The Target – Episode 1, Season 1 – The Wire

Russell ‘Stringer’ Bell in the courtroom of D’Angelo Barksdale’s murder trial

Teleplay: David Simon
Story: David Simon and Edward Burns
Directed by: Clark Johnson

Opening quote: “When it’s not your turn.” Jimmy McNulty

Spoiler Alert: This is written for those who have viewed The Wire at least once if not multiple times. If you have not viewed, please enjoy the wonderful experience of the series for the first time with the delight of not knowing what is coming next. I encourage you to leave this blog and go stream The Wire on Netflix, or better yet, buy from Amazon (affiliate link) The Wire: The Complete First Season.

Season 1 is, from a 30,000-foot level, a story about cops and drug dealers. But The Wire doesn’t let you view from a distance, it grabs you by the neck, worms its way into your brain, makes you laugh and then breaks your heart. The plot always delivers and the cast is unforgettable (you’ll see these actors in other movies, series, as random characters in the Law & Order franchise; and find yourself saying things like “Oh my God, that’s Omar!” or “It’s Clay Davis!!”),

The Target, the pilot of The Wire, is challenged with setting a very large table. It’s not just introducing us to a handful of cops – we’ve got upper management, middle management; we’ve got Homicide, Narcotics, a special task force, and the Bureau. It’s not just introducing us to a single villain – this is a drug empire with kingpins, soldiers, middle management, and hoppers. But just as McNulty effortlessly rattles off the names of the dead that got in the way during the ascent of the Barksdale crew, we quickly come to know the team rosters:

• Narcotics – Lt. Cedric Daniels, Det. Kima Greggs, Carv (Ellis Carver), and Herc (Thomas Hauk)
• Homicide – Major Rawls, Det. Jimmy McNulty, ‘Bunk’ Det. William Moreland, Sgt. Jay Landsman

Barksdale Crew
• Kingpins – Avon Barksdale, Russell ‘Stringer’ Bell
• Soldiers – Wee-Bey, Savino, and Stinkum
• Middle Management – D’Angelo Barksdale, Preston ‘Bodie’ Broadus
• Hoppers – Wallace, Malik ‘Poot’ Carr

Homicide Detective Jimmy McNulty

The Targets seems to start at the end of a couple of stories (D’Angelo’s murder trial; the territory wars and resulting murders, with the Barksdale Crew emerging as the kingpins of the Western district) while launching what will be the season’s important story arcs:

• D’Angelo’s struggle as the boss of The Pit: he’s smart and sensitive (a definite character flaw for his line of work) and increasingly aware of how vulnerable he is, with great apprehension about the Barksdale than the law enforcement.
• McNulty battling his demons, working his case and as Bunk points out “How is it you always have the whole world pissed off at you?”
• Bubbles struggling with his addiction, the miserable results of taking people under his wing, and his creativity in scamming his next fix as well as serving as an informant.
• The leadership differences of Russell ‘Stringer’ Bell and Avon Barksdale.
• The politics within Baltimore PD, the politics between BPD and the mayor and Judge Phelan.

While D’Angelo’s inner conflict regarding what he’s expected to do, what he’d like to do, and his inability to be as cruel and decisive a Bodie, The Target shows a big change in D’Angelo in just this episode.

After some witness tampering, D’Angelo is found ‘not guilty’ in his murder trial. Following the trial we see how immature he is. First, he is effusing about what happened in the courtroom as Wee-Bey drives him to see Avon, causing Wee-Bey to pull over, gets out of the car, and asks “What’s the rule?” D’Angelo has broken the rule about talking business in the car.

Then at Orlando’s, D’Angelo again talks about how clever they were in getting Nakeesha Lyles (a witness to the murder) to change her testimony. Avon shakes his head, pointing out to D’Angelo that this all “cost time and money. You gonna make that right?” The next day, D’Angelo is demoted by Stringer.

In the final scene of the episode D’Angelo witnesses a more sobering consequence of his court appearance. William Gant, the lone witness who identified him as the shooter, is dead in the street with a bullet in his head.

Simon and Burns provide some interesting dialogue on war. In a great exchange Kima looks at Herc and Carv and accuses them of “Fighting a war on drugs, one brutality case at a time.” Carv responds with, “Can’t call this shit war…wars end.” Later in the episode, FBI Special Agent Fitzhugh tells McNulty “you’re fighting the wrong war” and that at the Bureau – Counter Terrorism cases trump drug cases, to which McNulty replies, “Not enough love in our hearts for two wars?”

A la Carte

  • Clark Johnson, who directs this episode, will later join the cast in Season 5 as City Editor, Gus Haynes.
  • Briana Barksdale, D’Angelo’s mother, is not present in the courtroom – only Stringer Bell, the Barksdale Crew soldiers, and McNulty (this gives even more sting to McNulty’s words in Season 3 when he tells Briana why he thinks D’Angelo was murdered rather a suicide).
  • Bunk, who constantly delivers as one of the most delightful characters, reveals his secret to catching mice to McNulty, “Catch him? I lit his ass up. The first shot killed my wife’s dress shoe. Got him with the second.”

Recaps and reviews – Season 2

The Detail – Episode 2, Season 1, The Wire

The Buys – Episode 3, Season 1, The Wire

Old Cases – Episode 4, Season 1, The Wire

The Pager – Episode 5, Season 1, The Wire

The Wire – Episode 6, Season 1, The Wire

One Arrest – Episode 7, Season 1, The Wire

Lessons – Episode 8, Season 1, The Wire

Game Day – Episode 9, Season 1, The Wire

The Cost – Episode 10, Season 1, The Wire

The Hunt – Episode 11, Season 1, The Wire

Cleaning Up – Episode 12, Season 1, The Wire