The Bad Boys of Baltimore aka The Wire

Of course, Baltimore’s Bad Boys could only be referencing the sensational HBO series The Wire. This is an acclaimed series that began in an underwhelming fashion with a not so special pilot. According to TV writer Alan Sepinwall in his book, The Revolution Was Televised, he states that one should watch at least the first two episodes, and preferably the first four, because the pilot itself had to introduce a lot of characters. And it will take at least four episodes for the show to really grip you because by then, you’ll know many of the players as well as The Game that involves all of them

Sepinwall has also called The Wire, which ran from 2002 into 2008. The Great American Novel for Television. Others have called it an urban procedural. The scope is enormous and would have to be. The series had 60 full episodes each running within a minute or so of a full hour.

Start with the Baltimore drug trade – from the corner boys that take the order, to the money men who get the money from the customers, then they signal to the runners who actually hand over the drug to the clients. There’s a corner boss overseeing the action, and there’s a boss over him.

And there are rival gangs who might get into dispute over the corner itself.

Then we have the cops on patrol, the city drug task force, the major crimes unit, SWAT Teams, the Sergeants, the Lieutenants, and the Captains all of whom are working in a particular district. Above them are tactical commanders, Deputy police commissioners – all the way up to the police commissioner himself.

This is besides the FBI, the DEA, and the ATF. Then you have the entity of politics: city government, and the county and the state government in Annapolis. Then there’s the educational system, the welfare system, and the media. And the Judicial system which plays a key role. So this particular organism – which we can call metropolitan Baltimore, has a lot of moving parts.

I watched none of The Wire during its successful run on HBO. From what I read, the show took a few years to really gain its footing, and after Season One, it was no sure thing that show would be renewed. After Season Two, which had the show’s highest numbers of viewers, the renewal process became easier, but would still be considered ‘iffy’.

Since The Wire aired its last episode on March 9th, 2008, the series has been described as The best TV show ever broadcast on American television. There’s no doubt the series has a literary quality to it, and it would not be a stretch to describe that as Dickensian, only instead of being a Victorian era social panorama, we are set up on the mean streets of Baltimore in the previous decade of this century.

This post will not be either a review, nor an in-depth character analysis. Nor will I walk you through any specific episodes or seasons of The Wire. This post is intended for those of you who have watched and enjoyed the series. For those readers, I will offer you a look at some of the series key players via pictures and quotes from the characters. So, having said all that, I will call this post a textual illustrated highlight reel.

D’Angelo Barksdale (played by Larry Gilliard): He’s the nephew of Avon Barksdale, the would-be and de-facto drug lord of Baltimore’s west side. D’Angelo had been facing a murder charge but a key witness was killed before testifying and there was a change in testimony by another witness, so  the charges had been dropped. D’Angelo may be back on the street, or in this case, back dealing drugs at a housing project called The Low-Rises, but that doesn’t mean the police aren’t still gunning for him. Let me change that to one policeman, Detective James ‘Jimmy’ McNulty.

This look like money, motherfucker? Money be green...

This look like money, motherfucker? Money be green…

Detective James McNulty played by Dominic West: A great detective, but also a loose cannon. Any detective who challenges authority, who goes his own way, is bound to chafe the suits or higher-ups, and incur on the job problems. When you add in personal problems, the stakes are serious. McNulty drinks heavily, cheats on his wife, and is constantly in trouble with his bosses at police HQ.

Rawls played by John Doman, is chewing out McNulty:   You McNulty, are a gaping asshole. We both know this...

Deputy Commissioner for Ops, William Rawls played by John Doman, is chewing out McNulty:
You McNulty…  are a gaping asshole. We both know this…

Yeah McNulty makes so much fuss about D’Angelo Barksdale, and his uncle Avon Barksdale, that he eventually gets demoted and is ordered to work as a member of the harbor police. Meanwhile Barksdale and friends continue to do business.

Avon Barksdale in red tee is played by Wood Harris. Prop Joe, in the suit, is played by Robert Chew. Avon:  Why you wearing that suit? It's 85 fucking degrees out here and you trying to be Pat Riley Prop Joe: Look the part, be the part, motherfucker...

Avon Barksdale in the red tee is played by Wood Harris. Prop Joe, in the suit, is played by Robert Chew. Avon: What’s up playboy? Why you wearing that suit? For real? It’s 85 fucking degrees out here and you trying to be like Pat Riley. Prop Joe: Man, look the part, be the part, motherfucker…

Prop Joe is a business type who is far up in the drug business.  He may not look it, but he is both smart and dangerous. He will later start a drug co-op among the various factions.

You think I'm going to send one of my people up against Brother?  Sheeit. That nigger's got more bodies on him than a Chinese cemetary...

You think I’m going to send one of my people up against Brother? Sheeit. That nigger’s got more bodies on him than a Chinese cemetery…

But that’s later. Meanwhile the drug business continues as does the pursuit of the criminals by the police. In Baltimore, the Police Commissioner is Ervin H. Burrell played by Frankie Faison.

It's Baltimore gentlemen. The gods will not save you...

It’s Baltimore gentlemen. The gods will not save you…

Commissioner Burrell has a lot on his plate. He gets pressure from the media, the mayor, the citizens. What do you expect – high crime rate, and even ‘juking’ the stats doesn’t work. He’s got a target on his back, and he knows it.

State Senator Clayton ‘Clay’ Davis played by Isaiah Whitlock Jr:  He’s as dirty as they come and he shares it with Burrell, and even the Mayor.

I'll take any motherfucker's money, [especially] if he giving it away...

I’ll take any motherfucker’s money if he giving it away…

Detective Lester Freamon played by Clarke Peters: This is the detective who once was a part of the major crimes unit, who spent 13 years, and 4 months  in the Pawn Shop detail after being demoted, then re-emerged as the wire tap expert in the major crime unit.

You follow drugs, you get drug addicts and drug dealers. But you start to follow the money, and you don't know where the fuck it's gonna take you.

You follow drugs, you get drug addicts and drug dealers. But you start to follow the money, and you don’t know where the fuck it’s gonna take you.

But Lester has enemies as well:

Det. Lester Freamon: Colonel, respectfully, did you just fuck me over without giving me even half a chance to clear this case?  Colonel William A. Rawls: [chuckles] Let's be clear, Det. Freamon. When I fuck you over, you'll know it. You'll be so goddamn certain, you won't need to ask the question.

Det. Lester Freamon: Colonel, respectfully, did you just fuck me over without giving me even half a chance to clear this case?
Colonel William A. Rawls: [chuckles] Let’s be clear, Det. Freamon. When I fuck you over, you’ll know it. You’ll be so goddamn certain, you won’t need to ask the question.

Speaking of questions, Detective McNulty again:

Det. McNulty I wonder what it feels like to work in a real police department?

Det. McNulty
I wonder what it feels like to work in a real police department?

But bad mouthing or asking the wrong questions can have negative repercussions:

Rawls to McNulty again: Rawls: You're a cunt hair away from indictment and you see fit to argue with me?

Rawls to McNulty again:
Rawls: You’re a cunt hair away from indictment and you see fit to argue with me?

Yes, Deputy Commissioner for OPs William Rawls is a nasty piece of work. He’s got to produce results in order to move up in the police hierarchy. He does not hesitate to publicly berate any policeman working below him in the chain of command. Rawls is angling for the Police Commissioner position. So he has to get on the good side of the great white hope, meaning the Mayoral Candidate Tommy Carcetti who is played by  Aiden Gillen:

Carcetti: I will kick his ass. But the next morning, I'll still wake up white, in a city that ain't...

Carcetti: I will kick his ass. But the next morning, I still wake up white, in a city that ain’t…

When Carcetti get’s into the Mayor’s chair at City Hall, he brings his campaign Manager with him as Deputy Mayor. This would be Reg. E. Cathey as Norman Wilson. You remember Cathey? He played Freddy, owner of the BBQ Joint in House of Cards.

....a weak-assed Mayor of a broke-ass city....

….a weak-assed Mayor of a broke-ass city….

Cathey as Freddy

Cathey as Freddy

But there were plenty of good people in The Wire. Like Detective Kima Greggs played by Sonja Sohn:

Or Bubbles, as in Reginald Bubbles Cousins. He was homeless, a drug addict, a thief, a con artist, a liar, a hustler, a police informant, and much more which included being decent. He was played by Andre Royo in an unforgettable role. Here are a few of Bubbles best :

Ain't no rules for dope fiends...

Ain’t no rules for dope fiends…

No offense son, but that's some weak-assed thinkin'. You be equivocatin' like a motherfuck...

No offense son, but that’s some weak-assed thinkin’. You be equivocatin’ like a motherfuck…

All I know is that Marlo be flying his own colors. Westside about to be all Baghdad and shit...

All I know is that Marlo be flying his own colors. Westside about to be all Baghdad and shit…

Ain't no shame in holdin' on to grief ... as long as you leave room for other things

Ain’t no shame in holdin’ on to grief … as long as you make room for other things too

Another good dude was Detective William ‘Bunk’ Moreland who was a homicide detective, or as he described it – a murder police. Bunk was often McNulty’s drinking buddy. Wendell Pierce had the role. ‘You happy now, bitch?‘ was his tagline – once per season, we’d hear it. Bunk was a heavy drinker yet he was mostly a sharp dresser. He’d say, I’m a suit and tie motherfucker.

But every character on The Wire had another side to him. Jim True-Frost played Roland ‘Pryz’ Pryzbyleski. On the street he was a loose cannon, he got busted down, or taken off the street for shooting up his own police car. But then he became quite good in breaking the codes used on the phones by the drug dealers.

A street cop who couldn't be trusted with a weapon...

A street cop who couldn’t be trusted with a weapon…

Eventually, when the city of Baltimore shut down the major crimes unit, and Pryz, has another meltdown., he had to leave the force. He got a job as a teacher in one of Baltimore all-black middle-schools. And he did well

Back in the gangs, Idris Elba played Russell Stringer Bell. He was the man behind Avon Barksdale; he studied business in college, and was charged with turning the drug money into clean money. While he was as mean and dangerous as anyone on the street, he tried his best to gentrify the members of the Barksdale gang. He even introduced parliamentary procedure to gang meetings.

We gonna handle this shit like businessmen. Sell the shit, make the profit, and later...for that gangsta bullshit...

We gonna handle this shit like businessmen. Sell the shit, make the profit, and later…for that gangsta bullshit…

Poot:  Do the chair know we gonna look like some punk-ass bitches out there?

Poot:
Do the chair know we gonna look like some punk-ass bitches out there?

Elba would later go on to star as Luther. He was scary as String, real scary as String. Have another look at him – his goals weren’t corners, but respectability.

The-Wire-Wallpaper-HD

But for D’Angelo, or Avon – no matter what it was always about the corners and the drug trade. And then were new faces rising up. Like Marlo Stanfield, played by  Jamie Hector. He was young , ambitious, and fearless. He was also smart and a stone killer.

When a former member, Dennis Cutty Wise, played by Chad Coleman, of the drug gang was released from prison. He struggled for a bit. He got to a point when he wanted out of the drug game. The game ain’t in me no more…

The game ain't in me no more

He worked with a local church man,

How is it that you should have so much wisdom about who should be where?

How is it that you should have so much wisdom about who should be where?

A good church man is always up in everbody's shit. It's how we do...

A good church man is always up in everybody’s shit. It’s how we do…

The Wire wasn’t just about the black gangstas. In the second season, while Jimmy McNulty was manning a boat on Baltimore’s harbor…

We got a look at the criminal activity on the Baltimore docks. The stevedores and longshoremen , a crooked union boss, Frank Sobotka, played by Chris Bauer,

You know what the trouble is, Brucey? We used to make shit in this country, build shit. Now we just put our hand in the next guy's pocket

You know what the trouble is, Brucey? We used to make shit in this country, build shit. Now we just put our hand in the next guy’s pocket

waterfront police, a Greek gangster called Vandas played by Paul Ben-Victor,

Vandas

Vandas

his boss called simply The Greek played by Bill Raymond, – you may remember Raymond as the guy who handled Michael Clayton’s loan in Michael Clayton

The Greek

The Greek

and a Baltimore Port Authority cop called Beadie, played by Amy Ryan, were the main focus.

Beadie Russell

Beadie Russell

Beadie was both tough and smart on the job. She was good people. But she ended up playing house with…Jimmy McNulty.

But no matter what. McNulty had a penchant for trouble…

he’d end up getting an earful from Rawls yet again…

Rawls: Sit the fuck down detective McNulty: Something wrong? Rawls: Put your ass in the chair Rawls: You see these McNulty - these are for you - This one [his left middle finger] is going up your narrow Irish ass,  and this bad boy, [his right middle finger] is going into your fucking eye... You've got my attention Detective...

Rawls: Sit the fuck down detective
McNulty: Something wrong?
Rawls: Put your ass in the chair
Rawls: You see these McNulty – these are for you –
This one [his left middle finger] is going up your narrow Irish ass,
and this bad boy, [his right middle finger] is going into your fucking eye…
You’ve got my attention Detective…

But as long as the list is for bad guys, there’s a lengthy list of good guys, like Kima who developed Bubbles as an informant

large_wire-cost2

Or Major Colvin (played by Robert Wisdom below) who was creative enough to set up a zone where drugs were allowed. In short, his police looked the other way.

Or Lance Reddick who played Lt. Cedric Daniels. Daniels wanted to do what ever it took to clean up the Baltimore corners. Whether it was to head up the Major Crimes unit, or kiss ass with the higher ups, or simply to stand up and protect his cops – Daniels did what was needed.

But despite efforts by the police, the press, the city, county, and state governments, the DEA and the FBI – the war against drugs seemed futile. As Det.. Ellis Carver (played by Seth Gilliam) stated in a conversation with fellow Detective Thomas ‘Herc’ Hauk (Domenik Lombardozzi)

Carver: We can't even call what we do a war... Herc: Why not? Carver: Because wars end...

Carver: We can’t even call what we do a war…
Herc: Why not?
Carver: Because wars end…

Yes this series can easily be called one of TV’s best. And speaking of the best – I’ve saved the best character for last. That would be Omar Little played by Michael Kenneth Williams. Omar’s occupation was that he … in his words – I robs drug dealers.  

He was a kind of wraith, not really invisible, but he had a way of coming up on you, and you never saw him coming. Wearing a duster and a bandana, aka ‘do-rag, carrying either a shotgun or a handgun, the streets would empty when he approached,. Omar be coming! Omar coming! wasn’t code.

Omar be coming, and some folks be running

Omar be coming, and some folks be running

It was a direct concept that if you valued your life, you’d get off the street. Omar was considered such a threat, a man capable of anything, that drug dealers would throw down their bags of drugs, literally toss them out the windows, from third floor apartments rather than face Omar.

Omar would help the police, when it was in his interest as in when the police needed his assistance.

There was a memorable confrontation in a courtroom.

Omar was testifying for the prosecution, and he was being grilled by the drug dealer lawyer Maurice Levy (played by Robert Kostroff):

Maurice ‘Maury’ Levy: You are amoral, are you not? You are feeding off the violence and the despair of the drug trade. You are stealing from those who themselves are stealing the lifeblood from our city. You are a parasite who leeches off…


Omar: Just like you, man.
Maurice ‘Maury’ Levy: …the culture of drugs. Excuse me? What?
Omar: I got the shotgun, you got the briefcase. It’s all in the game though, right?

Yeah, the drug business was called the game. But not everyone appreciated Omar – Detective William Bunk Moreland said this:

And now all we got is bodies, and predatory motherfuckers like you. And out where that girl fell, I saw kids acting like Omar, calling you by name, glorifying your ass. Makes me sick, motherfucker, how far we done fell.

But Omar was at the very core of the series. He was a killer who said, I never put my gun on nobody wasn’t in the game..

How about this exchange between Maurice Levy and Omar:

Omar Little: That wasn’t no attempt murder.
Maurice ‘Maury’ Levy: What was it, Mr. Little?
Omar Little: I shot the boy Mike-Mike in his hind parts, that all.
[Jury laughs]
Omar Little: Fixed it up so he couldn’t sit right.
[Judge chuckles]
Maurice ‘Maury’ Levy: Why’d you shoot Mike-Mike in his, um, hind parts, Mr. Little?
Omar Little: Let’s say we had a disagreement.
Maurice ‘Maury’ Levy: A disagreement over?
Omar Little: Well, you see, Mike-Mike thought he should keep that cocaine he was slingin’ and the money he was makin’ from slingin’ it. I thought otherwise.

That’s Omar Little

That’s The Wire….

and that’s the game.

 

 

 

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6 thoughts on “The Bad Boys of Baltimore aka The Wire

  1. Such a great collection of characters. Omar was always my favorite followed closely by Stringer Bell, but there are just so many other good ones. Rewatched a bit of this when it reaired over the holidays and it was a lot of fun.

    • Thanks for the comment Matt. Stringer was bad and he even had some redeeming qualities but he was in the wrong crew. Avon and he were never going to see eye to eye. This trole as Stringer Bell no doubt went a long way to Idris getting the Luther role.

  2. Nice post! Every character here is so perfectly written to the fullest extent, that not only do you feel you understand their motivations for the actions that they make, but you even sympathize with them, too. Except for Marlo. I hate Marlo.

    • It is almost a must see. I know I stated that the series ended in March of 2008. I hadb’t seen any of it back then. I just got into in the past month. So go for it.

      On the other hand – I’ve not seen Deadwood either.

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