”The Wire”: Choices on election day
We’re just under halfway through season 4, but the sixth episode, ”Margin of Error,” ramped up the action and energy to such high levels that I almost chewed off an entire fingernail. So much happened this week — Royce got schooled! Omar got arrested! Marlo got smart! Clay Davis stayed crooked! — that it’s hard to know where to begin. Deep breath.
If you’ve every wondered if there is such a thing as a stage mother in the illicit drug business, this episode answered the question. De’Londa Brice, wife of Wee-Bey, mother of Namond, is a piece of work. Or as Bodie puts it, a ”dragon lady.” It all starts when the always ice-cold Brianna Barksdale — who sharp-eyed viewers might also recognize from a small role as Matt Albie’s assistant on Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip — cuts off the Brice family’s cash flow with a curt ”Ain’t nothing lasts forever.” What would most of us do in this situation? Hmm, get a j-o-b perhaps? But not De’Londa. Instead, she hops in her Beamer, drives down to the corner, and puts her middle schooler to work on his own ”package.” Petulant Namond is no saint, for sure, but how could you not feel bad for him? While his mom guzzles Jack Daniels and pressures him with overbearing guilt trips — ”Make me proud!” and ”I’m counting on you!” — Namond has to go down and work the corners to pay the rent. Namond might say that he wants to be a street soldier like his dad, but the sour look on his face says something else entirely.
Is there anyone who came off worse than spoiled De’Londa Brice? Slimy fat cat Clay Davis, but that’s a given. (”Politics is a good thing, pardner,” he says to Carcetti right before extorting $20,000 from him.) Mayor Royce’s last-gasp attempt to smear Carcetti didn’t leave him in the best light. (Neither do his tacky African-style ties and flashy capped teeth.) Deputy Commissioner Rawls continued to try and play both candidates up until election day, even if that meant shoving a wrench in the Braddock investigation — again.
Now what about Carcetti? Here’s where it gets complicated. Did he behave like a man of truth, who fears God and hates covetousness, as the preacher said in the intro? It was exhilarating to see Carcetti win the primary election — his shell-shocked look when he heard that Royce was conceding felt truly authentic — but to see him fend off the predatory advances of political adviser Theresa D’Agostino was almost more thrilling. We all know that Carcetti has succumbed to at least a couple sins, namely pride and adultery. But when he pushed off from Theresa in the hotel room, it gave me a sense of optimism, a rare emotion for The Wire to evoke. This seems like a tenuous connection, but the writers seemed to making a point: Specifically, if Carcetti can keep his pants on, maybe he can make Baltimore a better city. ”Maybe you have learned something,” Theresa says as she walks away, though not before saying that he can give her her ”victory bonus” in check form.
Of all our flawed characters, maybe the most interesting and heartbreaking this week was poor Randy Wagstaff. Here’s what we know about Randy: He’s a foster kid with a strict guardian. He’s smart, entrepreneurial, superstitious, talkative, and industrious, but he has poor, poor judgment. If it weren’t for these little lapses — say, guarding the bathroom while something awful happens inside — Randy would be in the clear. But when he’s called into the assistant principal’s office, Randy shifts into save-my-ass mode and starts blabbering about everything he knows. Only when he says the word ”murder” does the assistant principal start listening. It would be easy to call Randy a snitch or a rat. And maybe at first, that’s the natural reaction. As the episode unfolds and you get a sense of Randy’s life — the fiercely strict foster mother who puts him in fear of being sent back to a group home nearly every day — you realize you’d do exactly the same thing.
On a last note, this episode was marked by some of the best one-liners by Carcetti’s cackling, snarky adviser Norman Wilson, played with gleeful energy by a consistently electric Reg E. Cathey. Even after a crusty old white guy uses a racial slur in front of him, Norman smirks and says, ”A vote is a vote, and I never throw one back.” Carcetti says he might rehire Norman. Let’s hope so, as his cocky, quippy humor is seriously needed.
So what do you think: Will Prez and Carver be able to protect Randy from the horrors of the system? Did McNulty do the right thing by letting Omar use his cell phone? Will the Major Crimes Unit ever nail Marlo? And did Carcetti redeem himself? Or is he still a slimy bastard?