“And then he dropped the bracelets…” – Greggs
The Wire is an admittedly hard show to get into with its huge cast, complex storyline and reluctance to make things blatantly explicit for its viewers. Couple that with a relatively straight-forward visual style and I can see why some people I know got too bored with the show. (By the way, did you watch that video essay on the show’s visual style? Stop reading and watch it.) But it’s almost impossible for me to think of anyone who made it this far into the series and didn’t become addicted and completely enamored after the ending of “The Cost.”
I didn’t realize I was looking for it when I started the blog, but I found the moment when The Wire went from an interesting show to an awesome show. It’s the “bath tub” moment in Breaking Bad, the carousel speech in Mad Men and the molten gold crown in Game of Thrones. All the plot and character has been built, and now, to put it delicately, shit is getting fucked up.
It’s pretty easy coming up with what “the cost” is at the end of the episode, with Orlando and Greggs shot up, presumably by Barksdale soldiers. Like Prez’s low points, I thought this moment came later in the season – next episode, the third to last one, was my guess. I can already tell you one of my all time favorite moments in the series comes in the next episode, but I’ll wait until my next entry to point it out.
Why am I so worked up over the ending of “The Cost?” Because it truly is tragic on the level of the Greek tragedies David Simon has often said he wanted to draw from during the conception of the show. The shooting didn’t need to happen. Deputy Burrell could have let the wiretap continue and built the case against Barksdale on solid evidence. But after Orlando falls into their lap, Burrell instead orders the buy-and-bust as a quick end to an unwanted case.
And Orlando, jeez, he didn’t have to try and buy drugs, especially after Avon beats him up in “Lessons.” But his plot to get some of the money and glory Avon has fails miserably, as he gets caught in a police sting and essentially loses everything in the course of a few days. What was he and the police thinking when they decided to try and get more drugs for the buy-and-bust?
But the tragedy goes beyond Greggs and Orlando being shot. Bubbles was hoping for Greggs to help him find a place to stay that night, as he begins his journey toward sobriety in earnest. But she’s nowhere to be found. And we know how much Gregg’s girlfriend doesn’t like dating an officer. We know from later seasons that this incident is going to tear the two apart.
It’s worth noting that it’s not necessarily malice that makes Burrell who he is. We know in later seasons how strapped the department is for resources. We know these operations suck a lot of valuable time and money from the countless day-to-day crimes that pad their statistics. When Wallace comes forward and starts naming names in Brandon’s murder, the police can’t protect him by putting him up in a hotel, so they send him to a grandmother he hasn’t seen in seven years, in a bit of season-four-failing-the-youth foreshadowing.
With the whole series in mind, it’s been fun watching these individual early moments and connecting them to later scenes. I’m sure David Simon was hoping people would flip that formula as the series progressed, and connected all the moments of corruption and systemic failures to previous seasons. It’s made me appreciate the show more as fully formed work. And it’s exciting to know that in typical HBO series form – or heck, like a novel – the last few chapters are going to be fast-paced and heavy. I don’t think I’ll have to worry about whether it lives up to my memories.
• It comes from a bad TV in the background of a scene, but we finally hear Clay Davis speak! I hope that first “Shi-iiiiiiiiiiit” isn’t too far behind.
• The other major plot point of the episode is Omar’s failed attempt to get Stringer Bell to say something incriminating on a wire, before bussing it to New York, where he’ll lay low before Bird’s trial. Oh man, that is a scene I’m eagerly looking forward to re-watching.
• Typical McNulty with Judge Phelan. “I hold you in contempt.” “Who doesn’t?”
• I feel a little sorry for that fifth wheel out drinking with Greggs and her other lesbian friends.
• The song playing outside of Orlando’s while D’Angelo tries to talk to Shardene? “I’ll Go Crazy” by James Brown. As in, “If you leave me / I’ll go crazy.” Nice touch.