turns to hell. I just wish we got to see a little more of Amy Ryan, who brought a soulful resolve to Beadie. At least she might win an Oscar this year for her great role in "Gone Baby, Gone."

Hepola: Guys, I'm sorry I'm late to this party, but don't put away the champagne yet.

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What strikes me about this episode is the killing off of institutional memory: "They have no history," Prop Joe says of the younger generation, not long before becoming history himself. Prop Joe was a hustler, but he had class. He had loyalty and he believed in family, which in the end, was possibly his downfall, because his nephew is a crass opportunist who can't understand why Joe doesn't live in some flashy pad, and who would sell out his own blood for the satisfaction of settling a stupid beef. Meanwhile, at the ever-shrinking Baltimore Sun, the seasoned cop reporter is packing up his stuff, and taking all his years of wisdom with him so that the suits can make their bottom line. We don't know our history, folks. Unless you are talking about the history of "The Wire." In which case, all of you are total nerds.

I want to speak about Marlo for a second. Alex mentioned that the actor, Jamie Hector, is great, and I suppose he is, the evidence being that I don't really think that guy is an actor. I really think he's just Marlo, and he needs to go to acting school so he can learn to do more with his face. Anyway, are we ever going to learn why he's so cold? Does it bother anyone besides me that we're never given any context for his sociopathy? I suppose this is a silly request. Would I feel better if his mommy beat him? But he's the one character on "The Wire" who feels like he rose out of a swamp, pure evil.


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