The Wire, season 1, episode 8: juris ex machina

, | TV reviews

The Wire is about what it’s about largely because of one character. Without this character, McNulty would be just another homicide detective, Avon Barksdale would be peddling drugs unsurveilled, Omar would rampage unchecked, Bub’s hat collection would be minus one bright red hat, and residents of the projects would have easier access to a payphone. Furthermore, without this character, there are now two points when the investigation would have come to a halt.

In other words, The Wire would have been a much shorter series.

Judge Phelan hovers vaguely godlike over The Wire. With a swipe of his pen, equipment materializes, access opens, unheard conversations are heard. He decrees things, such as this episode’s phone call to buy the investigation more time. Phelan’s role in the story is an example of the power of the judicial branch. It’s a stark contrast to the police, where everyone is plugged into a chain of command, where decisions are often made to curry favor in that chain of command, where things are often done not because they’re right, but because they’re the path of least resistance. A judge isn’t elected; he’s appointed for life so that he isn’t beholden to anyone. It’s a cornerstone of this country’s legal tradition.

Yet he’s a pretty unlikeable character. “I’d like to throw a fuck into her,” he says to McNulty after Rhonda, McNulty’s prosecutor friend/”friend” has left the room. Throw a fuck into her? Who talks like that? Is that even an expression? And why would someone who’s come that far in the political process not know better than to talk that way with a subordinate? That’s the sort of thing that could get you elected President.

“Who’s your daddy now?” he leers to McNulty after this episode’s phone call resolves an impossible situation.

On the likability end of the scale, there’s Stringer Bell shopping, going to school where he knows the answers to the teacher’s questions, and trying to implement macroeconomics at one of his business fronts. And this shot of Omar, holding a child in his lap so the mother can shoot up, calmly watching his house getting ransacked and his van burned, is borderline saintly.

I’ve wondered previously what checks are placed on someone’s behavior when he becomes a police informant. For instance, now that he’s riding around in police cars and hanging out in the command center, is Bub still using? That question was certainly answered. Now that Omar’s helping ID members of Barksdale’s crew and offering his services as an eyewitness-for-hire, can he still rob and murder people? Well, that was answered as well. This episode had quite the body count with a gunned down drug dealer and a dead, uh, hooker? It seems a bit far-fetched that everyone but D’Angelo reacted as if women OD’ed in their company every weekend.

And speaking of far-fetched, who still reads Club? At work?

(Wondering what’s all this stuff about an old TV show? If you support my Patreon campaign for $10 or more, once a month you’ll have to opportunity to assign me a review. The first season of The Wire won one of the recent drawings.)

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