Author Topic: Sam Watches The Wire  (Read 9998 times)

Sam the Cinema Snob

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Sam Watches The Wire
« on: November 24, 2013, 08:05:18 PM »
Index

Season 1 [1-3][4-5][6-8][9-11][12-13]
Season 2 [1-2][3-4][5-7][8-10][11-12]
Season 3 [1-2][3-4][5-7][8-10][11-12]
Season 4 [1-3][4-5][6-8][9-11][12-13]
Season 5 [1-3][4-6][7-8]

Also, if you like pretty pictures before each post, you can find links to all the Cinema Sights postings of these reviews on the Archives page.
« Last Edit: April 28, 2014, 10:21:47 AM by Sam the Cinema Snob »

Sam the Cinema Snob

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Re: Review the Last TV Episode/Season/Series You Watched
« Reply #1 on: December 05, 2013, 03:31:35 PM »
The Wire

1.1 The Target

When you think about the first episode of a TV series, itís usually important to set the stage, introduce the characters and give us some kind of hook into what the show is going to be. The Target does these things, but in some interesting ways. First of all, it drops us in the middle of this world and doesnít bother to explain anything. Weíre knee deep into the American criminal justice system in the second scene of the episode.

Secondly, while there is a narrative hook, Iíd argue that the hook the show is leading with is a contrast of two different worlds. The opening sequence is a detective trying to understand the urban world of crime he is dealing with. A recurring visual idea throughout the episode is that crime exists on the ground while the law is lofty and removed. Detectives, lieutenants and sergeants chat about crime inside skyscrapers, removed from the ground where crime exists. Thereís a disconnect, one that Detective Jimmy McNulty (Dominic West) is trying to bridge.

Instead of going for a flashy hook, The Target is playing the long game, setting up ideas, to be explored later. Sure, thereís the narrative conceit of criminal kingpin Avon Barksdale (Wood Harris) being so good at his job that no one has heard of him except Jimmy, but it seems almost incidental in the course of the episode that theyíre starting to chase after Avon. Most of the show is about everything else.

Which brings us to the dialogue. It exists in that fine balance of well-constructed dialogue that is compelling enough to be smart and witty, but without feeling too fabricated. Itís just down to earth enough to give it authenticity, which is important given the criminal setting.

The character that grabbed me the most this episode is DíAngelo Barksdale (Lawrence Gillard Jr.). Heís set up as the criminal with a conscious, but heís not green. Heís done things, heís killed a man, but being dropped back down to the streets as punishment, heís suddenly faced with the griminess of crime. I think thatís a great character conflict for the show and Iím interested in seeing how that develops.

Iím also surprised by what comes back by the end of the episode. The way the fake money scam ties back into the overarching narrative shows that this is a series that is interested in exploring crime as a web. A good, understated start for the show that has me more interested in the ideas than the plot and characters, which is saying something given how good the latter is.

1.2 The Detail

This show assumes youíre smart. One of the most tedious things about TV is how it sets up scenarios weíve watched in these kinds of shows countless times. The Wire drops you in the middle of the story and assumes youíre able to fill in the gaps. For instance, this episode has the police team setting up shop down in the basement. Instead of telling us what is going on, it just shows us and assumes weíre able to figure out all the connotations of what the scene conveys.

This leads to Lt. Cedric Daniels (Lance Reddick) beginning an important game of trying to work the system to get what he needs for his team. Heís been offloaded with all the detectives no one wants, outdated equipment no one needs, and a loose cannon just waiting to blow up in his face. Heís playing a losing hand, but heís fighting for every inch. It allows the show to tangle with the bureaucracy of the American justice system through an unusual route.

This leads some of the detectives to get upset about how their hands are tied and they decide to blow off some steam and flex some power. The results dive the show into the ethical quandary of justice. What means must be taken? Cops lie, use excessive force and break the rules. These are infringements of justice, but out of a quest for a greater justice. Do the ends justify the means? Is Daniels right to tell his cops to lie in order to keep his tenuous team together? Do ethical considerations even factor in to his decision or is he simply saving face?

On the other side of the law, this episode has a great scene about chicken nuggets. Yea, chicken nuggets. Itís a great bit of writing that digs into the mentality that the system is bent. You canít play fair to get ahead, itís not about having the right idea because the right idea will get stolen by the fat cats whoíve rigged the game, so why even play? Also, the interrogation room scene with D is another superb bit of writing.

1.3 The Buys

I love how this show uses conversations about other things to get at the ideas. Itís not always subtle, but it makes for much more interesting dialogue. As one of my teachers says, most arguments arenít about what theyíre about. Thereís subtext going on, and a great example of that is the chess scene in this episode. Everyone has their role, if youíre lucky, you can move up, but in the end, the king stays the king.

And speaking of chess, I begin to wonder if thereís a bigger game going on here. It seems too much of a coincidence that the street gang has their drugs stolen mere hours before a police raid. Something stinks. So far, the show has been smart about bringing things back around that you might not expect to be important, something this big has to have something more going on, right?

And then thereís the closing scene. It suggests that Daniels might be dirty. Whatís so smart about this twist is that the seed of the suspicions have already been plated. The previous episode has a scene where Daniels and his wife are eating in their home and their house is much nicer than the District Attorneyís house. Moments like that suggest that The Wire might need to be rewatched to be fully appreciated because of all the tiny details you miss on a first viewing.

Sam the Cinema Snob

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Re: Re: Review the Last TV Episode/Season/Series You Watched
« Reply #2 on: December 06, 2013, 01:44:52 PM »
1.4 Old Cases

So this is Omar (Michael K. Williams)? We met him last episode, but I didnít make the connection until now. I know heís a fan favorite; itís the one character people almost always mention when they talk about the show. Right now he seems rather low-key, but thereís certainly something a little unsettling about him. I think this is another example of how The Wire is playing the long game. Itís building slowly instead of trying to be cool and attention grabbing at every possible moment.

I like the contrast of the suburbs and the streets in this episode. Itís not that subtle, but seeing McNulty go from this world of the streets to where his kids are playing soccer in the suburbs shows that heís a man torn between two worlds. Unlike most of the cops, McNulty seems genuinely interested in understanding the criminal world, but his past it tied to the suburbs. Bubblesí (Andre Royo) bit about the thin line between the streets and heaven can be undercut with the understanding that for McNulty, the suburbs are his hell.

ďTheĒ scene of this episode, the one my friends referenced when I told them about this episode, is the kitchen crime scene. McNulty and Bunk (Wendell Pierce) work an old case and as they put the case together, they drop a number of variations on the f-word. The scene simply shows how put the circumstances of the killing together without communicating a word about the case between them, but I could see how playing the scene silently might not have worked. While the use of the f-word goes beyond gratuitous, it adds a bit of levity to the scene and certainly makes it memorable.

Lester Freamon (Clarke Peters) finally steps up in this episode. Heís been the quiet one in the corner, but you can see that thereís something more to him. We get a bit of his past as a cop and see that he can do some strong detective work. I could see Lester becoming a favorite of mine. Heís not as brash, loud or abrasive as some of the other characters. He does his job with a stoic face and without a word while everyone else squabbles about the next move.

1.5 The Pager

ďOmar Cominí!Ē In another show, this would probably be how Omar is introduced: as a creepy, mythical figure of the streets. Instead, we get the setup of what his plan is and the scene is mostly an exercise in the craftsmanship of the show makers. But what makes it work is Omar whistling ďThe Farmer in the Dell.Ē Heís casual about it all, not a worry in the world. Heís planned it so well he knows how it will go down.

Thereís another great moment with Omar later when he gets into the van. Itís a brief shot, maybe 5-6 seconds, but itís made alarming by a baby crying. The sound design around the Omar character tells us more about the character than anything else, so kudos to the show makers for taking into account the audio component of the audio/visual experience.

I havenít always been a huge fan of McNultyís constant drinking problem, but here I buy it. Itís a great outgrowth of his struggle in the last episode. He wants to see his kids, he spends all this time setting up the perfect place for the weekend, but it ends up not happening. I think McNulty can be too abrasive of a character to be likable at certain times, but moments like this go a long way to making him more sympathetic as a character even though he did badmouth the mother of his children.

The show exercise great restraint by not showing violence in this episode. Not only do we leave the Omar scene before everything plays out, but the last sequence of the episode is a series of phone calls surrounding a showdown we donít witness. So far, The Wire is smart about not slipping into the spectacle that would overtake a lesser crime drama. This is a show that knows what it wants to be and so far itís refrained from making violence a spectacle and I think thatís one of the aspects that separates this show as a lot more artful and intelligent than the average crime drama.
« Last Edit: December 06, 2013, 07:40:31 PM by Sam the Cinema Snob »

Melvil

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Re: Re: Review the Last TV Episode/Season/Series You Watched
« Reply #3 on: December 06, 2013, 04:31:50 PM »
Sam, I'm loving reading your The Wire reviews. It's great that you're finding so much to appreciate this early on in the show, it's a good indicator that the rest will be a heck of an experience for you. I'm going to refrain from commenting on anything too specifically, but it's fun hearing your first impressions of the characters and expectations for where things are headed.

Sam the Cinema Snob

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Re: Re: Review the Last TV Episode/Season/Series You Watched
« Reply #4 on: December 06, 2013, 05:14:57 PM »
I've already watched the first season at this point. I started the second season a couple of days ago. I've already written all my thoughts on Season 1, I'm just spacing them out because I wrote a lot. Like about 6000 words.

Alan Smithee

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Re: Re: Review the Last TV Episode/Season/Series You Watched
« Reply #5 on: December 06, 2013, 06:24:58 PM »
I've already watched the first season at this point. I started the second season a couple of days ago. I've already written all my thoughts on Season 1, I'm just spacing them out because I wrote a lot. Like about 6000 words.


Can't wait for more, you probably know already but season two is the most different of all the seasons.

Verite

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Re: Re: Review the Last TV Episode/Season/Series You Watched
« Reply #6 on: December 06, 2013, 07:06:43 PM »
ďTheĒ scene of this episode, the one my friends referenced when I told them about this episode, is the kitchen crime scene. McNulty and Burrell (Frankie Faison) work an old case and as they put the case together, they drop a number of variations on the f-word.

Sam, it's McNulty and Bunk (Wendell Pierce).
"When in doubt, seduce."
                   -Elaine May

Sam the Cinema Snob

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Re: Re: Review the Last TV Episode/Season/Series You Watched
« Reply #7 on: December 06, 2013, 07:40:11 PM »
I could have sworn I changed that. Thanks for reminding me. I remember the other day that I caught myself making that mistake. Maybe it was when I was writing about a different episode.

Sam the Cinema Snob

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Re: Re: Review the Last TV Episode/Season/Series You Watched
« Reply #8 on: December 09, 2013, 03:43:52 PM »
The Wire

1.6 The Wire

The opening sequence of this episode begins with a great crane shot that transitions into the house Wallace (Michael B. Jordan) lives in. It’s a great sequence because it sets up a couple of things. It gives us a good ground level look at the lives of these kids outside of the drug world. It also demonstrates how close to home the violence is. Right outside his window, Wallace could see the aftermath of his actions from the last episode.

This scene also further demonstrates how much the show avoids sensationalizing violence. This is a violent world and a dangerous place, but so far it keeps a lot of the details of those actions off screen. Here, we see the body of Omar’s boy stretched out over the hood of a car. We can imagine what happened to him, but the show doesn’t even show him being tortured, let alone kidnapped.

Another great bit of camerawork is a scene where the cops are monitoring who is at the payphone. The camera is above as it gazes down at D but then as the scene transitions it cuts down to ground level as the show moves back to D’s story. It’s a great use of perspective to show the effortless way the show looks at both sides of the criminal world instead of taking one perspective over another. It’s a holistic, multifaceted depiction.

And switching over to the cops, we get another great bit of politickin as the crew tries to fight to keep the case alive. McNulty’s strong work on the murder cases comes back to bite him when his superior decides he wants to charge D for murder. Everyone knows it’s a purely bureaucratic move. There’s not enough material to convict D for murder, but if they can get him to court, they’ve cleared the case and it ups the percentage of cases cleared.

1.7 One Arrest

One thing that often irks me about TV shows is how often they introduce characters that seem interesting, but ultimately end up playing a thankless role. Therefore, I’m delighted that this opening scene reinforces the evolution of Prez’s (Jim True-Frost) character. He started off as a loose cannon and he’s been benched for a while. However, he’s found his niche in the group as their code-cracker. I’m glad to see a character that started off really annoying is now finding his place in the crew instead of being a thankless plot device.

The show also brings back the kid Prez pistol-whipped back in the second episode, which is how Prez got benched to begin with. It’s another example of how little details have more long-term repercussions. I think this is one of the distinguishing features of the show so far. The attention to detail in the structure of the narrative and the repercussion of actions is a good head above just about any other TV show.

However, as an overall episode, I have a bit of a quibble with this episode. Most other episodes build around certain movements. Here, the episode seems to be grabbing bits and pieces of stories from almost every character in the show and the result is that this feels like an episode where not much happens. Once again, I’m giving this episode the benefit of the doubt because I think it’s building more towards the long game, but it’s the first episode of this show where I didn’t feel like there was development and growth.

1.8 Lessons

McNulty is one of those characters that you know is going to go to crazy lengths to get the job done, but sometimes he crosses a line. Having his kids tale Stringer Bell in the opening scene of this episode is just astounding. I love how chill the scene plays. It could intensify the scene with editing or maybe some smart sound design. Instead, it plays it straight, which makes it possibly more unsettling.

Once again, this show casually brings up little details that fall into the back of your mind. A senator’s aid from the big political party Daniels attended in the previous episode ends up getting pulled over with drug money. It’s here the show begins to bridge the two worlds. Follow the drugs, you’re on the streets, follow the money, and you’ve no idea how high up you’re going to go. Daniels superior ends up pulling rank and telling him to let the guy walk. All they want is Avon, they don’t want it to hurt their own people.

It’s curious to see Stringer Bell learning economics. While it certainly could be him trying to learn how to better move product, he also seems passionate about running legitimate businesses. Is he planning on getting out and going straight? I like seeing this other side of criminals, that there’s more to their wants desire and dreams than just making money, that it’s not necessarily what they want to do. It might seem like an obvious point, but I think a lot of crime dramas can easily overlook this truth.

We get our first scene of gun violence in the show. So far, the show has avoided glamorizing violence and that proves to be the case here. Some interesting framing and quick editing gives the scene a strong sense of disorientation. The act of violence is played slowly to briefly punctuate its messiness. Furthermore, the scene puts the audience in the perspective of the victims instead of the aggressor, placing the audience in a place of disempowerment when they experience the violence.
« Last Edit: December 10, 2013, 08:28:53 AM by Sam the Cinema Snob »

Alan Smithee

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Re: Re: Review the Last TV Episode/Season/Series You Watched
« Reply #9 on: December 10, 2013, 06:29:29 AM »
Quote
The opening sequence of this film

You mean the show?

 

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