By Andrew Johnston
"If you have a problem with this, I understand completely."—Lester Freamon
With each successive episode of The Wire
's final season, it seems, fans have become more firmly split into two camps: Those who think the show is as fine as ever, and those who are frustrated by what they perceive as a mounting lack of realism. Beginning with "The Dickensian Aspect", I expect that schism to start growing even wider. For my part, I'm with the "same as it ever was" gang and am caught up in the story David Simon is telling, which—if the sixth and seventh episodes of the season are any guide of what to expect from the last three—will grow increasingly satirical by the week.
For a couple of seconds, Simon fucks with our heads by teasingly suggesting that Omar's body is being dragged away from the apartment building from which he leapt in "React Quotes". When we see Marlo's footsoldiers pounding the pavement and canvassing E.R.s, however, it's soon apparent that Omar indeed made his escape. "That's some Spider-Man shit there," Marlo says to Chris as he looks up at the balcony. "We missed our shot. Now he's gonna be at us."
Marlo doesn't seem especially pissed at Chris, which is perfectly logical—nobody can deny that Chris, Snoop and Michael did everything they could have. Exactly how Omar survived his leap is not made clear, but his broken leg suggests he hit the ground rather than grabbing onto another balcony or windowsill and pulling himself inside the building. Unless he was able to lock that storage room from the inside, though, it seems like a big stretch for Marlo's lackeys to have skipped it in their search (he's also in there an awful long time before he bandages his leg and hobbles off on his ertzatz crutch).
Down at Homicide, Bunk is more livid than ever about McNulty's scam after his trip to the Sun in the previous episode. "That asshole's making up his own shit," a smiling McNulty says of Templeton. But while McNulty is pleased as can be at how successful his big lie has become, he gets the first inkling that things have gone too far when he decides to put more pressure on the top brass by staging another "killing" and learns that because of the hype around the serial killer, any DOA call to Homicide (who, as we've seen, check out DOAs that are obvious non-murders, in order to eliminate the possibility) results in an instant media circus. In response, he comes up with a way to stage a killing without a dead body.
Seeing a drooling, spastic homeless man by the side of the road, McNulty pulls him off the street and slips $100 in his jacket (on the basis that it can't be a kidnapping if the "victim" gets paid) and takes him off to see Lester, with whom he arranges the next stage of the con: Shooting footage of the bum with the camera on a clean cellphone, then dragging the guy down I-95 to Richmond and parking him in a shelter there along with an ID card saying he's from Cleveland rather than Baltimore. It's crazy, sure, but not any less crazy than anything else McNulty has done (still, I wish they'd come up with a more subtle way to let us know McNulty was in Richmond rather than slapping the city's name all over the door of the shelter). At the Sun, Whiting and Klebanow are predictably as pleased as can be with Templeton's latest article about the serial killer, and Templeton is so busy eating it up that he's caught off guard when Whiting asks him what's next. He comes up with the idea of spending a night with the homeless, a gimmick he hopes will fulfill Whiting's wish for coverage that reflects "the Dickensian aspect of the homeless".
Very little of what Templeton experiences can be described as "Dickensian", but the adjective certainly fits the episode as a whole as connections are drawn between scattered plotlines in ways that some may find credibility-stretching, but which are appropriate if you're one of those (like me) who has always seen the series in literary terms and believes a certain amount of license comes with the territory. One might argue that the most Dickensian moment in the entire series comes when Bunk, in his back-to-square-one investigation of the rowhouse bodies, is led to the grim institution that is now home to Randy Wagstaff, who he pledges not to arrest out of respect for "that crazy motherfucker Pryzbelewski." Last season, Randy was the most playful and charming of the four boys we spent the year with, and the one who best fit the profile of a lovable street kid out of Oliver Twist. A year later, he's grown far more than Michael or Dukie, and his spirit has been broken by his time in the foster home, perhaps because he feels abandoned by Carver. "Why don't you promise to get me out of here?," he asks Bunk. "That's what y'all do, ain't it—lie to dumb-ass niggas?" As Randy barges out of the room, he ferociously body-checks another kid on the stairs, giving us a grim example of the behavior he's had to adopt in order to survive.
Bunk's investigation next leads him to Michael's mother, who at last clues him in to the connection between her son and Marlo and Chris, giving Bunk the first real lead on the rowhouse bodies in ages. Now that he's starting to get enough evidence to make the case, a new question comes to the forefront: Can he do so before McNulty's scam is exposed?
Lester's willingness to go along with McNulty has been criticized by some viewers, and the scene in which he tells Sydnor about the wire tap on Marlo kinda-sorta plays like an attempt at preemptively addressing some of that criticism with the line about how he's run "out of time and patience". McNulty is pleased to have Sydnor in the loop on the Marlo front, but he's not quite ready to trust him with the truth about the serial killer, though Sydnor's query about ties between Marlo and the homeless killer means McNulty may soon have no choice.
A lot of people expected the New Day Co-Op to bite the dust last week, but Joe's organization managed to get a brief reprieve. As the members convene, we learn that Marlo, somewhat surprisingly, isn't yet their number one suspect in Joe's death. Whoever has the hook-up, they agree, will be the one who offed Joe. When Marlo takes charge of the meeting, he shocks everyone by claiming responsibility for the deaths of Joe and Hungry Man. It's soon clear he's being entirely disengenuous, as he goes on to explain that he's responsible because he inadvertently led Omar to them. He then puts a stiff bounty on Omar's head: $100,000 if he's captured alive, $250K if he's dead. Usually, of course, it's a live capture that yields a bigger reward, but Marlo is no fool—he's a lot, lot safer having someone else kill Omar,he's a lot, lot safer having someone else kill Omar for him if at all possible. However, right after Marlo dangles the prize money in front of Baltimore's assembled dealers, he foolishly alienates them by announcing a spike in the cost of his package. Marlo may have youth and power on his side, but the other dealers have numbers and experience on theirs, and Marlo's completely out to lunch if he's not taking the possibility of mutiny into account.
Omar reveals something of a new side of himself as he makes his next moves: He's never seemed to show much awareness of his status as a street legend, but here, he shrewdly takes advantage of his rep to start boxing Marlo in. By chipping away at Marlo with small raids, he ensures that as many people as possible hear his message—"Omar thinks Marlo is too much of a pussy to face him in the street"—thereby giving Marlo no choice but to personally participate in a standoff. If Marlo doesn't, he'll have no credibility left and will surely be pushed aside by his rivals, resulting in him going down in history as the William Henry Harrison (or Pope John Paul I) of Baltimore crimelords. Even before Omar blows up the SUV, Marlo's crew are quaking in their boots—Chris is terrified of Omar going after his family, completely forgetting about Omar's well-known policy of sparing civilians at all times.
I look forward to reading reactions to "The Dickensian Aspect" from commentators who've been dogpiling on the Sun storyline, since the newspaper action has never been as even-handed as it is this week. Yes, Gus is given more reason than ever to suspect that Templeton is up to no good as another lie is revealed: When reporting the story about the woman who died of the seafood allergy a few episodes back, Templeton allowed himself to be duped by her sister, issuing an appeal for scholarship dotations for the dead woman's kids, all of which went straight into the dead woman's pocket. On the other hand, despite all the reasons we're given to hate Templeton this week (including his self-congratulatory appearance on Nancy Grace's show), his encounter with the homeless veteran allows us to see that he's actually capable of being an excellent writer and reporter when he actually does his job and refrains from just making shit up.
The biggest surprise—and the biggest mystery—is the issue of Prop Joe's leak within the State's Attorney's office. Joe had made cryptic hints in the past which suggested that he had an inside source; now that he's dead and the leak is confirmed, it'll be interesting to see where the plot goes given the near-complete lack of suspects—before this season, Rhonda Pearlman is pretty much the only character we've met from the SA's office, and chances are good it isn't her. Rupert Bond expresses dismay at the leak and seems initially confused when Pearlman shows him the evidence, but given the shortage of viable candidates for the mole, he can't be ruled out. I don't think it's inconceivable that the leak is someone we haven't met yet—some people might think that was "cheating", but I don't.
However, it's worth noting that at some point in the last couple of days, HBO added a character from the SA's office to the roster of "The Law" characters on the network's website: Grad Jury Prosecutor Gary DiPasquale, played by Gary D'Addario. As an older white guy (he's at least 55), D'Addario isn't Suspect #1, but if there's one thing we've learned from The Wire it's that no one is beyond corruption. (Also added to "The Law" roster: Detective Vernon Holley, played by Brian Anthony Wilson, and Officer Michael Santangelo, played by Michael Salconi. Added to "The Paper" over the weekend was Sun Regional Affairs editor Rebecca Corbett, played by Kara Quick.)
Finally, I was disappointed to find Simon & Co. screwing up series continuity--and demanding a lot of fanwanking from viewers who want everything to make sense--by providing a chronology of recent Baltimore mayors that leaves no room for Clarence Royce. When Carcetti is dedicating the construction project, he mentions a chain of predecessors that includes Thomas L. J. D'Alesandro III (mayor from 1967-71 and the older brother of current Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi; he's appeared as himself in a cameo in--I believe--Season 4), William Donald Schaefer (1971-87), Kurt L. Schmoke (1987-1999; he's also been on The Wire) and Martin J. O'Malley (1999-2007). The problem, of course, is that O'Malley is the real-life model for Carcetti (much as Nerese Campbell is an apparent counterpart to present real-life mayor Sheila Dixon), and The Wire's fictional timeline, including several years with Royce as Mayor, began in 2002.
Fanwanking this one isn't actually that hard--if the IMDB is correct that Royce made his first appearance in the first episode of Season 3, it's possible that on Earth-Wire, O'Malley was mayor from 1999-2003 and ran for governor four years earlier than he did in reality. However, the very existence of O'Malley in the world of The Wire is problematic since during seasons three and four we're repeatedly told what a big deal it is for a white guy to become mayor at this point in time. It's stuff like this that make one realize how smart Aaron Sorkin was when he initiated a policy on The West Wing (a policy scuttled scuttled by his successors) of never mentioning a real-life president after Dwight Eisenhower.
Andrew Johnston is the television critic for Time Out New York.