After mildly slagging off the Wire (that’s British for insulting, I have decided to insert idiomatic translations) I am forced to bow before it. I had forgotten that it ebbs and flows in quality. From great to genius, The episode on Monday on FX was a true work of genius.
The programme focuses on Bodie, di Angelo and Chief Daniels, each of whom is at a pivotal moment. There are so many layers of meaning that it I can’t begin to do it justice. I would be outputting exhuberantly semiotic stuff until next year. And that would be just for one episode.
So, I’ll just pick out a few points in a shamefully lame way.
On third viewing, I realised that Bodie puts on the executioner’s cap before he shoots the other child, in an episode of true horror. After this, he wears it more or less consistently. It expresses Bodie’s having become a “soldier,” a disposable cheap executioner for the Darksdales.
At the moment of the shooting, Bodie’s lieutenant is sobbing. The about-to-be-victim pisses himself. Bodie is horrified at having to shoot a boy. But he is not going to stop what he is doing either. He gets the boy to affirm that he is a man not a boy. Earlier, the about-to-be-shot boy has told Bodie that he is “a man” rather than a boy. At which point he looks about fourteen. Even the killers, despatched by Stringer Bell to do the shooting, look older. And one of the them looks 16.
Bodie has made a sort of low-level Faustian deal with Stringer Bell, as Stringer has implied that he can rise in the business if he gets rid of Ritchie. So, Bodie has already prepared to kill for a slight chance of a small improvement in his circumstances.
The Wire writers are showing us that the soldiers are children, living in desperate poverty and shooting each other over crumbs, both victims and perpetrators of the social values that support the whole system.
The moral implications of this killing are played out for Bodie through later series, as Bodie begins to dissent more and more from his role and to pay a heavy price for becoming an ethical being.
One immediate moral implication is that diAngelo, who has been getting increasingly disenchanted with his part in the Barksdales and is coming to ask himself moral questions about his life, explodes with anger about the murder of the child. This sets in train a decision to betray the gang. Which will soon become an epic moral struggle for him.
Both diAngelo and Bodie find that the development of remorse and the stirring of an ethical conscience do not bring any rewards. I think the Wire breaks some ground here. There is no sense of virtue justly rewarded and villainy justly punished. It is not a simple morality tale. Characters are killed off or survive, partly as a result of their actions but mainly as a consequence of the actions of others. You can’t just step out of “the game” by repenting.
At the same that diAngelo is developing an ethical sense, Chief Daniels is doing the same. There is battle of wits, rather than guns, between Commissioner Burrell and Chief Daniels. Burrell tries to applythe blackmail leverage he’s been holding over Daniels. He is being ordered by the political machine to stop the investigation, because it had uncovered a money relationship between the Barksdale gang and some Senators.
Daniels stands up, literally and metaphorically. As does di Angelo when he challenges Stringer Bell.
Daniels reminds Burrell that others would lose more by exposing him than would Daniels. They would have already used their leverage but for the fact that the greatest fear of the political machine is publicity. They have no intention of using their information against Daniels. So he calls Burrell’s bluff.
This stuff was powerfully moving. The moral complexities are laid out brilliantly through the masterly acting.
(As well as the writing, – taken for granted as pure genius-, the direction, the costumes, the sets, the use of music and anything else you can think of. The HBO marketing is naff, but The Wire’s got to pull an audience to satisfy its paymasters. And for bringing the Sopranos and the Wire to the television, I will forgive HBO pretty well anything.