The Wire, season 1, episode 11: empathy whiplash

, | TV reviews

Hey, The Wire, I’m cool with some ambiguity about the characters I like. So McNulty’s an asshole, D’Angelo’s morally crippled, Bubs is a junkie, Prez is incompetent in the field, Daniels is supposedly “dirty”, and Omar is a cold-blooded murderer. All that’s cool. I can work with that. But once I’ve decided I don’t like characters, stop making me like them.

It started with Rawls seizing control of the crime scene where Kima was shot. “Nobody move,” he yells as befits someone used to yelling in an office where you don’t have to project your voice. “I said nobody fucking move,” he repeats. Then he spots the approach from the railroad tracks. Then he figures out the twisted street signs. He’s a competent cop all of a sudden. But more importantly, the way he softens when he see a bloodied McNulty sitting off to the side. “Jimmy, you hurt?” He calls him “Jimmy”. He puts his hand on McNulty’s back. It’s downright paternal. But it’s nothing compared to the scene in the hospital, after McNulty has vomited into a trash can. This shot is not at all what you’d expect if you hadn’t seen this episode yet.

“This is not on you,” he tells McNulty. “The motherfucker saying this, he hates your guts, McNulty. So if it was on you, I’d be the son of a bitch to say so.” Rawls is petty and vindictive. Rawls is wise and compassionate. That can’t have been easy to write. But John Doman’s commanding Gandolfini doughiness carries it admirably. I didn’t see that coming.

Then there’s this moment.

Wee-bey keeps fish? It’s the oldest trick in the book. Take a bad guy and then reveal an endearing quirk. But actor Hassan Johnson lays some groundwork for liking Wee-bey earlier in the episode. Previously, his character has been a thug whose role is to lose a bag of cash, dump an overdosed woman’s body, and take a bullet to the leg. However, I really liked how he plays Wee-bey being utterly flabbergasted to discover that Kima was a cop. “Shorty was a cop,” Stringer Bell says. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from The Wire, it’s that “shorty” means a woman.

Johnson lets his face hold a foolish surprise. Stringer Bell, down to business, asks him where the guns are. But Wee-bey is still processing the information. He ignores the question and arrives at a denial. “She wasn’t no cop, man. She looked like one of Orlando’s hos.” He’s not trying to exonerate himself. He’s just processing. The gears are turning, the data is being entered. It takes him a moment, but he absorbs the instructions he’s given. He understands the stakes and accepts what has to be done. When Stringer Bell later describes him as “a rock” to Barksdale, it makes sense.

I’m running out of people to not like. Fortunately, there will always be this guy.

And of course this guy.

(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.)