Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Wire: 'Late Editions' (5x09)

“Late Editions” has pretty much everything The Wire does well, and for the first time, I’m really feeling one episode away from the end of the show. It could certainly go on, and I’d love to see more, but it feels like a satisfactory ending is one episode away. Regardless of what happens in the finale, this episode really nailed it, an instant classic full of moments that are absolutely devastating.

Typically, The Wire gives us a moment near the end of the season where everything looks up. It doesn’t bode well for our characters that the moment here was about five minutes. Marlo got busted, but hanging over everything is the destructive hammer of McNulty’s lie, and the fact that the real crimes could be erased by the shady investigation.

But, let’s take a quick look at people who are actually doing well. If you’ve been reading these reviews all year, you’ve probably noticed that virtually every one ends with I’m really missing Colvin, so seeing him back was a joy. It made me really happy to see that Namond is still on a good track, nailing the debate contest and making Colvin and the Deacon proud. We don’t get any real time with Namond, but just watching him up there tells us everything. He’s left the corners behind and is flourishing under the care of Colvin.

Colvin himself is clearly proud as well, which makes it all the more devastating when he runs into Carcetti outside the debate. Carcetti’s greatest strength is his talk, when he speaks, you believe he can change things, you believe that he wants to make the world a better place. However, when you look at his actions, it’s clear he’s only out to advance himself. Colvin watches Carcetti talking about jumps in third grade test scores, and knows it’s all a lie. The test scores don’t measure achievement, on a sliding scale, the numbers can tell you whatever you want them to.

Carcetti speaks to Colvin and apologizes again for the Hamsterdam incident. Colvin looks deeply hurt here. My reading of the scene is that he’s not really mad about Hamsterdam. Hamsterdam was an experiment by a man on the way out, Colvin knew it would never last, but he was just trying to do the best he could with the time he had. He had nothing to lose, so he tried to do the right thing. Obviously, there’s some ill feelings about Carcetti betraying him, but it was going to crash down eventually, Carcetti only expedited the process.

I think what grates on Colvin here is Carcetti hailing progress in the schools, when he wouldn’t even consider the plan he developed last season. Namond is a walking testament to what Colvin could do in the schools, and comparing Namond’s fate to the fate of his three friends, it’s clear that the school system is deeply broken. Carcetti doesn’t understand this, he doesn’t even remember Colvin’s plan, and the fact that he’s so completely ignorant of the reality of what’s happening is what grates Colvin. Robert Wisdom is brilliant in the role, showing so much pain on his face without saying anything.

I’m assuming this is the final appearance of Colvin, and if so, it’s an appropriate sendoff. He wasn’t able to change the system, but he was able to save Namond, and that means a lot. There are still a lot of wounds from what happened, but he’s given up trying to save the world. I still hold out some hope that Dukie will somehow find Namond and get rescued, but that is unlikely. Other than Stringer, Colvin was my favorite character on the show, and it’s great that we got just one more scene with him.

Bubbles also gets a strong wrap for his five year arc. I’m sure he’ll be back next week, checking out the article on himself and perhaps even getting to make that mac and cheese for his sister, but that scene at the NA meeting was really the end. He tried to get clean once before, but he hadn’t reached bottom yet. As we saw on The Corner, it takes a lot to convince someone to get off drugs, and the end of season four was certainly a bottoming out points for Bubbles. I think the single most devastating moment in the show’s entire run may be Bubbles in the psych ward, completely breaking down when Walon goes in, too painful for Kima to even watch.

But, thankfully things go well for him this year, and he’s able to overcome the temptation and stay clean. I love the speech about being at the park because it lets you see how he started down this path. Sitting outside, smoking a little herb, that sounds like a nice day. But, for some people, it opens a door that leads to heavier addiction and the gradual dissolution of all bonds they’ve got. He’s fallen so far over the years, and in that moment, he makes the realization that the drugs will never feel like they used to. You’re always chasing that first high, and he can never find it again. I’m glad they didn’t show his temptation because it would have been almost too much to take. He’s been through so much over the years, and after the end of season four, I think he’s earned the right to some happiness.

So, things are looking up for a couple of our people. But, pretty much every other character is caught up in a web of interlocking decisions that will proceed to destroy all their lives. One of the things I love about the show is looking at the consequences of one individual’s decision on the other characters in the show. The best example is watching the way that Herc’s mishandling of Randy leads to Randy’s entire life being destroyed. There was no malice there, just stupidity and unintended consequences. This episode sees some good motivations put people in very uncomfortable positions, and it all starts with the takedown of Marlo.

It was great to see Marlo and his gang lying on the pavement, Lester gloating at him with the clock. That moment was a bit weird, the extended glances between them certainly let Marlo know that Lester was the one who took him down. Will he target him next week? Either way, McNulty has now gotten everything he wants, the wire tap worked, Marlo has been taken down, and his organization is in chaos.

I absolutely love the scene in the jail cell, where Marlo rips into Chris for not telling him about Omar. Marlo now has something to prove, and he’s eager to get out on the streets and take down whoever tipped off the cops about the phone code. We’ve never actually seen Marlo do anything without his muscle, so it’ll be interesting to watch him out on the streets without Chris or Snoop, assuming he gets out somehow next week. I seriously doubt we’re ending the series with Marlo in prison as he is now, Marlo has to go back out and prove he isn’t a punk. Are we going to see the co-op take revenge on him? Michael? He’s a target now, and I’m hoping we finally get to see whether Marlo can actually fight as well as he can order murders.

The takedown of Marlo leads to the dissolution of the family that Michael, Dukie and Bug have created. The Snoop/Michael car scene is an instant classic. Michael plays her and uses the exact tactics she taught him earlier in the season to kill her. It’s simultaneously a satisfying scene as a viewer, to watch Michael, a character we like, save his life and take out the charismatic, but morally despicable Snoop.

However, in saving his own life, he loses a piece of his soul. He is a killer, and it’s impossible to know whether he can ever come back from what Chris and Snoop have taught him. The scene with Michael dropping off Bug was really powerful, with a reverse Godfather homage. Michael doesn’t even think of going in to his aunt’s house, he’s too far gone, the gang world has him and the door shuts him out of the nice suburban home his aunt owns. Namond’s story gives you hope that things will turn out okay for Bug, but it’s still hard to watch Michael so totally cut off from any chance of a normal life.

It brought me back to that moment where Michael is talking with Prez and seems so close to telling everything, but holds back. The reason Michael got into all this was his stepfather, he drove Michael to Marlo, when he should have went to Prez or Cutty. It was the culture of addiction that put his mom in such a bad state, that made her bring this man into her home. That’s the one Chris and Snoop killing that’s perhaps justifiable, and it’s the one that brings them down. I see a poetry in it, Chris put his DNA, his soul, into that killing. He could have done it professional, but he chose not to, and it’s the one that brings him down. Everyone slips up, and that was his one mistake.

I don’t know what’s going to happen with Michael. He could come back and go after Marlo, but I don’t see him actively choosing to kill Marlo. But, can he just run away, disappear? What’s left for him? Nothing really, there’s no good options. And the same is true for Dukie.

It’s interesting that this episode aired the day after the Academy Awards because this single hour is better than any movie that got an award there, it’s a testament to the power of long term serial fiction. The Wire and The Sopranos, among other shows, have redefined what cinema can be, you talk about movies not being as good as they used to be, well look on TV, this is everything that people hail about 70s cinema and so much more. And, can you really say the showy awards bait performances the Academy honors match the total immersion in their roles that these actors have. I can’t imagine them as anyone other than the characters, and that’s the greatest compliment to an actor. It really bothers me that you still see people saying TV sucks now, there’s no good shows when arguably the two best shows in the history of the medium have both aired within the year. It’s like going out there in 1942 and saying movies suck, the same year that Citizen Kane and Casablanca got released.

Michael and Dukie have been through so much, and we’ve been right there with them. When Dukie brings up the day with the ice cream, it feels like a lifetime ago. I remember who these characters were then, and they were so different. Namond has been saved, Randy and Michael are cold as steel warriors, but Dukie’s future remains uncertain. I hate the symmetry of Bubbles getting off dope as Dukie wanders into the junkman’s hovel and sees him shooting up.

The question now is, what the hell can Dukie be? He’s got absolutely no one left, no home, no family, with no job and no options. How can he be anything but a dope fiend? There are no easy answers, and it’s devastating that someone with so much potential should be totally broken down. For all his awful actions, Marlo provided a stable rule on the streets, a new Marlo will rise eventually, but in the meantime, peoples’ lives are thrown into chaos. Dukie is an unintended casualty of the Marlo bust, what the police did here destroyed his and Michael’s lives.

I really can’t hail that car scene enough, I think the kids’ acting this season has been at times shakier than what we saw last year, but this episode, they both totally nailed it. Even more than any of the characters who were there in year one, I find myself feeling the weight of history on these two. When Michael says he doesn’t remember the day with the ice cream, I’m wondering, is he lying or does he really not remember? Is it too hard to admit that he was once that person, that he has changed so much, or have the events of the past year so warped him that he has lost memory of those times. I think Dukie would go with him anywhere, Michael is all the family he has, and that’s part of why it’s so hard to watch him walk into the stables.

It’s a testament to the episode that I’ve just barely scratched the surface. Let’s hop over to the police, where McNulty finds out he should have been careful what he wished for. A lesser show would have an old Jewish man telling the tale of the golem, who was summoned for vengeance and wreaked havoc after his job was done. McNulty now starts to realize what he did to everyone else in the department when he’s forced to waste his time chasing bullshit, to keep up appearances.

The scene at the train tracks with Lester is one of the most telling in the episode. I’d still love to learn more about how Lester is dealing with this, the scene indicates he has moved beyond the moral conundrum and is just happy to get his job done. He’s working on his own scam on the ultimate scammer, Clay Davis, the fake serial killer is just one part of his mission to follow the money. He’s also taking a joy in the work that McNulty lacks. We even find out that Chardene is still in the picture, a great throwback to year one.

The train track scene has Lester as a funhouse mirror reflection of who he’s become, slobbering drunk and morally bankrupt. That was the guy who created the serial killer, and now the sober McNulty has to deal with the fact that he wrecked his life and may soon be going to jail. It would be a tough call to make for sure, but you could argue that he told Kim and Beattie hoping that he’d get caught. At this point, he recognizes he’s messed up, and has to deal with the consequences.

Kima diming on McNulty is a tough choice, I don’t know that I’d consider it the right one, but it fits with where her character’s going. Season three was a kind of bottoming out point for both her and McNulty, he mentored in the way of the dog, and I think McNulty’s relationship with Beattie helped set her on the path to caring for Elijah again.

At her core, she is ‘good police,’ she is not as jaded as McNulty and Freamon and is not willing to turn on the system. We saw that in season one, when she wouldn’t lie about her shooter to Bunk, and we see it here. She has seen what the serial killer did to the family of ‘his’ victims. McNulty’s was not a victimless crime, and she does not want to be the one responsible for perpetuating the lie.

Her actions set up an impossible moral conundrum for Daniels and Carcetti. Revealing that the serial killer is a fake totally destroys the credibility of the department, even more than the Hamsterdam scandal. It kills Carcetti’s chance to be governor and loses the public trust. Is this something the public should know, or is it better to live in ignorance, to laud the Marlo drug bust and let the serial killer quietly slip away? It reminds me of the end of Watchmen, where Rorshach dies because he won’t let Adrian’s utopia built on a lie go on. Who’s going to be the Rorshach of this piece, the one who won’t back down. If Carcetti refuses to go public with the serial killer, will someone go to the press? Will that finally make the season long newspaper story arc worth its screentime?

It baffles me when people say they’re so disappointed in what Carcetti has become. He’s been a sleazy politician from the beginning, and the character sold himself out in season three when he gave a speech condemning drugs right after shutting down Hamsterdam. Since then, it’s been the same loop of using his potential future power as justification for his awful actions in the present. How many times will he sell out Baltimore to advance himself? Looks like this serial killer thing will be one more time.

But the question remains, does anyone really benefit from the serial killer being exposed? Is there some intrinsic value to the truth, or is it better to go in ignorance? Kima believes that the truth matters, and I think Daniels does too, but are they willing to risk their lives and careers for it? That’s the question, what is it worth to do the right thing?

In a lot of ways, that’s the core question of the series, on the police side at least. Early on, McNulty constantly clashed with the powers that be, trying to get his investigations to happen, and eventually realized it was all a waste of time. Stringer Bell was busted and it didn’t make much of a difference, Marlo rose up in his stead. There’s the classic line “Who were we chasing?” Colvin realized the cost of doing the right thing when he lost his pension after Hamsterdam. Was it worth it?

This brings us to Carver and Herc. I like how they’re still friends, despite having gone is such opposite directions in life. Carver can appreciate Herc as a friend even if he knows just how bad the consequences of his actions were. I felt like Herc might have been done, his final action on the show the delivery of Marlo’s number to the police. But, he’s back to instigate the big fuck up that will tear everything down here.

He tells Levy that they had a wiretap, setting up the presumed dismissal of all the evidence on Marlo as illegal. What was Herc’s motivation here? I like to think it was the same dumb obliviousness that ruined Randy’s life, he wants people to like him, to think he’s valuable and when Carver wouldn’t give him that, he sought approval from Levy. Herc is a really interesting character because he’s so dumb in some ways, and so oblivious to all the damage he’s caused over the course of the series.

Another instant classic scene is Lester and Clay Davis at the bar. Lester uses his leverage to shake down Clay and get a picture of the bigger political machinations underlying the entire series. We get a nice throwback to Stringer and an understanding of how the system actually benefits from the drug game. When people like Marlo and Stringer are making money, it’s going through the lawyers to the politicians. When they get busted, the lawyers make money, ultimately, they’re serving the same masters as the taxpayers. The system is designed to encompass everything, so even illegal activity is funding the system that seeks to destroy them.

This episode is already being hailed as one of, if not the series’ best. I wouldn’t put it quite up there with ‘Final Grades’ or ‘Mission Accomplished,’ though it’s certainly close. The newspaper stuff again is just good, while the rest is great, so unlike ‘Final Grades,’ there are a couple of scenes that don’t feel as emotionally intense and vital. But, it’s undeniably an instant classic, easily the best episode of the season and one of the best all time.

And, it leaves us with one episode left. While I’m looking forward to the fallout on the serial killer, and Marlo taking it to the streets, Rocky V style, I think what I’m most looking forward to is finding out what happens to Dukie. If he gets to talk to Prez, what can he say? What can he be? Will anyone walk away clean, or are Namond and Bubbles the only happy endings? Will Michael meet up with Cutty again? Will the final montage give us a last glimpse of everyone, or just the season five characters? The story won’t definitively end, because life doesn’t definitively end, but I do feel like we’re ninety minutes away from a satisfying conclusion to the story.


Anonymous said...

Nice review, like your thoughts on the show.

I think we are going to see McNulty jailed, Lester killed by Marlo, Dukie giving in to drugs.

No happy endings really - it's The Wire.

Patrick said...

I don't think things are going to go particularly well, but I can't see Marlo getting out of this alive. After all he did to the co-op, I think he's going to find the streets a less than welcoming place.

Anonymous said...

Wow, awesome review of the episode. I'm glad I found this blog!

I think the Omar stuff at the end of the episode is a prelude to him being blamed for the homeless killings. He's a known homosexual and killer, but yet the Cops that knew Omar well would know that if he had his name besmirched in order to punish Marlo it would be worth it.

McNulty has to be forced to quit by the Brass. Cop work is what's slowly killing him anyways(although he's good at it) so he'll tkae his early retirement with somewhat of a positive outlook.

Micheal will become the new drug kingpin and find a job for Dukie watching Bug and handling stuff not related to the drug game.

anyways, once again I lvoed the insight and you caught a lot of stuff I missed...thanks!

Patrick said...

That would be pretty to hard to take, for them to mess with Omar's reputation like that. Hasn't the man been threw enough? But, it would be a pretty fantastic twist, we'll see if it happens. Only one more week.

Anonymous said...

Almost a year after this post..I just sat through the last few episodes of the series. I was googling 'Late Editions' and came across this. I could not agree with your comments more: I think it was one of the better episodes of the whole series and up until watching this, I'd actually been let down by the lack of heart in Season 5.

I was happy to see your post about Bunny also and think you hit the nail on the head. Like you, I found he and Stringer Bell (and Bubbles) to be my two favorites, so I was pleased to see that storyline neatly tied back in to underscore Carcetti's shameless ambition.

I was actually choked up watching the scene unfold with Michael, Bug, and Dukie. Unfortunately, my concerns about Dukie's future were confirmed in the final episode. So so sad..(Michael taking on Omar's role was not something I could have anticipated).

Good insight on the Herc stuff as well. He frustrated me to no end- I think I was hoping his slip of Marlow's cell # would be discovered, but no such luck (even though I know he is not a bad guy - just has poor judgement).

How about that shot of Partlow and Weebay in the final montage? (to your point about showing earlier characters)

Sad that I've reached the end of this series..

www.muebles-en-huelva.com said...

Thank you for the post, really useful data.