The Wire, season 1, episode 9: where does it all go?

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I don’t know how much drug dealers make, but I wouldn’t have guessed a million dollars a month. It’s certainly not the kind of number I imagined while watching Barksdale and Stringer Bell closed up in the office above the strip club. A million dollars a month seems like Scarface money. But this is inner city Baltimore.

As Freamon unfolds the extent of Barksdale’s operations, Daniels asks something else that didn’t occur to me.

“So where’s it all go?”

Freamon is nonplussed. Barksdale doesn’t have fancy houses, cars, or jewelry. He owns business fronts and property. And he makes political contributions. Substantial political contributions. Legal political contributions. Freamon also mentions the senator’s limo driver caught with a bag of cash. The implication is that there are also less than legal political contributions.

As Freamon explains this, the camera pushes in on Daniels, lost in thought. And then a shadow passes across his face. Not a figurative shadow. A literal shadow.

The Wire has set up for several episodes that the investigation is being run from a forgotten basement. The windows are high up the walls. They obviously border a sidewalk, because pedestrians passing in front of the window throw shadows into the office. Flickers of dark in the light. It’s been a constant during every scene in the basement.

Has all been a setup for this moment? A camera doesn’t push in on an actor without a reason. Zooms mean something. They make sure you’re looking. They push the background out of the frame. They fill the frame with a specific subject. They say, “This.”

The camera also makes clear that McNulty is watching Daniels’ reaction. Is McNulty remembering the same thing I’m remembering? The young FBI guy telling him Daniels is “dirty”? Is The Wire hiding something? It’s been very intimate with its characters, with how they feel, with what they think, with what they do. This episode features a brief feint in which we wonder if Herc and Carver have skimmed a cut from money they’ve seized. But they haven’t. They’re as innocent as we suspected. We can trust that The Wire would have told us if they were the kinds of cops who would steal money, just as it told us they’re the kinds of cops who get drunk and foolishly cruise into the projects at night. Yeah, they might have considered taking the money when it came up naturally during a conversation, but they didn’t do it. “I wouldn’t steal and not tell you about it,” Herc says to Carver. And us by extension, right? The Wire wouldn’t have hidden that from us.

Is it being similarly forthright with Daniels? We’ve been in his house. We’ve joined him and his wife for dinner. Wouldn’t The Wire share with us what he knows? Why does it push in on him as he’s lost in thought? Why would it pass darkness across his face? This, it says. This.

And I’m still wondering what this is. As Freamon says, “You follow drugs, you get drug addicts and drug dealers. But you start to follow the money and you don’t know where the fuck it’s going to take you.”

This episode also implied a connection between drug money and college basketball. I know as much about sports as I know about the income of drug dealers, but I would have thought the, uh, National Basketball Administration or whoever would frown upon this sort of thing. I would have thought any basketballists associated with drug dealers would be, I dunno, disqualified from the annual Basketball Olympics or whatever. But if The Wire is implying basketball is dirty, why not implicate something larger and more important than grown men playing with balls?

This season of The Wire only has a few more episodes to go, but the series itself has four seasons to go. One of the few things I know about The Wire is that it’s not always about a police investigation. It’s my understanding that later seasons are about different aspect of Baltimore politics and crime and journalism and unions and whatnot. I think the casts might even change? I could be wrong about that (but it certainly made me think Barksdale was going to get killed at the end of this episode!). I suspect the idea is that we’re going to follow this money as it wends its way through Baltimore. As Freamon explains the implications, as the shadow passes over Daniels’ face, as McNulty’s gaze shifts to Daniels’ quietly thinking, am I seeing the birth of four more seasons beyond this modest basement investigation?

On the Omar front, I can’t very well not admire this image of him threatening to huff and puff while the men he’s trying to rob hide indoors.

The Big Bad Wolf of Baltimore.

I seem to recall when Barksdale first finds out who’s robbed him, Omar is casually described as a “cocksucker”, with no more venom than describing someone as a “cop”, a “nigger”, or a “junkie”. It’s just descriptive. Omar is gay like some men are policemen, black, or drug users. Have the references to his sexuality gotten more derogatory? When Wee-Bey and his sidekicks ransacked Omar’s room, they laughed at the pictures of Omar and Brandon. In the opening of this episode, Barksdale repeatedly calls Omar a “faggot”. Am I just listening more carefully for how Omar’s sexuality is handled, or is it a sign of Barksdale’s increasing frustration with being unable to catch Omar?

Finally, Andre Royo’s performance as Bub is a joy to watch. I love how much you can see going on in his eyes.

And I love the physical bits he allows himself to do. The junkie twitch, the sniffles, quickly and nervously saluting a flag, picking at the flowers hanging on his sister’s porch as he tells her he’s thinking of getting clean. I’m going to be seriously bummed if anything bad happens to Bub.

(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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