Thursday, March 1, 2012

Death and The Wire: "Lessons" and "The Cost"

For a number of reasons I struggled getting into this particular entry, partly because I've been distracted by other TV shows (Breaking Bad, Parks and Recreation, and the superlative Community) and partly because the newest addition to the death toll is something of a bit player.  However, I realized eventually that that was the point, and it's actually brilliant.

After last weeks open gunplay we're treated to more in the finale of "Lessons."  Omar gets a hold of Avon's pager and Wee-Bey's code and uses them to get Avon outside, alone, on an empty street.  Only Wee-Bey's return from a food run saves Avon from getting taken out, and Omar himself takes one in the shoulder.  No one dies in this altercation, but the violence is escalating.

As for the finale of "The Cost?"  It's one of the most harrowing things I've seen on TV.  It's an extraordinary piece of work, one of the few real cliffhangers the show indulges in.  The show will often walk right to the brink of having something happen and then not show it, leaving us to wait until next week to see the aftermath, but the way it details events lends them an inevitability, so even if we don't see something happen, we know that it's going to.  I'm thinking about, and somewhat talking around, the last two episodes of season 2 in particular.  "The Cost," on the other hand, leaves you not knowing what happened.  The moment the mystery assailants (Wee-Bey and Little Man, although we don't find that out until the next episode) open fire on Orlando and Kima, we cut to the other end of Kima's wire, and we pretty much stay there with McNulty and Daniels and the rest, frantically trying to find out where the hell she is, finally calling in a helicopter to find her.  The detail crew flips out when they find the car, but we don't know for sure if Kima's alive or dead.

And that's really what we care about at this point, as Kima is one of the most identifiable characters at this point.  Daniels is somewhat compromised between the politicking he has to do to move up in the ranks and the realities of the steps he has to take in order to bring in his case.  McNulty is McNulty; charming, and witty, and fun to follow, but an utter asshole, and one who becomes particularly insufferable on rewatch.  But Kima is just plain good police, her brutality a few episodes back notwithstanding.

For the purposes of a recap or a review several years late, I would leave it there, or elaborate on what went on before, but for the purpose of this specific series, I have to let the cat out of the bag.  Kima lives, although she's in bad shape, and her shooting kicks the rest of the series into high gear; the dominoes begin to fall, the chickens come home to roost, and the metaphors come hot and heavy.  But someone else doesn't survive.

Orlando has been largely someone who's been in the background up to this point.  He runs Avon's strip club, which is where, in the back rooms, a lot of the real business of the Barksdale's drug operation runs.  Orlando's, the club, is a front, a legitimate (as legitimate as a strip club can be, anyway) business that exists, like the copy shop, to obscure the real dirt that's being done.  Orlando's name is on the building, but he doesn't have any real power or influence, and he doesn't have any of the street prestige that the real hitters and players do.  He's kind of a joke, really; the dude who has to deal with the women day in and day out.  He probably doesn't drive a Lexus.  He looks out of place as well, with his long hair and his decidedly non-street threads.  He's even named after another city in another state, cementing his role as the perpetual outsider.

He's in the car at the end of "The Cost" because he's been trying to get a piece of the action for himself.  He's been making deals on the side with someone looking to sell him a package, which he tried to go in on with D'Angelo in an earlier episode.  Avon hears about it and bitches Orlando out before throwing him out of the office.  You can quibble with Avon's management style, but from his perspective all Orlando has to do is shut up and do his job.  Having a criminal record only fucks up the club's image, which brings the police, which puts the whole deal in jeopardy.

Orlando, of course, is too resentful and eager to prove himself that he gets busted in an undercover sting.  His only option is to turn on his boss and offer up what he knows, which brings him in contact with the detail.  He's sent undercover with Kima, trying to set up a drug deal with Stringer or Avon, over the objections of the cops in the detail, who rightly point out that it has to be an astronomical amount of dope to get them in a room and not one of their lieutenants.  It's bullshit, but it's bullshit that they go along with, and it's bullshit that the Barksdales see through, since they send Bey and Little Man to kill Orlando.

They panic, and in the process hit Kima, and suddenly Orlando, in death as he was in life, is a footnote.  Beyond this point, no one really cares that Orlando is dead; Kima's shooting, and not Orlando's death, is the motivating factor moving forward.  The chess scene earlier in the season is usually applied to the pit crew who are present for it, but it's hard not to think of it in terms of Orlando, who lived a pawn and died trying to race to the end of the board.

Death toll: 9
Deaths per episode: .9 (fucking fractions)
One less afro

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