Monday, January 7, 2008

Episode 51-"More With Less"

"The bigger the lie, the more they believe."

The famous HBO logo rises from out of the static and what sounds, to me anyway, like very ominous monks wordlessly chanting. Black screen. Then, no "previously on", no recap, no slowly approaching panning shot, but Wendell Pierce, The Bunk himself, disinterestedly glaring into the camera. He explains to the unfortunate young man sitting across from him in one of Homicide Division's interrogation rooms that he is screwed. They have witnesses who place him at the scene, his buddy has just ratted him out, he ought to make it easy on himself and confess. It's about all he can do, really. Stupid not to. And it's quite convincing. You'd go for it. I probably would too, in theory, but I know something about Detective William "Bunk" Moreland: in this case at least, he's completely full of shit.

Welcome to season five of The Wire. The lie referred to in the epigraph is a pretty big one, as the accused's friend, we soon see, has not said a word about him and even after they treat him to some McDonald's he re-affirms "I still ain't sayin' shit to y'all." Then Bunk and his partners Det. Ed Norris (played by the former police commissioner of Baltimore of the same name) and Sgt. Jay Landsman tape his hand to a "lie detector" (copy machine) and using pre-loaded "Truth" and "Lie" sheets of paper convince the kid to spill his guts. The whole thing is directly out of David Simon's book Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets. Norris and Bunk walk away chuckling, and as Bunk unsheathes one of his trademark cigars he utters the line.

So what does it mean? This being The Wire, and the opening scene of a season to boot, we know it is meant as a metaphor for the upcoming season. Snoop was educated about nail guns in 4, Bodie/Poot saw the deception of forced reform and its dusty consequences in 3, McNulty watched his job as a policeman turn into aquatic lackey in mere minutes in 2, and of course the immortal "This America, man" speech in 1. What is the lie? Who's telling it, and who are they telling it to?

The media is what the focus is on this time around, so they make a good candidate, but they're not alone. We discover Carcetti, the great white hope of a mayor who ran and won and crime reform has dumped all available money into the bankrupt school system, to the point where the entire police force has gone nearly two months without a paycheck. Major Crimes still watches Marlo Stanfield (it's been fifteen months) and they both pretend it's a covert operation. Herk works for resident scumbag attorney Maury Levy, pretending it was an overblown racial incident that got him fired, not the $4000 camera he stole and then lost, but not before using it to make a bogus and illegal arrest. Everyone lies, everyone pays. Bubbles doesn't seem to be lying, and he's clean and living in his sister's basement again, but he has gotten to the boring stage of recovery, literally: he just sits around being bored and realizing that not shooting up is no longer enough to sustain his waking hours. I'm really interested in where he's going, and I really hope we get some scenes between him and his N.A. sponsor Waylon, played by a favorite musician of mine named Steve Earle.

Finally, just like last season, Major Crimes is disbanded. McNulty and Greggs go back to Homicide, and Freamon and Sydnor go to the state's attorney for-get this-the Clay Davis investigation. Yeah, Mr. Shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit himself, possibly the most believably corrupt politician in fiction since Willy Stark, seems to be about to get his.

2 moments that exemplify why this show is brilliant:
-Chris Partlow asking Rhonda Pearlman and Daniels directions in the courthouse. Pearlman and Partlow are two of the most random characters I could think of to throw together. It only lasts a second but it's almost shocking, especially when you see Daniels trying to remember how he knows the man standing before him. I'm not sure if he does or not, I'd assume if he did he would have said something.

-McNulty, drinking and about to get adulterous, stumbles to the pay phone like he always used to. He roots around in his pocket for a quarter, and removes a cellphone. He stares at it uncomprehendingly for a moment, and we see his thoughts. What's this? Shit, it's a cellphone! Do I have a cell phone? I don't remember getting one. Then he smiles a little. I forgot that I bought this cause I'm drunk...ha that's kinda funny. We see all that in maybe ten seconds, with no words and very little gesticulation. Props to Dominic West of course, but I know Simon wrote that explicitly in the script.

I don't know how much I can say about this episode at this point-it's all set-up and without the upcoming episodes I can't isolate major themes or motifs. But I can say it lived up to every single one of my expectations, which is saying quite a lot. Plus I've only watched it twice...or I've only watched it twice while sober and not horribly sleep-deprived. I figure this is a learn-as-we-go project anyway, so this only what Lester might refer to as the baseline. Adam and Angela I'm sure will come along soon with much better observations too, so all is not yet lost.

I leave you with a hint at one of the episode's biggest surprises, my favorite:

"Boris. Why is it always Boris?"

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