Old Cases – Episode 4, Season 1 – The Wire
Teleplay: David Simon
Story: David Simon and Edward Burns
Directed by: Clement Virgo
Opening quote: “It’s a thin line ‘tween heaven and here.” Bubbles
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
The Wire is Shakespearian in the majesty of its plot and cast of characters – plays within plays, tragic coincidences, fate twisting the path of the protagonists (just enough to have put a happy outcome in reach only to crumble into heart-breaking catastrophe), and fools to occasionally break the tension, sharing both wit and belly laughs.
The Wire is genius in its comedic moments, and Old Cases begins with our favorite jesters, Herc and Carv trying to move a desk through a doorway. They struggle with it for a bit and then McNulty and Sydnor come to assist. They struggle, then troubleshoot – have all the drawers been emptied out? Even Daniels jumps in to help – but to no avail. A frustrated, winded Herc complains, “At this rate we’re never going to get it in…” They all look at one another in disbelief – as half of them thought the desk was going out and half of them thought the desk was going in. It’s funny and a powerful analogy of the futility of the circumstances in which people find themselves throughout the story of The Wire.
Many stories and tales are shared in Old Cases. There’s the story of No Heart Anthony, the story of how Lester ended up in the Pawn Shop unit for 13 years and 4 months, and Carv spinning a tale of future glory as he and Herc drive to Boys Village to question Bodie (he tells an elaborate forecast of how he and Herc will flip Bodie and return to the unit with case-cracking information on Stringer Bell and Avon Barksdale).
Equally as articulate and wistful in painting a picture of the future is Mahone, in the hospital as a result of his injuries from Bodie at the low rises during the search and seizure debacle. He’s sharing a drink with Polk when Daniels comes to visit, and explains how between working at his brother-in-law’s video store and his two-thirds medical disability he has a sweet future in store.
But there are two other stories that will loom large in future episodes. The first story is told to Major Rawls by Sgt. Jay Landsman. It is lewd and hilarious and ultimately is being told to plead on behalf of McNulty. Landsman acknowledges that McNulty is frustrating and difficult – but the very character flaws that make him a pain are the characteristics that make him “good police.” Landsman is able to put in perspective that McNulty is actually good for the department, pointing to the 8 murder clearances that McNulty solved in the previous year. Landsman knows that first and foremost the department needs to have good stats – and McNulty can deliver clearances.
So we see Rawls, who previously had publicly declared that McNulty “is dead to me,” is now willing to bring him back. He tells Landsman to have McNulty put in two weeks with Daniels’ detail and then he can come home with a clean slate. Given Rawls’ ego and the heat that McNulty’s fireside chats with Judge Phelan put on Rawls – this is a huge mulligan for McNulty.
The second story that has huge implications going forward is D’Angelo’s “tap-tap-tap” story.
Bodie returns to the low rises after a brilliant escape from Boys’ Village and in an attempt to divert the attention from Bodie’s ingenuity, D’Angelo tells Wallace, Poot and Bodie the story of “tap-tap-tap.”
We the viewers know it is the story of the murder of Deirdre Kresson that earlier in the episode, Landsman has assigned to McNulty. It’s never clear (to us) whether D’Angelo is the actual triggerman. And it certainly feels as if he is spinning to impress his direct reports. But if he wasn’t the triggerman, he does know the details of this murder.
His sharing of this story in such a way that puts him at the scene, is a detail that will have grave implications.
And the good police that return to the scene of the crime? Bunk and McNulty deliver a one-word back and forth that has become one of the most memorable scenes of The Wire (video below).
A la Carte
- The Wire leans heavily on body language and facial expression and this episode is packed with them. From the third man in Omar’s gang being visibly upset by Omar’s public displays of affection to Brandon to the initial moving the desk scene – this is great acting.
- In a back and forth between Phelan and Burrell we learn how broken the system is when Burrell shares that blood samples in 56 homicides and 15 rapes putrefied due to an electrical short at the lab.
- Herc’s confusion over the “exhaustion” rule and his line “Just to make sure…we want to lose him? Right? Losing him is good?” We know he’s still smarting over the desk scene.
- Freamon plays counselor and prophet with McNulty when he says, “When they ask you where you want to go – and they will ask you – keep your mouth shut!” We the audience knows that McNulty has already given this up; he’s mentioned the boat.
The Target – Episode 1, Season 1, The Wire
The Detail – Episode 2, Season 1, The Wire
The Buys – Episode 3, 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
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