The Wire, season 1, episode 3: black & white

, | TV reviews

Chess has been around for well over 1000 years. It’s been played out as a metaphor in stories where people are trying to outsmart each other. Let’s call a moratorium on chess metaphors.

Oh, wait, I think we can hold the door for just one more.

Using chess to spell out the hierarchies on either side of The Wire’s dueling cops and robbers is easy enough. The primacy of the king, the flexibility and power of the queen, the mobility of the rooks, the ambition of the pawns to reach the other side. I’m pretty sure I’ve got who is who. They didn’t even need to use the knights and bishops. My favorite thing about this chess metaphor is that the two guys with the chess set were using it to play checkers!

The Wire didn’t bring up that one side is white and the other is black, which would have been too obvious and incorrect besides. The most effective characters on the side of the police are black. Bub as their informant (played with consdierable charm by Andre Royo), the detective who actually goes undercover, and the detective who finds a picture of Avon Barksdale by retrieving an old poster from a boxing gym (played by the great character actor Clarke Peters). Although to be fair, the most ineffective characters on the side of the police are also black. Lance Reddick and Frankie Faison’s characters are forced into a premature raid by their superiors. So all this is to say there’s no easy divide between black and white in The Wire.

I wonder if this will also bear out morally. It was an unexpected twist to hear D’Angelo berating his underlings for how they treated the junkies who buy their drugs. This in contrast to Stringer Bell explaining that they’ll sell diluted heroine because it makes the most business sense.

I’m not sure how light on home lives The Wire will be, but this episode implied that relationships will be part of the ongoing story. The last episode gave us a glimpse of Lance Reddick’s home life, and we’ve previously seen Sonja Sohn at home with her girlfriend. Once Sohn reveals to Dominic West that she’s gay, their banter skips right past sexual tension. When Elba gives Lawrence Gilliard a thick fold of money and tells him to buy something for himself he wouldn’t otherwise buy, Gilliard goes downstairs to the prostitute who accosted him in the last episode. Given that Gilliard’s D’Angelo seems to be developing as a drug dealer with a conscience, I’m guessing this isn’t just a financial exchange.

I liked how much the show was willing to admit that, yes, McNulty is an asshole who cheated on his wife and who has no compunction about using a sexual relationship to conduct business at odd hours, and then lapsing back into the sexual relationship when he’s called out for his lack of grace.

“Is that all?” Deirdre Lovejoy’s exasperated prosecutor asks after handing him a thick folder bound with a rubber band. It was all, but McNulty is willing to throw her a bone. What a jerk.

Finally, that was quite an entrance by Michael Kenneth Williams.

I’m so glad to see he’s in The Wire!

(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.)