The Wire, season 1, episode 7: you only get 13 chances to make a first impression

, | TV reviews

All right, I know this is kind of petty, but I’m going to have to get it off my chest sooner or later. And I might as well lump in a couple of reservations I have about this episode. I figure there’s going to be enough effusive praise on down the line.

So let’s have a little naysaying, handwringing, and moralizing.

Here’s my main issue, because it’s potentially a long term issue: shouldn’t I be excited by the opening credits at this point? I’m seven episodes into The Wire and I love it, but I can’t wait for the opening credits to get done. They’re something I patiently endure instead of something that sets the stage. The music is some bluesy, honky-tonk ditty about walking with the devil and Jesus something something your soul. It accompanies a bunch of generic images about surveillance, with nary a human face to be seen the whole time. It’s just stuff. Objects. Things. There’s even a shot of paperwork. Paperwork! I know paperwork is part of the process, but that doesn’t exactly get me excited to watch the upcoming episode.

Perhaps the problem is that I’m comparing it to the opening credits of other shows I really like, and even other shows I really don’t like. I still enjoy the anxiously creepy credits for Walking Dead, even though I can’t stand the show itself anymore. The music hurrying along, frantic, trying to get away from zombies, and then dissolving like a puddle with that final note. I broke up with Veep this season, but when we were together, I always enjoyed the funny pictures of Julia Louis-Dreyfus sliding around the screen. Modern Family similarly highlighted the charm, diversity, and energy of its cast with pictures in pictures in pictures and now the Dunphy girls are flipping the final frame and let’s go!

The real nonpareil of opening credits — I wouldn’t dream of skipping over them and I’ve been known to call them up on YouTube while waiting for an episode — is Game of Thrones. Hold on a sec. Having mentioned it, I need to go watch it once. Be right back.

I can’t imagine skipping that before an episode. The little animated models, the tilt-shift photography, the roving camera, the sun suspended in the center, the subtle variations based on what’s happening in the storyline. Oh no, look at poor Winterfell! And of course, the lugubrious strings of Ramin Djawadi’s alternating soaring and weeping score. There’s one point where the key changes partway through, usually around the elevator going up The Wall, that makes me wistfully recall a time when it seemed Ned Stark was going to make everything okay. I enjoy the Westworld credits for another of Djawadi’s melancholy melodies, but Westworld is no Game of Thrones.

Will I ever feel this way about the credits for The Wire? I seriously doubt it. But maybe I just need to watch more episodes. Maybe it just takes time.

Okay, while I’m naysaying, I wish the show didn’t need to build up Major Rawls as a conniving villain. I get that his vendetta with McNulty is the source for dramatic tension and it’s going to drive certain plot points. But it feels like Rawls has been overlooked by the show’s refusal to present simple and one-dimensional characters. He’s all but twirling his mustache! Yet the actor, John Doman, has a soft Gandolfini-esque face. He could totally handle a little complexity. Maybe that comes later. But for now, Rawls seems to be a cul-de-sac where The Wire has decided some people are just assholes, so that’s the only function Rawls needs to serve.

And now a quick break from the naysaying for a look over the shoulder from Lance Reddick that says “You’ve been played, sucker!”

By the way, The Wire, don’t think I forgot earlier in the season when the boyish FBI guy told McNulty that Daniels was dirty. You were going somewhere with that, weren’t you?

My other bit of naysaying is this week’s interrogation room scene. Interrogation room scenes are classic bits of police drama. This is where the bad guy and the cop are forced to sit in a room, face to face, with nothing to do but talk to each other. An interrogation room is like a pure dialogue box: no distractions, no phone calls, no interruptions from other characters, no bits of the environment to interact with. If an interrogation scene uses props — photos, for instance — they will feature prominently in the scene because they were brought in for a reason. The good guys 100% dictate the terms of who will talk to whom for how long. The good guys have all the power. Let’s see how the bad guys react. Let’s see how the forced intimacy plays out. Let’s see what the accused is really made of when he’s caught dead-to-rights. Let’s see what happens before the lawyer arrives and shuts everything down. Once lawyers acquire the power to teleport, interrogation room scenes will be obsolete.

(The Dark Knight’s subversion of the interrogation room formula is one of my favorite examples of the Nolans’ genius.)

The Wire has done at least one interrogation room scene, and it was great. Bunk bringing in his family photo to punk D’Angelo into writing an apology. Great stuff! So this episode’s interrogation begins and I’m all but rubbing my hands in anticipation, even though I’m not entirely clear on what I’m supposed to know about this Bird guy. He’s the one who shot the witness from the first episode, but beyond that, am I supposed to be remembering things about him? I’m not recognizing the actor. Whatever the case, he’s a nasty customer, and he’s about to get his comeuppance, right? Kima has it under control while he rolls out variations on the c-word.

“One of you should go in,” Daniels says to McNulty.

“Is she in trouble?” he asks, surprised.

“He keeps this up, she’ll cut his ass.”

Okay, that was funny. I laughed. But seriously, folks, let’s return to our interrogation room scene in progress. Bird isn’t breaking. He’s a tough customer, sure, but they’ve got him on the ballistics. He can rage all he wants. Anything they get out of him is just gravy at this point. Ha ha, Daniels implies they’re going to beat him by tearing up the Polaroid (since when do Polaroids tear that easily?) that will prove he wasn’t mistreated. Oh, wait, so they are going to beat him? Seriously, The Wire? I mean, yeah, the guy was a jerk, but has this become the kind of TV show that’s going to dole out police beatings?

Rodney King was publicly beaten back in 1991. This episode of The Wire aired in 2002. Is that long enough to let a good old-fashioned and well-deserved police beating slide? The Abu Ghraib controversy will break in 2004. Since then, a movie or TV show has to be a glib white-hat/black-hat cops-and-robbers yarn for me to cheer a cop beating a prisoner who’s already been beaten by the justice system. For instance, if Clayne Crawford or Damon Wayans wants to pop the occasional villain in the mouth in Lethal Weapon, I’m okay with that. Lethal Weapon is that kind of universe. Some people are so bad they deserve a pop in the mouth. In Lethal Weapon, we fortuitously meet one such person every week!

But The Wire? Four cops piling into a room with a cuffed suspect and now lots of foleyed punches and oofs and meaty smacks coming from behind the closed door while the camera slowly pulls back? Seriously, The Wire? Isn’t this the show that’s playing out a subplot about a kid who lost an eye during an ill advised police beating? Didn’t Daniels just have the consequences of that beating literally at the door of his office? And now he’s party to an elaborately foleyed pile-on behind a closed door?

(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.)