Thursday, October 13, 2011

Death and The Wire: "One Arrest" and "Lessons"

If I said, "the violence is starting to ramp up on The Wire," and you had watched "One Arrest" without then watching "Lessons" you might well wonder what the hell I'm talking about, given that no one dies in "One Arrest," and not even in the Brandon sense of no one dies.  If you take them as a piece, however, especially when viewing the Omar plotline, you start to see that things are starting to get very serious between Omar and those Barksdale boys.  To say nothing of a poor young stripper rolled up in a rug and thrown out with the trash.

Taking the latter before the former, the reactions surrounding the death of Keisha, the girl who overdoses on drugs at a part for Stinkum, one of Barksdale's lieutenants, albeit the most low-key.  Stinkum was part of the posse who did Brandon (along with Wee-Bay and Bird), but the party is unrelated to that; it's about his promotion to someone with territory and points on the package (i.e. someone making a percentage off the drug sales).  We see Wee-Bay take Keisha into one of the rooms; she looks out of it while he is into it, as it were.  D'Angelo, somewhat disconnected with the proceedings, is sent off for more liquor, and when he gets back he discovers that a) the party is over and b) Keisha is dead.

We never see the body disposed of, but we hear about it in the detail office when Lester and Kima use the fact that the body was so cavalierly disposed of as leverage to turn Shardene, who D'Angelo has been seeing, as an informant and insider into Barksdale's doing at his club.  Shardene gives another rare, grounded perspective in the matter of death when she breaks down, which makes even kindly old Lester Freamon seem pretty damn manipulative as he gets her to work for the police.  The cops have just as little use for sentiment as the dealers in this matter.

Back to "One Arrest" for a moment, we see the first of what will be many meetings between Omar and Bunk, as the latter grills the former about Bird's involvement in the Gant killing, and then any other murders he might know something about, just for good measure.  When asked which murder he's talking about, Bunk replies that it doesn't matter which one.  "Murder stay murder," he says.  In my view, Bunk is one of the best police in the entire show.  He's as good at the job as Jimmy, in his own way, but not nearly as self-destructive (although he has his moments, with one of the most memorable at the end of "Lessons"), and he's got pretty deep moral reasons to do his job, as we'll find out later down the road.  Bunk comes as close as any character ever really comes to working well within an institution, and he does it largely by investing in the job, not the organization.  I love, "murder stay murder," because, like the best poetry, it's contains the worldview of that character in microcosm.

Omar sells Bird up the river to Bunk in "One Arrest" (and over the next couple episodes we learn he's almost certainly lying about being a witness to the Gant killing, simply for revenge against Bird).  In "Lessons" he gets Stinkum.  The scene where Omar emerges from the shadows to gun down Stinkum marks a number of pretty significant detours from the way The Wire has worked up to the point.  First, while the show does use slow motion in this as well as shots that come both before and after this one (Avon's stroll through the Pit being an example of both this and a rare example of non-diegetic sound, as well as a season 2 scene that we'll get to in due time), it's rare for it to do so.  Second, this is the first time actual on-screen death.  Shots were fired way back in episode two, but those shooters were unseen and no one was actually killed.  It's a moment that's given clear significance, and it comes eight episodes into a thirteen-episode season about cops and criminals, far later than one might expect such a thing.

I think it's safe to say, as well, that the majority of viewers are rooting for Omar here.  We love underdogs, and Omar is just about as under as a dog can be at this point.  Brandon's killing was brutal, as we've established, and by this point in the narrative his apartment has been raided and his van torched.  He's alone, except for a tenuous alliance with the police, which is now strained given that Stinkum was what a large part of their case against the Barksdales was resting on.  The Wire frequently paints in shades of gray, however, and I think the creators do their best here to make Stinkum's death a brutal moment with some impact.  I'm not sure it outweighs Omar's charisma and appeal, but even if you're rooting for Omar I don't think it would be fair to say that Stinkum's death is glorified or shown as being any less brutal than the other violence.

Death toll: 8
Deaths per episode: 1

1 comment:

  1. This makes me wonder if Simon sets up an even playing field as far as the likability of Barksdale's crew vs. Omar- did he shoot/film/storytell objectively? Or are we supposed to like Omar more? Because I definitely do.