STUART LEVINE ADDS HIS COMMENTS BELOW
I can't recall hearing a single note of Neil Young in an episode of "The Wire" over the past five seasons, but after watching the penultimate installment of this epic urban drama, Young's haunting ballad "Comes a Time" came to mind.
Time is a big theme of this episode, and time obviously is running out on everyone in "The Wire" diaspora. About a third of the way into "Late Editions" -- penned by George Pelecanos and David Simon and helmed by Joe Chapelle -- New Centurians of the Baltimore's corners are on their knees with cuffs on and cell phones surrendered, kingpin Marlo Stanfield included.
The cops and Mayor Carcetti are having a field day with the big bust that draws news coverage, but our anti-hero Jimmy McNulty isn't partying -- even after going so far out on a tightrope to bring about the Stanfield bust. He knows the hellfire is coming, it's just a matter of time. Doesn't help that his boss calls him a "genital wart" for his lack of progress on the homeless serial killer case.
McNulty's main partner in crime, Lester Freamon, is too high on the rush of victory to let reality sink in just yet. He's bagged his prey, and now they're gonna pay. The wordless exchange of hard (granite-hard) looks between Freamon and Stanfield at the arrest site throws off enough sparks to start a brushfire, a credit to the acting skills of Clarke Peters (Freamon) and Jamie Hector (Stanfield).
The battering ram has been pulled out and the Greek dope-smuggling network at the port is also busted up, or at least severely broken. Snoop, the fiercely loyal, amoral muscle to Marlo is shot dead in her SUV in an alley by Michael, who got her before she could get him, what with the conventional wisdom at the top of the Stanfield regime being that Michael snitched.
As Snoop tells him just before he pulls the trigger, Michael was never cut out for the thug life of blind obedience. "You never was one of us; you never could be," she informs him. He's incapable of shutting off his sense of reason (if not right and wrong) and his ability to analyze a situation. He can't help but question the wisdom of his boss' boss' decisions. In a word, he's smart.
There's also a moment in the scene that encapsulates why "The Wire" is so damn good. Snoop,who goes out of her way to bury any trace of femininity or any shred of feeling that could get in the way of her role as a killing machine, has a girlish moment, just before her brains are splattered around the dashboard.
"How my hair look, Michael?" she asks, patting her braids as she looks out the window, away from the gun. She seems to have a perverse respect for the hardware. She barely flinches when Michael first pulls it on her, but nor does she try any superhero-shit to take it away from him. She has a fatalistic understanding. Live by the gun, die by the gun.
Before she meets her maker, and before things go south for Marlo Inc., Snoop delivers the great line to a young soldier who's being coached in the unctuous lawyer Maurice Levy's office to take the fall on a gun charge. The kid's got a broken foot, so what other use is he to the firm? When the kid squawks a bit about his fate, Snoop is quick to frame the situation in a way that comments on the state of blue-collar employment and health care in the early 21st century.
"Go down to Wal-Mart or some shit like that; see if they take care of you while you laid up for a while," Snoop sez. The kid snickers. After they go, Levy remarks to Herc, the ex-cop turned investigator (and the one who provided Marlo's cell phone number to Freamon) that "Marlo runs a tighter ship" than even the cop shot when it comes to dealing with injured officers.
Once again, the plot developments in this seg gallop along as we head into next week's series closer -- which runs about an hour and 30 minutes. There's some loose-end tying here but for the most part it's laying the track for next week's denouement.
Over the Baltimore Sun, Gus Haynes is back on the beat, chasing the details to expose reporter Scott Templeton for the lying sack of excrement that he is. It seems like every time he turns around, Gus is getting wind of another problem with another Templeton story.
The scene where Haynes goes to Walter Reed hospital to check out the details of the Templeton profile on the homeless vet with the vet's former Army buddy is chilling, and an anti-war statement without including a single line of dialogue to that effect. The images of wounded vets struggling and wobbling through physical therapy regimens to adapt to their new prosthetic arms and legs, fingers and toes is all that's needed.
Nice reporterly touch in the press conference scene where Hizzoner brags about the drug bust, where Bill Zorzi mumbles all the cliches that will soon tumble out of Carcetti's mouth. It's just perfect; we've all had those depressing I've-been-doing-this-way-too-long deja vu moments while covering a newser or a speech or a panel session.
The heartwarming moment or two in this seg comes from reformed dope addict Bubbles, who proves to us that he's finally washed off the last of the muck from the sewer in which he wasted so many good years.
Given the themes of this season and the violence that surrounds our characters, there's a sick-joke chuckle to be had at the scene when Michael comes back home after killing Snoop, in a panic to get Dukie and his younger brother Bug out of the way of the revenge killing that he knows is coming. Dukie at first tries to point out to Michael a cool new TV show about a serial killer, who only kills other serial killers. "Dexter" really has made its mark for Showtime, hasn't it?
Michael, Dukie and Bug also provide the most heartbreaking material in this seg. Michael's love for Bug is demonstrated by his haste to get him out of harms way, to an aunt who lives in peace in a decent neighborhood. But he can't hug his little brother as he says goodbye. And in the scene that follows between Michael and Dukie, we realize just how lost, how de-humanized and degraded Michael is, even if he's never done a snort of the hard stuff in his life.
Given the circumstances of his upbringing, Michael had no childhood per se. But he's so hardened and paranoid now at the ripe old age of (I'm guessing) 15 or 16, he can't even remember a carefree moment or two spent with Dukie not too many years ago, even with his friend prompting him about the day they dropped piss-filled balloons on some neighborhood kids and got a hold of some ice cream from a truck.
From the look on Michael's face, you get the feeling that he's wondering what he's running from, if he's already lost himself.
As much as this episode culminates McNulty and Lester's torturous road to nailing Marlo -- finally, after so many other efforts failed to bring down the drug trade -- "Late Edition," to me at least, is really all about Michael's journey, and how having a conscience means that he's forced to kill again.
When he and Snoop are driving to supposedly kill Walter, who Michael thinks has drawn the unlucky straw and will pay the ultimate price for the downfall of Marlo Inc., he asks out loud if Walter deserves to die for something he possibly didn't do. Then Snoop nails the line of the night -- and the one shown on screen just after the credits -- "Deserve got nuthin to do with it." He's just gotta get got, Snoop summarizes, and she's tired of Michael trying to reason why people die. Just is, Snoop says, and don't ever dare question why.
And even though Michael still has a heart left, he's been a soldier in Marlo's army long enough to figure out that when he doesn't have his gun to whack Walter -- Snoop says it'll be waiting for him when he gets there -- that's a sign that it's his number that's up, not Walter.
So when Michael turns the tables on Snoop and pulls a gun on her, she doesn't fight him or try to talk him out of hit. She knows she's the next casualty where so many have come before her -- it was only a matter of time, she figures, so why not now -- and, like Cynthia sez, goes out with a trace of girlieness we'd never seen previously. "How's my hair like Mike?" she asks. "You look good girl," Michael answers back, giving her the last grasp of feminimity she possessed. It was a beautifully executed scene and one that I keep thinking about for its high drama and ultimate conclusion.
Rushing to pick up Dukie and Bug and get them out of harms way before they end up innocent bystanders in an attempted revenge killing sure to come Michael's way, it struck me how Michael is able to compartmenalize his emotions. On one hand, he has a great fondness for his little brother and wants to see him off the corners, away from the life that is sure to corrupt. When he hands Bug off to his aunt -- Did you notice how the aunt didn't even look at Michael or wave hello, just opened the door completely expressionless and then closed it right away? -- Bug is crying and Michael feels the hurt and sense of isolation, but when he gets back to the car and Dukie starts talking about the balloon scene from a year ago, as Cynthia describes above, he says he can't remember and doesn't even turn to look at Dukie. He's managed to erase any joy his life at one time encompassed and knows school, friendship, camraderie are all things of the past, with no room for those thoughts anymore. So sad.
Other thoughts while wondering how the computer Lester uses for his wiretap knows if a call is "pertinent" or "nonpertinent":
-- I love how Bunk smokes his victory cigar when he gets a hold of Chris' phone, with Chris sitting in handcuffs on the curb. Reminded me how former Boston Celtics coach/general manager Red Auerbach would light up after the Celtics won another championship. As a Lakers fan, I hated to see Red do it but Bunk's glory gave me reason to smile.
-- Carcetti is nearly as bad as L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa when it comes to finding a TV camera and showing his face.
-- Funny line from Robert, the reporter who came back to the Sun's Baltimore office after an overseas assignment, when Gus asks him for a favor. "I don't care how far we go back, Gus. No way I'm gonna kill your wife for you."
-- Even better was Steven's comeback, another Sun editor, when Gus says to him, "Steven, I got a little problem." Steven's response: "That's common in men your age."
-- Even though McNulty and Lester have accomplished what they set out for in putting away Marlo, McNulty shares in none of the joy that Lester feels. "It's the journey, not the destination," Lester says, trying to convince him that the fun in policework is in the pursuit. "What about the serial killer?" McNulty asks, wondering if it was all worth it, and the hellstorm that's about to ensue. "Marlo, is he," Lester counters. Great stuff.
-- Jamie Hector had Marlo on a slow boil all season, never letting his character become too emotional. But it was great to see Hector let loose while sitting in jail with his cohorts when he finds out the Omar called him out. Marlo, we quickly learn, wears the crown proudly. His voice rises several octaves and he's as angry as we've ever seen him when he finds his reputation sullied by Omar. "My name is my name," he declares as the camera slowly closes up on his face. Brilliant direction and a great turn here by Hector, who was kept under wraps up until now.
-- How wonderful was it to see Namond participating in the Baltimore Urban Debate League, dressed in a suit and speaking about the AIDS crisis. If season four viewers were to choose who of the four boys would end up dead first, most would probably have chosen Namond, who was kicked out of Mr. Prezbo's class for being disruptive. To see him excel here was a heartwarming moment, and nobody felt prouder than Bunny Colvin, the former cop who tried -- and was proven successful -- to turn around Namond's life.
-- The other triumphant moment came when Bubbles talked about his anniversary of recovery from drug addiction, and how he's still haunted by Sherod's death. Sherod, probably even more than Bubs' sponsor, was the most instrumental person in turning Bubs' life around. And how good an actor has Andre Royo been in guiding us through Bubs' journey through five seasons? In a cast that continues to amaze, Royo, an Ivy League grad, might be the most impressive. High praise, indeed.
-- Before Greggs can tell Daniels all about McNulty and Freamon's convoluted plot -- and the fabrication of the serial killer -- she asks Carver how he felt about turning in Tony, who went whacko and assaulted a schoolteacher held up in traffic. Carver told her he could live with the fact that he turned in one of his own, knowing that it was for the greater good. That's good enough for Greggs, who begins the domino effect.
-- Was it coincidence that when Herc tries to make pretend he's a cop again -- asking Carver how instrumental Marlo's cell phone number was -- Tom Petty's "Refugee" is playing in the background? Definitely not.
-- Next week's episode, titled "30," -- a journalist's symbol for marking the end of a story -- is the final chapter to this remarkable series. In terms of writing, acting and cultural significance, we might not see anything like it a very long time. If ever.