Well, there it was, the episode – and the actions of McNulty in the episode – that I’ve been talking about indirectly since I first watched. I’ll confess, no matter what kind of toss pot McNutty has become and no matter how screwed up the department, I had a very difficult time originally with the notion of him crossing the line and screwing up a crime scene. Not just screwing it up, but fabricating a crime.
In real time, as I watched, I had that sick feeling a critic gets when things go sideways. (It’s that same knee-jerk reaction that made me mock – out loud – the asinine ending to “Million Dollar Baby,” a manipulative movie that got exponentially worse in the last minutes). You get those moments sometimes. As it pertained to “The Wire,” I worried about authenticity and character motivation. To the first, I’ll say this quickly: Strange that I accepted much more easily the ethical lapse(s) of Scott, the journalist. I think that speaks to reality, not fiction. There are all kinds of Scotts who have tainted journalism through the years. And I’m sure there are all kinds of cops who have done some very dubious and devious deeds as well. I know that in reality. But fictionally – hey, this is McNulty.
Which brings us to the second element – character motivation. I’m sure people will have a lot to say about this episode, but I think it’s best to use caution in railing against the twist. One, I’ve seen the next five episodes and I’m fine, critically, with the direction. Second, it’s hard to remember (or accept) that characters change. That’s really the beauty of television. It’s alive. There’s evolution. And McNulty has crossed ethical lines before, just never this bad – bad enough for Bunk to be disgusted in ways he never thought imaginable. But there were certainly patterns to suggest this kind of behavior was possible. Also, he’s clearly spiraling in his personal life. And that goes beyond the drinking. (I’m giving nothing away there. It’s just a perception. McNulty is terribly unhappy in some way. He’s got gaping, unexplained emotional wounds. The guy’s got so much baggage he needs his own sky cap.)
Anyway, factor in what is clearly an oppressive, unrelentingly dysfunctional system of government and policing and you’ll find that McNulty has had enough. He’s disgusted. He wants to be good po-lice, but the institutions around him are failing and not allowing him (or anyone else) to effectively do their job. Welcome to “The Wire.” It’s the FUBAR/SNAFU of all televised dramas.
That said, it took me a couple of weeks to get with this twist (because things are gonna get worse, folks). But for me, acceptance was two-fold. The storyline is, dramatically, pretty damned powerful and potent on down the line. Can’t wait for the final three. And I just think that David Simon could, fairly easily, make the case for McNulty’s actions as reasonable and not as completely out of the blue as they seemed when he walked back in that row house with the gloves on.
OK, enough from me for now. Bring your theories and opinions in the comment section. But first, some gems, quotes and additional scraps from the episode.
+ Marlo on June Bug: “He’s a dead man. He’s just walking around and don’t know it yet.” Yeah, well he does now. But it was good to see that Michael couldn’t kill that kid.
+ “And I want that dick sucker. Took my money and the whole world know? Nah. He got to fall.” Marlo has put the fatwa on Omar. Anybody else think that’s a dangerous game?
+ “The crown ain’t worth much if the n-er wearing it is always getting his shit took.” Once again, Marlo is talking about that crown. But he’s right – he’s the king.
+ Kima on working a second job as a guard in a jewelry store: “Stand around some shiny shit and get paid. Work murders and starve.”
+ “There are no fucking rules. The fucking game’s rigged.” – McNulty. Anybody remember where that came from first?
+ “There you go, giving a fuck when it ain’t your turn to give a fuck.” Bunk. Yet more rehashing of famous lines (which will continue all season), this one coming from the very first episode of “The Wire.”
+ “Ever notice how a mother of four is always catching hell?” – Gus, about how truisms in life pop up a lot in journalism. “Innocent bystanders,” another notes. They get it a lot too. Then, my favorite: “You know who there’s less of? Statuesque blondes. You don’t read about statuesque blondes in the newspapers anymore. Buxom ones, neither. They’re like a lost race.”
+ The uniformed cop watching McNulty get off the city bus: “Okay. Now I’ve seen everything.”
+ Bigwig editor: “If you leave everything in, soon you’ve got nothing.” And to the notion of explaining complicated stories and themes to readers: “Who wants to read that?” While it’s true that Simon has one or seven axes to grind with journalism and certain newspapers, you can’t say the guy is wrong. Everybody in this business has seen an editor like that. Or more. And remember, the whole point of Season 5, according to Simon, is that if everything the series illuminated in the first four seasons is true, then why hasn’t anyone noticed or fixed it. The onus, he says, falls on the press, which is where we find ourselves in Season 5.
+ Ah, Scott. More than one of those in the newsroom. Not wholesale fabricators, per se, but people without the talent or drive to match their ambition.
+ By the way, more than one Gus in every newsroom, too. There’s a lot of great editors who would make fabulous, multidimensional (but twisted) characters. And Rewrite Man Jay Spry – still a bunch of those lovable, totally essential barnacles still around a lot of newsrooms as well. He’s almost too perfect. I know a bunch of editors just like that.
+ “Surprise!” – Avon. But I’m told HBO already ruined that with its upcoming attractions this week. I urge you to skip those whenever possible. How they could have given that away beforehand is beyond me. Come on! Have a little faith in the power of surprises.
+ “So I tell him, hell yeah I know Marlo. Real well.” – Avon. True dat.
+ Avon has it down about Marlo aiming to get in with the Greeks. “I mean, you’re a natural businessman.”
+ Avon then asks Marlo, other than that, how’s life. Marlo: “Ah, the game’s the game.” Avon. “Always.”
+ The parallel lines of ethic violations are pretty clear now, with Scott and McNulty. A boy in a wheelchair. Goes by E.J. 13 years old. Cutting school. In a wheelchair. “Something about a stray bullet.” Yeah, Gus smells the stink on that, but Executive Editor James C. Whitting III (perfect) does not.
+ Clay Davis’ finest moment? Moments? Sure was fun to watch.
+ “As an editor, I need a little more to fly this thing.” – Gus. Outmanned.
+ Whitting: “Do you have a problem with it?” Gus: “A little bit, kinda, yeah.”
+ Snoop’s disdain after the West Coast boyz in the hood thing goes awry: “Fuck those West Coast n-ers. In B-more, we aim and hit a n-er, you heard.”
+ And McNulty, with a little too much pride in the deed: “There’s a serial killer in Baltimore. He preys on the weakest among us. He needs to be caught.” Is that enough to get the money and manpower flowing? We shall see. But we know one thing – nothing is ever that easy on “The Wire.”
+ “I’m gone. I don’t want a part of this.” – Bunk. You knew he’d never go along with that trick. Not Bunk. No way.
+ What about you?